by: Frederick Foote
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, a card game is held in the dark of the night where the “true” value of the black community is assessed. “A hard rain’s going to fall…”
Every first and third Friday night for ten years and six months the combatants have clashed on the battlefields. In this case, the battlefields are well-worn, felt-topped card tables. Where the contestants are armed with the hands fate has dealt them, the wit nature has provided them, and an unquenchable competitive drive.
Through marriages, child births, deaths, divorces, celebrations, scandals, wars, recessions, and boom times, these warriors have dealt sharp cards, cutting remarks and occasional kind words, and helping hands to each other.
The games rotate between the homes of the four principal players and tonight, Mavis Reynolds, owner, and operator of the M&M Diner, is hosting. Mavis, with her fine, thick frame, sweet smile, and friendly words, is transformed into a stern-faced, curt-speaking, tart-tongued adversary once she’s seated at the card table.
Her partner of seven years is the redoubtable and impeccably attired, Judge Mitch “Mad Dog” Freeman. Mad Dog has on his game face as he takes a seat across from Mavis.
Mad Dog’s rich baritone flows like a mellow wave across the room. “Partner, we must have frightened those pretenders, those would-be bid whist players, so badly that they have been overwhelmed by their fears and at this very moment are quaking with terror in some dark corner hideaway.”
Before Mavis can voice her agreement with her esteemed partner, Makayla “Snake” Douglas, enters the room and interrupts in her sweet, schoolgirl voice. “Judge, Mavis how wonderful it is to see you two up and about and looking so well after that last whooping we put on you two. Did you get our get-well cards? I would have visited you in the hospital – “
Mavis sneers at her five-foot-two-inch short opponent with the pale skin and large round eyes looking like brown moons behind her circular glasses. “Very funny. You and your partner are just so damn lucky. But, luck runs out. And, when it does, wham! You two will be in the ICU.”
“Don’t even go there!” Isiah Butler aka “Bullet” rolls into the room like a brown Pillsbury Dough Boy. “Lucky! You two lucky we let you win any games at all. You lucky we let you even get a bid.” Bullet turns to his partner. “Snake, what’s our winning percentage?”
Snake pretends to count on her fingers. “Well, partner, I do believe that it is sixty-one percent and climbing.”
Bullet takes his seat as if ascending a throne. “And the next best-winning percentage?”
“Fifty-five percent and falling. It’s so sad really.” Snake smiles at Mad Dog as she primly sits and pats Mavis’ hand. “A pity. But it couldn’t happen to more deserving people.”
The six other players gather around the table talking trash, eating Mavis’ fried pork chops, spicy greens, and rich macaroni and cheese. The wine is flowing, the beer is cold, and the battle is joined.
“I feel, I feel good this evening. I feel in the mood to show kindness to the less fortunate, so, I’m going to move on down to El Paso and leave the heavy lifting to my partner.” Bullet smiles at Mad Dog as he speaks.
On hearing her partner pass, Snake sheds a bright lighthouse smile on each of the players at the table.
Mad Dog turns to Bullet. “Negro, be direct. Is that a pass? Are you now passing after all your pontificating, boasting, and bragging?”
Mavis thumps the table with her fist as she speaks. “Empty barrels make the most noise.” She nods in Bullet’s direction.
Po, Snake’s six-foot-five-inch, three-hundred-pound husband, laughs and nods toward his wife. “Watch out now! Watch out, Mad Dog. Look out, Mavis. My wife’s up to somethin’ when she smile like that.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Adds Po’s partner, steely-eyed, Alice Baker Brown, the smartest banker in town.
Professor Odell Smart gives a knowing nod to his partner, Big Maybell Ellison, owner and manager of “Wigs and Wings to Go” as Big Maybell notes that, “Still waters run deep.” as she glares at Snake.
Snake smiles back at Maybell. “Now, Big Maybell don’t go mean mugging me, or we’ll beat you like Louis beat Schmeling.”
“No! We gonna beat you like Ali beat Liston.” Shouts Bullet.
Snake yells back, “Wait, partner. We gonna beat them like Trump beat Hillary!”
Paul Roberson, the mechanic, not the singer, actor and civil rights leader, claps his hands and grins. “Somebody about to unload a can of whoop ass up in here. I can feel it in my bones.”
