"I," thought Richard to himself, grimly grinding his teeth together, "have had enough." He flexed and then relaxed his muscles in front of the mirror. He lifted his upper lip so that he could make sure that there were no flecks of spinach between his teeth. No. He was good to go.
It wasn't that he particularly disliked Carl. Carl was merely a patsy, a proxy for the little game that Julia was playing. But love is a game of chess, and Richard knew that he couldn't balk at taking a lowly pawn. No, if he was going to win, he would have to take the queen before she checked the king. He thought about his metaphor carefully and, taking out a little notebook, he wrote it down carefully on page forty seven. "That's a good metaphor," he thought to himself.
Richard was a professional stock boy. That is, he stocked the shelves of the local Super Mart. He was good at his job - damned good. He knew the location of every item in the entire store - ask him where you'd find tempeh, and he'd immediately point you to the refrigerated foods section. Velveeta cheese? Not with the other cheeses, but on aisle four, across from the peanut butter. But would his professionalism lead him through this spiritual crisis? God, he hoped so.
Julia had been a clerk at the Super Mart for two months. She and Richard had struck up a passion that burned in their souls, a passion as soulful as Michael Bolton's bluesy guitar licks. The passion had lasted two weeks, and then one day at closing time, she'd turned to him with a frown that marred her pretty looks.
"I don't like ya no more," she explained as best she could. "Carl's a good kisser, you ain't. Don't talk to me no more, kay?"
Richard tried to smile, his lips trembling. He thought maybe she was joking. "Ha, ha!" he suddenly said, his heart trembling. But Julia did not smile back. She rolled her eyes.
"But what about all the passions we've shared?" he asked. "What about my hopes, my dreams, my plans?"
"Passions we've shared?" repeated Julia. "You mean kissin' in the stock room? Oh, honey, you got a lot to learn." And she laughed at him, a laughter that dug deep into Richard's heart. He knew that he had to get her back. He had to have her. And he knew one thing, one thing he knew - to win her, he would have to get rid of his rival.
He would have to defeat Carl in the world's oldest game.
* * *
"Carl!" shouted Richard, slamming on the door as hard as he could. "Carl, open up!"
But the old woman who came to the door, cursing and hitting Richard with a broomstick, bore no resemblance to Carl. Richard felt foolish and tried the next apartment. And the next.
Carl was watching television in the twenty seventh apartment when Richard began beating on the door like a seven year old with a new drum set. He walked over to the door and calmly opened it. Richard gazed at the grocery bagger in wonder. Carl was dressed in pajamas and was holding a beer limply in his left hand.
"Those your pajamas?" asked Richard.
Carl looked down as if noticing his pajamas for the first time. "Uh… Richard," he said, yawning, "I'm not supposed to be in until 11, so if …"
"Never mind," shouted Richard. "You've stolen the heart of my best girl, and there is only one thing we can do."
"I didn't steal anything!" protested Carl, holding his hands out as if to prove his own innocence, but Richard was not paying attention at all. Instead, he was shuffling what looked like a deck of cards.
"We will play the world's oldest game," pronounced Richard. "We will play to the death. And the winner gets the hand of the fair maiden." He handed the deck of cards to Carl, smiling grimly. Carl, startled, unthinkingly reached out for the cards.
"Cut the cards," Richard demanded. "For now, we will play Go Fish. We will play Go Fish to the death."
* * *
"This is stupid," protested Carl. "I was watching cartoons." But Richard would not listen. Carl sighed and dealt out seven cards each.
"I saw that!" shouted Richard. "You dealt me a card from the bottom of the deck!"
"I did not," said Carl.
"You're a cheat and a liar," said Richard. "I should kill you right now!"
Carl sighed, gave Richard another card, and replaced the offending card in the middle of the deck. "Happy now?" he asked Richard.
Richard nodded once and fell silent. He gazed at his cards like a teenager with a new dirty magazine. He arranged them artfully, never once letting Carl see what cards he had.
"So who goes first?" asked Carl.
"You dealt," said Richard. "Dealer goes second."
"This is so stupid," Carl told him.
"Maybe to you," Richard said calmly. "Got any sevens?"
"Go fish," sighed Carl. "Any sixes?"
"Go fish," said Richard triumphantly, drawing a card from the top of the deck. "Any jacks?"
"Go fish," said Carl. "Any fours?"
Richard stopped, a snarl on his face. "You saw which card I just picked, didn't you?"
"Oh, my God," said Carl. "It's Go Fish. I'm not going to cheat at Go Fish."
"But this is Go Fish to the Death," reminded Richard. Still, he gave Carl his four of clubs, grimacing as if he were holding a nasty tissue.
The game marched on and on, an eternal trading of cards. Richard got the first full set of cards - eights - and did a little victory dance around Carl. But as the game progressed, it was obvious that he was blindly guessing, using no strategy at all. Carl, an old hand at the game, began collecting sets of cards like there was no tomorrow. And, finally, Richard admitted that there was no way for him to win. He threw down his last three cards and drew a knife from his pocket.
"I admit defeat," he gasped, holding the knife out to Carl. "You are the winner. My life is forfeit, as are my claims to Julia."
Carl made no attempt to take the knife from Richard. "Julia," he repeated, confused. "That skank?"
"Damsel," corrected Richard. "The beautiful damsel. She is yours. You have beaten me."
"That girl kissed, like, every guy at Super Mart," Carl said, bewildered and disgusted. "Why in the hell would I want to have her?"
* * *
Richard left Carl's apartment a little wiser. True love, he told himself, was not waiting at the Super Mart. True love was in the waves of the river bank, in the smile of a young child, in the beauty of a spring morning. True love would not be found in Julia or in any of the other fickle women at Super Mart.
But, he wondered to himself - could it be found in the position of fry cook at the E Z Burger?
He decided that he'd quit the Super Mart that very morning. He'd start over at the E Z Burger, find another beauty with gorgeous blonde hair and a winning smile. He'd find true love - and god help any man who tried to take that away from him. He'd find that Richard was no child. He was a grown man. A grown man who had learned a few tricks about the art of love - and the art of Go Fish.