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Algren - A Ticket on Skoronski

I A ON SKORONSKI In my dream I am the rider! Like the wind, the wind, the wind! Right across the finish line! By NELSON ALGREN don't know what you have to do to have somebody buy you a drink in this neighborhood. In the old days, when the Logan Squares won, Owner poured a drink for everyone. When Hippo Vaughn pitched, he bought even if Hippo lost. Now it's all changed. Now the good times are gone. Now Owner stops when he gets to me. One night we were getting ready for fourhanded poker—Owner, Fielder, Haircut Man and myself. Lottie-Behind-Bar was behind bar. Fielder kept shuffling a red deck. "Last night I dreamed " Fielder began. "No dreams," Owner ordered him. "Deal." "I was leaning on the rail, I got a big ticket in my hand," Fielder told, "only it don't say what race. Don't say what track. Don't say Win. Don't say Place. Don't say Show." "For how much?" I asked. "Don't say for how much. Horses are in gate. Flag goes down." "What distance?" I asked. "Don't say what distance. My horse busts out in front. Cuts to rail. Two lengths out !, Three ! Pulling away !" "How do you know it's your horse?" Haircut Man wanted to know. "In a dream," Lottie called across the bar, "you don't have to have all written down. When you want horse to pull away, horse pulls away." "Deal, deal," Owner said. "Skoronski is riding. Coming into backstretch, Skoronski stands up in the irons." Fielder stood up and hollered. "Whip him in, boy ! Whip him in !" He slammed the red deck against the blue. "Sit, Wenceslaus," Lottie told him gently. Fielder sat. And just sat—head down, holding the cards without knowing he held them, the red against the blue. "You're breaking the decks," Haircut Man told him. "Then stops," Fielder said, like sorrowing. "Skoronski stops." "Stops?" Haircut Man asked, nervous like it had been his dream. "No," Lottie protested. "Not even Skoronski could get away with that." "All stop, Mother," Fielder insisted. "Stop like when on film somebody is cranking, then suddenly stops cranking. Film stops. Horses stop. Skoronski stops, Mother." "Next time you see somebody cranking something, ask for a job before he stops," Lottie told him. "Jocks climb off. Kneel like track stars !" Fielder was getting excited again. "Two bits Skoronski wins on foot," I said, and put my last two dimes and four pennies in front of Haircut Man. "What's the distance?" Haircut Man asked before he took the bet. "Hundred yards to finish line !" Fielder told us. "I climb rail ! I'm running for Skoronski !" Two hundred eighty-five pounds. When he sits, chair screaks. When he walks, floor screaks. He's running for Skoronski. I took my twentyfour cents back. "Bang !" Fielder shouted. "Bang !" "Bang?" I asked, "How did a gun get into this?" "He got to carry one so nobody steals his paycheck," Owner guessed. "How I run!" Fielder shouted. "Away from all! Like the wind, the wind, the wind ! Right across finish line !" "Where did Skoronski go?" I asked. "No !" Fielder cried out. "I am Skoronski !" "Play cards, Wenceslaus," Lottie told him. Fielder sat down. And looked so pale, so pale. The game began as it always began; the cards fell as they always fell. A wind came up as the wind sometimes does, and the rain began as it always does. The juke played what it always played. And we said the things we always said, and the barflies drank what they always drank. And the blue-and-red beer sign over the door flicked on, flicked off. Dead bulbs and bad wiring make it hard to see who comes in that door. The kid called Lopez came in with the papers and left the door open behind him. Lopez is either a grade-school dropout or a fifty-four-yearold disbarred jockey. Nobody knows which. "Shut the door behind you, kid," Owner said. I watched Lopez reaching for the door handle, standing inside so as not to get wet. The light Illustrated by Fred Otnes 48


Algren - A Ticket on Skoronski
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