Paul’s partner, Dr. Vernell Higgins aka “Dr. Cutthroat,” in reference to her career as an orthopedic surgeon and her ‘take no prisoners’ playing style, moves to stand behind Mad Dog. “Next! Thanks for warming my chair, Judge.”
“Hold on! Stop in your tracks!” Shouts a glowering Mad Dog. “Close those noisy portals of misplaced passions, misinformed opinion and unholy and unhealthy breath. You have been hoodwinked, hypnotized and brainwashed by these two charlatans.”
“Absolutely!” Shouts Mavis as she stands up. “We ain’t even bid yet. Snake and Bullet got you fools psyched. That’s why you lose to them so damn often.”
Bullet and Snake smile at each other and Snake looks up at Mavis. “Dear ones, we’re mere mortals without any superpowers whatsoever.” She turns to Mad Dog. “Please, Your Honor, bid.”
“And, Hillary won the popular – “
Bullet holds up a hand to stop the judge. “Wait, wait. Hold on, Mad Dog. You need to act like you’re a black, gay, undocumented, Muslim, pregnant woman in America and Donald Trump’s President. Be very careful before you open your mouth or show your face.”
“Or step out your place. Partner, he’s black, and Donald Trump’s President. That’s bad enough. Give the Negro a break.”
“Oh, shit! You’re so right. Thanks, Snake.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s right as rain, Judge.” Po advises around a mouth full of greens. “Speak when spoken to and keep your freedom papers with you at all times.”
Alice grabs Po’s arm. “And remember that there are spies, agent provocateurs, and secret Trump supporters among us.”
Maybell adds, “They don’t need all that spy stuff. We already guilty of being black. That’s an automatic life sentence.”
Mad Dog frowns and booms out, “Negros, if you had voted. If you had contributed time or money to support your candidate we would not be in this mess. We – “
Dr. Cutthroat Higgins cuts the judge off. “Excuse me, Your Honor, but neither of those two clowns was my candidates. Hillary was just about giving us Obama in whiteface, and Trump’s a cowardly, racist, misogynist, self-aggrandizing asshole.”
Paul gives his partner a hi-five. “Preach and teach, partner. Tell it like it is!”
Bullet cuts off Mad Dog as he starts to respond. “Judge, I know you just looking for any reason to delay bidding, but, my man, people, is waiting for that chair.”
Alice shouts, “Amen to that.”
Snake adds, “You have our permission to bid, just respect us and speak slowly, loudly, and clearly. I know it’s a lot of pressure on you, but we have faith in you. Don’t we partner?”
“Of course, we do.” Responds a smirking Bullet.
The Judge tugs at his collar. “Four! For the Negroes, that forgot, failed, or flaunted the opportunity to vote. Now, we all will suffer four years under the wrath of that forked-tongue, orange-haired, pompous, buffoon.”
“Oh, boy, Judge, you done messed up now, boy.” Paul looks around the game room as he speaks. “You know you have to be careful what you say now. These are dangerous times for non-white judges. Now, you know every word you said went straight to the NSA. Come Monday you may not be a sitting judge. You may be an ex-judge sitting in an NSA secret prison with ex-Judge Curiel.”
Po walks over to a table lamp and speaks into the lamp. “Hey, NSA folks, my name is Bennett and I ain’t in it. I love me some Trump. And if you need a witness against these subversives, I’m your man.”
Mavis huffs in disgust. “Come on you guys, get real. That fool’s no joke. He don’t mean us no good. We need to take him serious.”
Snake leans toward Mavis. “Mavis, honey, the only thing you got to be serious about and keep your mind on is this bid whist game and this ‘Four No’ that I’m sending your way. You go on and do your little pass thing so we can get this show on the road.”
Mavis studies her cards. “Well, Ms. Smart Ass, you’ll be singing a different song when Jeff Sessions and the Klan comes calling.”
Dr. Cutthroat sighs and sips her wine. “Genocide’s in the wind in this country again. I feel it in my bones.”
Everyone turns to look at Cutthroat.
Cutthroat looks at each of them as she speaks. “I’m serious as a heart attack. A hard rain’s going to fall.”
Bullet lays down his cards as he responds to Dr. Cutthroat. “Oh, come on, Doc, don’t be a drama queen. Trump just looking to line his pockets and play the fool. Hell, we lived through the Kennedy brothers, and those two idiots brought us to the edge of nuclear holocaust.”
Mad Dog laughs. “And, we survived the second Bush and his imaginary, wishful thinking, weapons of mass destruction war in Iraq.”
