They attempted to steady me by spreading out symbols, and because vertigo and I were joined at the hip, I allowed them to hold my gaze. When they were done, I turned off my phone, and with nothing to hold onto, I summoned the number fifty-two and sat still, staring at the cards line themselves up across the floor.
My eyesight is no longer what it once was, owing to habitual pixelations streaming hourly from within an inch of my iris.
From my vantage point, each card appeared to be a joker, and the shape they made resembled a pentagram. Squinting my eyes allowed a quick bath, followed by a towel dry in their close. Stepping down from my bed and up to the deck, it was clear there were only two jokers, but this time, there appeared to be too many red hearts because only one could be found in black. Also, the shape was no longer a pentagram, but a circle holding one diamond.
The hearts and changing shapes did little to assist my equilibrium. In fact, a more inclusive imbalance was encouraged after counting the cards several times in confusion. The fifty-two faces dwindled down to twenty-one, and because I was thirty-two, I took it as a sign of my emancipation and retreated to The Bar.
The Bar is the nickname given to my elderly neighbors home. We met one night in the rain, me on my stoop, him on his. Eating a bowl of soup, he called over to me and asked if I wanted some. I declined, but he walked over anyway and began talking, frightening me in the way he appeared to be speaking with blood pouring from his mouth. Borscht. He said it was beet soup and that it was also a good night for wodkuh. His accent was heavy, heavier than my tired eyes, but still, I asked what wodkuh was. He was a show and tell person, so instead of answering he ran over to his house and returned with two glasses and a bottle of vodka.
The offer woke me up because, well, I had no other offer. Internally I laughed because hard liquor does little but cause me a conundrum. I could drink an entire bottle and possibly feel sleepy, yet drink a glass of wine and go numb. I was glad he didn’t bring wine.
So we sat on my front stoop and drank until the sun came up. He didn’t speak English very well, and I didn’t speak Russian at all, but there was a misery between us that I think we each clearly recognized. He called himself a drinker, a cheater, and a rhinestone sinner, but I never saw any of those things in him. In fact, he appeared to be wearing no jewelry at all. I just felt his blood, his alcohol, and our sorrow.
People and cards. Symbols of what we are and aren’t at any given moment; decorated and shaped in ways that make us dizzy until we’re tired of the dizziness.
A sober reality is what reaches over to flip my eyelids up when it stops raining. It asks me to again face the deck, so I step down from the bed and find the spades have turned into marbles beneath my feet, and I fall flat on my back, cracked in unknown places and staring up at a mirrored ceiling.
I am red and black. The joker. Twice crucified.
Once fallen, once risen.