My Mother Cheated at Solitaire

By Brian Ellair


Her hands, swollen with medication and idleness, lay out the cards in the familiar pattern on the bed.

I come into her room to play with my Hotwheels on the hardwood floor. It’s my favorite room to zoom my cars because whoever built the addition to our 125 year old farmhouse hadn’t owned a spirit level or a T-square. I set a car on the floor by the door and it accelerates down the incline to stop with a thunk against the gun cabinet. It holds my father’s hunting rifles and the shotgun that my great-grandfather used to take his life on a winter day before I was born.
Retrieving my car from the floor, I approach the bed to watch the flick of the cards onto the quilt. My mother taught me to play solitaire, but as I watch her, I see her manipulate the cards in ways I know are not in those rules. Red on black on red on black, building down in descending order. Yet occasionally a card is placed above the others. I think this must be a rule in a version of the game not for kids, but for adults.
As she play she sometimes looks up at me from beneath her dull copper hair and asks me about my day. How was school, did you have a good time with your grandpa, have you eaten yet? The questions come, but I don’t really believe she is listening to the answers. I see her pause, the steady rhythm of card flips silence. Her unfocused gaze looks out from the failing farmhouse to something only she can see. Where do you want to go to college? I look at her and don’t answer. I’m not even in school yet. Her gaze sharpens as she looks at the leaning pile of books on the bedside. There are romance novels, science fiction, and books on ancient Egypt that she reads to me in the still evenings. She looks back at me and opens her arms into her soft embrace. I hold her and smell the cigarette smoke in hair that falls over her shoulders. She squeezes me until I’m uncomfortable.


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