Three Card Monte

Paul Luikart

I’m on the Brown Line, headed downtown to pay off a fine. This pair of guys is running a three-card monte game from the pregnant lady seats. The dealer shuffles the cards lickety-split and snaps them down onto a plywood slab that sits balanced on his knees. The other guy, dressed up in a thrifted suit—tube socks, scuffed black loafers, the whole bit—he’s winning every time. They make a show out of handing back and forth their crumpled five-dollar bills, like they’re men who always settle their debts. The second guy, the big winner, he’s hollering this cornpone shit too. “Well, I’ll be,” and, “How about that?” and “Ain’t I a lucky sonofagun?”

“Lucky nothing,” says Dealer, “You’re good, is what you are.”

But nobody gives a shit. There’s a guy in a bright blazer sitting beside Dealer and Cornpone, and Blazer stares out the window, hypnotized by the city zipping past. Two old ladies across the aisle are jabbering away in Polish and, every now and then they giggle, and their giggling is clipped and low, like they laugh in a different language too. And a kid with a skateboard slouches against the divider by the doors. If the hucksters—or anybody else in the entire world—even register with him, well. It ain’t easy to say.

The train rumbles through valleys of cockeyed, slate-shingled rooftops and the people get on and off at Southport and Belmont and the monte game goes round and round, only ever the two of them, like if they stopped and hollered, “We’re full of shit,” the city would spin off some invisible axis and ping around the universe with inhuman inertia. Inertia. Is that the right word? In. Er. Sha? Well, I guess what I mean is “completely lethal speed.” They’re saving us, really, every second of the ride. So, here’s to you, you fucking shysters. How’s it feel to be Sons of God?

Paul Luikart is the author of the short story collections Animal Heart (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016), Brief Instructions(Ghostbird Press, 2017), Metropolia (Ghostbird Press, 2021) and The Museum of Heartache (Pski’s Porch Publishing, 2021.) He serves as an adjunct professor of fiction writing at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He and his family live in Chattanooga, Tennessee.