Three-handed Bridge by Christopher Allen

Anthony was five, the walls in the army base apartment a fatherless beige. He played on the floor with his brother, James, and his mother, a cool-eyed grass widow. They had no Hotwheels, Legos or plastic army men. The mother was grooming companions.

‘Bid, Anthony. No talking across the table.’

‘But I don’t know how.’

‘Baby,” said James. At seven, James was already a savvy bridge player.

The mother sighed. ‘How many points do you have?’

‘That would be talking across the table,’ Anthony said. “And actually we’re on the floor, so I can’t be talking across the table.”

‘Smart aleck.’

A cold hand stung Anthony’s cheek.

‘Young man!” the mother shouted into the kitchen where Anthony had retreated. “Come back and finish this game. Quitters never win.’ She shouted until Anthony felt sorry for her and came back. His father was not quitting in Vietnam, so Anthony would endure his mother’s anger and learn her adult game.

And he was quick about it. He sponged up meanings for finesse, rubber and dummy. Finesse was something you did with a queen to get a king. Though statistically it didn’t work often, Anthony became especially good at finessing. A rubber was what you won for winning two games in a row (though he never saw the ones he won). And In three-handed bridge, the dummy was the fourth pile of cards on the floor, which he always wanted but seldom got.


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Filed under Christopher Allen

21 responses to “Three-handed Bridge by Christopher Allen

  1. You really captured the chill in this house, the horror for these boys. I loved the way you used the card metaphors for what was happening/would happen.

  2. Echoing what Susan T said, and adding that I appreciate the skill in planning this story out. Nicely done, Christopher.

  3. Maggie

    Loved it. It rang true in so many ways–“They had no Hotwheels, Legos or plastic army men. The mother was grooming companions.” I know the sort.

  4. len kuntz

    that first paragraph had a lot of gold in it. the last one was something else as well.

  5. Thank you for reading and commenting, everyone. Sweet.

  6. Very good characterization, Chris! I enjoyed your flash.

  7. wonderful scene setting, the spareness, emotional hard edges, children without Hotwheels, Legos or plastic army men playing an adult game on the floor…well done!

  8. Alana

    Another excellent story, Chris. By the way, I have no idea how to play bridge or most card games. Your card metaphors were brilliantly written so that even I understood them.

  9. painful + powerful, especially with the metaphors that tell the story beyond the story.

  10. Angelle

    Wow, this story is so sad, and it tells so much in so few words. Amazing!

  11. So … in which chapters do the sons come out?

    • Ha. Well, the novel is about Anthony and his obsession with the perfect man. The novel-in-progress is not really about coming out, since all of the characters are in their 60s. Oh wait. Anthony does come out when he divorces May, his ex-wife by the time the action of the novel begins.

  12. excellent Chris in few words… you are a wordsmith me thinks…

  13. Michelle

    Yep, Chris — just getting to my comments here, but it’s still worth jumping in because, well, there’s a lot here. I love some of the phrasing in this piece. “fatherless beige” really got me… and the way Anthony navigates this scene, learns to play her adult game. The ending is so real, creates such longing… wonderful piece here — great to see you joining the fun in our last week!

  14. Wow. Thank you, Michelle!

  15. Pingback: Week #52 – Threesome | 52|250 A Year of Flash

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