Can I Count You In?

A story by Shirley Faessler

I’m washing up from breakfast with a million and one different things on my mind and all of a sudden I get a call from Matilda, a voice from the past.

“Hi, Millie,” she says. “No one’s seen you around lately, what’ve you been doing?”

“One thing and another.” I told her. “Nothing much.”

“Feel like doing it this afternoon?” she says.

“Not me. Tillie, I swore off.” I told her. “I promised Danny I wouldn’t touch another card for six months and I still got three to go. And you want to know something? I don’t even miss the games. I wouldn’t care if I never see another card for as long as I live.”

“If you can keep away, good luck to you, kid. I only wish I could.”

“Well, it’s different for vou. Till,” I told her. “You’re single. You’re your own boss like: you don’t have to account to nobody.”

“That’s for sure.” she says.

She’s yawning, she’s popping her gum, and I could tell she’s losing interest in the conversation. If I’m not going to play she’s wasting her time talking to me. “Well, so long for now, I’ll be seeing you around,” she says, ready to hang up.

“What’s your hurry?” I asked her. “Can’t you talk awhile? Poker players are all alike. Stay out of the game for a while and you soon find out who your friends are. A person could die and nobody would even . . .”

“What kind of person? ” she says. “Poker players never die. they only fade away. Don’t get sore, kid, I’d stay and talk to you till the cows come home only I promised Lena I’ll try and round up a few hands for an afternoon game.”

I felt in a mood to talk so I made up something to say. “I heard they play a pretty big limit at Lena’s now.”

“What kind of big?" says Matilda. “Dollar limit same as anywhere else. Only thing is you have to issue fifty bucks, at least have twenty-five in front. Lena’s pretty strict about that. She doesn’t want no player blowing ten, fifteen bucks at her game and start asking the house for money hollering murder they lose a hundred.”

“Stop.” I told her. “You’re breaking my heart about the poor house and all the money it has to give out.”

“You always got all you wanted off her.” she says. As if I need to be reminded.

“Sure I did. Because she knew she wouldn’t lose a nickel to me. I’m not so dumb. Matilda; I lost plenty at Lena’s but she never lost a dime to me.”

“Believe me I’ve been sailing lately but good. I haven’t seen daylight in weeks.” she says, “but at Lena’s at least you have a chance. The game’s fast and the girls play up their hands. Nobody sits on the goods, no shy, no kitties, if the game’s short Lena takes a hand herself and she sends it in pretty good. The game’s tailor-made and if you’re running lucky you can make a fair win.”

That’ll be the day. Anytime I make a win it’s fifteen, twenty bucks tops. But when I go I go for the bundle.

Matilda is still talking. “I wouldn’t want to talk you into anything one way or the other, but I promised Lena I’ll give you a call and personally I’d like to see you make a break. The game starts at one and breaks up at six. What I mean is you can’t get snowed in. Maybe you broke your jinx staying away like that. Anyway, what’ll I tell her?”

“Tell her not to hold her breath,” I said and hung up.

Funny, the reaction I had from talking to Matilda on the phone. For the first time in three months I started thinking about the games. Would it ever be gorgeous to sit in again. I felt tempted but I put it out of my mind. I gave Danny my word. What am I saying gave Danny my word, he made me swear it on the Siddur. “I wouldn’t take the word of no poker player, includine you.” he said. “Swear it on the Siddur.”

He stood up on a chair and brought, down the Siddur from the top shelf on the highboy where he keeps his tallis, his yarmulke, and all the other religious stuff that he has to use once in a while and gave it to me to hold in my hands. He couldn’t wait a minute even for me to dust it off at least. Then he took me in the bedroom and made me stand by Marilyn’s cot to swear. The baby was asleep so I swore in a whisper. “May I never live to see my daughter again if I’ll touch another card for at least six months.”

