I have a short story to relate to you, about a pool game. It was not a very long game, but it lasted much longer than the time it will take you to read these words, and in fact may still be happening now.
It was in a local dive that this exchange took place, on a billiards table with red felt. It was a rainy saturday late in the afternoon, and the woman’s boots squeaked on the wood floor as she retrieved accoutrements from the bar. She wore dirty jeans, a black T-shirt, and a damp leather jacket that she removed before racking the balls. She walks with her head high and her strides long, looking neither left nor right as she passes the other patrons. To all appearances it would look like confidence that straightened her shoulders and tilted her chin, but it was determination and stubborn pride that gave her spine it’s coating of iron.
She carefully packs the balls into their accustomed pattern, superstitiously putting her lucky numbers on the bottom, and chalks her cue. Shaking off the chill lingering from the rain, she strolls to the corner juke box and feeds it five dollars. While hunting down some obscure classics, a man walks into the bar behind her.
He is not a particularly big man, but he walks like he is seven feet tall. Greeting everyone with a smile and a joke about the weather, sliding up to the bar like he owned the stool. A light bantering as he awaited his drink, a dose of charm and flattery, and by the time he walked away the bar tender would have sold the family farm to buy him a round.
He wears knee length shorts and flip-flops with a light jacket, as if he could not be bothered to notice autumn. He is strolling toward the pool table with a drink in one hand and sun glasses perched on his head, looking for all the world as if he had just stepped off of a million dollar yacht.
The woman is now watching from the corner with a slight smile she is not aware of showing, as he beams at the table next to him and says something with a laugh and an expansive gesture. She walks up behind him and sits patiently in a chair as he chats like old frat buddies with some guys he has just met. There is a rock glass with a whiskey and soda on a coaster in front of him, and a sweating Budweiser bottle in a wet puddle beside it. She leans forward, reaching under the arms waving an illustration of his point, and wraps her cold fingers around the neck of the beer.
This of course causes him to turn around, Gazing at her as if he had not known she was there, which of course he had. He abruptly departs his conversation, leaving the crowd hanging on his last word, and breezes to the rack of cues. He does not bother to inspect the quality, confident that his ability will more than compensate for any inadequacies.
He hops quickly to the table as if pouncing on it, and his method of breaking is a carefully controlled explosion of style and grace. The force of the shot carries his arm out over the table, the tip of his cue meeting the opposite side in empty air as it follows through. One foot leaves the floor, one arm out for balance, looking for a brief moment as if he will take flight. A satisfying crack as the cue ball meets the front ranks of the rack, and everything scatters like cockroaches when the light is turned on.
He sinks a few to make it look good, then misses intentionally to let her in the game. She is not aware of the little smile still lingering on her lips, and has decided that she will never learn to play pool. She is quiet and careful, and when she approaches the table she stalks it. Frowning slightly at the placement of her solids, taking far too long to align herself, she totally botches a shot that usually wouldn’t have made her think twice.
He once again claims the game, lightly picking off impossible combinations and cuts with a light shrug that says, ‘ah that’s nothing, you should see me move mountains’. She was so taken with the show that she barely noticed the game itself. It was only when he stopped to sip his drink that she realized it was her turn.
Again her careful approach, again the ridiculous and ineffectual result. She laughs at herself to show the world that it does not matter to her if she measures up or not. She is enjoying herself despite the obvious loss she is soon to suffer, and is doing a little jig to an Eagles tune as she sidles up to her beer. She finds it empty, and looks up to see her pool partner grinning with two full shot glasses. They toast ‘to memories’ as if there was no irony there, and the playing resumes.
He circles around the table, following his cue ball as it taps one after the other of his chosen targets into the pockets. When he is staring down the eight ball she still has three of hers still cowering in one corner. He purses his lips and draws in his dark brows, showing effort for the first time in the game. He slams the ball and sets his cue on the table with a flourish as the eight ball executes a perfect triple bank like a ballerina’s encore. He is glowing with pride and grinning like the fool that he was, and she had to admit to him that it was a perfect shot.
He buys one more to celebrate his achievement before sailing abruptly out the door he had come in through, leaving a soggy coaster and a smiling woman behind him. Like a summer wind passing through the room; brief, pleasant, and impossible to ignore.
The bar seems quiet and empty for a moment, and it was then she notices the music had stopped. she fishes a few more dollars from the seat of her jeans and strolls back to the juke box. Her song choices are much different now, and the drink she orders is a bit stronger. Still smiling slightly and tapping her feet, she racks up a table for herself.
She sings along as she chalks her cue. Her break is flawless, though not very classy, and she quietly clears the table efficiently and with skill. She misses very few of her intended shots as she picks them off in numerological order.
It just goes to show how happily blind some people can be, how easy it is to hear the words that are not spoken, and how painless it is to walk away from a cliff you have not leapt from.