The gambler, desperate and at his eighth bottom, calls his mom. He tells a tale about a flat tire and how he needs money for a cheap, used one. She says no because this is the fourth flat he’s had in the last six months. The gambler tells her that he can’t look for a job without a functioning car. When she says no again, almost always does, he screams at her, goes Alec Baldwin-crazy on the phone. Calls her selfish and unloving and tyrannical. Blames her womb for all his problems. Threatens suicide, goes all in with it by saying he will hang himself on her porch on her birthday. He will drink antifreeze on Facebook Live. He will slit his wrists in her kitchen; let his blood drain on her favorite ceramic chicken.

But the gambler is slippery. He is fluent in manipulation. He mumbles I love you at the end of a rant to confuse her. He brings up that time he made her a deformed ashtray in school, how they laughed because it was both ugly and beautiful at the same time. How she still keeps it on the mantel next to pictures of a younger him, an innocent and ripe with potential him. With her wobbled by his tactics, he goes for the kill shot, tells her he’s sick, a human stain, a fucking degenerate nobody who is lost and ruined and hopeless. The gambler knows her silence is a door ajar, he kicks it in by saying he’ll sit by her side in the pew next week and repent and beg for salvation on all fours and be born again. He will cram faith down his throat.

But first he needs twenty dollars.

She doesn’t believe him but wants to, wants him to wash away the last twenty years of sin and shame, become her precocious, mischievous boy again. She finally relents, tells him to stop by this afternoon, maybe we can talk and have lunch together. But when he shows up, he skips the conversation and grilled cheese sandwich, just grabs the cash, tells her she’s the best mom in Kentucky, then bolts out the door.

At the track, the gambler finds himself down to his final prayer, a show bet on the five horse, Tsunami Steve. As he watches the gassed horse die on the far turn like a car with a blown tire, he runs through the bullshit schemes in his head, his mental rolodex of guilt and blame.

Tomorrow he will call his dad, remind him that he abandoned the family, that he doesn’t love anything besides catching a flush on the river. He will also talk about his little league days, when his dad thought the gambler would be the next George Brett or Rickey Henderson. He has to attack both ends, the happy and hurt, diamond and carbon. The gambler will do and say whatever it takes to make it back to Churchill Downs, his manure-filled cathedral, his twin-spired home.

Chris Milam

Chris Milam

Chris Milam lives in the bucolic wasteland that is Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, Bartleby Snopes, WhiskeyPaper, The Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, and elsewhere.
Chris Milam

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