What a day that was, I’ll never forget it. He left for the road around nine in the morning and comes back around eleven, pale as a ghost. He takes a chair, sits down, and looks at me as if I’m a stranger. I got an awful scare. I go over to put my arms around him. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“Don’t come near me.” he says. “You better stay away from me. Millie, I’m not responsible.” Then he looks at me as if I’m something the cat dragged in and says. “Since when are you playing in rake-off games?”

My heart started to beat so fast that I nearly fainted.

He turns his face to the wall and starts talking. “I didn’t know what hit me,” he says. “I step in to Kornbloom’s this morning and he tells me the check I give him for eighty bucks last week bounced. I figure there’s some mistake so I turn around and go to the bank. There’s no mistake. I’m tapped, there’s no money in the account. The teller shows me a flock of checks for fifty, sixty, seventy, forty, they’re all made out to Cash and signed by my wife. I feel I’m going out of my mind. I turn them over to have a look at the endorsements. Ada Mooney, Tessa Harrison, Sadie Bisgold. Lena Soskin—every lousy game runner in town. I begin to see daylight. Teller wants to know is anything wrong? Nothing wrong, I tell him. my wife’s signature’s as good as mine. It slipped my mind is all. Get that—I don’t want him a two-bit teller to know that my own wife tapped me. Tapped me as if I’m just some mark she’s shacked up with. Not her husband, the father of her kid.”

He lights a cigarette and sits like a statue, staring at the wall. I was very nervous. I didn’t know what to say or how to approach him. Just then the baby woke up and I brought her in the kitchen for her bottle. He’s crazy about his kid, but even that didn’t bring him to life. Around three o’clock when I put her back in bed he goes to the phone and calls his mother. “Get in a cab, Ma,” he told her, “and come right over.”

She came running. Her lipstick was on crooked and her hair wasn’t even combed. She thought the baby was sick. “The baby’s OK.” Danny told her.

She puffed out her lips. “Pooh, pooh, you scared the heart out of me,” she says, and sits down in the low wing chair with her short legs sticking out. “What’s so important I had to come over in such a hurry?”

“I brought you over because I want you to tell Millie a few things,” Danny says to her. “About poker is what I’m talking, but you’re the expert so you tell her. Tell her how the old man broke his back trying to make a buck and how you bet it all back in the games. Tell her how the milkman never got paid, the laundryman, the lies I had to tell for you . . .”

Ma got red as a beet. You could see the red under the suntan makeup she wears all year round summer and winter. “What’s come over him? Is he out of his mind or what?”

Danny kept on at her. “Tell her about that Yom Kippur, the year I was twelve years old. In case you’ve forgotten I still remember that day. Everybody on our street is going to shul and my mother the gambler steps in a cab, she’s going to a game. Right in front of the house yet without the decency even to pick up a cab around the corner.”

Ma tried to get out of the chair but she was sitting too deep in it, she was stuck. She held out a hand to me and I gave her a pull up. “Look. Danny. I didn’t come over here to be insulted.” she told him. “You’re talking to your mother don’t forget, so have a little respect please. I don’t drag Millie to no games. If you’ve got something to say. say it to Millie. Leave me out of it please, I’ve got my own headaches,” she says and goes away without even asking to have a look at the baby.

Danny takes out the bottle from the cupboard and on an empty stomach takes a drink of rye. This made me even more nervous. Except at simchas he never takes a drink in the middle of the day. He rinses out the glass, then when he says to me, “Now I’m ready to talk to you.” I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“I’m not going to ask how long you’re playing in rake games,” he says, “because a poker player can’t even open her mouth without telling a lie and that applies to you. I’m not going to ask who initiated you, my own mother. who else. I’m not in a mood to ask any questions, I just want you to take in what I’m going to say. I don’t want the kind of life my father had and I don’t want my kid to have the kind of life I had. I’m not going to go for it, Millie. I warn you.”

I started to tell him I’m sorry.

“I don’t give a shit about being sorry.” he says. “I heard my old lady telling that to my old man till it was coming out of his ears. I want you to get out of the games is what I’m talking.”

I promised him I’ll never touch another card for as long as I live. “I give you my word, sweetheart.”

