Jesse, Teach Me to Play Cards

Jesse didnt mess with the wires no more. He picked an old red car with a nice back seat and a soft, red inside. The windows could roll all the way down. He pounded a screwdriver under the steering wheel and slid a steel bar through a hole in the handle to get him strong enough to start the car. The screwdriver got left stuck so we could stop for gas on Highway 25.

Jesse told me to roll down the window after we was on the highway. He always knew the right time the windows should roll down. It was hot but the air blowing through made it nice.

The shiny gun was on the seats between us. It was loaded with three-eights. You could load it with three-fifties too. Three-eights was good ‘cause they shot better than three-fifties. Three-fifties made Jesse talk louder and show his teeth more.

Jesse liked to touch and hold them bullets. Bullets turned people into playing-card houses for him to blow on. He told me that the cards was people that was too proud or too stupid to give him what was his. He saved the cards after he blew’em down. He says, “I never forget the face a somebody I shot in they’s face.” That was funny. We was card players.

I wondered if Jesse had the dream again. I wondered what the fishes looked like this time. They was always funny fish. Some had glasses. Some had noses and some was bloody with bandages torn and wiggling through the water. But they was all the biting fish. Piranhas. Jesse was a tiny fish the size a drop a water. The Piranhas chased Jesse all the way around the tank, sometimes all night long while Jesse’s sweat soaked the motel’s sheets. Little boys and girls pressed they’s smiling faces against the tank’s glass. They’s white teeth rippled real huge. Jesse couldnt stay asleep on them nights. He didnt remember that he still had the gun under his pillow so he was safe. His fingers got whiter when he squeezed the handle and he kept his finger away from trigger to avoid accidents. Things weren’t as good in the motels as in the cars.

The wind blew my hair. My hair was sweat-covered. Inside the mirror, I looked at the scar under my eye. It was an old scar from when Jesse hit me with the bottom of the gun. It felt like a bunch a bee stings when I yelled and when I cried. It bled but it stopped. The scar reminded me that the bus driver in New York City that looked like our dad and acted like our dad was not our dad. Our dad was in Seattle, maybe.

The orange sun got big and fell into the far off highway road. We stopped to piss and gas-up at an old gas station. The shop-lady behind the wooden counter looked like maybe she was inside a fort. The brown shelves had every candy bar. Skinny lights buzzed near a cardboard beautiful lady and see-through refrigerators had the drinks that made Jesse angry. I grabbed three packs a Twinkies.

Jesse walked out a the bathroom and a red door swung closed. He slapped a dirty twenty on the counter.

The brown-haired girl was pretty and a lot younger than us. Her nametag had letters that says ‘Janet.’ She stopped making noise with her chew gum to look at some blood still on our money and she held her breath and looked into Jesse’s eyes for too long.

Jesse grabbed behind his back and pointed the gun at her.

She made a scared, sad face and her big tears came out slow. She walked out from behind and Jesse grabbed out the stacks a money from the open money tray.

I dragged and dragged Janet by her shaky wrist to our car. She shook and cried like she was broken and she smelled like them hotdogs so I put her in the backseat.

She asked again and again what Jesse and me was doing to her. We laughed ‘cause we was the card players.

Jesse says, “LITTLE BITCH! You knew why the blood was on our twenty! You knew what we did! You saw it on TV or you heard on the radio. And you’d tell people.” He left his mouth open as he turned from her. The sweat ran over his skin with his veins pushing.

Janet’s voice was choppy. She says, “I dont know. I dont care. Fuck.”

She couldnt decide when to stop crying. I wished she didnt have to come with us. She bugged me. When Jesse showed her the gun, she got quiet.  

Jesse told me about our mom. Talking about our Mom felt nice. She was nice lady. I wished I remembered more than her face. Some nights, I would wake up and I couldnt remember her face but Jesse reminded me. He reminded me about her blue eyes like the deep-end from the diving board at the Story City Pool. He reminded me about her gold hair that rested against the top a her Levis. Her nose was thin like the dressed-up plastics Jesse let me look at when we was at Penny’s. After he reminded me, Jesse says I stop crying like a big, damn idiot. We used to argue about how she looked. Maybe she had brown hair, like me, maybe she was short, like me, but we stopped talking about how she looked a long time ago and I dont know.

