I Love This Game, Ch. 1

Braunfar in the garden – the family – a photograph – a girl – desire

 “Smile, Braunfar!”

Jaqueline dropped the sixty-four megapixel camera smartphone, the sly gift of an occupied husband, to her side.  For her daughter’s wedding, then affianced Braunfar, still under scrutiny for signs of lingering independence or other dangers in a potential husband, had suggested that the pocked-marked boy with glasses from down the street take all the photos.    Jacqueline had agreed, an act of kindness, she told herself, to pay him three-hundred dollars, under the table, for two hours of pushing a button.

Now that she knew better, Jacqueline might pay him the same figure again, and only to get this single photograph right.  That kid-famous now, having sold several photos of unusually tall Ghanan women to National Geographic- was useless then; now a print of the tribal beauties was in hallway of her daughter’s house.  Jacqueline didn’t like it.  What was his name?  Max?  Murdoch?   Certainly not anything as dignified as, “Braunfar DeManley. Please smile.”

Jacqueline was not the kind of person to use a question mark, as you might guess from her emaciated, post-menopausal marathoner’s body and lacquer eyes, now burning almost fertile. Her hair had been cropped, and splayed severely, almost as if it were the headgear of some strange Order of Ambition – it’s odd how our interior nature is all we have in our dotage. So indeed, this photo was happening, Murray or Maxwell or Mulder or Mathews or whatnot.

“Let’s do this!”  Jacqueline made up for her imbalance in verbal punctuation with exclamation points.

The DeManley family was, to be fair to its matriarch pantokrator, hard to capture in one shot.  With its very mobile members on a single spot of the earth for once, Jacqueline was not about to let the last obstacle to a modest group portrait on the one perfect Seattle day be left overcome.

Dexter the dog was splayed at Braunfar’s sandaled feet.  His grey Schnauzer’s coat, always his best asset, was revealed to be a little worn in the surprising light; he was as old as the marriage.  Tessa, Jacqueline’s impossibly slender and private daughter, a bright, black-haired, green-eyed thirty-year old with an expression of the sweetest myopia, was tucked under his right arm, pried away from picking at weeds in the lettuce bed.

Tessa had long since learned to consign only a fraction of her daily energy to pleasing her mother.  It was worth every exertion, as failure was a catastrophic and lingering reconciliation of emails, phone calls, tears, and lunches.

Chester, the smooth coated calico sat satisfied on the picnic table, warmed himself in the tranquil May sun.  Unknown to all, he was in fact smiling, and further, wanted to be in the picture.  He dangled a paw and gave Jacqueline his best indifference. The best and most natural poker player in the household, Chester.

It’s not that Braunfar can’t smile, or like the usual only modestly self-important American male, his life a plains breeze of pragmatic morality, reasonable expectations, and fiduciary responsibility. Braunf is in the midst of an anti-climatic kerfuffle with an in-law who is looking at the wrong side of the coin.

Braunfar the human being, not the lifetime probationary husband, is a realist. Unegotistical. Placid.  He made peace with Jacqueline the moment he saw her, wisely, sanely, efficiently.  “Well, I’m not marrying her, after all,” he had explained to Tessa in the days when she was still miffed at the lack of trouble her mother caused him. Alas for no conflict, no rub. Where Tessa has spent her whole youth first trying to attain, (she in fact found it three days before the marriage, and lost it the day before), and now reject, the enormous importance of her mother’s serenity of love and judgement, Braunfar solved the problem with a smile.  “Happy to meet you, Mrs. Leah.” Of course Jacqueline had expected that, and was deeply in love with Braunfar’s general operability in a world she battled with, but the sting her daughter expected to hear from a future husband a tone more akin to, say, “What seems to be the problem, officer?”  You know, caught.

No. Braunfar, who was a lot more handsome than Jacqueline had expected – more than her daughter was pretty (mothers, even Jacqueline, always know exactly where these things stand) – didn’t blink and just smiled.  Actually, if he had not blinked, she would have known, felt some fear, and he would have been thenceforth hers forever, a new family member not unlike all the other ones in her imaginary matriarchy.  But the boyfriend did blink, and smiled.  “I’m Braunfar.” That same smile she wanted now, even if she would like to change it to a deferential pleasantness: sincerity was not something Jacqueline relished in a man.

Braunfar’s actual expression was one that was completely natural but gave the impression of slight exaggeration.  Lipstick on a smile, she thought – Jacqueline didn’t really have even this much of a way with words – but you know what she means.  She put the phone back to her face, hoping for some sort of habitual response that she thought she could create; gestures made sense to her above all: little signs of what shouldn’t be said.  (Her own sage husband knew this well, and you might wonder how he got to be on the golf course today, no doubt with a wide, irrepressibly natural grin.) So: no. Braunfar just wasn’t smiling right now.

