Robert Duncan meets a stranger on a train…
Dead of night. On a train going nowhere, I sat in silence in a dimly lit, near empty carriage. Having nothing more to occupy me than staring at my own reflection, I took out my flask and enjoyed the warm nectar burning my throat.
At that moment my only fellow traveller, a wizened old timer, said ‘Howdy.’
Oh God, I thought. Will he get off at the next stop?
‘What’s troubling you, son?’ He asked, obviously spotting that I was becoming hysterical. ‘For a swig of that whiskey I’ll tell you my life story. I told him I’d rather stand head down in my own vomit, but the old boy continued. ‘You’re a gambler son,’ he continued, ‘Lady Luck been mean to you lately?’
I passed over my flask to shut him up and he drained it in one. Bastard. He belched deeply, momentarily steaming up the window he was staring through. ‘You know son, you’ve got to know when to leave the table. Know when to pretend you’re going to the john when you’re really getting the hell away from a bad situation.’
He got out a deck of cards and laid them out carefully on his battered suitcase. ‘Call,’ he said in his rusty baritone, so I called ‘Guard.’ But nothing happened. ‘You’ve got to know when to roll ‘em…’ I pointed out that you actually don’t roll cards, but the aged gambler continued. He got out some dice, rattled them in a gnarled hand, and gave me a toothless grin. Then he got out a roulette wheel, a craps table and finally a large fruit machine.
‘I can see that Lady Luck has been mean to you lately…’ I pointed out that he had already said that, but he continued.
‘Take a card, then throw it in.’ I did and he told me what it was. ‘The ace of spades,’ he said. I pointed out that it had landed that way up, which must have made it easier for him.
As the train rolled on through the night I got to thinking. Would I end up giving useless advice in exchange for a few swigs of cheap whiskey? Would I be forced to carry the tools of my trade on midnight trains? In my case a bricklayer…
Would I make rude noises when there was no one else to blame?
At that moment the gambler he broke even, and passed on to that great card game in the sky.
Silly old fool. I was grateful for the silence.