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Where We Live: Putting cards on the table

Published July 20. 2018 11:10PM

The first card I found was the ace of spades, kind of ominous, I thought at first. Then I found a two of hearts and a three of clubs and thought, maybe somebody was working on a straight. The finds were inexplicable, since I was just out walking a dog on a dirt road.

The next morning, I found five cards, but nothing — no pairs, nothing sequential — that could have been used to build a poker hand. I pocketed them and back at the little cabin I was renting, added them to the previous cards, which I’d put on a windowsill. Maybe somebody wasn’t playing with a full deck.

The next morning, I found the mother lode — a deck of cards that almost filled their box. Shortly before I found those cards I’d been passed by a couple on a two-seater ATV, going the other way on the dirt road. I recognized the ATV — the people were campground “neighbors” of mine.

Thinking that they may have dropped the cards, I stopped by their RV after my walk. Oh, they explained, there’s a woman who lives year-round in one of the RVs near the bathhouse. Every couple days she drives her old Chevrolet truck into town and plays cards at a bar with a group of people. She always throws cards out the window on her way home.

After a couple more mornings of picking up cards, I got a little weary of the whole thing. The RV park was in a beautiful setting, with a big lake and numerous trails. There were swans, geese and loons on the lake, and boaters recreating in everything from kayaks to bass boats. Why would someone so blatantly litter?

Hey, I was leaving the next day anyway. After the morning walk, I gathered up all the cards and found myself knocking at the door of an RV, the only one with an old Chevy next to it. Hey, I said with a friendly smile, have you been losing some cards? I’ve been finding some when I’m out walking my dogs in the mornings.

A couple seconds, then maybe half a minute passed. She opened the door and stood aside, making a passageway for me. It was an older RV, but immaculate inside, with a ’60s-era chrome dinette set and dated plaid cushions. We sat at the table, she served coffee, and I laid the cards out between us.

She started with a litany of excuses. Sometimes she put the cards on the dashboard by mistake and they blew out the window. Sometimes she meant to throw them from the center sliding window, so they’d land in the truck bed, but they must accidentally blow out onto the road. Or maybe she dropped them on the step as she entered the truck, and they blew out through a gap between the door and the frame.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. We just sat there. I sipped my coffee. I raised my eyes and that’s when I spotted it, down the hall, on a shelf over the bed — a wooden triangle with a flag inside. “I see the flag,” I said, and she answered, “My husband.”

Guessing her age, I asked, “Vietnam?” and she said that yes, he had served in country. He’d survived that. Never the same physically or mentally. When he came back, what he liked to do most was stay in the RV at the campground, and most evenings they’d go out and play cards at the bar. And then about eight years ago, she said, Agent Orange finally finished killing him.

We loved to play cards, she said, and still I always carry a deck of cards with me. But none of our friends are left. I don’t have anywhere to go, and I can’t sleep, so I just drive around at night. I know I shouldn’t throw cards out the window.

But I’m just mad, you know? I’m still mad.

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