UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
LARKE G. SCHULDBERG

Roulette

         It lay on the table between them. It was sort of dull in sheen, and black. He
had imagined they would be shiny, glint in the light or something like that, but no.
He could feel her eyes on him and he knew he should look up and smile. But he
couldn’t take his eyes off of it. He knew his face was betraying everything he was
feeling, always bad at poker, but he kept on staring. And she kept on watching
him, waiting.

         Finally, she reached out and picked up the gun and brought it to her flushed
cheek. She lay it across the side, like a teenage girl cooling herself with a can of coke.
She closed her eyes and smiled.

         “Can I touch it?”

         She opened her eyes and placed into his open palms. It was warm from her cheek
and heavy. It made sense to him, that something that powerful would have such weight
to it. He transferred it to one hand, gripped it like he had seen in movies and slipped his
finger around the trigger. He felt his face flush and set it down.

         “It’s not loaded is it?”

         She shook her head no and he picked it up again. Felt how the smoothness of the
trigger contracted with the roughness of the handle. He stretched out his arm and was
again struck by the weight of it. So heavy. He felt his finger tighten around the trigger.

         “It’s not good for it though,” she said, “to dry fire it.”

         He sheepishly lowered the gun. Set it on the table. Put his hands in his lap.
She had been leaning on the table but she got up and walked to the same cabinet
where she had got the gun. There was no sound in the apartment except the click of
her heels. Then they stopped and all he heard was the rattling of a box, which she
quickly replaced. She closed the cabinet and walked back to the table.

         She placed the single bullet next to the gun. But she didn’t sit.

         He stared at her. He had always stared at her and never known what to say. Why
was it at Phil’s funeral he had found the words? The words that led him here. And now
again he was speechless.

         “So what do we do?” he gulped.

         She picked up the gun and spun the chamber. The bullet sat on the table between
them.

         “Here’s how this works,” she said. “You point the gun at me. Pull the trigger.
We spin again. I point the gun at you. Pull the trigger.”

         “And that’s it?”

         “That’s it.”

         “You used to play this with Phil?”

         Her smile disappeared.

         “Yes.”

         “I thought Phil…” his voice trailed off, he looked at the gun held jauntily in her
hand.

         “Phil died from lung cancer.”

         “Oh okay, I just, I thought, maybe, you know…”

         He could feel every molecule of air he breathed in, and every one he breathed out.
His own breath seemed to deafen him. He knew there was traffic 11 stories below. He
knew there was rain. But all he heard was wind rushing through him.

         “Here,” she said, and stood up. She pulled her chair around to his side of the
table. “Move, your chair, come on.” And she pushed him out from the table. Sat in
front of him with her knees touching the inside of his thighs. She leaned forward and
placed both of her hands on his chest. He looked down. She bites her nails, he
thought. Interesting.

         “Do the same.”

         He placed his hands over her heart at the place where her chest plate turned soft.
She slipped his hand under her blouse and he could feel the satin of her bra. I’m 32
years old, he thought, and I still want to make a grab for her boob. He sighed
and then stopped. He could feel the soft tap tap of her heart.

         “Oh my god.”

         He thought about the first time he had seen Phil’s wife, tall, blond, gorgeous,
cold. A strange yet perfect match for the boisterous Phil. She was hanging on his
arm at some firm shindig or another, not smiling, not making any attempt to
socialize. Everyone knew why Phil had picked her, but why she had picked Phil…
She seemed lifeless, a beautiful possession. What was weird was how content she
seemed in that role.

         But here she was tap tapping away at his hands so completely, vibrantly alive on
the day of her dead husbands funeral. Tap tapping away at him. Phil’s wife. Only
she had become Gillian to him now. Gillian.

         She leaned back and he reluctantly did the same. But his hands were still on fire.
She picked up the bullet between her pointer and her thumb. Copper colored. It
glinted in the light. She set it in his open palms but he was not ready to receive
it and it lay lifeless there. Cold.

         “They say you cheated on Phil. A lot.”

         She leaned forward and placed her hands on his knees. She looked up into his eyes.

         “You don’t have to make conversation.”

         “I’m not, I just, do you do this with everyone?”

         “No, you’re the first. Well Phil. But he doesn’t count.”

         “Oh.”

