Tilted by Lauren van Staveren

Tilted: Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive.

            Great columns of purple, yellow, and brown built a castle before his hungry eyes. The muffled voice of the announcer moaned numbers to the crowd shuffling through the room and the soft clink of chips strung together in his mind like a symphony. Demetri ran a wet tongue over his lips as he eyed his own Flush and the 48k towering in the center of the table.

            A string of oily black hair fell in front of Demetri’s long eyelashes as he set his cards face up on the table and pushed them forward. The face of his opponent deflated. Demetri’s heart grew butterfly wings.

            Without a word to the other players or the small audience that had formed around the table, he scooped up the chips and cradled them like a newborn to the cashier’s cage. Miranda, Miranda, you’re gunna be so proud of me!

            “Congratulations, sir. Would you like this in a check or to be wired directly to your bank?”

            “Cash, goddamnit!” Demetri howled. Small beads of spit flew on the cashier’s blazer.

            “Of course, sir. Though I would recommend a more secure option with such a considerable win.”

            “It is considerable, isn’t it?” He rested his meaty elbow on the counter. “I’m the most remarkable motherfucker in this place tonight. I want to see it all in cash.”

            “Of course, sir,” the cashier’s eyebrows raised as he set wad after wad of hundred dollar bills into a paper bag. Once it was full, Demetri grabbed it with one hand and rubbed his fat tongue over his front teeth.

            “Miranda’s going to love me,” he crowed as he walked away from the cashier who knew nothing of his personal life.

            Demetri burst through the front doors of the casino as he remembered the desperation in Miranda’s voice last night. She was screaming, begging him to stop gambling. She was throwing his dinner on the linoleum floor and ripping their bank records into shreds. She was wailing that if he lost another penny she was out the door and never coming back.

            That silly, gorgeous woman! Demetri chuckled to himself as he unlocked the door to his friend’s borrowed black Buick and slid into the driver’s seat. He threw the paper bag onto the passenger seat and started the engine. As he turned out of the parking lot he imagined walking through his front door and seeing Miranda’s pinched face. She would have noticed their remaining thousand was gone from the lockbox, but he would hold up the paper bag and open his arms as she jumped inside them. She would kiss his cheeks and his chest and call him a hero.

            His swollen toes curled in excitement on the brake as he stopped at a red light. He was absorbed in his fantasy and didn’t notice the figure approaching the passenger side of the car. The figure didn’t think twice as it swung open the car door, put a knee on the seat, and cocked a gun against Demetri’s temple. “Give me the car, man. If you put your foot on that accelerator I’ll put a bullet through your head. ”

            Demetri was immobile.

            The figure looked down and saw the top of a wad of hundreds poking out of the paper bag. “On second thought,” it grabbed the bag and pulled its gun away from Demetri’s temple. It slammed the passenger door and sprinted towards the only other car in the road. Demetri barely had time to unbuckle his seat belt and scramble out of the Buick before the figure hopped inside the other car. It drove off as Demetri cursed and spat and ran back towards his own car to chase them down. By the time his hands were back on the wheel, the road was empty. Demetri was hollow.