Freedom Lane – The Bingo Hall Death Pool

Paulie unlocked the door to his pizzeria, Paulie’s Pizza, located on State Street, New Haven at nine in the morning to do some ordering and get ready for the day. He only had a moment to enjoy the silence before Tony, his longtime friend and employee, came running down the stairs from his apartment, shouting.
 
“Thank God you’re here!” Tony exclaimed, nearly running into Paulie. He was carrying his clock radio, the wire dangling behind him.
 
“What’s gotten into you?!” Paulie snapped, moving a step back so Tony wouldn’t gore him.
 
“They’re talking about us on the radio!” Tony said, plugging his radio into the outlet by the cash register. “They just said they are after the commercial!”
 
“What the hell for?” Paulie asked as Tony turned the volume up.
 
Tony put a finger to his lips, as the the morning show personality, BJ of the Morning BJ Show, spoke.
 
“So you called this pizza place all day,” BJ said, speaking to someone else in the studio, “and then you actually went down there⁈”
 
“Oh yeah,” the other voice said. “It was crazy in that place too.”
 
“Who’s that mook?!” Paulie exclaimed, motioning toward the radio.
 
“That’s Dave the Intern,” Tony replied. “You’ll remember him in a minute.”
 
“What would possess you to go down there after harassing them all night?” BJ asked, chuckling.
 
“I need consent forms to air the calls,” Dave the Intern replied. “I figured they’d be easier to get in person and I can grab a slice.”
 
“Oh Hell,” Paulie groaned, remembering the events of that night.
 
“You just thought you’d get a free pizza for being from this show,” BJ said.
 
“Maybe,” Dave the Intern said. “But the boss came out, this sixty-something year old ginny, and he was pissed.”
 
“Who’s he think he’s calling a ginny?!” Paulie shouted.
 
“Be quiet,” Tony said. “I can’t hear it.”
 
“Is that when he took you outside and slapped you around?” BJ asked, chuckling again.
 
“He yelled and swore a lot first,” Dave the Intern added. “But yeah. I got knocked around a bit, right there on the sidewalk outside his place.”
 
“I have to say,” BJ said, “I think you deserved it.”
 
“Screw you!” Dave the Intern snapped. “It’ll be a long time before I eat there again.”
 
“Not me,” BJ said. “I live by them. I just hope they’ll serve me now that you’ve gone and got your ass kicked by the owner.”
 
“He’s such a jerk,” Dave the Intern said.
 
“Shut this off,” Paulie said. “I don’t need them trash-talking… Tony? Where’d you go?”
 
“We have a caller on line four,” BJ said. “You say you work there?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said, his voice on the radio. There was an echo since he was standing only fifteen feet from Paulie on the pizzeria’s phone. “That intern guy is a little asshole. He definitely deserved an ass-kicking.”
 
“Tony!” Paulie shouted. “Hang up that damn phone!”
 
“Is that the owner?!” BJ asked, glee in his voice. “Put him on!”
 
“He wants to talk to you, boss,” Tony said, holding the phone out to Paulie.
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “Fine. Give me that. What do you want?”
 
“Is this the guy?” BJ asked.
 
“Sounds like him,” Dave the Intern said. “I got half a mind to sue you, bro!”
 
“You started that fight, you little shit!” Paulie said.
 
“Watch the language,” BJ said. “I’m gonna bleep you.”
 
“Bleep your sister’s ass!” Paulie snapped. “Don’t send your little trolls in here any more. If he comes back, I’ll take him outside like I did last time. Stop talking about my place on your show too!”
 
Paulie hung up the phone. 
 
“Hello?” BJ asked the dial tone. “I guess he’s done.”
 
“That guy’s gonna have a stroke,” Dave the Intern said.
 
“You better stay out of there if you know what’s good for you,” BJ said. “Now let’s hear from Sue with the traffic and weather.”
 
Paulie pulled the radio’s plug out of the outlet. “Frig this,” he said.
 
“You forgot to say ‘Paulie’s Pizza’,” Tony said. “They didn’t say the name, and you lost out on the free advertising.” 
 
Paulie stared at Tony for a moment. “Will you get to work, you stunad?!” he shouted. “We got shit to do here!”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 12, Episode 1: The Bingo Hall Death-Pool
 
***
 
Rose sat on the couch with her wife and life-partner Helen, reading the newspaper while Helen flipped through the channels, trying to settle on whether she wanted to watch game shows or talk shows. It was a quiet morning. Their adopted son, Da’Quarius, was at school, and his dog, Dutchie, a brown pitbull-terrier, napped on his bed by the door. Rose turned to the obituaries page to see if she knew anyone who had passed. In her mid-seventies, she’d come across and old friend or acquaintance every now and then, and this was one of those mornings.
 