That’s when he said. “I wouldn’t take the word of no poker player including you. Swear it on the Siddur. And don’t give me that long as I live bizazz, I don’t go for it. Just swear on the Siddur you won’t play for another six months at least.”

It made me feel very funny swearing on the Siddur. Not that I’m religious or anything but swearing beside the baby’s bed and in a whisper yet gave me a very spooky feeling.

After that he seemed to be more relaxed. He even said. “I wouldn’t mind something to eat now.”I made supper and he kept Marilyn on his lap and played with her. We went to bed early and before he turned around to go to sleep he said he has to get a couple of things off his mind before he can fall asleep. “I want to tell you why I got so steamed up.” he says. “And it’s not the money, Millie, since when did I ever begrudge you a dollar? Poker’s like a disease. once you get hooked to the game you lose interest in everything else. Apart from that you don’t belong in that league. You’re a sweet kid and they’re hard. They got no principle, no word, they’re ignorant, Millie, and when I got a picture of you sitting at the same table with them I blew my top. You like a game of poker so you should of stuck and stayed with that ten-cent limit you used to play with married girls your own age. I don’t want to be hard, so if you want to get back in that game I’ll get the Siddur down and you can swear it’s only rake games you’ll stay away from.”

He puts on the light. He’s ready to climb up again for the Siddur.

I had to laugh to myself. If I ever had to sit in on a ten-cent limit again I would fall asleep in the middle of a hand. “Put out the light.” I told him. “I swore I wouldn’t touch another card for six months so let’s leave it that way.”

Next morning after Danny left for the road I felt very bad about him phoning his mother to come right over, then start blasting her the minute she sits down. So she likes to play poker, what’s it to him? A widow with no children to look after, a hardworking woman suffering from varicose veins from standing on her feet three days a week in a dress store. She doesn’t come to him for money to play; he had no call to talk to her like that so I phoned and told her how bad I felt about it. “But don’t blame me please,” I told her. “He found out for himself I was playing and put the blame on you. I nearly died, Ma, I nearly had a heart attack when he came home from the bank and saw all the checks I gave out. I didn’t get a chance to tell him you’re the one that tried to keep me out of the games. I was too scared to say anything. Anyway, I’m out of the games for good. I swore on the Siddur I wouldn’t play for six months but in my heart I meant forever.” What a game. Was it ever gorgeous. The pots built up so fast. By the fourth card there was twenty dollars in the middle, thirty. They threw money in the pot like it was water. Around twelve o’clock Lena gave the deck over to the hand on her left, a peroxide blonde about forty with a terrible complexion, and told her, “Deal around once. Cora; I’ll take my insulin and we’ll eat.” Cora dealt and Lena brought out from her black handbag a hypodermic needle wrapped in a hankie and right there at the table lifted her dress up so high you could see her naked stomach and everything else and gave herself a shot in the belly.

That ten-cent limit Danny was talking about that I used to play with married girls my own age, that was a long time ago. It’s over a year since I got involved in the bigger limits.

First time I sat in was one night when Danny was out of town. Danny is a chicken dealer, he takes his truck out to the country three or four times a week for a load and if it’s too late to come home he stays over. The night I’m talking about I was seven months pregnant and felt kind of jumpy about staying alone in the apartment so I phoned Ma and asked if I could stay with her overnight. She told me she’s going to a game. “It’s Thursday, Millie. I go to Lena’s Thursday.” Lena Soskin is a game runner and my mother-in-law’s closest friend for over thirty-five years.

I asked Ma if I could come to Lena’s game with her.

She told me that the game they play is not for me. “It’s not like the game you play with your girls,” she said. “We don’t play for bopkes. It’s a rake-off game, half a buck comes out of every pot. A five-card check-in dollar limit with experienced gamblers is not for you. Millie.”

“Can I come and watch?” I asked her.

“So come.” she said. “I’ll get Milky to pick you up.”

