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MORNING IS ONLY MINUTES AWAY, closer now than any chance of tossing back to sleep. In the distance traffic begins its usual muttering. The neighborhood shakes itself awake. The dog next door rattles his collar and I hear him yawn like an uncle then pad pad over to his bucket. Slop. Piss.

I reach over to the nightstand for my wallet. I leave it folded shut, but lay it on my chest. Thirty fresh one hundred dollar bills in serial order, plus some used half-dozen odd tens and twenties. No need to count again. Dianne rolls over, unconscious, alarmed by some seduction.

A player who buys in with small bills is expected to be driving a small stake, and his play had likewise better be conservative and safe. So I try to buy in with clean hundreds or at least fifties, and never buy chips with chump. Counters have to act like the money isn't important to them, like rich marks making money in spite of themselves, lucky faces. Or you find yourself in the Brown Book. Griffened. Griffenated.

Sliding out from the sheets, I slip over to the window to peek at the morning. Two toms are taking turns stalking each other along the curb. They tumble in a heap under my car. A thin tail waves like a baton from the gutter.

On cue a paperboy wheels onto the block, whips in and out of driveways. Flipped Mercurys slap porches awake, Jordan's door claps a reply. Then the street is quiet again, and the cats, satisfied, resume their roughousing, make up, papatter off together.

Breakfast is a Pepsi and a bowl of Captain Crunch. The cereal offers up a cellophane pouch of marbles. I pocket a green-flecked catseye and drop the remaining pair back into the box, loose. The empty bag blows off the kitchen table, drifts to the floor, calling up an enfolded memory as it falls.

A Saturday morning: Valentine's Day. I had driven across town before dawn, parked and waited three cold hours until the delivery truck pulled up. The weekend before I had placed this order for a huge bow of freshly minted chocolate, lifesize, true in every detail and strung with a bowstring of thin licorice. I had also arranged for a matching quiver of baby red roses. Counting across the one hundred fifteen dollars and sixty-three cents in unwrapped change I impressed upon the gum-popping florist the overwhelming burden of unrequited teenage passion being entrusted to her care.

Now I watched in my rearview mirror as a short, tiny-handed Irishman clambered down from behind the wheel and made his way to the back of the truck.

Then he popped back into my mirror carrying the foil-wrapped bow in one hand and the bouquet in the other. As he leaned the bow against the side of the truck I saw the company's trademark cellophane wings on his back. They flashed as he gave his shoulders an easy hitch. He hunted through his jacket, fished and fished and finally plucked out the pink work order. I had copied out a short script on the back. His lips pursed as he seemed to study his part.

He shoved the paper back in his pocket and took a last puff on his cigar before balancing it on a fender. He grabbed the bow and started up the driveway. It was a steep climb, and each step seemed to fall more slowly than the last. I began to worry. Was he favoring his own heart? I started to sweat, willing him up the drive.

Would he keel over like an old sparrow, SaranWrap wings flapping helplessly? But at last he mounted the porch. I imagined the bell flying cheerily through the house. I saw her descend sleepily from her room, wondering.

There was still no answer. Now she was hanging up the phone gracefully. But no. Reality thudded home. As my heart trudged back down the steps I slumped over the wheel, the heat rising in my chest. Gone away!

A pecking at my window nearly knocked me into the windshield.

"These were yours, weren't they son?"

A blush of guilt was all I could muster.

"Look, m'boy," he went on, tracing the air with his cigar, "Don't panic. I'll try again in a couple of hours. Not to worry. You just leave this to O'Malley."

Then he was gone, ashes fluttering where he had stood.

This page last updated 07/26/2005. This fiction is copyright 1983, 2005 David Donaldson.