“Oh no,” Rose said, putting the paper on the table. “Dorothy passed away.”
 
“Who?” Helen asked.
 
“Dorothy Roberts,” Rose replied. “You remember her. We’d see her at Bingo every now and then.”
 
Helen turned off the TV and stood up. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
 
“Where are you going?” Rose asked.
 
“I need to take a dump,” Helen replied.
 
“Didn’t you just go after breakfast?” Rose asked.
 
“What are you, the toilet police?” Helen asked in return. “Sometimes a lady has to go twice. I’ll be back in a bit.”
 
Helen went off, making her way upstairs. Rose read the rest of the obituaries, glad that nobody else she knew was there. After only a few minutes, Helen made her way back downstairs. She didn’t say anything as she sat back in her chair.
 
“Everything OK?” Rose asked.
 
“False alarm,” Helen said. She waited a couple of moments before speaking again. “Hey. We haven’t gone to bingo in a while, have we?”
 
“No,” Rose replied, thinking. “It’s been a few weeks at least.”
 
“They still do it on Tuesday and Thursday nights?” Helen asked.
 
“They always have,” Rose replied. “Why?”
 
“I think we should go this Tuesday night,” Helen said.
 
“OK,” Rose said. “We can do that.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “Sounds like fun.”
 
Rose watched Helen as she turned the TV back on, the look on her face pensive. She wondered what was going on in her wife’s head.
 
***
 
Tony came down from his apartment after his lunch break, moping. “Boss,” he said, finding Paulie in his office. “I have some bad news.”
 
“What’s that?” Paulie asked. “Our cheese go bad or something?”
 
“Don’t joke,” Tony said. “I Got it bad, the big one.”
 
“The big what?” Paulie sighed, looking up from his pile of paperwork.
 
“Cancer,” Tony said, his lip quivering. “I got friggin’ nut cancer!”
 
“Whoa,” Paulie said. “How’d you get such a grim diagnosis during your lunch break?”
 
“I found a lump, Paulie,” Tony said. “I friggin’ lump right on my nut!”
 
“Calm down,” Paulie said, walking to Tony and helping him into a chair, putting a hand on his shoulder. “That doesn’t mean you have cancer, Tony. Why don’t you make an appointment with the doctor, and we’ll get this straightened out.”
 
“Alright,” Tony agreed.
 
“Just promise me that you won’t do anything nutty until then,” Paulie said.
 
“‘Nutty’?” Tony asked. “Are you making fun of me?!”
 
“No, you gagootz!” Paulie shouted. “I’m talking about the schemes and shit you like to pull. Don’t do anything crazy until a doctor tells you what you got, capeesh?”
 
“Can I use your phone?” Tony asked.
 
“Sure,” Paulie said, getting up. “I’ll work the counter for a bit. You do what you need to do.”
 
“Thanks, boss,” Tony said, walking around Paulie’s desk and sitting in the chair.
 
“You got it,” Paulie said, leaving ht e office. “Take all the time you need.” He closed the door, leaving Tony alone.
 
Tony picked up the desk phone and dialed a number. He let it ring a few times. “Hello, Claudette,” Tony said when she picked up. “It’s me, your cousin Tony. I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll blurt it out: you need to get yourself checked out.”
 
***
 
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Rose asked, getting her jacket from the coat tree.
 
“Nah,” Da’Quarius replied, watching TV. “Bingo is an old ladies’ game. Umma stay here and watch some TV an’ shit.”
 
“Make sure you get your homework done at least,” Rose said.
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Where’s Helen?” Rose said, walking toward the kitchen. “I wonder what’s taking her so long get ready.”
 
Rose left the den, walking into the kitchen. Helen wasn’t in there, but she found her brown canvas bag on the table, the one she absolutely refused to call a purse. She only used it when she needed to carry things like bingo markers or her meds if she was going to be out of the house for too long. There was a piece of paper sticking out at the end, and her curiosity got the best of her. She pulled it out and found yesterday’s newspaper, the obituary for Dorothy Roberts circled with a red marker.
 
“Oh, Helen,” Rose said in the empty kitchen. “I had no idea you knew her that well.”
 
Rose heard Helen’s footsteps, and she shoved the paper back in the bag. “You ready to go?” she asked, coming into the kitchen.
 
“I’m ready,” Rose said, giving Helen a smile. “Do you want to talk first?”
 
