There are moments in life that determine our fates. Call them crossroads or decisions, determinations or resolutions, the labels matter not. What matters is that a choice must be made and the reverberations of that choice will be felt for the rest of our days.
Agnes has arrived at such a place.
She sits with two cards in her hand, a ten of spades and a six of diamonds, the blackjack dealer standing before her. No one sits beside her, her fellow gamblers having been relieved of their assets and long since gone home. It is a few minutes past four in the morning but the casino is bright, the music loud, and the building is pumped full of oxygen. From where Agnes sits it may as well be two in the afternoon.
She is winning.
Agnes has been conversing with the dealer all night and he’s heard all there is to hear about her grown children and their grown children and their children too. He knows her favorite books and where she goes to church and about her ladies clubs and that she crochets. And as the hours have come and gone, they have talked and laughed and sparred back and forth, him winning a hand, her winning two, him winning two hands, her winning one.
And finally they have built to this moment, she having thrust all her winnings, all her savings, to the center of the table in moment of do-or-die madness. Her heart is galloping, her hands shaking and she doesn’t know if she wants another card so she stalls by confiding, “I can’t believe how well this night has gone. I never win anything.”
And here the dealer stops and gives her a look, a look of warm sympathy as though he understands what she means but can’t allow her the sentiment. He says, “Don’t say you never win anything, Agnes. Don’t say you’re unlucky.”
She smiles without looking from her hand, her mind racing as she strains to calculate her odds.
“In my line of work, you hear it all the time: So-and-So is lucky but not me. So-and-So has a rabbit’s foot or a horseshoe or a four-leafed-clover wedged up their ass but not me.”
Agnes blushes at the unexpected profanity but says nothing, still studying her cards.
“Can you tell me the number of times you’ve said, ‘I could have been killed’ or ‘I should have been killed’ or ‘I nearly died’? Can you tell me how many close encounters you’ve had where looking back you wonder how you walked away? The odds that any of us has made it this far are remarkable and if this doesn’t leave you feeling lucky or blessed, I don’t know what will.”
Agnes doesn’t know how many times she has cheated death. The number is probably somewhere between five or ten times she imagines, maybe a couple more.
“When people think of luck, they think of money. They think of lottos and raffles and game show prizes and all of those things are well and good,” the dealer says. “But Life…Life is the ultimate prize. To be alive, to awaken each day and to breathe and to laugh and to cry…these are the prizes we need to win, the alternative does away with any complementary parting gifts.”
Agnes nods over her cards grateful for this pep talk and the extra time it affords her to contemplate her hand. “Yes, yes, I suppose that’s true,” she says.
Here, he pauses until she looks up. Then he says, “the multi-millionaire who commits suicide is a cliche. It happens so often yet we’re still surprised when it does. We say things like ‘money can’t buy happiness’ or ‘at least you have your health’ but we don’t really mean it. Deep down, we all think we could solve our problems and buy some purpose in this life if we just had the cash.”
He falls silent and she doesn’t reply. There is a drawn out pause then he gestures toward her hand. “What’s it going to be?”
Agnes swallows hard. “Hit me.”
He peels off a card and lays it before her: the six of clubs.
She stares at the card then exhales in a long rasp. Her hand goes to her chest as she slides off her chair and into a heap on the floor.
“Oh Agnes, we’re sorry. You were so close!” says the dealer. “Looks like your luck has run out.”