Friday, December 01, 2006

Great Moments in Backgammon:

Backgammon in Literature
Goodbye, My Brother - John Cheever

The next cause for contention that I had from Lawrence
came over our backgammon games.

When we are at Laud's Head, we playa lot of backgammon.
At eight o'clock, after we have drunk our coffee, we usually get
out the board. In away, it is one of our pleasantest hours. The
lamps in the room are still unlighted, Anna can be seen in the
dark garden, and in the sky above her head there are continents
of shadow and fire. Mother turns on the light and rattles the
dice as a signal. We usually play three games apiece, each with
the others. We play for money, and you can win or lose a
hundred dollars on a game, but the stakes are usually much
lower. I think that Lawrence used to play—I can't remember—
but he doesn't play any more. He doesn't gamble. This is not
because he is poor or because he has any principles about
gambling but because he thinks the game is foolish and a waste
of time. He was ready enough, however, to waste his time
watching the rest of us play. Night after night, when the game
began, he pulled a chair up beside the board, and watched the
checkers and the dice. His expression was scornful, and yet he
watched carefully. I wondered why he watched us night after
night, and, through watching his face, I think that I may have
found out.

Lawrence doesn't gamble, so he can't understand the
excitement of winning and losing money. He has forgotten how
to play the game, I think, so that its complex odds can't interest
him. His observations were bound to include the facts that
backgammon is an idle game and a game of chance, and that the
board, marked with points, was a symbol of our worthlessness.
And since he doesn't understand gambling or the odds of the
game, I thought that what interested him must be the members
of his family. One night when I was playing with Odette—I had
won thirty-seven dollars from Mother and Chaddy—I think I
saw what was going on in his mind.

Odette has black hair and black eyes. She is careful never to
expose her white skin to the sun for long, so the striking
contrast of blackness and pallor is not changed in the summer.
She needs and deserves admiration—it is the element that
contents her—and she will flirt, unseriously, with any man. Her
shoulders were bare that night, her dress was cut to show the
division of her breasts and to show her breasts when she leaned
over the board to play. She kept losing and flirting and making
her losses seem like a part of the flirtation. Chaddy was in the
other room. She lost three games, and when the third game
ended, she fell back on the sofa and, looking at me squarely,
said something about going out on the dunes to settle the score.
Lawrence heard her. I looked at Lawrence. He seemed shocked
and gratified at the same time, as if he had suspected all along
that we were not playing for anything so insubstantial as money.
I may be wrong, of course, but I think that Lawrence felt that in
watching our backgammon he was observing the progress of a
mordant tragedy in which the money we won and lost served as
a symbol for more vital forfeits. It is like Lawrence to try to
read significance and finality into every gesture that we make,
and it is certain of Lawrence that when he finds the inner logic
to our conduct, it will be sordid.


Post a Comment

<< Home