“No,” Helen said, picking up her bag. “I want to play some friggin’ bingo! Let’s go!”
 
***
 
Paulie had been careful with Tony, not wanting to bring up his worry about what he thought was cancer, but he couldn’t help it. He had to make sure his friend was going to be OK. “So,” he said, helping Tony get the main area of the pizzeria cleaned up before the dinner rush. “Did you make your doctor appointment?”
 
“Not yet,” Tony replied, looking away.
 
“What?” Paulie asked. “Then why’d you need my phone?”
 
“I called Claudette and told her to get checked out,” Tony said, finally looking up. “She’s my cousin with benefits, so I figured she might have gotten it from me.”
 
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Paulie said, throwing his rag on the table in front of him. “That’s not how you get cancer, first of all. Second of all, why aren’t you going to the friggin’ doctor with this shit?!”
 
“Not so loud,” Tony said. “You want everyone to know about this?”
 
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of!” Paulie said. “Aside from you not making a friggin’ doctor’s appointment to get this checked out.”
 
“Why are you so mad?” Tony asked.
 
“Just make the appointment,” Paulie said. “You don’t want to put off getting something like this checked out. Make the appointment, and I won’t be mad at you.”
 
“The guy on the radio was right about you, I think,” Tony said. “Maybe you need to have your blood pressure checked before your head pops off.”
 
“Will you make the friggin’ appointment?!” Paulie shouted, eliciting the waitstaff to come sneaking toward the main area from the seating area.
 
“Sure,” Tony replied. “I’ll call first thing tomorrow. Can I use your phone to call Claudette? She probably wants to know she can’t catch anything from me. I think she thinks I might’ve given her herpes or something.”
 
Paulie sighed. “Go ahead and call,” he said. “Tell your cousin you probably didn’t give her herpes.”
 
“Thanks, boss!” Tony said, hurrying into Paulie’s office.
 
Paulie shook his head. “I’m gonna kill him if he doesn’t have cancer.”
 
***
 
Rose and Helen walked into the bingo hall, which is normally the basement of the East Rock Catholic Church. They purchased their cards, each buying one for the first game. Rose almost said something. Helen normally bought four cards, stamping away at them as the numbers were called like a machine. They walked to their normal spot and set up, placing their cards down and getting their bingo markers out.
 
Helen looked around the room. “Watch my card for me, Rose,” she said, getting up. “I need to use the bathroom.”
 
“Already?” Rose asked. “We just got here.”
 
“Are you still the toilet police?” Helen asked. “I need to go.”
 
“OK,” Rose said. “I can stamp your card while you’re gone.”
 
“Thanks,” Helen said, getting up. Rose noticed with fascination that she took her canvas bag as she walked away, going into the ladies’ room on the other side of the church basement. Father McKraken started calling numbers a couple of minutes later, and Rose got busy stamping the numbers on both cards. She looked up for a moment, worried about Helen, and saw her leaving the bathroom. She walked toward the kitchen area, entering a door marked “Lounge”. Curious, Rose got up and followed. She opened the door slowly, finding an unlit hallway. She heard voices at the end of it, and she softly walked closer to hear.
 
“I’m glad you all came,” Helen said. “As you know, Dorothy Roberts has passed away.”
 
Rose’s heart swelled. Helen did know Dorothy, and she had put together a little group to talk about her dearly departed friend. She had no idea that Helen felt that way about her. She even noticed Harold Fuchs was there, and there was no love lost between him and Helen, and that was putting it mildly.
 
“So who had her in the pool?” Helen continued.
 
Rose’s heart felt like it had dropped into her stomach.
 
“I did,” a male’s voice said.
 
“Anyone else?” Helen asked.
 
Nobody else spoke up.
 
“OK,” Helen said. Rose could hear pages turning in a notebook. “My notes verify that Larry was, in fact, the only one who chose Dorothy Roberts this round. Here is your payment.”
 
“Come to papa,” Larry said, cackling. Rose couldn’t see, but she imagined him taking a wad of bills from Helen.
 
“Now for the next round,” Helen said. “You all know the rules. You can pick anyone from the bingo hall. The round will not end until someone wins. The amount to enter, as always is fifty bucks, with ninety percent going to the winner and ten percent remaining with me, the bingo hall death pool organizer.”
 
Rose inched closer, looking in the room. There was a round table in the middle of the kitchenette with metal folding chairs around it. Helen was sitting with her back toward Rose, and the others were around it, all elderly and all watching Helen. One man was counting a stack of bills. This must be Larry, this round’s big winner. None of them saw Rose hiding, peeking around the corner of the wall.
 
