Throwing cards down on the table always felt like love. He’d learnt the pleasure as a kid, eyes barely breaching the table top, sweat from the day’s toil swimming amongst cigarette fumes, paint-stripper wine, cries and interjections, the tally of points.
He didn’t care then that he didn’t properly understand, he just loved watching shapes slapped down and swept away. Clubs, coins, cups, blades. The king beating the horse beating the page. Three beating sevens. Aces winning all. Unless you had trumps, where even the smallest could beat the largest of anything else.
How great was a game where the tiny could triumph. Like Maradona’s low-centred gravitational pull dragging Napoli all the way to the Serie A crown. Scopa seemed like terrain he could master. He didn’t even need to be too dexterous or too smart.
When he was older, running with his scrappy wog pack, defying the Marist Brothers with cigarettes and untucked shirts, stolen afternoons in pool halls, convoluted defiances to comprehend the barest minimum of what could be most easily understood, that’s when the cards truly came to life. Their decorative flourishes by now second nature, the boisterous bi-weekly ritual a defiance of its own. Secret male business. Espresso fueled.
He knew (without knowing) that there was more than a dance in the ebb and flow of play. He knew there was power too. The edges of pride. And in the echo of a village square, hooves on cobblestones, hot hot sun, there was something like a place in those cards. Not just of things that came before, or the concrete pavements he crisscrossed now, but of all the places yet to be. His own feet in his own future on his own ground.