Jack and I were at school with an asshole called Jeff. Jeff snapped his fingers a lot and strutted around like a little stock broker. What made him even more annoying was his legendary dumb luck. Time and again he stumbled into success. He won the school raffle three times in a row and was banned from taking part after that. Whenever the local newspaper placed a photo of an event at the school, Jeff’s face was in the foreground. Once, when a fragment of an old satellite fell from the sky, it landed in Jeff’s back yard. Around school he was called His Luckness.
Things just worked out for Jeff. He didn’t have enough depth to entertain doubt and so he operated without distractions. After he finished school, he went to work in his father’s construction business. He had a flair for buying and selling and a few years later he owned a listed property company. Jack detested him, not because he was lucky, but because his luck had allowed Jeff to conclude that he was actually rather smart. And that grated Jack’s carrot.
We recently spoke about Jeff for the first time in years. We’d been invited to the river retreat of Garry, an old school acquaintance, and Jeff was going to be there too. We hadn’t seen him in twenty five years.
“I don’t want to go,” Jack said. “His Luckness will ask what I do for a living.”
We sat on the only two chairs in the crummy apartment Jack got to stay in as payment for being the block supervisor.
“Fuck him,” Jack growled. “Why must I wallow in this dump, eating three-day-old pies, while His Luckness worries about parking his helicopter?”
“He’s played his hand better than we’ve played ours,” I said.
“He had a very small hand,” Jack observed.
He looked around his place with some disgust.
“Sure,” I laughed, “but you can beat a straight flush with a pair if you play it right.”
“Fuck games too” Jack mumbled. “Jeff’s an idiot. A game any idiot can win is a bad game.”
Jack and I had met as kids. Jeff came to our school some years later. My first memory of Jack and Jeff together is from the science class. The teacher had asked, during a test, how the front and hind legs of the frog compared. She had meant that we should replicate a little table of differences from our textbook, but Jack had taken it literally. He had answered favourably. When our tests came back, he had zero for that question. He went to argue with the teacher.
“You asked how they compared,” he said. “I think they compare favourably.”
“You knew what I meant,” Mrs Stark said flatly. “Don’t be difficult.”
“I’m not being difficult,” Jack said. “You are. This is science. If you want differences, you should ask for them.”
Jeff put up his hand. He hated science and always said so. If you couldn’t sell a thing, he said, it was useless. Amazingly, Mrs Stark let him speak.
“This isn’t science,” Jeff said and gestured at the class room, “it’s school. He’s just trying to be smart.”
“Go sit,” Mrs Stark told Jack.
“I want six marks,” Jack said calmly.
“That’s interesting,” Mrs Stark said. “The question counted three.”
“I want those three for being correct,” Jack explained. “And then I want another three.”
“Yes,” Jack said and pointed at Jeff. “He got three marks and he didn’t answer the actual question. I want an advantage of three marks.”
Mrs Stark snapped Jack’s answer sheet from his hand.
“An advantage?” she snarled. “Jeff—?”
Jeff went to the front.
“How would you like an advantage?” she asked.
She subtracted three marks from Jack’s total and added them to Jeff’s.
“Don’t worry,” she told Jack. “The class average is still the same.”
For a moment Jack had nothing to say.
“Anything else?” she asked.
A few years later, when we were fifteen or sixteen years old, Jack was under the spell of a girl whom I’ll call Celine. Celine had been a mousy type for years but had suddenly unfurled as a woman. Jack didn’t fantasize about her like the rest of us did. He was against that.
“She’s not a thing,” he insisted.
“That thing has tits as big as my hands,” Jeff teased. “Don’t tell me you don’t look at them!”
“I do,” Jack replied, “but there’s more to her than that.”
“I bet!” Jeff agreed.
To Jack, Celine was beyond the vulgarities of desire. He had had a secret crush on her for ten years, ever since the first grade. The recent updates to her anatomy had greatly strained this protocol, he admitted, but it wasn’t about that.
“I just want to talk,” he told me. “In ten years I haven’t said ten words to her.”
His crush had been so secret that it was probably now too late.
“You can talk to her at the dance,” I suggested. “It’ll be a nice excuse. Just end up with her, and talk.”
A dance in the school hall had been planned for the end of the term, a few weeks later. It was to be a competition. To keep things fair, couples would be decided by a draw of names.
“I can’t dance,” Jack sighed. “I have the rhythm of a stop sign.”
“Who cares?” I said. “It’s not about dancing.”
“I care,” Jack said. “I want to talk, not dance.”
On the night of the dance, Celine looked stunning. We were breathless with lust. I watched Jack as he watched Celine while the couples were called out. It looked as though he suddenly hoped to end up with her even though his name was not in the draw. Then Celine’s name was called, followed by Jeff’s.
“See you later,” Jeff whispered as he led her past us and onto the floor.
“How can that happen?” Jack asked me the next day. “I stood there the whole night while she danced with His Luckness.”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “They won, too. That’s why she stayed on the floor.”
“Of course,” Jack nodded. “Of course.”
Now it was Friday night and we were at Garry’s retreat on the river. Jack hated it.
“I can’t ski,” he told me, “and I don’t have money. There’s nothing I can talk about.”
He was right. The conversation swung between catalogues of possessions and predictions about skiing. Garry owned this beautiful log cabin on the river’s bend, he told us, and a boat and skis, and many other things. The skiing was going to be great, he said. Everyone else agreed and told us what they owned and how they planned to ski. Jeff had married Celine but they were now divorced.
“She’s married some professor,” he chuckled and stretched his arms along the back of the sofa.
Jack hadn’t seen Celine since school but he still talked about her now and then.
“What do you do these days?” Jeff asked him. “Did you become a scientist?”
“Sort of,” Jack said.
“I test condoms.”
Everyone laughed and slapped their knees and Jeff told the story of how Jack had once inflated a condom with helium in the science class, drawn a face on it and named it Jeff, but was made to sit with the thing hovering above his desk when Mrs Stark caught him out.
After that, Jack just drank. Saturday morning he was too hungover to go skiing and stayed at the cabin while the rest of us went out on the river. In the evening it got cold and Garry built a fire. It was late when everyone finally ran out of skiing stories. We were all pretty drunk.
“Let’s play Monopoly,” Jeff suggested.
He’d found a set in Garry’s den.
“It’ll be fun.”
“It won’t,” Jack mumbled. “Monopoly is a bad game.”
A while later Jeff was racing around the board and buying everything he landed on.
“I’m gonna roll a double now,” he proclaimed and snapped his fingers. “It’s time. I haven’t rolled a double all night.”
Jack cared about the truth more than he cared about anything else, even when he was drinking.
“It doesn’t work like that,” he explained. “Dice don’t have a memory.”
Jeff was adamant.
“You’ll see,” he said smugly. “You’ll see.”
“The odds for a double are one in six,” Jack insisted, “every time you roll. No matter what.”
“Maybe it’s so for you,” Jeff said.
Jack passed him the dice.
“All of us,” he said. “Chance has no darlings.”
Jeff snapped his fingers and rolled a double.
“See!” he cried. “I know how things work.”
A few days later Jack still brooded over his betrayal at the hands of the truth. We sat on the beach near my house and watched as the tide moved in and spilled around the rocks.
“His Luckness wins again,” he said.
He dug his heels into the sand. After a while he said, “How can that be?”
I didn’t know how to answer him.
“Who cares?” I replied.
Jack hugged his knees and looked out to the sea.
“I do,” he said.