There was some murmuring as money was passed to Helen. She took it, putting in a neat pile and putting in her canvas back. She wrote on the top of a new page in her notebook. “Alright,” she said. “We start with Larry, our latest winner, and make our way clockwise. Make your picks.”
 
“Larry Greene,” Larry said. “I choose Bertha Washington.”
 
“Got it,” Helen said, writing the information down. “Next.”
 
“Audrey Stone,” the woman sitting to Larry’s left said. “I also choose Bertha Washington.”
 
“Got it,” Helen said.
 
“You dirty cheater,” Larry muttered.
 
“Quiet,” Helen said, writing. “You know the rules, Larry. Don’t let winning go to your head. I will disqualify you from this round.”
 
“Sorry, Helen,” Larry said, staring at the table.
 
“Next,” Helen said.
 
Harold Fuchs was next. He took in a deep breath, staring at Helen.
 
“Come on,” Helen said. “I’d like to get a little bingo in tonight.”
 
“Harold Fuchs,” Harold said. “I choose Helen Masters.”
 
Rose gasped, hoping nobody heard the swift intake of breath. She wondered what Helen would do now that her mortal enemy had marked her for death. But Helen only wrote it down in her notebook. “Got it,” she said. “Next.”
 
***
 
Tony tossed the dough, letting it hang in the air for a millisecond before it came down, catching it, and tossing it once more for good measure. He let it flap onto the counter in front of himself, and he started adding ingredients.
 
“You’ve been quiet,” Alice said, coming toward the back. “I’m surprised you haven’t hit on my yet tonight.”
 
“I’ve got some heavy stuff on my mind,” Tony replied. “So thanks for coming back here to get hit on so I don’t have to find you.”
 
“What heavy stuff?” Alice asked. “Is everything alright?”
 
“No,” Tony said. “Everything is not alright, but what do you care?”
 
“Tony,” Alice said, becoming serious. “We’re friends. You know you can talk to me if you need to.”
 
Tony walked away from the pizza he was making. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not good news, babe.”
 
“Just tell me,” Alice said. “I’ll bet you feel better.”
 
“OK,” Tony said. “It’s cancer, and it’s in my nuts.”
 
“I can’t tell if you’re being serious,” Alice said.
 
“I wouldn’t joke about my nuts being in danger,” Tony replied. “It’s serious.”
 
“Oh, Tony,” Alice said, running up to him and hugging him. He held on tight as Tony wraped his arms around her. They stayed like that in the kitchen, silent, save their breathing.
 
“What the hell is this?!” Paulie said, coming into the kitchen. “I can’t have you two on each other like horny squirrels in my kitchen!”
 
“Paulie,” Alice said, pulling away from the embrace. She looked from him and back to Tony. “Does he not know?”
 
“He knows,” Tony said. “He’s just being insensitive about it.”
 
“Are you talking about the cancer thing again?” Paulie asked. “I told you: I’m not taking it seriously until you get yourself checked out by a doctor!”
 
“You haven’t been checked out?!” Alice said. “It could be anything!”
 
Tony shrugged. “I’m not taking any chances until I know.”
 
“What the hell are you talking about?” Alice asked.
 
“I wanted to nail you one last time if I lose frick and frack,” Tony replied.
 
“You’re unbelievable,” Alice said, storming out of the kitchen. “I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy, and you’re making a joke out of it! You make me sick!”
 
“I don’t get what the problem is,” Tony said, turning to Paulie.
 
“See the doctor,” Paulie said, turning away. “Then we’ll talk about what the problem is.”
 
“Fine,” Tony muttered, getting back to work on the pizza. “I’ll see the damn doctor if that’s what you all want.”
 
***
 
Rose had snuck back to her seat while Helen had finished up her death pool. She had heard enough, and she found no interest in finding out who the rest of the group had picked. She returned to see the end of that particular round of bingo, unsure if she would have won if she stayed to stamp her card. 
 
Helen returned, bringing a small stack of cards, one for Rose and four for herself. “Sorry about that,” Helen said. “We had no luck I take it?”
 
“No,” Rose replied, staring off. She had no idea how to bring up what she had just witnessed.
 
“We’ll have better luck this round,” Helen said, sliding one of the cards in front of Rose and putting the other four in front of herself.
 
“Maybe,” Rose said.
 
“Are you alright, dear?” Helen asked. “We can head on home if you’re not feeling up for it.”
 
“I’m OK,” Rose replied, looking at her card. She picked up her bingo marker as the boyishly handsome Father McKracken spun the cage full of bingo balls.
 