Milky is the cabbie who drives the poker loads. A baldy little runt with a hoarse voice and a milky white face. He came with five people in the car so I sat sideways on Ma’s lap to Lena’s. Three hands were sitting around a big table in the kitchen, waiting for the game to start. “Here’s the load,” says Milky. “Six gamboliers. that’ll be four-fifty, Lena.”

The players were very fussy about where they wanted to sit. This chair was hard luck, that chair was the electric chair; they kept changing places till they found a chair that suited them. Lena opened a fresh deck, shuffled the cards, and gave them to the hand on her right to cut. Before she dealt she took out from a big black handbag which she keeps on the floor by her feet about a dozen packs of cigarettes and gave out to the players whatever kind they asked for. Then she picked up the deck and told the players. “Ante up, girls.” Everybody threw in a quarter and the deal began.

For supper there was cold cuts, knishes, potato salad, dills, coffee, Cokes, cookies.

About an hour after supper, Cora taps out She’s broke. She asks Lena for money; Lena won’t give it to her “Don’t ask me for money,” she tells her. “you’re in to me for plenty.” The woman looked so miserable you had to feel sorry for her. Instead, everybody’s ready with a kibitz. “The crying room’s next door.” they told her.

Arguing with Cora, Lena forgot to deal. This made the players very impatient and less good-natured than before. Somebody said. “Get the rag out, Lena, deal.” Even Ma, who’s a very kindhearted woman, she got mad too. “What are we sitting?” she said. “Deal the cards. Lena, you’re holding up the rake.”

Lena dealt around, leaving Cora out. She watched a few hands, then got up from the table. “Keep my chair.” she told Lena. “I’ll be back.” The minute she steps out somebody says. “Chinky Cora, if she scores she’ll be back.”

She sleeps with a Chinaman,” Ma explained to me, “and he gives her money to play.”

Around two in the morning Milky comes through the back door. “Who sent for you?” Lena asks him. He points to Matilda, a big good-natured woman, a real slob with false teeth and a hole in her sweater. “My sweetheart.” he says. “She told me to come two o’clock, didn’t you. Till?”

Matilda folds her hand, she’s a gorgeous winner. “That I did,” she says, and takes a wad of gum out of her mouth. “Don’t stick that gum under my table!" Lena hollers, mad at her for leaving the game so early, a winner.

Matilda goes out the back door with Milky. “Is she his sweetheart?” I asked Ma. “Sweetheart,”says Ma. “A goy, a married man with five kids, such a year on her a Jewish girl.”

The game starts up again. Shorthanded it’s even faster than before. I’m dying to play. To sit and watch is like sitting on hot coals. I take two tens out of my purse and without asking my mother-in-law for permission which I know she’ll say no I told Lena to deal me in.

I took the hand on a pair of tens and from then on I couldn’t do a thing wrong. Cards kept dropping for me. I played overlays, outside chances, raised on the if come, and almost every other hand nailed a card to give me the hand.

Around half past five Mrs. Mintz, a tight player, is dealt on the fourth card an open pair of jacks. She bets out, all hands fold except me. I’m straightening on board with eight-nine-ten and with a queen in the hole all I need is a jack to fill, what a hope. Ma takes a peek at my hole card and gives me a kick under the table. But I’m a gorgeous winner so for the fun of it I call the hand, and Lena deals out. She deals Mrs. Mintz a deuce. “No help,” she says, then deals me a jack and calls my hand for a possible straight Mrs Mintz nearly had a fit. She turns up her jack in the hole “Beat what you see.” she says. I could have bet out, made her pay to see, but I didn’t want to take advantage so I opened my hand to her. She’s fit to be tied. She thought I’ll turn up a seven in the hole, that I’m playing on a two-way straight at least. She was boiling, she got real bitchy with me. “My hand’s a stick-out for three jacks,”she says. “To buck three and for the case jack yet, I’ve seen everything. You’re pretty cocky for first time out. Or just plain dumb.”

Ma stuck up for me. “Who’s to know you had three, Mrs. Mintz? You come in on a wired pair, what were you sitting on them? You never raised, you wanted action and you got it, what are you complaining? So you’re playing hard luck for a change, what are you blaming her? I wish I was on a slow boat to China with a player like my daughter-in-law.”

