Playing Gin Rummy in a Rural Hospital Room

I can’t perceive any difference  

between this room & the last. This game

& the one before. You smile,

slam your last cards down—a seven

& five—then declare, fingers spread wide,

Gin! Sure, I say. Why enumerate

the list of rules. I know. You can’t win

against your own mom—older now

than when I couldn’t understand the game

but liked to trace my fingers ‘round the tired, regal faces.

Give the cards back.

No response. Reaching for them,

I feel the stock sift through my hands,

the suits, the ranks all fumbling.

I look to the white board—

How are we feeling today? 

a swift progression— 

of fought off 

above three doodled faces,

sad/blank/happy. No talk

recesses of the mind come to steal me.

What is our goal? To get better. Someone knocks.

I won’t be able to tell if the next room—

next month, the month after—is this one.

You’ve lost interest in the game.

It’s different than the one we were in when the nurse asked

Honey, why are you crying?

as I hid behind my unwashed hair.

As if you had always been unable to speak to me.

My hair used to be a brown

near black, now the ends

bleach your blonde in the summer.

When your speech returns,

slurred & distracted, the doctor looks to me.

Has it always been this way?

I ask, deal ten cards or seven?

Pick a number. There are only enough beds

in this hospital for those who cannot

leave them. Pick up your hand.

Mary Rose Manspeaker was born and raised in West Virginia. They currently live in Brooklyn, where they work for independent publisher Three Rooms Press and are pursuing an MFA with The Writer's Foundry at St. Joseph's College. Their work appears or is forthcoming in Hobart, Lammergeier, Emerge Literary Journal, and elsewhere.