“OK,” Helen said.
 
Father McKraken pulled the first ball from the cage. “B-Five,” he said into the microphone in front of him.
 
Helen stamped two of her cards quickly. Rose looked at her own, lightly pressing the tip of her marker on the number five.
 
***
 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said, coming into Paulie’s Pizza after school the following day, finding Tony alone in the main area. “What’s so important dat you gotta blow my phone up all day while I’m at school an’ shit?”
 
“Look,” Tony said. “Some serious business came up recently, and I’m trying to help others.”
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “What happened? You win da’ lotto an’ wanna gimme like a million dollars or somethin’?”
 
 “No,” Tony said, coming toward Da’Quarius from behind the counter. “I just want you to fondle your balls for me.”
 
“WHAT?!” Da’Quarius snapped, stepping back. “You better cut it out with dat shit!”
 
“Don’t be like that, kid,” Tony said. “All I’m asking is for you to play with your balls a bit.”
 
“You dirty, perverted-ass mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “I always thought you were cool an’ shit, but now I know you’re just a fuckin’ pedophile! Umma kick yo’ fuckin’ head in if you come at me with dat shit, give you some mo’ fuckin’ street justice!”
 
“That’s not what I’m sayin’, kid!” Tony exclaimed. “For God’s sake, I just want you to fondle your balls!”
 
“What the hell is all this shouting about?!” Paulie exclaimed, coming out of his office. He was surprised to see that his nephew had come in after school. “And what are you doing here?”
 
“Tony asked me to come in,” Da’Quarius replied. “Turns out he’s a kid-toucher, an’ he keeps askin’ to watch me play with my junk fo’ him. I’m ‘bout to barf!”
 
“I never told you I want to watch,” Tony said, exasperated. “I just want you to check your balls for lumps so you don’t end up like nut cancer like me.”
 
“Oh,” Da’Quarius said, still looking suspicious of Tony. “Why didn’t you just say so. Wait… You got nut cancer?!”
 
“Did you call the friggin’ doctor yet?” Paulie asked. 
 
“Stop being so insensitive,” Tony said.
 
“You haven’t gone to da’ doctor?” Da’Quarius asked. “How do you know it’s even cancer?”
 
“Thank you!” Paulie said. “I’ll be the first to apologize for being insensitive the second you get a diagnosis, but I’m not going to entertain this any longer until you find out if whatever you think is on your balls is cancerous or not.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “You might just have da’ herp.”
 
“So did you call yet?” Paulie asked.
 
“Not yet,” Tony replied, “but I’ll probably get around to it today.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “I’ll make the friggin’ appointment myself. I’m already paying for your insurance for frig’s sake.” He walked back toward his office.
 
“Thanks, Paulie,” Tony called as Paulie slammed his office door shut. “He’s a good guy despite him always yelling.”
 
“You’re like a fuckin’ kid,” Da’Quarius. “Umma go home now.”
 
“Later,” Tony said. “And don’t forget to fondle those balls!”
 
***
 
Rose came out of the kitchen, holding her cup of afternoon tea. Helen napped in her favorite chair, snoring. Rose sipped the tea, watching her. She wanted to bring up what she had witnessed the night before, asking Helen about the bingo hall death pool she was running behind her back. She wanted more than anything for her to end the immoral game they were playing based on the life and death of their friends and acquaintances.
 
“Helen,” Rose said, steeling her nerve and waking her wife by rubbing her shoulder gently. “We need to talk about something.”
 
“What?” Helen asked, looking around. “What’s wrong? Is the house on fire?”
 
“No,” Rose replied.
 
“Then why the hell did you wake me up?” Helen asked.
 
“I saw you last night,” Rose said. “At bingo.”
 
“So?” Helen asked. “I didn’t win a damn thing, so you didn’t see much.”
 
“I saw where you went when you told me you were going to the bathroom,” Rose aid.
 
“Oh,” Helen said. “That’s nothing. Just some of us bingo buffs like to get together and talk strategy sometimes.”
 
“I heard what you were talking about in there,” Rose said. “You’re running a death pool with the people in the bingo hall.”
 
Helen was silent for a moment. “And?”
 
“And that’s it,” Rose said.
 
“It’s all in fun,” Helen said, waving a hand.
 
“It’s sick and depraved to bet on people’s deaths,” Rose said.
 
“They’re going to die regardless of us betting on them,” Helen retorted. “It’s strictly against the rules to kill someone you’ve picked. That’s grounds for disqualification.”
 
“And what about Harold picking you?!” Rose said, now almost in tears.
 