Ma told Lena to call a cab. To me she said. “Pack it in, Millie,”then went to the toilet.

Lena takes a bail-point out of her black handbag. “You’re a nice player, Millie,” she says, “give me your phone number.”

We went outside to wait for the taxi. I noticed Ma didn’t look so good, she looked like an old woman getting in the cab. I gave her a little hug and put forty dollars in her hand from my eighty-six-dollar win. “Take it, Ma, you’re a loser.” She gave it back. “Keep it,” she says. “Today I’m a loser, tomorrow’s another day.”

“Would I ever love to play tomorrow, but Danny’ll be in town . . .”

“Forget the rake games,” she says. “You played once, you made a nice win. and that’s enough. I shouldn’t of let you play altogether, that’s all I need, for Danny to find out I took you to a game.”

Next Thursday I get a come-to-my-game call from Lena. “You’ll meet some nice players,” she says, “and the game’ll be fast, Millie, the way you like it.”

I asked her is my mother-in-law going to be there?

“Not tonight. Josephine. Would I ask you to my game if she was coming, your policeman?”

Milky came with Matilda riding up front, still in the same dirty sweater and chewing gum. Chinky Cora was at Lena’s, sitting under the gun like last week; the other four people were new to me. First I was introduced to the old one, a player everybody calls Mother, a gentile lady about eighty and a very wealthy woman I found out later, who lives in her own rooming house and looking after it for her is a man called Walter who’s half her age, a kind of caretaker who takes out the garbage from the tenants and sleeps in the same bed with Mother. I met Esther Greenberg, a player they call Little Esther the Thief behind her back, a Mrs. Creed, and Pearlie Swerling. a dress designer with a lot of jewelry on her and makeup on her face like an actress.

I don’t even want to talk about the game that night, it was murder.

But it didn’t start out that way. First half hour I played lucky. I had a crazy streak, everything stood up for me, I ran the forty I started out with up to seventy—and all of a sudden boom! I died. Pearlie Swerling got lucky, she starts getting the drop. I kept bucking, shooting raises in on peanuts and blowing the hand to her. Long before supper was served I had to go in my poke for fresh. To make a long story short, by three in the morning I’m tapped. I blew the eiahty-six winnings from last week, and on top of that thirty-five housekeeping money. I didn’t want to quit, a big loser, but I’m scared to ask Lena for money. If she turns me down the way she did with Chinky Cora last week I would just die of embarrassment. “Deal me out.” I told Lena, and I get up from the table without a dime even on me for a taxi.

Pearlie Swerling with a stack of folding money in front big enough to choke a horse starts singing. “The Game Is Young and You’re So Beautiful.”

To be needled by a winner and on top of everything a dirty player, that was very hard to take. Lena spoke up. “Your credit’s good. Millie. How much do you want?”

“Give me fifty,” I told her.

The game broke up around eight, and half past eight I’m knocking on Ma’s door. Poor Ma got a scare, she thought I’m getting pains before my time. She took me in for coffee and I told her the whole story. “I don’t know how people can be so hard. There was a Pearlie Swerling there. When I was winning I gave her a break. I opened my hand to her. But when she got lucky she ripped it in to me. And even your friend Lena, she can be hard too. I gave her a check for fifty, I took another thirty off her, she knew I was losing dose to two hundred but she never let me off even a dollar.”

“Lena’s a verv nice woman.” Ma tells me. “But a game runner is a game runner. She’s a widow with a verv bad case of diabetes and makes a living from her Thursday night games. Only thing I’m disappointed in her is the fact that she called you to her name after I asked her not to. Now you’ll start getting calls from all the game runners. Word’ll get round there’s fresh blood in the game and loose as a goose. Don’t go. Millie, don’t play.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I had my lesson.”

Saturday morning Danny gets up early and tells me he’s taking Ma in the hospital. I got an awful scare. I told him I saw Ma yesterday and she didn’t say anything.

