Like The Prose 2021 – Day 16

Today’s brief featured the rapper Tupac Shakur, widely considered to be one of the most influential rappers of all time, who was shot four times by an unknown assailant in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada and died six days later. Since I know nothing about Tupac apart from the brief details above (purloined from Wikipedia), I decided to to write about ‘two packs’ of cards instead of Tupac the rapper. My finished piece is a modern fable and features the chat show host Larry Loveheart who has appeared in three other stories I’ve written. Those of you with a working knowledge of the French language will probably pick up on the significance of the professors’ names…

Two Packs of Cards

Two packs of cards lay on the table. They looked identical – almost.

“This one,” said Professor Roublard, pointing to the first deck, “will ensure success at the gaming table. With this pack of cards, you will never lose – but you’ll realise the truth of the old adage, ‘Lucky in cards, unlucky in love.’ Whereas this one,” and now he pointed at the first pack’s twin, the image of the other save for the elastic band around its middle, “ will not bring you luck in any card game – but you will find true love.”

Henry yawned. At twenty-one, love didn’t seem terribly important; whereas a pack of cards that never lost… His eyes glazed over as he made rapid calculations. Within months, he could have enough to buy a car = a house even.

“I’ll take this one,” he said, reaching for the first pack.

Professor Roublard grinned and jotted something in his leather-bound notebook.

“We’ll see you in another six months, then,” he said as he showed him the door.

*

Meanwhile, in another room, two packs of cards lay on the table. They looked identical – almost.

“This one,” said Professor Reynard, pointing to the first deck, “will ensure success at the gaming table. With this pack of cards, you will never lose – but you’ll realise the truth of the old adage, ‘Lucky in cards, unlucky in love.’ Whereas this one,” and now he pointed at the first pack’s twin, the image of the other save for the elastic band around its middle, “ will not bring you luck in any card game – but you will find true love.”

Edward thought for a moment. He was never particularly lucky anyway – he’d never won even so much as ten pounds with a lottery ticket, hadn’t managed to get promoted at work and had certainly never been successful with women. He wasn’t convinced a pack of cards would make much difference really, but he chose the second one anyway. If nothing else, he could learn how to perform a few card tricks.

“We’ll see you in another six months, then,” Professor Reynard said as he showed Ed the door.

*

Henry had always been a fairly successful poker player, but with these new cards, he was unbeatable. Just knowing he couldn’t lose increased his confidence by several hundred percent so that even when he had what anyone else would have considered a losing hand, he still put down huge stakes to win – and he always did win: his opponents folded, thinking that his cards must be incredible for him to hazard so much money.

Within weeks, he had amassed money beyond his wildest dreams – and so much for that ‘unlucky in love’ warning: women flocked to him. It was unusual for him to spend an evening without six or seven of them at his side, each one making it very obvious that she’d be happy to get to know him better. He kept them at arm’s length, though – for the time being anyway. At the back of his mind was the idea that there would be plenty of time for that sort of thing once he’d made enough to give up work and live in luxury on the proceeds of his gambling.

At least, that was what he thought until he encountered Melissa. Tall, leggy and with jet black hair that fell to her waist, Melissa wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He let her pursue him for ten days before he finally succumbed, taking her upstairs to the penthouse suite of the hotel that was now his home. He’d finally handed in his notice, confident that with the hundreds of thousands he’d accumulated so far, it would only be a matter of time until he owned millions. The bigger the stake, the larger the winnings. He’d seen Melissa’s eyes widen as he’d flashed his wallet about and he couldn’t resist flaunting his wealth by ordering champagne and caviar for their suite before he treated her to what he was sure would be a night she’d never forget.

When he woke next morning, she was gone – along with his wallet and all his credit cards and money. She’d even taken his lucky deck. He punched the wall in frustration. His life was ruined – and it was all the fault of those cards.

*

Knowing that he was no card player, Ed politely declined whenever his friends asked him if he wanted to play poker. Instead, he trawled the internet for easy to learn card tricks, practising the moves until he had around a fifty per cent success rate. Most evenings would see him sitting in the pub, shuffling his deck until he’d drawn an audience, then asking for volunteers to take part in a card trick. When the tricks worked, he drew gasps of amazement from his audience; when they didn’t, he just laughed it off and the others laughed with him – and often they would buy him drinks too.

After a while, he noticed that a girl with brown hair always seemed to be in the pub when he did his tricks – no matter which pub it was. He got chatting to her one night and found her name was Charlotte but her friends called her Lottie. He liked the way her brown hair tumbled to her shoulders in riotous curls and the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed. She laughed a lot, and he laughed too when he was with her. Eventually, they started spending all evening with each other, meeting at the pub for a meal before Ed started his nightly ritual of entertaining the crowd. They flowed into a relationship as naturally as a stream drifting into a river, and Ed thought he had never been happier.