Jesse turned and says, “Mom loved you best, right Dwight!”

“Yah, the best,” I says. “The best! The best!”

“She was happy,” Jesse says, “every night before you was born, she raised a screw-driver toast to you with her cornflakes.” Jesse raised his eyebrows.

He was okay with me being Mom’s favorite before she left.

When we got near Walnut it was late. I told Jesse about the moon. It was almost round. Jesse handed me the gun. He told me to keep it pointed between Janet’s boobs. Sometimes, the gun flashed red. Sometimes, it clicked when Jesse showed me the empty barrel with a sad, scared face. But, when Jesse handed it to me to point at people, it flashed. If she moved fast, if she screamed, she would drip red. She’d grow angry.

He pulled into the parking lot of a Hinky Dinky. He needed to buy trash bags and I says that there weren’t no trash in the car. Jesse says that there was plenty a trash in the back seat. I remembered:  Jesse was the smartest of us two. The door closed after he left.

Janet opened her mouth and then she stopped. The sides of her brown hair was wet. She says, “That was wrong what yer brother says ‘bout you.”

“What he say wrong?”

“’bout your mom. The alcohol hurts your brain when you was inside yer mom. He says that what your mom drank while she was pregnant made you stupid.”

I pushed between them seats and hit her on her chest with the barrel and my angry words spit on her face, “Jesse loves! He loves!”   

“I’m sure he does.” Her chest rose faster. I pulled the gun in front a them seats.

“Jesse and me point guns at people. I think about what we do. We’s the card players. Card houses fall. They fall.”

Janet looked to her door. “Do you want to let me go?”    

“Never known girls. You remind me a Mom.”

“I look like yer mom do?”

“I cant remember. You’re like her.”

“Dwight, do you want to let me go?”

“I’m watching you now. Jesse will come back and he’ll know.” I stayed quiet.

Janet looked at the car’s floor. When she lifted her head, her eyes was black from tears over her make-up. She says, “You’re going to have to kill me.”

The gun shook in my hands. “DRIP RED! Drip all red, all over! Down yer face, even. No. Stay.”

“I am leaving you.” She slid toward her door.

“Please.” I pointed the barrel near Janet’s white teeth. I cocked. “Wait for Jesse. Jesse knows. He will help us. Stay. Stay with me. Forever. Please. Forever.”

She opened the door and I watched her run across the parking lot. She ran so fast. She kept on a running. Ran so fast. I set the gun in my lap.


I sat on a park bench outside the Hinky Dinky. Jesse walked over with a box a bags in his hands. He says, “No! You let her leave. What’s wrong with you? Give over the gun. Now!” The gun was hidden under my T-shirt ‘cause people was angry at card-players like us. I handed it to him. He says, “I have the stupidest brother on the face a the Earth! Now, we’s going to jail!”

“You said a sick thing about our mom.”

“Come on. We’re getting into the car.” Jesse made the smallest smile.

“No.” I shook my head. “No.”

He raised the gun barrel to my chest and he cocked it. His face was angry and sad.

I opened my palm to show Jesse them six three-eights and I smiled at him.

He liked them bullets.

Taking the bullets that he liked made him angry. His face got red and I laughed.

Jesse turned and walked away and I stayed on that bench. The back a his jacket flew up as he put the gun away and I pushed them bullets into my pocket.

The door a his car moved past. I saw inside to Jesse’s angry face. This weren’t the first time I left Jesse. I left a bunch a times before. Each time I stayed away for a little longer ‘cause people my age’s supposed to be on they’s own. Jesse gets mad. He’s the smartest of us two. He knows you cant play cards by yourself.

About davidwallacefleming

David Wallace Fleming is a U.S. writer, living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of the coming-of-age, social media novel GROWING UP WIRED, and the satirical science fiction audiobook, NOT FROM CONCENTRATE.
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2 Responses to Jesse, Teach Me to Play Cards

  1. Ia Uaro says:

    This is sad. (Why did I think you wrote only humour?) Clever intentional typos in first-person narration are great to build this character.

    • I do write mostly humor, nowadays. I wrote the first draft of this when I was in college and experimenting. Of course, I’m still experimenting. I dreamed the whole thing up while I was stuck in my bed with strep throat and maybe that is why it is more dark than most of my other work.

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