“Probably she didn’t want to worry you a pregnant woman. But it’s nothing serious.” he says, “her regular heart checkup is all, only this time she’ll have to stay in a little longer for an operation on her varicose veins.”

Tuesday morning Ma had her operation and soon as we heard she’s out of Recovery Danny left for the road and told me not to expect him home till around eight the next morning. Same night around seven o’clock I went to visit Ma. She was sleeping with her mouth open and was snoring but she looked OK. Lena Soskin comes in with Sadie Bisgold. Lena with a gorgeous bouquet and Sadie with a box of Black Magic chocolates. Lena introduces me to Sadie and the first thing she says is. “What are you doing tonight. Millie? Want to come to my game?”

I took a fast look at Ma. she’s dead to the world.

The game that night at Sadie’s was slow as molasses. Rich Mrs. Mintz the kvetch took an hour over every card to make up her mind if she’ll call or fold. They say she lives off her interest, banks loan money off her. Mother is a little bit deaf so you had to shout at her every time there’s a raise. Little Esther the Thief had to be watched every hand she was in. Sadie look a smack at her hand every time she reached in the pot to make her own change and that slowed up the game too.

The game folded around seven and I got home just under the wire, a twelve-dollar winner.

Ma stayed three weeks in the hospital and came out with elastic stockings on her legs and looking at least fifteen years older. When she found out that I already gave Sadie Bisgold a play, and Ada Mooney, and even played a couple of times at Lena’s she got so mad at me she wouldn’t talk to me for a few days.

When she got back in the games I tried to keep away from whatever game she was at. If she was playing one place I went to another. From Lena’s, naturally. I kept away altogether. I heard through Matilda that Lena gave Ma her word that she’ll never let me step into her place again.

With my time so near Danny started worrying that my pains might come on suddenly when he’s out on the road. He wanted to keep off the road. I wouldn’t let him. “Don’t worry about me. sweetheart.” I told him. “I’ll phone Ma the minute I feel something.”

My pains did come on very suddenly. In the middle of a hand in fact when I’m drawing to a flush to beat a possible two pair. Nobody knew what game Ma was at so Matilda got on the phone to Milky and I went to the hospital with Matilda in the back seat with me, cracking her gum in my ear.

Ma was located finally at Tootsie Shawn’s game, but not till seven in the morning and by that time she was a grandmother. She came running and by nine when Danny came off the road she was able to phone from the hospital, thank God, and tell him “Mazeltov.

For four months after Marilyn was born I didn’t go to a single game. One Monday night Danny says to me. “Why don’t you take in a movie? I’ll stay with the kid, I feel like going to bed early.”

I didn’t feel like a movie. “Maybe I’ll go to the new steam baths on Phoebe Street,” I told him. “They stay open till three so if I’m a little late don’t worry.”

I took a streetcar at the corner, rode past Phoebe, and got off at Ada Mooney’s street.

The regular Monday night session was on and I got a very big hello. It was a hot night and it looked like a striptease the way the players were sitting around in their lingerie. Nobody was wearing their dress, even Matilda was playing in her slip without a sweater on, and Pearlie Swerling with a choker of pearls around her neck, you wouldn’t believe the bra she had on. In plain words, dirty. How she had the nerve to take off her dress. She was losing I was glad to notice. But she was in there pitching, shooting raises in on nothing, building the pots and blowing the hand. Even the tight players were chasing her and the pots were gorgeous.

I got lucky right off the hop. Now it was Pearlie bucking me for a change. She kept pressing, sending it in, trying to force her luck, and I ripped it in to her. I don’t forget that easy. If a player plays dirty with me I can be just as mean. With me lucky on the draw and Pearlie bucking, high hand was scared to bet out on an open pair even. Naturally, this made the players kind of edgy. Mrs. Mintz got so worked up losing a cinch hand that she picked up her cards and tore them down the middle, all five. Ada’s eyes popped out. “What kind of card-tearing business is this, Mrs. Mintz?” “What’s the matter?” says Mrs. Mintz, she was boiling. “Aren’t the cards paid for yet?” Ada without saying another word opens a fresh deck and deals out. A game runner doesn’t care to tangle with a loser.