*

“So,” Professor Roublard said, “tell me about your experience with the ‘lucky deck’, Henry.”

Henry scowled. “The cards were lucky all right – when I had them. I made a fortune – and then some-“ he used an expletive Ed had never even heard before – “stole the lot. She cleaned out my bank account and I’ve got nothing – I’d just chucked my job too.”

“And you, Ed?” Professor Reynard asked.

Ed cleared his throat. “Well,” he said hesitantly, “I didn’t use my cards to gamble. I learned card tricks and now I spend most nights entertaining people in the local pubs.”

Henry sniffed contemptuously. “That can’t pay much.”

“I don’t get paid for it,” Ed said in surprise. “I do it for fun – because it’s nice to make people smile. And,” a grin broke out on his face, “that’s how I met Lottie. We’ve just got engaged.”

The two professors exchanged glances.

“So the experiment was a success for Ed but not for Henry,” Larry Loveheart broke in. The TV host turned to the cameras. “We’ve shown you footage of both our contestants choosing their pack of cards, and then we’ve shown you how their lives panned out afterwards.”

Ed and Henry looked shocked. No one had told them they were being filmed.

“Professors Roublard and Reynard, you devised this experiment between you. Would you like to tell your guinea pigs – and the studio audience – what you were trying to achieve?”

“Well, Larry,” Professor Roublard began, “the first thing you need to know is that both packs of cards were identical – apart from the elastic band of course.”

The audience tittered.

“We told Henry that one pack would make him a successful gambler and he gambled that we were telling the truth.”

By now, Henry’s face was thunder.

“But he was successful,” Larry persisted. “He didn’t lose a single poker game.”

“But only because he knew he couldn’t lose,” Professor Reynard broke in. “Under normal circumstances, he would have decided not to play on with the hand he had if he had low cards, but because he knew he was going to win, he bet ridiculously high amounts on cards anyone else would have thrown away. And it worked: it made his opponents believe that his cards were amazing.”

“So you’re saying his confidence psyched them out?” Larry leaned forward, his interest obvious.

Professor Roublard nodded. “Unwittingly, of course. He thought he couldn’t lose and so because he thought it, it became his reality. And that, in turn, became others’ reality too. It’s incredible how much power there is in self-confidence.”

“But it all went wrong, didn’t it?” Larry pursued. Melissa’s face flashed back on the screen; Henry’s eyes clouded. “She didn’t break your heart, did she, Henry? She just broke your run of good luck.”

Henry opened his mouth, but before he could comment, the camera cut to Ed, sitting there with a shocked expression on his face.

“And you chose the other pack of cards, Ed,” Larry continued. “Tell me, why didn’t you choose to be lucky in cards like Henry?”

“I… well, I’ve never been lucky,” Ed answered truthfully, “and to be honest, money’s not that important.” (Light applause rippled around the audience.) “I took the pack of cards because I thought it would be fun to learn card tricks – they don’t always work, but when they don’t, we just have a laugh about it. I’ve made so many friends since I started doing this.”

“So would it be right to say that your pack of cards gave you confidence too?”

The crowd leaned forward like Larry, waiting for Ed’s response.

“Yes, I suppose it did,” Ed said reflectively, “but not because I thought I couldn’t get the tricks wrong – I think it was from realising that people are pretty nice really, and they appreciate you having a go even if it doesn’t work out. When the tricks work, people are impressed; but when they don’t, we see the funny side.”

“And what are your thought on this, Professors?” Larry asked. “Did you achieve what you hoped for with Ed?”

“Ed’s shown us the power of positive thinking,” Professor Reynard began. “Not in the same way as Henry, obviously – he was arrogant even before he picked his pack of ‘unbeatable’ cards. No, Ed’s talent – if you want to call it that – is to respond positively no matter what happens. Like calls to like and it’s obvious that his friendly personality has attracted a mate with similar values.”

“So this was a study in personality, then – not a study in luck?” Larry didn’t really need to ask his question, but it was what the cue card told him to do.

“Absolutely,” Professor Roublard nodded. “Each of our contestants has reaped what they sowed. Henry’s greed resulted in disaster and Ed’s affability gained him friends and a love interest.”

As the music softly started in the background, Larry turned once more to the audience. “You’ve heard from the professors and from our two contestants – which pack would you choose?”

The closing credits rolled and then the camera faded to black.

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