“He’s picked me every time since we started this pool,” Helen said, laughing. “He’s wasted that fifty dollars every friggin’ round.”
 
“I just don’t understand how you let him get away without an argument at the very least,” Rose said.
 
“I’d have to disqualify myself if I argue about anyone’s pick,” Helen said. “Besides, the jokes on him. How the hell am I going to pay out if I’m the one who croaks? He hasn’t realized that in the ten years we’ve been doing this.” She cackled.
 
“You’ve been doing this for ten years?” Rose asked.
 
“Give or take,” Helen replied with a shrug.
 
Rose got up and left, heading into the kitchen. 
 
“Come on back, Rose!” Helen called. “There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not like we’re running a tontine for God’s sake. I put my foot down when Harold suggested that one!”
 
Helen waited, but Rose didn’t return or respond. “Is this really that bad?” she asked herself.
 
Da’Quarius came in, his dog jumping around him in glee. “Hey, Helen,” he said. “I’ll be back after I take Dutchie for a walk.”
 
“Wait,” Helen said as Da’Quarius took the leash from the table by the door. “I want to ask you something.”
 
“I swear to God, biddy,” Da’Quarius said, “if you ask me to fondle my junk, umma lose my shit.”
 
***
 
“So I was just fondling my balls,” Tony said, “and I found this bump thing. I kind of freaked out a bit. Nut cancer is a big deal. Paulie told me to get some treatment for it, so I came here. That’s pretty much it.”
 
“Well,” Manny Garcia said, sitting across from Tony in their living room in their home on Freedom Lane, across the street from the Masters family, “you’ve come to the right place.”
 
“Word,” Antonio, Manny’s brother, added. “We got’cho hook up.”
 
“Thank God,” Tony said. “I’ve seen the articles online about cannabis oil being able to cure cancer, and I figured you’d be the two who’d have some.”
 
“We got you, bro,” Antonio said. “You got fifty bucks?”
 
“Anything,” Tony said, taking his wallet from his back pocket and counting the bills. “I really don’t want them to radiate or remove either one of my guys.”
 
“I’ll go get it,” Manny said, getting up and leaving the room.
 
“Thanks,” Tony said.
 
“So this is really serious?” Antonio asked.
 
“I’m afraid so,” Tony replied, sighing. “Paulie says I should go to the doctor, but I don’t want to take this lightly.”
 
“You haven’t been to the doctor yet?” Antonio asked.
 
“Paulie got me an appointment for Friday,” Tony replied. “He’s even going with me. I thought he was just being a good friend, but I think he wants to make sure I go and he hears the diagnosis himself.”
 
“Fifty gets you three,” Manny said, returning with three syringes of dark green liquid.
 
“Thanks,” Tony said. “Why do you have so much of this anyway?”
 
“We don’t want to have any seizures,” Manny replied.
 
“Oh,” Tony said. “I never knew you guys were epileptic.”
 
“We aren’t,” Antonio said. “We just don’t want to have any seizures. Haven’t you ever heard of preventative medicine?”
 
“So what do I do?” Tony asked, looking at the syringe. “Just inject this into my balls?”
 
“Probably,” Manny replied with a shrug. “That’s what I would do.”
 
“That’s gonna friggin’ sting like a bitch,” Tony said.
 
“Just don’t do it in our living room,” Antonio added.
 
“Yeah,” Manny agreed. “Get the fuck out.”
 
***
 
Helen, Rose, and Da’Quarius were watching the evening news after dinner on Thursday night. It was quiet in the room. Rose wasn’t saying much to Helen, still upset about the death pool she had been running behind her back for years, and Da’Quarius had learned a long time ago not to get in the middle of his adoptive mothers when they were having a tiff.
 
“We end on a sad note tonight,” the handsome anchor on the channel seven news said, “Bertha Washington, a New Haven icon, died today.”
 
“Oh no,” Rose muttered.
 
“Bertha Washington?” Helen asked. “”Why does that name sound familiar? Do we know her?”
 
“No,” Rose said, a little too quickly.
 
“I’ll be back,” Helen said, getting up with a grunt. “I have to check something.”
 
Rose was quiet as Helen left the room, undoubtedly going to check her list to verify that Bertha Washington, New Haven icon, was on her list for the bingo pool.
 
“So you guys know dat lady on da’ news or somethin’?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose nearly jumped. She had forgotten he was in the room with her. “She plays bingo with us,” Rose replied. “That’s all.”
 
“OK,” Helen said, coming back in the room. “Isn’t tomorrow Thursday night? Bingo night!”
 
