Jason Kuffer CC
The gambler sits in his usual spot, right in the middle so he can see all the screens. He has a racing program and cup of coffee in front of him. A pack of cigarettes, though he has to step outside to smoke. He will sneak out and hotbox a cigarette between races. Only between. He won't miss a race because each race is an opportunity.
His rent is four days past due. He got paid five days ago. This is his fifth straight trip to the simulcast center. But the gambler is not nervous. He is not anxious. He feels nothing. Feelings and betting are strange bedfellows. He has $120.00 in his wallet. Five days ago he had $650.00. But the gambler is not concerned. He's been down this road many times. He is patient and methodical. He has a plan. Don't bet the longshots, play it safe, pick the best horse, don't take chances. Be smart.
But the gambler will not be patient. He will not be smart. This is also familiar terrain for him. He always starts off conservatively, but that evaporates as the races progress. He is not satisfied with small wins. Small money. He starts to think about his rent. He thinks about the past, all those Christmas mornings with a tree but no gifts underneath. The disappointment in his son's eyes, once a bright blue, but now a shade of disgust. He remembers Jennifer, how she left him years ago because he drained the bank account, pawned her jewelry, lied about everything. The gambler will not stick to his plan because he wants more. He always wants more. He wants to win big, pay his rent, give his son a nice present, buy Jennifer a bracelet or necklace or watch. Anything to bring them back home.
He's down to $20.00 after three hours of betting. The dynamic in his mind has changed. The gambler is now nervous. He is anxious. He is concerned. Desperation has arrived. He steps out for a quick smoke. He paces back and forth on the concrete. There is another gambler out smoking. They make eye contact, it's like looking in the mirror. Degenerate sees degenerate. He finishes his cigarette and crawls back to his table.
He pours himself into the program. He looks at speed figures, past races, who the jockey is, who the trainer is, running styles. He identifies the most likely winner, a frontrunner named Silver Ghost. Odds are 2/1. Won't pay shit, he thinks. He can't pull the trigger. He looks at other horses, finds one he likes. A longshot at 45/1. Sky Dancer. He walks to the machine and puts his last twenty inside. He bets ten to win and ten to place. It would pay him hundreds if he wins.
He takes a sip of coffee. Deep breath. The gates open and horses fly across the track like sprinters in the Olympics. Sky Dancer drops to the back of the pack, fifteen lengths behind. But that's his style, he comes from off the pace, a late runner. He saves his energy until the race his half over then unleashes hell on the synthetic dirt. Except he doesn't unleash hell. He drops back twenty lengths then thirty. The jockey is standing up in the saddle, a bad sign. The gambler knows it's over, he doesn't even finish watching. He simply gets up and walks to the car. He sits in the parking lot for fifteen minutes. He punches the steering wheel multiple times. He can't think straight, his mind is a stew of anxiety and anger. He eventually drives home.
The gambler sits on the couch, television off. There are no sounds in the house. Debilitating silence. He smokes and smokes, trying to make sense of what just transpired. He replays races in his head, beat at the wire by a nose, the horse stumbled out of the gate, the jockey was late with the whip. He will fall asleep with thoughts of losses and close calls. Of things that could've been.
Two days later, payday. He already called the landlord, said he would have the rent later today. He's at his favorite table, a program and a cup of coffee in front of him. He is not nervous. He is not concerned.
He has a plan.
The gambler always has a plan.
Chris Milam lives in Middletown. Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Molotov Cocktail, JMWW, Spelk, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter at Blukris.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.