Michael Alessi is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Old Dominion University, where he served as managing editor of Barely South Review. His stories and poems have appeared in Mid-American Review, NANO Fiction, New Delta Review, Rust + Moth, and elsewhere. He lives in Chicago and edits fiction for Green Briar Review.
Game was Manny’s idea; play cards in the elevator while we ducked the blizzard. He told us about the time, years ago, when he’d wasted a field trip sulking under rollercoasters, too chicken to ride, while his friends bulled through the turnstiles. When their car stalled on the tracks mid-loop, the kids chanted songs upside down until a crane plucked them free. Manny wanted to stage that sort of spectacle, something that made life seem like a cartoon, so when the snow hits seven inches, we pile into the elevator.
There’s no fan. We flaunt shorts and wife-beaters like surfers—Chicago, birthplace of February, be damned. Heavy coats drip through the lobby like melting snowmen. As the elevator doors slide open a few of the faces look confused, but Manny waves them aboard with “Wanna play a hand?” He pets the table, cardboard spread on our knees, and they huddle around, gasping for air like people saved from drowning.
Manny starts in on the joke about the Italian tourist who visits Malta and wants two sheet on his bed, two fork on his plate. Each ride we tell it. Somebody passes a can of Febreze. We spray it behind exiting riders who fake like they’re above the joke. No, excuse you. Those that stay win foil-wrapped dinner mints with mountains on the package. We give away hands, fold flushes so a grandma can win Manny’s sunglasses with an eight high. She rocks the shades for his approval and we nod, digging our toes into the Road Runner Ice Melt crusting the floor like fish tank gravel.
Night wears us down. We’re exhausted, applying Febreze as deodorant, when a trench coat enters, punches P for penthouse. Manny stirs. “Hear about the Italian?” he asks. Not even a sigh in response. Manny clowns, our martial artist of hand gestures. He pounds the guy’s back like it’s a broken vending machine. The guy spins, threatens to break Manny’s punk face, and the rest of us pretend to count our toenails. When Penthouse exits, Manny bites into a fully-wrapped mint and chews.
The elevator shifts, and maybe it’s the Road Runner Ice Melt, but the car feels like one of Coyote’s traps from the show—a safe dangling on a rope. Does Coyote, pancaked into the dirt, even remember the hunger that set him running, or is he just one of a pack, the next-in-line gripping two forks and panting for the chance to chase any bird-shaped cloud off a cliff? What happened to the tricksters? Did they forget the more a game eggs you to play it, the less chance you’ll win? I rub my feet, blued from the ice melt, and think of Coyote when he catches his paws pedaling over a canyon so deep the bottom has a different area code. We wait to drop. Manny cuts open his lip gnawing the foil wrapper of another mint. I lift the cardboard off my lap to fold up, but Manny pushes it down. He licks the blood off his teeth and deals out hands for everyone left in the car.