Po joins in the laugh. “And, we lived through that scoundrel, Nixon, and Reagan and his demented rule.”
Paul turns to Professor Smart. “What about you Odell? You and Maybell hiding in the bushes?”
Bullet waves the Professor closer. “Uh huh, what’s up Odell? You always got an interesting take on stuff. Enlighten us man.”
The Professor tugs at his lapels and turns to Cutthroat. “Doc, I think we can rule out genocide against blacks in the US. We serve an important economic function – “
Paul jumps in. “Of course, we’re a big part of the economy. We must be worth….”
Mad Dog offers a guess. “Trillions, right Professor?”
The Professor nods in agreement. “Our net worth is valued at about two trillion, but that’s only about three percent of our national net worth.”
Mavis is waving her hands as she speaks. “Wait, wait hold on we’re about thirteen percent of the population and we only got three percent of the wealth? I knew times were bad, but not that bad.”
Bullet points at the Professor. “Odell, you told me a while back, that our median household net worth was less than five thousand dollars and that white net worth was over one hundred and ten thousand. Is that, right? Do you remember that?”
The Professor smiles at Bullet. “Right on. You are, exactly right.”
Dr. Cutthroat spits out her response. “Bullshit!”
Paul adds, “Hell no! We own a nickel for every white dollar. You jiving, Odell. You -“
Maybell speaks up. “No! He’s right. Right as that hard rain that’s already falling. That’s why I voted for Trump. We need a change and Hillary was not the change we needed.”
Snake’s on her feet. “Maybell, no you didn’t! No! You got way better sense than that -“
Po collapses onto the couch. “Shit! Why in the world….woman, was you high? “
Mavis throws down her cards in disgust. “Maybell Ellison, I have known you for forty years – and I just don’t believe my ears.”
Mad Dog wipes his brow with his handkerchief. “Maybell, I share your frustration, but Donald Trump’s far from the solution. I’ll bet my dollars to every nickel you own that we’ll end up in even worse economic shape under the Trump regime. Much worse.”
Paul’s shaking his head. “Five cents on the dollar. Five thousand dollars to one hundred and ten thousand dollars. I just looked that shit up on my phone. I still don’t believe it.” He passes the phone to Mad Dog. There’s a seething silence as the phone makes its rounds.
Bullet turns to the Professor, “OK, Odell, where’s our economic value? Three percent ain’t shit. They could write us off in a minute. Three goddamn percent?”
Dr. Cutthroat responds to Bullet. “Genocide. I told you. Economically, we would hardly be missed.”
The Professor turns to Dr. Cutthroat and pats her shoulder and turns back to Bullet. “We’re worth more to others than we are to ourselves. Judge, do you know what percentage we are of the inmates in the jail and prison systems?”
“Oh, about thirty-five or thirty-six percent of the jail and prison population is black. OK, Odell, I see where you are going, without blacks in jails and prisons, the whole prison industry would be depressed. Hell, I’d be out of a job.”
Odell smooths his lapels. “The government spends more to keep us in jail than it would cost to send us to an Ivy League college. We have tremendous value beyond our net worth. We provide middle class and above income to lawyers, judges, law enforcement officers, prison guards, private prison investors, and many, many more.”
Mavis snorts. “That’s truly messed up.” Mavis turns to Maybell. “And Trump’s a businessman, Maybell, he gonna make it worse, more pork in his pocket, by putting more of us behind bars. You know that’s true.”
Maybell shrugs. “Most likely. I agree. If we let him. He’s a dog.”
Paul moves to confront Maybell. “So why did you vote for him if you know he’s a racist, mangy cur?”
“I didn’t think he would win, but I was tired of us falling further and further behind. I was burnt out on the same old Democrat bullshit. I’m glad he did win. I hope we use our three percent to fight him no holds barred like we would never take it to a Democrat. I want us to get real and get in the streets. I want us to raise holy hell. That’s what I want.”
Paul turns to the Professor. “Do you think Maybell’s right about us regrouping, fighting back, firing up a new movement?”
Mavis’s pounding the table. “I’m with you, sister. I don’t understand your vote, but I feel you. I do.”
Po turns to the Professor. “Do you think this Trumped up threat will bring us together?”
The Professor’s not optimistic, but the discussion’s long and lively and for the first time in ten and a half years the cards are discarded, and the scoresheets are blank.