This is a brand spanking new story that I just wrote and posted in the Short Stories board Under Construction. I wanted to cross post it here too though for anyone that is reading this journal who may not be, and probably isn't, reading the Short Stories board. It is not autobiographical, I swear. It just touches on some topics of interest coupled with something that the person who told me about this new folder in the Short Story board said about the area being under construction. This was what my fevered brain came up with on short notice.
Kyle stood leaning on a railing, his hair uncharacteristically over his ears, a two day growth of beard on his face, his clothes wrinkled because he had not been out of them in two days. How can things fall apart so fast Kyle wondered watching the bright sun sparkle off the water of the Gulf of Mexico? A year ago he had been on top of the world, now he felt like he had nothing. What was he even doing here?
He was so deep in thought he hadn't noticed anybody joining him as he leaned on the boardwalk railing until they spoke. "Partner you look like you're doin' some heavy duty thinkin'. Maybe it's not my place but sometimes it helps to talk it out and you don't seem like the type to talk to the bartender although I've done that in my life too."
Kyle started and looked over with more irritation on his face than he really intended. He found himself looking into the seamed leathery face of a man who'd been on the same poker table a couple of times in the past couple of days.
The man held up his hands, "Hey partner if you don't want to talk about it that's fine. I know for a fact that it's likely screwing up your poker game. I've watched you play over the past few days and you're far better than you've been playing. You've been making some pretty dumb mistakes."
Kyle felt himself flushing with anger and then realized that the guy was right on the money. He sighed and nodded, "Yeah I've got my poker game as screwed up as the rest of my life and that's about all I've got left right now. Now I don't even have that."
The man ran a hand through is snowy white hair and grinned at Kyle. "Partner you don't even know what screwed up is I don't think. In my 72 years I've screwed up more than you could ever dream of."
Kyle looked at him, his anger growing.
The man shook his head. "Walk with me partner." He motioned down the boardwalk and started to walk.
Kyle stood there for a minute. "Oh what the hell." He walked after the man, catching him quickly.
"Tell me about it partner," The man said not even looking over.
Kyle took a deep breath and began hesitantly at first but then it all began to spill out.
He told the man it had started a bit over a year ago when he'd been laid off. Even as he said it though he realized that it had been coming. The software industry as he knew it had been dying for years now as more and more work was shipped off shore. He'd found himself, at 50, laid off and virtually unemployable.
Oh he'd tried to find something, he'd tried hard. The strain had been too much for his marriage though and three months before his wife of 30 years had told him that she felt they had just grown apart and now that the children were grown and out of the house it was time to go their separate ways. He'd been stunned by how casually she'd seemed to just walk away from a 30-year commitment.
Kyle had taken the last of his settlement from the layoff and the divorce and decided to try making his long time poker hobby support him. He had thought it would be fairly easy, he'd always been a consistent winner in his home games and forays to other poker venues as well as online. Somehow that was not working out. Now that he needed it his game seemed to be letting him down and he was growing more and more frustrated.
"Partner if you thought playing poker for a living was gonna be easy you got you another think coming." The man said. "I've been doing it, off and on, for the better part of 40 years now and it's a rough life."
"I guess I can't hack that either," Kyle said, then kicked out at a bench as they walked by it. "Jesus I wish I was just dead."
"Well that's an alternative. It even looks like the easy way out," The man said. "Hell I guess I've tried to kill myself a few times."
Kyle looked over sharply at the guy.
"Oh I didn't take a razor to my wrists or nothin'," The man said holding his wrists out. "I did it slower. I've tried to do it with drugs and booze, women and cars. Then I wised up, a little at least."
"Well sure as hell doesn't seem like I've got much to live for," Kyle said with a snort.
"What do you think of this scenery," the man asked motioning toward the ocean. The sun was sinking almost directly in front of them as they walked west along the beach into it. "Pretty ain't it?"
Kyle looked over at the guy kind of strangely. "Yeah, I love it here. I've always loved this area. That's why I'm here. It seemed like a good place to start over. I guess I was wrong."
The man snorted. "Do you want to start over or do you want to feel sorry for yourself and take the easy way out?"
Kyle's anger flashed. He stopped and glared at the man. "I don't need this crap. I can feel bad enough all by myself."
"Yeah you're doing a great job of it." The man agreed. "What you're doing a lousy job of is moving on. Things changed. You got a crappy deal. Now it's up to you as to how you deal with it. Do you want to just waller around feeling sorry for yourself or do you want to do something about it?"
Kyle took a deep breath and bit back and angry reply. "I don't even know where to start.
"Well looks to me like you've kinda started," The man said. "Do you like playing poker?"
Kyle shrugged. "yeah I do."
"Are you any good?" the man asked.
"What do you think, you've played with me."
"I asked you first," The man grinned.
Kyle glared at him and then snapped, "Yeah I do think I'm good at it."
The man looked at him for a long minute making Kyle uncomfortable.
They were walking up to an area where the boardwalk was torn up and they had to go down onto the beach itself to get around it.
"See this here," The man said motioning toward the torn up boardwalk.
Kyle nodded, "What about it."
"What does that sign say" The man asked pointing toward an orange sign.
"Under construction. So what?" Kyle asked. "It's not like they really need a sign, it's pretty damn obvious."
"Well some people can't see what's under their nose," The man said looking pointedly over at Kyle."
"So why don't you tell me what I'm missing here," Kyle said waving at the torn up boardwalk. What difference does it make to me if the damn boardwalk it torn up or not?"
"That's your life partner," The man said. "It's torn all to hell. It's up to you now. Do you give up on it and throw it away or do you put you up a sign that says 'under construction' and build you a new life."
Kyle just looked at the old man. The old man calmly met his angry gaze. As they looked into each other's eyes Kyle realized the man was right. It was like a light had suddenly gone on.
The old man smiled then, "Decided to fight huh? Good for you. I'm going back now. I'm too durned old to walk this far. You keep a'goin' though and give it some thought."
The man turned on his heels and began to make his way back to where they had come from. When Kyle started to follow the man turned and shook his head pointing down the beach. "I done what I could for now. It's up to you now."
Kyle sighed, turned, then turned back and said, "Thank you."
The man just nodded, "For what it's worth you are."
"Huh?" Kyle asked, puzzled.
"Good at poker." The old man said. "You can be very good if you decide to be. I think you'll make at whatever you decide to if you really love it. A fool could tell you were done with that other part of your life. See you at the tables partner"
Kyle stood and watched the old man trudge back to the boardwalk. Then he turned and his eye caught the sign again. "Under Construction" Kyle said. "Why the hell not?"
Hours later he took a seat at a poker table. He was clean-shaven, he'd had his hair cut and was wearing the sharpest outfit he owned. The old man was there, this was the main game and he seemed to always be in it. He looked over at Kyle and nodded. Then tapped his shirt pocket.
Kyle looked down at his shirt and grinned at the old man. He reached up and flipped the pin he was wearing at the old man as the action at the table paused, the other players watching them quizzically.
The old man looked at it. It was a small silver pin with "Under Construction" engraved on it. The old man snorted and looked up at Kyle, sending the pin spinning back to land on the felt directly in front of Kyle.
"Been there partner, done that. It's your time now," The old man said. "Now lets get this game going and play some poker."
Kyle nodded at the man then grinned at the dealer as he pinned the pin back to his pocket. "Shuffle up and deal, life's too short to just sit here."