Bewildering Stories

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Sam’s Rose

by Tomi Shaw

Magic can only work in its own way; and in Sam’s own way, he needs me. Now, there’s an envelope in his back pocket with my petals inside. He carries them to keep me.

He watches Texas Hold ’Em on television so I asked him to teach me. He gave me the rules, a little bit of strategy and marveled at how I always won. I didn’t tell him then about my magic, but my hand was usually won before the river card. The few times I had nothing going after the turn, I bluffed and won. He was excited by this, still clueless about my magic. So I told him: I’m magic.

I had to tell him; he left me no choice.

He wanted me to play for real. He didn’t understand that it wouldn’t be a good idea. Magic is bound by rules, and while I could tell him I was magic, I couldn’t tell him how. He insisted I play to win, and large. Where? I asked. The boat. I just thought it would be fun to understand so we can watch together I said. His eyes stayed hungry though. He pouted. I said you don’t understand my magic. I said it’s not a good idea. He ignored me.

All his savings in big bills, Sam and I rode through the dark to the gambling boat. It was late, past midnight, when he schlepped me through the bling and blister of neon and sparkle, the jingle of tokens, the clack clack clack of slots, the splat of chips, the stench of futile hope. He sat me at a table, ordered whiskey for himself and ginger ale for me. My magic worked hand after hand which prompted him to tell me told you so. He still hadn’t figured out my magic.

Our pile of chips grew, higher than the rest of the tables’ and the dealer was getting sweaty. The more I won, the more the alcohol went down throats, faster. My magic doesn’t mix well with liquor. I could smell the tempest brewing. I told him we should go. His eyes were hungrier. I was the small blind and could only wager half the minimum which frustrated him when my hold cards showed two kings. I knew I would never get to play the hand.

There were two men at the table with wedding rings but no wives; there was a young couple with no rings. She was tugging on his sleeve, a modest stack of chips hidden behind his hand. He kept licking his lips. He had nothing, but that’s not how he was going to play it. That’s everything she said. Their future I heard. He went all in, a handful of chips. She left the table. He needed my magic, and the rules of my magic would not be denied. I tossed my cards in. Sam hissed, raking an angry hand through his silvering and thinning hair.

I stood up, as my magic dictated, walked away from Sam and to the man with unlined skin, wrapping my arms around his neck and kissing him, first with my tongue then lips. I could hear Sam sputtering, I could hear the witches’ curse

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Then be not coy, but use your time
You may for ever tarry”

I could hear his heartbeat. And on my mouth, the boy-man tasted of desperation, echoing my own flavor. When Sam tore me from my warming, he did so by my hair, long threads of many years and he dragged me away. A hank was left wrapped around his fingers when at the car he turned me loose.

Now, Sam keeps my petals in an envelope in his pocket. Before Sam, no one had ever tried this on my magic. He keeps me. And me, I long for the days of only one curse.

Copyright © 2005 by Tomi Shaw

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