The topic was gambling. Gambling is a vice that I simply don't understand. Sex, drugs, rock and roll -- I understand all these and I can easily see why people indulge in them, sometimes to excess. But the attraction of gambling leaves me cold. I simply have no idea why anyone would ever feel attracted to it, let alone want to over indulge in it. And that gave me a bit of a problem, of course. How on earth can I write about something that I find so intrinsically uninteresting? Well, I tried...
Sheila watched her fourteen year old son David squint at the screen of his mobile phone as he read a text message. She wondered vaguely if he might need glasses. Perhaps she ought to arrange to get his eyes tested? "Mum", said David, "can you give me a lift to Jennifers?" He gestured at his phone. "She says shes got a new card game that she wants to teach me."
David and Jennifer had known each other since they were both five years old. Theyd started school together on the same day and initially they had bonded out of a sense of self preservation, an attempt to protect themselves from the scary new environment they found themselves in. But very soon that casual contact had turned into a deep and genuine friendship. They were inseparable, and lately Sheila had found herself thinking about weddings and grandchildren. Somehow it all seemed quite inevitable. "Yes of course," said Sheila. "Get your stuff together and Ill meet you at the car."
Jennifer lived about a fifteen minute drive away. They made the journey mostly in silence. David was busy poking frantically at the screen of his phone. Sheila had no idea what he was up to, Once, in a moment of weakness, she had asked him what he spent so much time doing with his phone and she had failed to understand a single word of his reply. So now she just left him to himself and concentrated on negotiating her way through the rather heavy traffic.
When they got to Jennifers house she pulled over to the kerb and let David out. She watched as he walked up the driveway and rang the front door bell. Jennifer opened the door, smiled at David and stood aside to let him in. He walked past her into the house and Jennifer turned to look at Sheila. She waved at Sheila, smiled a funny little smile and winked before following David into the house and closing the door.
Sheila pulled back out into the traffic and drove home. There had been something rather worrying about Jennifers reaction to Davids presence. Sheila had seen that expression on Jennifers face before. Generally it meant trouble for someone and all too often that someone turned out to be David. Sheila still remembered the time when Jennifer had developed an interest in art and had invited David round to her house so that she could paint him. Unfortunately, Jennifer had interpreted that phrase far too literally for Sheilas peace of mind. David had come home covered in blue paint. It had taken a lot of painful scrubbing and several bottles of turpentine to get him clean again.
Sheila had confronted Jennifer about that episode, but Jennifer had just smiled sweetly and said, "Thats what close friendships are all about. Only a really good friend would stand still long enough to let someone paint them blue. They simply arent capable of saying no to any request their friend makes." Sheila had to agree. Jennifers logic was faultless.
So she spent the day doing housework and in between her chores, she worried about what might be going on between David and Jennifer this time...
At about 4.30 in the afternoon, Sheilas phone rang. The caller ID told her it was David, so she answered straight away. "Hi there," she said. "Do you want me to come round and pick you up?"
"Yes, please," said David. He sounded a bit hesitant and immediately Sheila realised that her worries had been well founded. She wondered if she was ready to hear the details. Perhaps she ought to sit down. "When you come," David continued, "can you bring me a set of clothes? Socks, underpants, a shirt and a pair of jeans. Stuff like that."
"Clothes?" Sheila was puzzled. "Why do you need clothes? Whats wrong with the clothes that youre wearing?"
"Im not wearing any clothes," said David, and there was a long, embarrassed silence while Sheila wondered just why hed taken all his clothes off in front of Jennifer. The obvious explanation made her start mentally adding nine to the current month. Christmas, she thought. It will make a lovely present... But how had Jennifer managed to persuade him to strip? He was a very shy and modest boy. Even when she had painted him blue, hed only allowed her to colour his face, his arms and his chest.
Eventually Sheila couldnt stand the silence any longer so she asked, "Why arent you wearing any clothes?" She wasnt at all sure that she wanted to hear the answer.
"Jennifer was teaching me to play pontoon," said David. "But pontoon is a very simple minded game. Its no fun at all if you dont have something to gamble with, so she suggested that we play strip pontoon." He paused, then he said, "I lost rather badly."
Sheila didnt know whether to be angry or amused. Eventually she settled for amused. It would probably be a more productive emotion. She laughed and said, "Why dont you just get your clothes back from Jennifer? It seems a bit silly for me to have to hunt out more clothes for you when youve already got a perfectly good set with you."
"She wont give them back to me," explained David. "She says its not proper gambling if you give back what was lost when the game is over. She says that when you lose, you lose for ever and you just have to learn to live with it."
"Normally thats true," said Sheila. "But I think this is rather a special case. Cant you get anything to wear from her?"
"Well, I think I could, sort of," said David. "But Im not sure if thats a good idea."
"Why not?" asked Sheila.
"Jennifer lost quite badly as well," said David. "So I suppose that I could wear her bra and panties if I really had to." He paused for a moment and then he said, "But they dont fit me very well..."