John knows what to show and what to hold. Poker. The familiar given cards vary only in sequence. He can bend their order as well – a slight rotation of his thumb, a straightening of his little finger, a small movement of a knuckle at the edge of the deck, busy barely perceptible pressures of his fingers beneath it, a shuffle that is not quite a shuffle, a cut that is not quite a cut. Every deal has a perfect and correct reaction - a star in the grey of dawn. John calculates odds and probabilities. He watches the other players, the way they show and hide disappointment, fatalism, eager hope, or triumph. John remembers every card dealt; remembers every corresponding narrowing of an eye or twitch of a hand. He floats above any interest. He erases the part of himself that cares, reaching only for the perfect reaction to each deal. And part of each reaction is to show and to hold – to smile, to lift his lip, to add momentum as he throws cards, to hesitate, to appear to drink too much and sway with gravity, to look up with a cocked eye, teasing and daring. Am I lying?
And then, afterwards: Why yes, I was.
There is always a correct, a perfect thing to do. Poker.
But now it is not poker. The cards are not Ace to King in four suits.
John sits across the table. He is always sitting across the table. Now he does not deal cards but invoke Platonic Forms. Innocence. Darkness. Warmth. Fear. Bravery. Love. Want. Sacrifice. It is as if every ideal is an ace – at once low and high.
And John prays with his curled toes that they will conjoin in coherent hands. He remembers every gesture that accompanies every deal - the tone and force of each breath, every slight tension or relaxation of lip or eye as they are shown. He remembers every word spoken in response. For words are the chips in this game. Small handfuls of words are laid on the table – every sentence a risk, a wager. Are the cards enough?
Ideally, they both win, for then the game continues. Ideally each gathers in chips, understanding, mingling words with the other’s. Risk too much and the other will fold. Risk too little and the other will shrug, the game not worth his time. But it is not poker and they do not play for money. There is so much at stake that John cannot
erase his care within himself. He cannot
float above his interest. And he has no desire to manipulate the cards. It is a fair and straight game – he bears no advantage. He struggles to discover the best possible ranking within his dealt hand, to lay enticing bets that will encourage that they might be seen and even raised. But he cares too much and the cards hold no certain order. He finds he cannot judge the perfect and correct reactions. He knows
these stars - but must now trust his faith in his knowledge of their positions. And all he can do is his very best to ensure that the game continues as small wagers of precious words are exchanged.
Because he is playing for your soul. You reveal it in your wagers. His bets and antes build it up with those small handfuls of words and sentences. Words have meaning. Words can change your world. Words can destroy and transform you. And eventually, when the prize is large enough, when it is complete and compelling enough, when you believe that loss of it would be incalculable, then John will see that finally, finally you want to win as much as he does.
And you will win. And he will win.