“Didn’t you biddies just go yesterday?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“We’re going again,” Helen replied. “You’re more than welcome to join us and try to win some money?”
 
“You can win money?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Maybe I will check it out.”
 
“Can you give us a few minutes?” Rose asked Da’Quarius.
 
“Sho’,” Da’Quarius said, walking up the stairs, toward his bedroom. His loyal dog followed him.
 
Rose waited for Da’Quarius to be out of earshot. “I know that woman plays bingo with us,” she said, “and I know she’s in the pool.”
 
“This again?” Helen sighed. “Look, there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing.”
 
“It’s immoral,” Rose said. “I do not approve of it, and I wish you’d stop doing it. I won’t argue with you. That’s all I have to say.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “I’d hate to see what you’re like if you had more to say about something you don’t approve of.”
 
***
 
Tony sat on the couch in his living room, wearing just his boxers and white teeshirt, an icepack on his crotch. He had injected the cannabis oil he bought from he Garcia’s, and he was sore from the injection. He wondered how long it was going to take to kick in when he heard a voice.
 
“Hey, Tony!” someone shouted.
 
Tony looked around, but he saw nobody in his apartment. “I must be hearing things,” he said.
 
“No you’re not,” the voice replied. “Look down.”
 
Tony looked toward his crotch, moving the ice pack. “You can talk?” he asked his penis.
 
“Yeah, I can talk,” Tony’s penis replied. “And I’m sorry about all this for what it’s worth, bro. You know I love you.”
 
“I know,” Tony said. “I love you too, but you gotta tell those balls of yours to calm the shit down with the cancer.”
 
“Dude,” Tony’s penis said. “I can’t talk to your balls. What the hell do you think I am, magic?”
 
“Sorry,” Tony said. “Look, I gotta go to the doctor on Friday and see about all this nonsense. I better get some sleep.”
 
“Cool,” Tony’s penis said. “Before you go, why don’t you make us a couple of sausage parm subs.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said, getting up. “That sounds amazing.”
 
“Fuck yes it does,” Tony’s penis said.
 
***
 
Helen entered the bingo hall with Rose and Da’Quarius, her canvas bag hanging off her left shoulder. “You two get us set up,” she said. “I’m going to take care of business quickly tonight.” She shuffled over to the kitchen area, where the others were already congregating. Rose watched with a look of worry.
 
“So dis is bingo,” Da’Quarius said, looking around. “I don’t know why, but I always thought dere’d be mo’ bitches.”
 
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Helen said, finding the usual crowd at the round table. She sat down, took her notebook from her bag, and opened it to the notes she took on Tuesday. “I don’t think we’ve ever had to do this twice in the same week, but here we are.”
 
“I’m calling shenanigans!” Harold snapped. “How’d those two know Bertha Washington was on death’s door?”
 
“Audrey just copied me,” Larry said. “And do your homework. Pick someone different for once, and you might actually win a round!”
 
“Enough bickering!” Helen snapped. “I’ll disqualify you both. My notes confirm that Larry and Audrey both picked Bertha Washington, so they split the pot.” She handed Larry and Audrey a wad of bills each. “Larry, you choose first again.”
 
“Larry Greene,” Larry said. “I choose Sam Hallford.”
 
“Got it,” Helen said, writing the information down. “Next.”
 
“Audrey Stone,” Audrey said. “I choose Sam Hallford.”
 
“Dammit, Audrey,” Larry said, slamming his fist on the table.
 
“Cut it out,” Helen groaned. “I don’t have the patience tonight. Next.”
 
The door opened, and Da’Quarius wandered in. “What’s goin’ on in here?” he asked, looking around. “Don’t you know we’re starting bingo?”
 
“Get the hell out of here, kid!” Helen snapped. “You don’t belong in here.”
 
“Fine,” Da’Quarius said, turning to leave. “But umma play yo’ cards and keep whatever you win.”
 
“What the hell is this?!” Harold snapped once Da’Quarius left. “You’re having that kid of yours spy on us now?!”
 
“Then he’d be spying on me too, numb-crotch,” Helen said. “I’m getting real close to disqualifying someone tonight, so say my name and be done with it.”
 
“Fine,” Harold said, crossing his arms. “Harold Fuchs. I choose…” A smile spread across his face.
 
“Come on,” Helen said. “Waste your pick on me like you always do.”
 
“Da’Quarius Masters,” Harold said, staring at Helen.
 
Helen took a breath and put her pen down, not writing the name of her son. “No,” she said. “He’s off limits.”
 
