Bingo Blood
Milt Abel

 

Susan Jefferson was parked in a cushy seat in the Aurora Borealis Showroom with nine bingo cards set out in front of her. They were four dollars each or three for ten dollars. Susan had not started out as such a heavy player, She had started out as just an observer, casually strolling in with a little time to kill before the movie started in the Overcast Movie Theater located down on deck two, or the cumulus deck.

They were showing The Ox Bow Incident, that old Western movie with Henry Fonda who tries to stop a lynching of an innocent cowboy. Susan had seen it a couple times before but it always stuck in her mind as something worth seeing, a different Western, one with a message, and that Jeffrey Hunter had such beautiful eyes that it added an extra bit of drama when they slide that noose around his neck. But it wasn’t going to start until 2:30 and that was twenty-five minutes away. According to The Forecast there was bingo on the deck she was now on and a stroll through what all these continual shipboard announcements have been about might be educational.

The showroom was easily the biggest room of the ship. From the stage, which was now occupied by a bingo machine and several members of the cruise staff, seating for the audience fanned out and sloped upward to give everyone a respectable view. Right then the showroom was a quarter full of various passengers who were reverently quiet, studying the paper bingo cards laid out before them as the bingo machine on stage whirred and clacked ping-pong balls in a glass enclosed tempest.

"Now remember everyone, this is a Discoverer’s Game. We’re looking for four corners, the four corners of the Earth. That’s why we call it the Discoverer’s game." Brent, a member of the cruise staff was doing the announcing, Susan recognized him from the day they came on board. He was in the exact same mood as when she and her husband, Carl, had left him; exuberant and unexplainably cheery. Brent stood, microphone in hand, next to the bingo machine. The bingo machine struck Susan as a lot of engineering for so singular, and so arbitrary, a pursuit. There was the glass encased Ping-Pong ball randomizer, a table top with seventy-five holes for each of the possible letter-number combinations, a lighted board behind it all to illuminate the selected bingo card squares, plus a numberless bingo card sign, lit from behind to highlight a chosen bingo pattern; across, diagonal, currently it was showing the four corners highlighted. Susan had never really played bingo before, not as an adult anyway, but it was not difficult to figure all that was going on.

"I’ve got an ‘Oh’!", Brent said it as a petition to the audience.

"Oh!" Most of the players responded in unison. Oh, thought Susan, it’s interactive.

"Oh-seventy-two." And then Brent repeated the number, singing it, "Oh-seventy-two was a very good year... At least it must have been for my parents, because I was born in early seventy-three. Ha!"

Susan leaned over the shoulder of the nearest player, an older woman, and watched as the woman punched out a perforated oh-seventy-two on her bingo card. That was the third corner punched out, the woman only needed to one more to win. Maybe she would stay, Susan thought, and see if this woman would win.

Just then the woman Susan was watching leaned over to her companion and said, "I only need one more. But I never win anything." And ended with a giggle to show it didn’t mean that much to her.

Had this elderly woman spent all her years with that attitude, Susan thought to herself? She found it sad, then said to herself, "Yes you will win something." Somehow she liked this woman right off and took her into her aspirations, it suddenly became important to her that this woman win this bingo game and turn around that attitude of ‘I never win anything’. After all, hadn’t she and Carl won this cruise? She had luck to spare and right now she was going to pass on some to this sweet little old lady.

"I’ve got an ‘I’!" Brent announced it as a petition again.

"I yi-yi-yi-yi," responded a fraction of the players, sounding like a collection of apathetic Ricky Ricardos.

"I-twenty-two. Two ducks on a pond just swimming around right behind each other just paddling their little feetsies, swosh, swosh, swosh. I-twenty-two" Brent took the I-twenty-two ball and placed it in its proper place on the table to light up the board.

"Well, it’s about time! I finally got another number."

Susan turned to look to see the source of this complaining voice. Across the isle was a woman with several bingo cards laid out on the cocktail table in front of her. This woman was a total contrast to the one Susan was silently cheering on. The woman across the isle was gaudily dressed, noisy, -now that she had caught Susan’s attention; annoying, just not the type you would want to cheer on.