Mother was a big loser too. A beautiful player, you’d never know she’s a loser. Losing and laughing and laughing and losing she changed a couple of fifties without taking an edge even and never said boo. You had to admire the woman but loudmouth Pearlie comes out with. “It’s only money. Waiter’ll get you even, ay Mother?” A very coarse remark to a person that age.

After supper the game’s just as fast, only difference being my luck runs out and Pearlie starts getting the drop. Now I’m bucking her. Two o’clock I’m still ahead of the game and that’s when I should of quit. Sucker me I stuck and stayed till I went broke to her.

I got home around half past five with my heart in my mouth. It so happened Danny was asleep and he never knew what time I got in. Which is the only break I got that night.

Two nights later when Danny was out again for the night I packed Marilyn in the carry-cot with the diapers and the bottles and went with her to Tessa Harrison’s game.

From the time she was four months old till she was eight months I played every night Danny was away and got myself in so deep I owed the world. I lost a mint, a fortune, and he didn’t know a thing about it. It was on my conscience all the time. like leading a double life, but I kept playing around and about hoping I’ll break my jinx. Make a few wins, put the money back in the bank, and quit.

And that’s how things were going till that terrible day that Danny came home from the bank after Kornbloom’s check for eights bounced.

It was exactly three months since I swore on the Siddur. And I kept my oath. Every call I had from a game runner I said no to them so they stopped phoning me. And that morning when I told Matilda on the phone that I wouldn’t care if I never see another card for as long as I live, I meant it. Funny thing is I couldn’t get my mind off her call. How come Lena should all of a sudden get her to phone me? One thing sure, Ma couldn’t be playing there or she’d never have the nerve. She gave her word. The sight of that woman is strictly poison, would I ever love to get even with her. “Deal me in,” I told Lena. “I’ll play a few hands till Marilyn wakes up.”

It was a gorgeous day so around one o’clock I put Marilyn in the carriage to take her out for a little air. She fell asleep right away and I didn’t have a thing in the world to do till suppertime. Danny wasn’t coming in till around seven. I thought maybe I’ll take a little walk over to Lena’s. Not to play, just for a kibitz. After all I didn’t swear I wouldn’t watch another game.

When I stepped in to Lena’s I got the surprise of my life to see that Ma is there. “What are you doing here?" she says. I didn’t know how to answer her so I said. “It’s a free country, Ma.” “That it is,” says Matilda, “and the game ain’t hard and nobody’s barred.”

Ma gives Lena a very reproachful look. “You gave me your word. Lena.”

Lena gets red in the face. “I didn’t phone her. Honest to God, Jenny, may I hope to die.”

“Don’t get excited,”I told Ma, “I didn’t come to play.”

I watch a few hands and Pearlie starts needling me. “She’d play if I wasn’t here.” she says. “She’s scared of me. she remembers how I took her to the cleaners last time out, right Millie?”

Ma folds her hand. “Without me,” she says and steps out of Lena’s without a good-bye to anybody.

Playing for blood and also very nervous about sitting in after swearing on the Siddur. I was way off my game. I couldn’t do a thing right. Around half past three when I already made up my mind the hell with it I’ll quit after this hand, there’s a knock on the door, a bang, and two men walk in over six feet tall.

Lena makes a grab for the cards, the rake money, the players start grabbing their money off.

“Leave everything on board, ladies,” says one of the cops and the other one steps up to the table and shovels the money and the cards into a canvas bag.

“You can’t grab no money off the table.”Lena tells him. “I know the law. you have to give me a receipt for it.”

“Remind me when we get to the station,”he tells her, then steps to the phone and calls the wagon.