Yet how could he not be happy, with the most adorable baby girl, a true peach, the fuzz on her head as warm as her infant’s happiness, squirming lightly under his other arm?  Arriving later in the marriage than many more anticipated and perhaps less beloved babies, the DeManley daughter, named Tangerine (there was no christening even considered for this happy pagan couple).  Arriving as late as this beautiful summer day, all the more appreciated for it and all the more treasured.  Named for a late Zeppelin song that Braunfar and Tessa playing from the radio while star gazing from the back of a ’78 Ford, Tangerine was, to mix fruit, the apple of her parents’ eyes.  She was already outgoing and charming, a preternatural flirt, with a rich momma and great-lookin’ daddy.  When Tangerine learns to walk, the world and its inhabitants will be at her feet.

However, despite her hopelessly lovely bright brown eyes and million-dollar personality, daddy is still not smiling.

There are a lot of quacks and pop psychologist-types out there, who can tell you that a cake longs to rise and mattress lays flat in waiting; and they would have some good fodder with the DeManleys.  I only bring this up to reassure you that, while Braunfar and Tessa are going through real changes, the kind adults must deal with, most often with no help but from the dim polar star of their own conscience, he is not troubled by these truths.  While the bundle of parental delight grows, the DeManley couple grows older.  The organisms settle and age. However, it’s no mystery to him: Braunfar is wily and perceptive. He has noticed something- is it just him who seems to love Tangerine a little too much?  Why are they so focused on their daughter?  Why do they make dates to make love, as if they are going to the church to be reminded of what they believe in?  And what will Braunfar do when Tangerine is a little older and seeking out a nice Banana to play with? Why does he sometime think about files and documents and janitors when he walks into his living room?

The truth is, Braunfar knows these late night worries better than you or any of the quacks do, and on a Seattle’s first summer day, he normally would know to enjoy it.  Life is fleeting; he’ll tell it to you.  He’s big on rational choices. Find a quality of life and keep to it.  No man of morosity, Braunfar.  He’s no scab picker, no cultist of emotional repetition.  Introspection itself is useful or it isn’t, and in fact needs to be curtailed in favor of action. Solid (supposedly) middle class (although who really says that anymore with a straight face) thoughts, the kind that more people need, the kind that make the world go round and make him and his family a happy part of it.

It’s the bad you, before your coffee, the professional head mongerer, who is concerned with this layer of the DeManley life.  You’ll wonder what transpired in the early years of the DeManley marriage, you’ll be convinced Tessa gave him a wrong look or he heard a bad word said against him, that the mirror was warped enough to convince him to seek solace in some murky place.  Fear not.

Braunfar isn’t smiling because he is distracted.  A thought has hit him, as thoughts come to all of us, which took him down a path.  The truth is, he hasn’t heard a word Jacqueline has said, commanded, or implored.  At this moment, Grand Coincidence.

Thought.

The boy with all the acne and the camera is walking past, following, leading, and circling a tall girl who listens to him politely.  But he’s no longer a boy. He might even be twenty eight. Murdoch (Braunfar never forgets a name) is raving about shutters, and a lens in particular, that in combination with certain software, will allow him to take a three hundred and sixty degree continuous photo of the city.  It will look great in his apartment. Say no more. Braunfar, adept at situations, games and an aspiring card sharp, guesses at the situation.   The photographer is back home, taking this girl to his parents, but they haven’t been to together long.  He’s successful; that Patagonia windbreaker is the cost of a new suit.  He bought it because he’s independent and catches a lot of wind, apparently. (Braunfar really has no interest in him and is a bit of a mocker.)

The girl, however…  This girl is gorgeous, a tad out of even Braunfar’s league normally, (which is a whole other subject). Snotty little Murdoch must be beside himself.  The two met at an exhibition, or they were set up.  She’s giving it a chance.  She’s long and lithe, with cheekbones and a slightly open mouth, black hair and a figure.  She’s not a girl at all, Braunfar should know, she’s a woman. She’s familiar to him, somehow, and Braunfar knows she’ll listen but doesn’t respond unless it’s interesting. She’ll keep to herself but have no shame when she doesn’t. She’s not unlike the type Braunfar would regularly bed in college.  The kind of girl, no, woman, (she began to become closer to his age) who likes bad politics, good movies, and two bottles of wine.

