Cheating the Devil at Solitaire

They called me the Magic Mennonite.

When they called at all—which they didn’t. Until tonight. If strangers asked for my help, voices dripping panic, I came through. I supposed it was the least I could do for family.

It’d been years, but I could find my way to the old homestead, dead or dead drunk, whether I took the highway or country mile roads. Finding the farm was easy, but the will to go inside was missing.

“Home” was a farm thirty minutes from the city of Mort Cheval, tucked away in the valley near the U.S. border where generations of Thiessens before me had grown up. Magic and questions about the circumstances of my birth aside, the farm was one of the more mundane reasons why I was a black sheep in the family. Dad had used the property—and land he owned in North Dakota—to run hash over the border in his tractor. He’s still in jail so I get a double dose of shunning.

My family couldn’t decide if I had a direct line to God or the Devil. The answer was complicated.

Neither.

Both.

Half the town doesn’t believe, and the other half believes all too much, and that I’m on the wrong side to boot. Believers told lots of stories: I was born on Friday the 13th under a full moon at a crossroads. I lost my virginity to a black cat and was a hell of a dancer.

That sort of thing.

I’ve never made a deal with the Devil, but I hadn’t made the deal my family made with God, either. If I’m outside His favour, I’m outside His laws. Or at least, I slip my toe over the line from time to time. I stick around because there are those who genuinely need my help. It’s almost as if He planned it.

To my surprise the old farm house, two stories of rundown and chipped paint, still stood. Its windows were plastic tacked over shattered glass. It was loaded with antiques and ephemera from our history. Too many arguments over who got what, and so nobody got anything. Typical.

The lights were on in a more modern sixties-style bungalow, the third house to be erected here in the valley. Farther on was my Uncle Frank’s father’s log cabin, its roof bowed, but still there. Trees had grown through the roof and the last time I’d visited roots curled around the cabin’s old wood fire cooking stove.

I told myself the long walk from my car to the new house—still called the new house, despite being here for fifty years—was why I lingered instead of braving the cold.

Headlights brushed the edge of the lane, pausing before disappearing where the valley road curved towards the States. I tapped at the pocket of my jacket that held my cigarettes and playing cards, thinking of Christmases past; a haze of blue smoke and learning how to whiffle shuffle. Hunched over on the floor, the only free space in the house, playing solitaire under Frank’s direction until my back ached and my eyes were ready to bleed.

And when you play the Devil, you had to play to win.

Read more in On Spec #112.