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.”
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.