First Horse in the First Race

…second horse in the second race.

That’s what the guy told me
when I said I was going to the track
I don’t know him well, but I knew that he liked to bet
so I kept his words in mind

when we went to the track that day

it was my first time, I’m sure I’ll never forget
the people wandering around like at a flea market or an auction

except that there aren’t any of those obviously affluent folks
like Cowboys in spotless pastel suits with
little silver-tipped black-rope neckties
and huge silver belt buckles
to go with their pure white ten-gallon hats
or businessmen traveling safely in numbers
giving the impression by being with each other
drinks in hands, laughing loudly
that they are only here for fun

no there aren’t folks like that at most flea markets

and at the racetrack, there aren’t any of the middle-aged pack rat housewives
with three-button knit sweaters or ankle-biting dogs on short leashes
trying to talk vendors down on the price of vintage 1983 McDonald’s Happy-Meal toys

but don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of Jews at the racetrack—
someone’s gotta take all the money home

so I was in line to make my bet
behind a handful of other people
three guys and a girl to be precise
and that’s when it happened

the guy in front of me
not a tall guy, maybe slightly below average
with thinning, scraggly brown hair
and some kind of cheap beige trench coat
not a heavy coat, but too heavy for that time of year
and it seemed like he could’ve bought it at an auction
or a flea market

his cell phone rang
it was an obnoxious ring, I don’t remember exactly what
but the equivalent of “La Cucaracha” as a car-horn
built into the inside pocket of his loud coat

the two ahead of him in line
the girl, early-thirties, attractive, middle-class
which is to say, too much class for this racetrack
and a man, bald, looking pleased to still have
money to gamble

maybe social security checks just came in
they both turned to see where the noise
was coming from, and I shrugged as the guy answered his phone
trying to send the message that I was definitely not with him

the older guy didn’t make eye contact but held his race ticket tight and turned around
the girl, she smiled in understanding
and when I saw her dimples and the brightness in her eyes
I knew I was wrong to guess early-thirties

she was so poised, beautiful without conceit,
and carried herself like a woman, not a girl
otherwise I’d say she was in her early twenties

no matter, she turned back around to wait patiently
and the little man that she surely would’ve described as “cute”
began his transaction at the counter
and the man we all agreed was obnoxious prattled on

the conversation unremarkable, until he said it
describing to the equally obnoxious person on the other end of the line
the beautiful girl in front of us like a piece of food
my heart began to beat more quickly as soon as I realized what was being said
and as I hoped that she might not hear or pay attention
I saw her body tense up as she glanced slightly back with her peripheral vision
eyes more than nervous, scared, snapping back quickly to the cute man in front, hoping he would hurry
I realized that I was breathing heavily, and my hands began to shake
as I wished it would all just be over with
and the creep continued to make hints about the things he would like to do with or to her

the moment passed, and the cute man walked away with his winner
and the young lady began her transaction, able now to pretend nothing had happened
my pulse and breathing returned to normal, and I can’t say whether or not I had any luck that day.

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