“What?” Harold asked. “Anyone in the bingo hall is fair game! These are your rules!”
 
“Not my son,” Helen said. “I’ll give you this one chance to take it back.”
 
“Helen,” Larry said. “The rules clearly state -”
 
“FUCK THE RULES!” Helen exclaimed, interrupting Larry. “You say my name, Harold, or I’m dragging you out of here by your balls.”
 
“Da’Quarius Masters!” Harold exclaimed in her return, rising from his chair. “He’ll likely get shot up in some drive-by or overdose on crack in an alley somewhere. Write his name in your book, or you’ll have to disqualify yourself for these shenanigans!”
 
“I’ll give you shenanigans, you wrinkly nut wrangler,” Helen said, tossing her notebook aside, kicking her chair over, and shuffling around the table.
 
“Oh shit,” Harold said, shuffling the opposite way. The others all got up and backed away from the table, all pleading with them to stop. Harold and Helen were shouting at each other, incoherent over everyone else. Nobody went silent until the door to the kitchen was slammed and Father McKraken walked in.
 
“What on earth is going on in here?!” Father McKraken demanded.
 
“Nothing,” Helen said, stoping, catching her breath. “Just a little bingo fan club. We love the way you roll those ping pong balls.”
 
“What’s this?” Father McKraken asked, picking Helen’s notebook up from the floor. “‘The bingo hall death pool’? Can someone explain this to me? Helen?”
 
“Can’t,” Helen said, shrugging. “I’ve been disqualified. You better talk to Harold.” Helen walked out, closing the door with a thud and a click behind her.
 
Father McKraken turned from the door to Harold. “Harold?” he asked.
 
“What the hell do you want from me, a confession?” Harold asked. “You know I’m a Jew, right? You have no power over me.”
 
Father McKraken sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Everyone out!” he shouted. “This morbid little club of yours is done!”
 
***
 
Tony sat in the doctor’s office, joined by Paulie. “Thanks for coming, boss,” he said. “Now you can get a look at it too.”
 
“I’m not looking at your balls,” Paulie said. “I’m going to get real acquainted with these informative posters on the walls. I’m only here because your were being such a baby in the waiting room.”
 
“Thanks anyway,” Tony said. “It means a lot that you’d come in here with me. You’ve always been like a brother, and I’m glad you’re here when I possible get the worst news of my life.”
 
“Come on,” Paulie said. “We both known what’s going to happen. The doctor’s going to see what you think is cancer, tell you it’s a zit or an ingrown ball hair, pop it, let me leave so I can throw up, and tell you it’s not cancer.”
 
The doctor appeared next, a middle age man with short hair and glasses, wearing a white lab coat over a polo shit. “I’m doctor Max,” he said, pulling the stool across from Tony, who was sitting on the exam table. “I understand you have some questions about testicular cancer.”
 
“Just one,” Tony said. “Do I have it?”
 
“Let’s take a look and see,” Doctor Max replied.
 
“Here’s where I read the wall,” Paulie muttered, looking at the many medical posters on the walls while Tony dropped his pants and boxers to the floor. 
 
“It’s on the left one,” Tony said.
 
“OK,” Doctor Max said. Paulie kept his eyes on the wall while the others were silent. He didn’t want to ask what was going on. He was uncomfortable enough being in the same room while Tony was getting his balls fondled, especially since he knew for sure it was probably nothing.
 
“Why do you have a puncture wound here?” Doctor Max asked.
 
“It’s from the cannabis oil injection,” Tony replied. “I hope you don’t mind, but I did a bit of self-treatment.”
 
“Oh,” Doctor Max said, continuing his examination. “All set. You can pull your pants back up.”
 
Tony did as asked, and Paulie turned around when they were. “Everything good down there, doc?” he asked.
 
“Do you want him here for this part?” Doctor Max asked Tony.
 
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “I want him here.”
 
“OK,” Doctor Max said. “There’s definitely a growth.”
 
“What?” Paulie asked. “You’re shittin’ me.”
 
“We’re lucky we caught it when we did, and it seems to be fully located on your left testicle. It’s too early to tell, but we should be able to save the right one at least.”
 
“See!” Tony said, jumping up and getting in Paulie’s face. “I told you I had nut cancer!”
 
“Tony,” Paulie said. “I don’t think this is something you should be excited about proving.”
 
“Oh,” Tony said, calming down, any joy on his face draining. “Oh shit. I have nut cancer.”
 
“We call it testicular cancer,” Doctor Max said.
 
“What’s a testicular?” Tony asked.
 
 

 

The End
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