We’re hustled outside and the next minute the wagon’s there. Neighbors from both sides and from across the street are on their verandas. For me it’s like something happening in a dream. I lift Marilyn out of the carriage and I’m standing in line for the wagon holding a baby in my arms. First one to get in the wagon is Lena, helped in by a cop. The neighbors laugh and start clapping their hands. Lena lives in a Jewish neighborhood and a Jewish woman a gambler is a disgrace to the street. One by one they all get in the wagon, then it comes to my turn. The cop takes a look at me. “Are you planning on bringing that kid to the station?” he says. I started to cry. “Please, officer.” I told him. “I can’t leave her here.” He steps over to the other cop, whispers something in his ear, then says to me, “Take your kid and beat it.”

I took a couple of aspirins when I got home, then phoned Ma and told her about the raid. “I was let off thank God on account of Marilyn. I nearly had a nervous breakdown, it’s a lesson to me, Ma.”

Lena’s case was remanded and next week when they all had to go to court they fined her live hundred dollars for running a common gaming house. I heard the news through Matilda. “Lena’s been running fifteen years.” she says, “and all of a sudden her game gets knocked off. Milky says somebody must of tipped the law, but who? That is the question. Lena says whoever did it they should only drop dead.”

I didn’t see Ma for about a week but I spoke to her on the phone a few times and she didn’t sound so good, there was no pep to her voice. “What’s the matter, Ma?” I asked her and she told me her legs are paining her. We talked about one thing and another and a couple of minutes later the phone rings and it’s Ma again. “It’s not my legs, it’s my conscience that’s paining me,”she says. “I’m responsible for Lena’s game getting knocked off.”

She tells me the whole story of how she got so mad at Lena for breaking her word that she took a taxi to the station after she left the game and had a few words with the sergeant on the desk. “I made a deal with him to pass up the lady with the baby,” she says, “and that’s why you didn’t have to take a ride in the wagon. That was a terrible thing to do, let alone to a friend, and I feel very bad about it now. Not that Lena can’t stand a five-hundred-dollar fine, still and all it’s on my conscience.”

My mother-in-law is a very kindhearted woman who wouldn’t harm a fly so I had a fair idea how bad she was feeling. “Try and put it out of your mind.”I told her. “You’ll only make yourself sick worrying.

And that’s exactly what happened because the very next day we get a call from the superintendent at Ma’s apartment building and he tells us Ma had a heart attack and they took her to the hospital in an ambulance.

For three days they couldn’t say if she’ll live or die. Poor Danny nearly went out of his mind. “God willing she’ll recover.” he said, “and I’ll be a better son to her.”

For my part, you can imagine how I felt. I felt the whole thing was my fault. It’s on my account, to keep me out of the games that she did what she did and got a heart attack from guilt. I’m not a superstitious person but I got the shivers every time I remembered what Lena said about whoever did it they should only drop dead. I’m not a religious person but I prayed to God that if only she’ll recover I’ll never touch another card.

In two weeks Ma was out of danger, and in three weeks they discharged her from the hospital. “Good as new,” the doctor said. My prayers answered.

It took a few weeks before Lena could get her game going again. The players kept away for a while, they were scared of another raid. Lena had double locks put on her front and back door and little by little they started coming back to her game. Lena’s back in business, strong as ever. Thank God for that, it puts Ma’s mind at rest.

This morning for the first time in two months I get a call from Matilda, she’s full of news. For a start she tells me Ada Mooney went to California to live. “That leaves Monday night open.” she says. “I’m taking that spot. Millie. I’m starting a seven-cardstud dollar limit and tonight’s ray first game. I’m lining up a few hands and your name popped into my head. It’s got to be over six months that you swore on the Siddur, can I count you in?”

I didn’t want to tell her about a more serious oath I took. “Line up your hands.” I told her. “but don’t count on me. Matilda.”

That must have been Milky’s idea, Matilda would never have the brains to think of taking over Ada Mooney’s Monday night spot with a seven-card stud. That’s a beautiful game. You come in with two cards dealt down and one up. Seventh card is dealt down so you have three in the hole and four up. You wouldn’t believe the hands that come up. Somebody has a pair on board and you could be playing against a full house. The betting gets kind of wild and the pots are gorgeous. □