I’ve been here for over an hour, pumping quarters into the pool table and playing against myself so we could have our usual table, close to the bar. You came in with the first, post-dinner wave. The ones who ate early to beat the crowds — at the restaurants, in here. Soon we’ll be grousing about how they should move the Keno machine, so we don’t have a long line of people getting in our way.
I know better than to ask if you want to play a game, you’ll put your quarters up when you’re ready. For now I’ll play with Sam, who must to have some kind of grudge against the queue ball, considering how she treats it. She’s good, but she could be so much better if she learned a little finesse. Too butch for her own good, but I’ve learned not to say that out loud. Anyway, I’m only reacting to the sudden sound of it, my eyes are busy stealing glances at you, and the criticism is automatic – the teacher in me.
“Shit.” Sam says, half-heartedly.
I turn my eyes back to the table and panic a bit. I’ve been thinking more about you than the game and I’ve forgotten whether I’m shooting high or low. I walk around the table, surveying the situation, and coming around the table glance quickly at the rack of balls that have been sunk. The last two are high and I know Sam sank at least one so I’m low. Suddenly the game shifts back into focus.
“Nice leave.” I say, walking around the table.
I know it wasn’t intentional. Sam doesn’t see past the shot she’s trying to make, but it’s a subtle way of saying she should. In any case, it’s true. The cue ball’s tucked neatly in a corner behind the 14 and 15. The only ball I can see from there is the 3 and that’s a shallow bank down the rail with a sharp cut to either one of the side pockets.
Way down at the other end of the table, the 5 is hanging on the edge, blocking the corner pocket. I’d wanted to leave it there, just to piss Sam off, but if I make that, then I’ve got at least two more balls out in the open I can shoot at. I angle the stick high and try for a massé shot, which curves more than I expect and just misses the 5. A good massé is tough. It’s the first shot I lose when I stop playing and the last to come back when I pick it up again, but even coming close is impressive. And I want to be impressive right now.
“Dial 911, you was robbed.” You say.
“No, I missed. There’s a difference,” and you laugh.
I like your laugh, it’s loud and honest and comes from deep in your chest. If you weren’t so thin, it’d shake the rafters. I realize now that you came over to watch the game while I was concentrating on the shot.
Eight Ball’s been my refuge ever since I started going to gay bars. I don’t drink much. Don’t dance at all, or at least not well. And in the beginning I wasn’t looking for anyone. Didn’t want anyone looking for me, either, though once they knew I was pre-op there wasn’t much chance of that. Lines were drawn, some closer than others, but there was respect and love and all those promises of what would happen ‘after.’ So the pool table was our common ground, neutral territory.
I’ve played so much I’ve gotten something of a rep. And I like to teach. I’ve gotten so I can spot the young ones, the shy baby butches, who stand at the edge of the light with a beer in their hand and a hungry look in their eyes. They want this for themselves, but are afraid to ask. So I ask if they want to play, or someone who knows them says I’m OK and a good teacher and ‘Go ahead, ask her.’ Some of them come back a year or two later and kick my ass. I love it.
Sam’s stalking around the table, like a predator, looking for the easy kill. I’ve been looking too. There isn’t one.
“How’ve you been?” I ask, taking refuge in ritual.
“Not bad,” you answer. “Bitch of a week. You?”
Standing so close, I can smell your perfume. Something I don’t recognize, beyond the fact that it smells musky and you always wear it. A habit, I suppose, and I wonder if She gave it to you, the one who left. Is it like the Obsession I wear because Karen liked it? She’s gone, but the dog and the Obsession hang around like photographs of happier days.
Sam abuses the cue ball again, but nothing goes down and she’s left me sitting pretty. I take the 5 because it’s easy and I can put some serious draw on it, bring the cue ball back up for the 3. It goes. Then the 7, but the cue ball hangs up in the corner and I’m back to trying another massé, really radical this time, and I don’t come anywhere near the 2 which is the last low ball left.
Sam’s pissed. That run put her way behind and she hates to lose. Me, I don’t really care about winning or losing, it’s the game that counts, like each shot is a game in itself. I’m looking at this shot, the next, maybe the one after that if the setup’s good. If every shot is my best, losing doesn’t matter to me, which is probably why I win so much.
I wish I could feel that way about love, maybe I’d have better luck. I wish I could treat each moment as complete in and of itself. The first time we came close. The first time we locked eyes. The moment I realized that I was living for the next time we played doubles together, the next chance to lean over, whisper some strategy in your ear on the off chance our shoulders might touch. The joy I took in your complicity in this simple act of intimacy.
Sam sinks the 14 and 15, now that the 3’s out of the way, but she’s back into the power-pool thing again and the 11 just rattles in the corner pocket, comes to a spinning stop pretty much where it was. Your eyes are bright, you know what’s going to happen now, know that the game is over. I think, maybe some of that spark is left, but your body sways away from me as I move past you to look over the table again.
It’s the situation I’ve always hated. Two easy shots and something’s whispering that I’ll miss one of them. I tell myself I’m just distracted by you, by the change in your body language since that stillborn date. Sure enough, I miss the 2. I look up to see you frown and I know that you know why I missed. Or at least you think you do.
“How could you have missed that?” You ask.
It’s against my religion to throw a game, but if I should happen to lose, then maybe we could sit and talk a while. Maybe if you picked up where you left off getting to know me, you might change your mind. Might decide the my being transsexual didn’t matter. Karen had. It took months and falling in love surprised the hell out of both of us, but it happened, although other things had torn us apart later.
I’d wait a long time for you. For that feeling, even if it wasn’t such a surprise this time.
“Tired, I guess.” Not quite the truth, but not exactly a lie either.
With the table clear of interference, Sam runs the rest of the high balls, drops the 8 and walks over to shake hands.
“Good game. Thought you had me.” She says.
“So did I. Nice run there,” I say. I dig in my pocket for more quarters and put my stack in the line growing down one side of the table. It’ll be a couple of games before I get back up.
I stand there a moment, watching the next player rack the balls and wondering if I should ask, just one more time, if we could talk, but you’ve told me you just broke up with someone and don’t want to get involved just now. Just want to have fun. You repeat it like a mantra, but I see your eyes wander.