Lester Is Late

Waiting for his guests to arrive, A.D. cupped the freshly opened deck of cards, which nested comfortably into the meat of his palm. A new deck held  promises of  fair hands, camaraderie, and good times. A.D. must have cracked open a hundred of them after 32 years of playing bridge.

An Army colonel first taught him the basics of the game. In later years, A.D. could rarely recall the name of that man, but in thoughts he often thanked him for the introduction. Bridge required keen insight, teamwork, and real strategy. You’d see little of that in the enlisted men’s rapid-fire contests of spades and bid whist, always accompanied by a rote of grunts, gin guzzling, cards slapping on tabletops, and cussing.  At the officers’ club where he served as an attendant, A.D. spied the colonel’s daylong bridge tournaments. There he saw relaxed scotch sipping, smelled the fragrance of long and handsome cigars, and heard lighthearted banter on diverse topics like Eisenhower’s golf game or the communist threat in Negro communities. A.D. would watch first, ask questions later, turning each match into a free lesson.

After his stint in the service, A.D. began to fashion pretend games of bridge with himself, sometimes at home, sometimes in the department store warehouse where he found civilian work.  Stealing time between unloading shipments of women’s clothing, he showed the game’s intricacies to co-worker Lester Waterson. From what they taught each other in the warehouse, A.D. and Lester qualified for and joined the Royales Bridge Club, becoming bridge partners for life.

The club’s original bylaws mandated that the Royales meet on the second Monday of every month, unless said Monday was a holiday or a member’s birthday. Those were the rules. But, as the scheduled host due for surgery in one week, A.D. felt recent circumstances had given him license to break the rules, at least once in his life. The pronouncement of the cherubic female resident physician at the Medical College still echoed in his head: Colon cancer. A single lesion spread to the liver.  Through a dense fog of confusion, anxiety, and fear, the succession of spoken words after those two all passed like speeding cars on a highway. Prognosis. Zoom. Curative. Zoom. Outlook. Zoom. Survival?  Zoom.

A.D. seldom caught colds, which he credited to exposure to virulent Asian  germs that strengthened his immune system during the Korean War. Life’s a trickster though. This latest health crisis struck without warning, and  surgery would be a first for him. Nonetheless, the Royales games must go on. A.D. invited the club to his home on a first Sunday, a day of rest reserved for watching television and life outside the living room picture window.

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