"Now I just need one more number on two of my cards. But I won’t get it, I never do." The annoying woman said. Though this woman had voiced the same inclination the sweet little old next to Susan had voiced, Susan reaction was totally different. "I hope you don’t get it." She said to herself. She didn’t like this woman and it went beyond initial appearances; the tone behind the woman’s comment was far more cynical, hinting at an unjust world, a universe predisposed to hurl trouble and bad luck her way. And because she looked like a verbal and emotional brawler when it came to a confrontation, Susan chose not to argue with her, chose to sustained this woman’s assumption, and wished her misfortune, wished for someone else to win this bingo game; particularly the sweet old lady.

She looked over to the old woman’s bingo card to see which number she needed for victory... Oh-sixty-six. Susan then looked up to the stage and watched the young man calling bingo pull a ping-pong ball out, holding it aloft, readying to call.

"Oh-sixty-six," Susan said to herself, willing the ball to be a winner...

"Oh-sixty-six," called Brent.

Amazing. Just as she said it the ball was called. She felt as if she had made it happen.

"Bingo. Uh, Bingo!" The elderly woman next to Susan sat up in her chair and struggled to talk over her surprise. "I have a bingo!" Susan was pleased for her.

"Of course!" The unlikable woman used the same expression of exasperation and defeat as Susan’s husband. It didn’t make her any more likable to Susan, in fact that was when she liked her husband least, when he was in that defeatist mood. But Susan found as much satisfaction for this woman losing as for her hopeful winning.

While a cruise staff member came over to read the card aloud and confirm the win Susan stole a word with the winner. "Congratulations. What did you win?"

"I don’t know. I hope a lot. Those tickets are four dollars each."

"Four dollars." Susan nodded an agreement, that was a lot money for a ticket.

The numbers were read out and the win confirmed. Then the all important question from the cruise staff member was shouted to those on stage, "And how much did she win?"

"One hundred and six dollars." A round of jealous applause scurried through the room.

A hundred and six dollars! That was a lot of money for just four dollars, Susan thought. Maybe I should try this bingo. She remembered that she had put five dollars in her pants just moments before leaving the cabin; she might win, didn’t she just will another person to win? Surely she could do that for herself.

There was a line to buy tickets for the next game. As Susan stood there inching up to the purser who was working as cashier for the game she thought about how pleased Carl would be when she told him she had won over a hundred dollars playing bingo. There were just two people between herself and the cashier when the annoying woman suddenly appeared and stood in front of her in line, cutting right in.

"Thanks for saving my place, Gail." Then she turned to Susan to offer and explanation, "I can’t stand for long periods. Varicose veins."

Susan was outraged. She didn’t like standing for long periods either. But she didn’t say anything, she just offered a tight lipped nod and a shrug that said, ‘what are you gonna do?’ She also added Gail, this annoying woman’s friend who saved her a place in line, to her enemies list.

At the cashier the annoying woman made a scene. She complained about not winning. "I bought nine cards for that last game and we only needed four numbers to win and I still didn’t win."

"A lot of people didn’t win, Ma'am. That’s the idea." The purser said.

"Well, I’m just going to buy one ticket this time. And it better win."

One ticket. That’s what I was going to buy, one ticket. She’s buying my ticket. Susan began to panic. She cut ahead of in line and bought the ticket I was going to buy. What if it wins? This isn’t right. I should have said something, told to her to go back to the end of the line. Can I protest if she does win? It’ll sound like sour grapes if I do. It’ll happen too, she will win, something will happen, I can feel it. Something is different today. I have the power and now it’s going to make things worse.

These thoughts circled in Susan’s head as she bought her ticket and chose a place to sit and hear the numbers as far away from that woman as was comfortable. And they continued to circle as the game began, this time a classic five numbers in a row to win; across or down or a diagonal.

"I’ve got an ‘I’, Brent sang out.

"I yi-yi-yi." A small fraction of the players sang back.

"I-sixteen. Number sixteen in the ‘I’ column. I don’t think there’s any animal that has sixteen eyes, when my grandfather wears his trifocals he gets up to eight. I-sixteen."