While Murdoch leads her away, Murdoch’s young woman turns to catch the family scene; Jacqueline’s voice, the thin sound of aging irrelevance, has caught some unborn and unnecessary part of her mind she will not need anytime soon.  After all, this beauty has no idea what goes on in some family’s garden or why they are all grouped on a picnic table.  She doesn’t even think about family much; she has three brothers and the idea of corralling a bunch of her offspring is about as seductive as a conversation about camera parts.  However, she grew up in Boston, poor as dirt, and every December her divorced father would take her to Beacon Hill.  They’d walk up the snowy cobblestones under ornate lamplights until he found the right scene.  Dad would lift her up onto his shoulders, and give her the best view of the beautiful Christmas trees in the windows, tall and perfect, genetically selected for the Brahmins.  The sashes of silver and the globes of gold hung from the pert branches were the season itself.  She’d stare in awe, as Dad took them from one window to the next.  At the end of the walk, with a tear in his eye that she never noticed until this very moment, as memories and reality met, he’d tell her one day they’d have a tree just like that.  She loved the trees so much, this walk was always the best part of Christmas, and she never minded or even thought about his self-recrimination and profession of better Noel props.  It was perfection, and this little family, she thought, looked perfect, and she smiled as the husband locked eyes on her. Off to dinner with the photographer, who led her with one sweaty, overgripped paw.

Braunfar at first thought he was amused.  Off to dinner, he thought, but not much after that…  Murdoch was a good kid; maybe I should look him up.  Talk about that photo.  Get an introduction.  Not that I’d do anything.  They aren’t working, so maybe.  Hah.  The truth is that Braunfar was no narcissist.  The girl was merely a vision.  She might as well been a photograph Murdoch dropped off for the foyer.  A distraction.

But Braunfar was distracted.  You don’t usually smile when you are deeply distracted. People are mad at you, they think you aren’t paying attention to the important matter at hand, smiling or nodding, showing them their importance. That’s what Jacqueline needs, of course. But no, when you are distracted, you are thinking much too deeply.

Dexter barked solemnly and unwittingly; a pack of wolves howled somewhere in the past and a tire iron struck the thin plate of a decorative rim, tuning it on a low E.  (Tessa had never seen Braunfar off to war; she may not have heard the private bugle.)  Braunfar, well, he almost said his own name aloud. He could not imagine it or accept it if you told his subconscious at this moment, but in fact he would never see the girl, the woman, the vision again. Unimportant. Braunfar was awake and roused. The sun warmed his family, the house gave them shelter, the garden nourishment.  Years of labor made this possible; a man provides, but he does not cease to be a man.  Braunfar longed the return to action, the quest for some challenge and the hero’s reward.  The reward. The love of a maiden, or as we might say in our vulgar way, a sweet young thing, eager to love, whose nipples haven’t lactated, whose breasts haven’t shrunk, whose hair is careless and glossy and rich, whose hips and thighs are supple with the soft layer of fat they’ll only much, much later need but for now is irresistibly smooth and outrageously inviting, her ass soft and firm and just big enough to exceed a man’s grasp but not too big to be completely ensconced in it, impossible to contain and so she must be handled from all sorts of angles, appreciated, examined, enjoyed like a meal that won’t end yet is taken away if you don’t eat it.

Yet Braunfar refuses this story that you, the reader, want. (As I said, he is a pragmatist. A rational man, much more so than you.)  You see, Braunfar would even surrender that satisfaction, for he does not want to leave his life or start a subterranean system of evasions. What Braunfar wants (he knows this because it’s been mounting in him) is a reprieve, a brief day in the sun and under the moon with a black haired beauty because, because, because he is simply buried in a backlog of all the good things that have ever happened to him, completely buried by every plate, book, table, chair, couch, lamp, bottle, candle, speaker, painting, paper, board, game, ski pole, tennis racquet, guitar, not to mention the plans for more funereal accoutrements: shopping list, grocery list, list of chores, duties, investments, parenting books, the unknown direction his life is taking, he wants all of it ripped away, torn into, just once, to be bled briefly, the veil lifted, the ice cracked so that he can breathe one last time.  He wants a girl to get on her knees and tear all the built up wildness of a perfect life, and with pubic hair stuck in her teeth, suce out from his brave and lively manhood his biological purpose.

A real blowjob. The kind that only a post-virginal, pre-marital twenty six year old can give.  Sloppy. Satisfying.  No, not satisfying: satiating. He wanted to feel it expand his spine and ring his ears. He wanted his entire body and every organ to be erect, like the statue of a roman satyr, and then his entire body and every organ to be feel empty and flaccid, like a lion at rest upon the grass he owns in the most primitive and only true way.  The kind with the blowing (they’ve even forgotten what the word means) at the end (who does that anymore? What a horrible century).   Really tear into him, he wants, just once, for his sake, for the sake of his sanity, and therefore his life, his marriage, his family, his child, for everything he holds dear but has lost his grip on, for all the hours he does nothing for himself (except replace this wish), for everything, this is the answer, one time-

“Yes,” cried Jacqueline.  “What a smile!”

Electronic clicking sound.  “Terrific,” says Jacqueline.  “Do you know that couple?  Not a good match.

“Well you can stop smiling now, Braunfar!”

 

Note to my readers: I am resurrecting this story in order to see where it goes – somewhere, anywhere, nowhere. I Love This Game is a poker novel I abandoned, and will now share as a sort of serial draft. Let’s see what happens and what ideas you have for it.

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