Pool Hall Kid
The boy works methodically. He assesses the table, places his hand, aligns the cue. He breathes slow and steady. He pots the red balls first. The yellow balls. Now the black. As a final gesture, the white. He does not miss a shot.
They sit at the bar on high stools, cloaked in dimness. Two shadows, talking hushed in the murk beyond the tables. The refrigerator humming low.
“See the boy? Watch him.”
They watch as he places coins in the side of the next table, pulls the lever. The clack-rumble of the balls. The boy scooping them up, placing them within the frame upon the table. Positioning the frame, removing it, hanging it on the lights overhead. The faint scratch of chalk upon the tip of the cue. Ritual.
The boy puts the cue ball down. Breaks. The balls scatter starburst across green. At the bar, one of the shadows sips his drink.
“His older brother used to bring him in here all the time. His older brother’s in jail, now. Robbery, I hear. Something to do with drugs, too, maybe. They used to play for hours, sometimes all day, switch tables every so often to keep it fresh.”
“The tables are all the same.”
“They’re not. The boy and his older brother knew it.”
The cue hits white. Gentle. The click of white on red. The red ball rolling through the innards of the table like lifeblood through a vein. The boy moves around the table and lines up for another shot.
“The wear. The scuffs. The imperfections. The warp of the wood from the damp in the air. It’s like he can see those things. Feel them.”
“Sounds very mystical.”
“Don’t mock. You spend long enough around something, you get a feel for it. You become it.”
“Look at us at the bar.”
“Yeah. Look at us, at the bar. We’re like furniture.”
“It’s like he’s a robot.”
“That kid is the furthest thing from a robot.”
“Yeah. Watch him as he works. He sees more than we do. It’s kind of beautiful. Some days I sit here and I just watch.”
“When was the last time we played?”
“I don’t even remember.”
“Maybe we should play the boy.”
“Don’t play the boy.”
“He’ll embarrass you.”
They watch. There are no reds left. The boy pots a yellow, steps about the table, pots another. His face, eyes dark hollows beneath the honey-coloured light, is not quite blank. He steps, lines up, white strikes yellow, yellow rolls through the table. Repeat.
“Jesus. He comes here on his own now?”
“Why? Must be lonely for him.”
“How do I know? Maybe to remember his brother. Maybe to practice for when his brother gets out. To keep sharp, you know? Maybe he wants to escape all this. Become a pro. Become not-his-brother.”
“Keeps going the way he is, he’s got a chance.”
“Or maybe he’s just a part of the furniture, now. Like us. Him a part of the place, the place a part of him.”
The boy’s table is empty. The final ball rolls into place and there is silence. He steps back, dissolves into the dark. Moments pass. A bulb sputters on above the next table and the boy steps into the light. The shadows at the bar consider their empty glasses.
Originally published in Ambit, issue 222, October 2015.