There was no I-sixteen on Susan’s card. That was odd, that meant it had to be on that annoying woman’s card, or actually her card, the one she was supposed to have. Susan strained in her chair to peer over at the annoying woman; she was sitting there motionless, either she had already punched out the number or she didn’t have it either.

The number calling continued and Susan continued not to have a single match on her card. With each number she could see all the other players reacting to the called numbers, chattering, punching out the numbers on their cards, and each time nothing on her card. What was wrong? Why was she able to influence the numbers before and not now? She was being spiteful, that was it. The game previous she was being generous and hoping for someone else to win and this game she was upset and angry at that woman and thinking negative thoughts. ‘Time to change they way you’re thinking girl’, Susan said to herself. I’m going to wish for someone else to win, well not win but at least get a number or two-

"N-thirty-two." Brent called out.

Susan looked down her ‘N’ column and there it was; N-thirty-two.

"Bingo!" The man seated right next to Susan called it out.

Susan’s mind began spinning even harder now; the man sitting right next to her had won, and he won the second she shifted her mind set to be more generous. There were two signs that something was happening this afternoon there in the Aurora Borealis Showroom, something special. First, she had not got the ticket she had wanted but the one next to it, then the man next to her ends up winning. Second, the instant she changed her attitude winning came to her, or the man right next to her, but she did finally get a number right then didn’t she? Whatever luck was, whatever medium it passed through, or whatever circumstances brought it about, Susan was sure it was hovering about her.

By the time the win was confirmed Susan was already standing in line to buy one more ticket.

"Okay everyone, this is our last game of this bingo session. We’re going to start our bingo jackpot. This game is a blackout game, every number on your card has to be called, but we only call forty numbers," Brent was standing down center stage attempting to make the speech interesting with exaggerated gestures, "and if no one wins the FIVE HUNDRED DOLLAR jackpot, the jackpot rolls over for our next bingo session, and keeps rolling over until the end of the cruise when we play until someone wins. Today, I’ll be honest with you, it’s rare if someone wins on the first day, but it does happen. Does anyone fell lucky? Well, do ya passengers?!"

I’ll bet the farm, thought Susan. She had seen another player charge the expense of the bingo tickets to their cabin and since she was out of cash that is what she would have to do. She could buy three for ten dollars and thirty dollars would give her more than enough chances, though she wasn’t sure how many chances she would need anyway, with the luck, the power, swirling around her like it was right now. Maybe she out to buy just one? Then what if one of tickets she didn’t buy turned out to be a winner? He first thought was to buy nine tickets, thirty dollars worth, and that’s what she should stick with. All this second guessing was not helpful to keeping luck under her influence, she felt sure of that, sort of...

Before the jackpot game started Susan sat with her cards before her and began to oscillate between trying to explain how the thirty dollars got on their bill, and figuring out the most fun and suspenseful way to tell Carl she had won five hundred dollars. If she didn’t charge anything else thirty dollars would be an expected amount for the length of the cruise, did they itemize? How could she explain thirty dollars in the middle of the second day of the cruise? She could order wine with dinner and when Carl tried to stop her she could say, "Carl, there’s still plenty of it left," "Plenty of what?" He would say. "Plenty of the five hundred dollars I won!" And he would be pleased. Maybe he’d even order another bottle.

The numbers started to be called and Susan started off like gangbusters. Of the first eight numbers called every one had a hit on at least one of her cards, sometimes a number was on several cards. Then a number was called that was nowhere on her nine cards.

She panicked. How can that be? I have nine cards here and not one of them has a B-eight? Did I get someone else’s card by mistake? She looked around and watched several other players punching out the hit on their cards. My card is out there. The one I was supposed to get. How would she explain the thirty dollars to Carl? When every number being called was a hit, Susan told herself that she should expect that, don’t be surprised, then she thought maybe she should act surprised so those around won’t catch on that something special, some communion with luck, is happening here, that they really don’t have a chance. She had started to rhythmically nod in the expectation of number being ‘good’ for her and then to keep up the charade for the other players she’d say out loud, "Oh, my. I have that one too. Well, what do you know?" And then she punch out the hit.

