Posted by: Richard Bergstrom | September 12, 2011

The Gambler – A Story

The Gambler by Richard Bergstrom

That night, I offered you a drink. In a crowd, a bar: scent of cigars and cattle, blue jeans and dusty cowboy hats, then you. No friends, no family, and never seen, we were alike. Raven, your straight black hair, tanned hands on your bountiful hips like the Pocahantas of myth, and no, not the shaved, underaged naked one. A scar, just above your right eye, gave you a third eyebrow. I didn’t have to ask how it got there. Life has a way of cutting the deck that people are dealt. You knew about life when you found me at the craps table, notepad in one hand, two six-siders in the other.

“There is no God” and I rolled the dice, taking mental notes.

Yet, you showed me otherwise. You sat down next to me, but I could only dream of touching you. Feeling you up, dressing you down. And I could be proud. I could have your hand in mine, lips locked, standing tall. You wanted to be with me, and I was you. Together, whole, one. You swept up the dice, cast them on the table one last time, and then left.

I lingered, staring at your lucky seven’s. And stared. And someone tried to sit in your empty chair, but my feet held your place. The bartender refused to serve me any longer, but his baritone voice rang over the phone.

“Jack, it’s Earl. Raccoon needs a cab.”

I saw your smile in the paper the next day. It didn’t look like the real thing though. It also said your name was Maria, but my real name also wasn’t Raccoon. But, you knew that too.


Gravity brought us together that night. Natural selection let me feel you in a thousand stories. Your smile adorned hundreds of paintings. Scores of flowers and animals echoed your nature. Yet, we are not one, yet. Feeling, eagerly, fingers of energy grazing, just distant, cutoff from love.


Still, I went the next night. And the next. And, of course, the next week. Not every night and I sometimes left early, but you still weren’t there. No raven hair, and no Raven, my lady. I stopped playing dice, since I knew what I was shooting for. I also stopped buying drinks for others. I didn’t want to kill them off too. But, the crowd still remained, a variety of faces wearing the same kinds of clothing. The same smells of cigar and country, and my dealer, my junkie, the sweaty bartender with the empty tip jar. On those nights that I was sure you’d be there, that I tried shouting over the card games and pool tables for you, he’d kick me out. Earl would chase me off the front stoop, out of the parking lot, and into another old cab. In the twilight, I never saw the details on the shadowy faces of the drivers. They didn’t know my name either, nor Raven’s.

That week, I went through twenty pages and ten pens. But, I thought my best writing would come when I found you again.


True love, though, is a mathematical improbability. I’d never bet on it. The chance of two people that are made for each other, finding each other through the mobs and miles, must be quite small. All the more reason to latch on tight if the dice seem to roll your way. Without love, there is loneliness, and without snakeeyes, there’s nothing to see.


“Did you do that?”

I would’ve missed it, but I just happened to be looking the right way. Etched into the wooden cross, just above the bouquet, the word “Hello.” The wind trickled through the hair on my arms and neck. The sand blew past me, past the flowers, and over the mesa to the canyon floor. The canyon floor, a long, long way down. That must have been where you left me. The article in the newspaper didn’t have a roadmap, but the area seemed right. A lonely curb on an unpaved road, unnoticed by anyone save whoever built the shrine. And, of course, myself. And I can feel you. You’re in the wind, the sand, and the flowers on the turn. The string of face-cards that caps off a winning streak. The set of rolls that defy the odds and the gods. If such a power can change the luck in a dice game, then I will be hearing you soon. I just have to count the cards and take notes.


But what now? They call it a “phantom limb”. Maybe it’s some kind of nerve memory, but I still feel you. It’s not an embrace anymore, or even a caress. It’s a tap, tapping on my shoulder, and since you tried talking to me, I tried to find you again, so I bought a dream catcher.


I drove to your shrine daily, some time after I get done thinking and before I get done writing. The pendant hung limply from my rearview window, the long-dead dark feathers dried and lifeless from the desert heat. An open space in the middle of the pendant was threaded with beads like a spider’s web. That was my dreamcatcher. A four dollar trinket, designed to keep out the bad dreams of loneliness and losing bets. Only good things could pass through. I tried to drive straight, but the wheel in my hands keeps turning to the shoulder, my vision following the dreamcatcher like a broken compass. No birds in the sky, and only discarded flowers on the ground.


You always believed in those kinds of things. Before, I liked fact: odds, numbers, probability. The senses, touch, taste, smell and sight. I wish I could hear you now, a whisper, or a sigh. But no matter how fast I drive, the dreamcatcher never rings. I know it will soon, and I’m going to test it.


I anchored the flowers in a little blue vase I had bought at your reservation. The lady who made it was old: her parched hands wrapped the vase, streaks of silver hair braided through ceramic beads, wizened eyes that didn’t recognize your name. I didn’t ask her why she packaged the vase. She also had more quill pens for sale. And candles.

“It is good to write. These pens won’t fray until long after you’re done releasing your thoughts.”

I bought some pens, and back in my truck, I felt the sharp tip. The tip that had once been deep in a bird’s body. The tip that now drew blood from my palm.


It’s actually a pretty simple test. It’s a matter of velocity and angles. The speed of sound is only a bit faster than my souped-up chevy. Gravity will do the rest, now that I know how to find you.


Redwolf’s eye would twitch whenever he had a full-house. I learned quickly not to bet against Ziggler when he had a cigar in his mouth. I never needed to figure out Moose – he liked breaking up his best hands, risking it all for a big win. That night, I won more hands than I lost. An average night for me, nothing too special. I didn’t plan on playing any more cards after tonight anyway.

“Raccoon, another drink?”

“No, Earl, I’m done.”

I didn’t want to lose what I found, and I already hit the jackpot once.


I’ve learned your tells well by now. Even if it’s been weeks since I’ve seen you, I still feel you around me, clutching, not wanting to let go. I see mockeries of your smile in the other wayward, lifeless patrons of the bar. Earl never leaves. He’s always there, handing out the drinks, calling for cabs, and letting each person go about their business. The cards dealt out, the dice rolled, and the same game played out. But, Raven, you’re telling me you’re still around, and you’re telling me how to find you. You’re telling me there are different games and better stakes out there, and you have your chips stacked on me. I just need to place the big bet for you.

The Raccoon”


I lit two candles at the base of her cross, then climbed into my truck. I put my wallet, license revealed, on the dashboard beneath the dreamcatcher. The night was dark, the wind shivering, exciting, sensitizing my skin. The hairs stood on end as I revved the engine, and let go of the brake. Up-shift a gear. Faster. Shock absorbers working. The dreamcatcher jingled like a doorbell, and welcomed me over the edge of the cliff.



Please feel free to check out the new post “Golden Arm – Excerpt #2” at 

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