(by Meliora Dockery)
My mother once told me that she would listen to her grandparents arguing about that septuagenarian card game, contract bridge.
“How could you play the king when you knew I had the ace?”
“Ridiculous that you led the jack when you didn’t even have the ten.”
She swore that when she grew up, she would never partake in this cantankerous game.
But of course she became an avid player, and in turn taught me to play. In later life, I switched to the far more competitive form of the game, duplicate bridge, in which all players are judged by how well they play identical hands. At the bridge club in Manhattan where I play, there can be well over 100 old people in a room, plus staff, cooks, and directors. All of us are sharing cards, sharing food, and sitting close together for hours on end—hardly a good recipe for social distancing and bull’s eye for coronavirus.
So duplicate bridge has gone underground. Hundreds of thousands of us worldwide have gone online to pit our wits and our competitiveness against each other.
Since my grandchildren can no longer visit, I have turned their tiny, stay-with-Gramps-and-Grandma bedroom into my bridge boudoir. I sit at their little blue desk, the window on one side, their bunk beds on the other, squeezing myself in past the vast tray of Legos, careful not to dislodge the intricate wires and extension cords that power my laptop.
Bridge is a game of concentration. “What should I bid?” “What should I lead? “What did they lead?” “What did my partner discard?” “Is the nine of clubs good now?”
There are many distractions in my little room: seemingly endless sirens as they scream up Classon Avenue (“God bless our healthcare workers”). The couple shouting at each other on the street (too much COVID stress out there). The construction workers toiling, mask-less, on the massive apartment complex next door (how did the owners sidestep Cuomo’s lockdown?). The road workers who uncomprehendingly are tearing up the road outside and the acrid smell of molten tar (whatever can they be doing now?).
I’m able to pull myself back to the game. But the straw that breaks my back is my caring husband arriving with my lunch, thoughtfully laid out on a tray: avocado vinaigrette, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and shaved Parmesan, with fizzy water on the side. He attempts to put it in front of me, separating me from the keyboard. “Not there,” I hiss. He squeezes himself between the now much smaller space of my chair and the Legos table to put the tray on the windowsill.
“I cut my hair,” he says. “What do you think?”
“I can’t look now, for heaven’s sake,” I cry through gritted teeth, and he retires, crestfallen and dispirited.
In the brief time allotted in between games, I grab the plate of spaghetti and bang it down in front of me. I slurp up the contents, tomato sauce flying onto the keyboard, my shirt, even some landing on the bunk bed, but the game is everything. We are here to win. And in my distraction, I play the king when I know my partner has the ace, and I lead the jack when I don’t have the ten.
If my mother were here now, she would vow anew, never to play this game. And in all truth, I think I should do the same.
Meliora Dockery grew up in Kent in southeast England. She was a corporate trainer for financial institutions and is now a monologist on the autobiographical storytelling circuit. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
1/4 c. olive oil, plus extra for pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
1 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
optional: 2 carrots, chopped
optional: 1 stalk celery, chopped
8 - 16 oz. ground beef
6 - 10 large, vine-ripened tomatoes or 28 oz. canned tomatoes, chopped
2 t. tomato paste
1 t. honey or sugar
leaves from 2 or 3 sprigs fresh oregano or 1 t. dried oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
spaghetti (2 oz. per person, according to my very precise husband)
shaved Parmesan cheese
Heat 1/4 c. olive oil in a large pot.
Sauté onion and garlic (adding optional carrot and celery, if using) until lightly browned.
Stir in ground beef, and cook until browned.
Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste.
Add a little water, honey, most of the oregano, salt and pepper.
Simmer uncovered at least 30 minutes until thickened, adding water if necessary.
Cook spaghetti according to package directions, drain, and add a little olive oil to moisten.
Just before serving, add remaining oregano to sauce and serve over pasta, topped with Parmesan and parsley.