         He looked down at the bullet. She closed her hands around his and squeezed. He
could feel it poking into his palm.

         “I never cheated on Phil. People think I married him for his money. And when they
think that they assume I must have cheated. But I love him. Loved him. He’s the
one who introduced this to me. He….”

         Her voice trailed off, she let go of his hands.

         “Why me?”

         “Because, at the funeral, you came up to me and didn’t say, ‘oh what a shame.’ Or
‘oh, I’m so sorry.’ You came up to me and said ‘when I die I want them to play Big
Rock Candy Mountain.’”

         He open his hands. The bullet stuck to him. He picked it up with his other hand
and it had left an impression.

         “And I asked you how well you knew Phil and you said, ‘I don’t know.’”

         “I don’t know.”

         “I know.”

         The bullet was smooth, without sharp, defining ridges. He held it up to the light.
She picked up the gun, spun it, and popped open the chamber. She plucked the bullet
from his fingers and placed in the chamber. Snapped it shut with a click. And then
spun. Stopped it with her palm. Spun. Stopped it. He thought it sounded like a
party noise maker. Spun. Stopped it.

         She handed him the gun.

         He took it and spun weakly. Stopped it too quickly. Spun again this time with
more force and it sounded like a noise maker again. Stopped it. And handed it
back to her.

         But she shook her head.

         “No. I go first.”

         He leaned back and looked down. So black.

         “Why do you do this?”

         “Why does anybody do anything?”

         He looked at her. Sharply. And she smiled.

         “Because sometimes I’m standing on my balcony, or I’m waiting for the subway
and I realize we are all separate. And I see an old woman’s hands but they are my hands
and I know I am getting old. Or I’m waiting in line for my coffee as I do every morning,
and someone does something unnecessarily rude, and I realize there is nothing left for
any of us. That nothing changes except that it all gets worse.” She grabbed his hand and
placed the gun against her heart, exactly where his hands had been a moment before. He
tried to pull back but she didn’t let him go, her fingers gripping his wrists. The gun slid
against her blouse and he could see her bra, her collar bone, her breastplate. He could see
her breath rushing through her. He could see her heart pressing against the gun as though
to force it away.

         “It’s like this force that takes over me and clogs my lungs and I can’t breathe and
I run home or call Phil at the office and he would come here but there was nothing, not
spooning, not sex that could save it, only this. Because we are all separate except
right now.”

         She pressed the gun deeper into her chest and he watched the skin turn white
around it. He could hear her tears in her voice and then they began to fall onto her chest.
Dampening it. Dampening the black of the gun, the black of her blouse.

         “Pull the trigger Will. Pull the trigger for 9-11 and Bush, and Iraq and my cousin
who piloted flight 93.”

         She threw her arms out. Without her hands he could see the gun shaking against her
breasts. He leaned against it to steady it and she was pressed back into the chair.

         “Pull the trigger for Katrina and forest fires and Sudan. Pull the trigger for beggars
on the bowery, and my door man who fled Somalia.”

         Her heart was straining. Her lungs heaving. Her chest damp. His hands quaking.
The gun black.

         “Pull the trigger for Phil because we are all going to die, this all ends, and we
don’t know anything. Pull the trigger, Will, PULL THE TRIGGER.”

         His finger tightened. In slow motion he watched the chamber roll. The hammer
fell. Her eyes closed. But his stayed open, watching, transfixed.

         “Pull the trigger,” she whispered.

         Click.

         She was panting. The gun stayed against her chest. He didn’t think he could move.
He couldn’t lean back if he wanted to.

         She was panting, and he could see the tap tap of her heart pushing the gun out
against his hands.

         He looked down at his lap, and realized his pants were wet.

         “And now,” she breathed, “it goes away. And I know, that at least for now, I’m
alive.”

         He fell back and the gun lay in his lap. She sniffled, got up, and pulled out some
Kleenex. Will set put the gun on the table.

         “I don’t want to do this, Gillian.”

         She watched him from the other side of the table.

         “I know. Neither could Phil.”

         “But, if you ever need me. Again...”

         She smiled at him. Beautiful.

         “I know your number.”

Larke Schuldberg is a playwright originally from Missoula, Montana though now living in
New York city. He is currently persuing a BFA in Playwriting at NYU.







© 2007 Underground Voices