But now the rhythm broke, there was no B-eight on any of her cards. Maybe she was being too smug? Generous thoughts, remember. She looked across the room to the annoying woman and tried to think of something kind: I bet she has nice kids, -or grand kids!

I bet she has wonderful grand kids, she certainly looks old enough to have grand kids -stop it! No catty thoughts...

Another number was called and it was on two of Susan nine cards. She relaxed a bit. This was the way it was supposed to be.

She looked over to the annoying woman and saw that she didn’t punch out a number on her card. That’s too bad. Really. She could treat her grand kids to something nice with five hundred dollars. It’s just too bad altogether that she’s not going to win, she’s not going to win because I have the power; in some ways it isn’t fair, but in other ways it is.

Another number was called and it was nowhere on Susan’s nine cards. The second guessing, doubts and recriminations surfaced again and danced with their streamers tightening with each pass around the May pole of her mind. This seesaw continued for twenty-seven more numbers.

There were now only three more numbers to be called before the cut off of having called forty numbers. Of her nine cards there were now just two that had the potential of winning the jackpot, two cards were just two numbers away from being blacked out.

"N-thirty-nine. N-thirty-nine. Jack Benny’s age for many, many years. N-thirty-nine."

It was nowhere on any of her cards. She looked around to see if anyone else besides herself was robbed of punching out a number by such a ridiculous number being called and she watched dozens of people smile and punch out N-thirty-nine on the cards. By this time Susan’s thoughts were nowhere near being generous. When she watched everyone’s busy hands punching out their numbers, moving closer to winning and leaving her behind, she saw those hands as the hands of nameless beggars, vermin, reaching from the darkness to her table and snatching food away. Her good fortune, her bingo cards, would have to be protected from these... from these thieves. The last two numbers on her cards would have to be called to rid the ship of them, to crush their hopes so this wouldn’t happen again. She must use her good fortune to crush these usurpers to her special power, to draw blood if necessary.

"B-one. Be one with the universe. B-one"

There it was. In the upper right corner of the upper right card. Now there was only one card that had the potential to win the five hundred dollars. That card needed I-twenty-five. Hadn’t she just driven on Interstate twenty-five a few years back? It all made so much sense.

"That was our thirty-ninth number called. One more number. Does anyone need just one more number to get a blackout?"

Susan, everyone, looked around for a moment. Then Susan began to raise her finger, knowing everyone would turn to look. She raised her arm with one finger pointing to the deck above; piercing the sky and becoming a rod for the charged particles of chance and luck to unresistably, instantly, converge; striking, instantaneously and anointing her the winner of this round of jackpot bingo.

Brent didn’t notice her raised hand, she was being a little slow about it. "Okay, no one. Well, let’s call that last number and see how close we came, shall we?"

Susan wasn’t bothered that he failed to notice, -mortals, and she was one too, really; make mistakes. She began to will the I-twenty-five ping-pong ball up into the outlet that the balls were pulled from and then called aloud. A ping-pong ball positioned itself. She willed for that caller to pull the ball out and read it. Brent pulled the ball out and looked carefully at it. She willed him to say aloud, ‘I-twenty-five.’

"I-twenty-six."

What? Susan shook her head in disbelief. What happened? He didn’t say it right.

But Brent called out the number again to make sure everyone heard, and could confirm whether they had it or not and then place it in the board to bring the corresponding light on behind him.

What had happened, Susan wondered. The reality of not winning, of everyday life washed over her and the remembrance of some of her thoughts just moments before made her feel dirty. She was going to see a movie and she ended up wishing everyone else playing bingo would die. What could she do to get rid of this remorseful feeling?

"Now don’t forget. This jackpot rolls over. We’ll play again tomorrow and the jackpot could be close to a thousand dollars!"

She could win tomorrow. That would make her feel better about all this, winning the jackpot. Maybe she shouldn’t play? If she got this caught up, maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to play anymore. I’ll decide tomorrow, Susan thought.

Right then was not a good time to make decisions about bingo. Right then it was in her blood, cursing through her veins; corpuscles, some red and globular, others white, perfect spheres with letters and numbers on them like G-51 and N-38.

 

Copyright 1999 Milt Abel
Published on the World Wide Web by "www.storymania.com"