Over the next seven days we will be publishing the ten finalists from the 2023 Voorheesville Short Story Contest. The theme of this year’s contest was “A Roll of the Dice.” This, the fourth of our ten finalist stories, made it to the final round of judging with our guest judge, Laurin Jefferson. Today, enjoy Chloe Kirgan’s story, “Eloise.”
Eloise was a drug to men; for reasons, she was not quite sure of. Her presence made the group of onlookers vibrate with lust as they shifted uneasily in their seats. Stealing glances at her stained rose lips, that enticed them for more.
“Lou, sweetheart, why’d ya come over here and sit down.” slurred William. His left hand beckoned to the vacant seat beside him as he made a lopsided smile at her breasts.
Her blank expression stared past his sweat-stained face to the open parlor doors. A soft light glowed from somewhere on the second floor; casting a hazy flicker down the stairs. She watched intently as the shadows rose and fell in a cyclical pattern on the beige wallpaper.
Eloise blinked, refocusing her attention on his face. Darkness lurked in the corners of his stare, hardening his gaze.
“Of course darlin’.” Uncrossing her legs she stood up, her velvet, coruscate dress falling just below her bruised knee. Her hand tucked a loose curl behind her ear and she smiled at the men.
“Do you guys need anything’, before I come sit down with y’all?”
“Yes ma’am, can ya bring us another’ round.” a man named Devon replied. He was an older man, with thick-rimmed spectacles and graying hair. His eyes gleamed with allure as they traveled down her exposed legs, resting on her ankles.
“Alright then. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll come help you.” This time, it was Roger who had spoken up. He was already standing when Eloise looked back over her shoulder. A soft smile spread across his face as he began to push his seat back.
But she didn’t reply, instead nodding her head once. As she crossed the room and reached for the cabinet door, she heard the kitchen door close once more behind her. Her cheeks flushed and she felt her pulse quicken as the footsteps grew louder.
“It was very kind of you to offer to help.” Her voice was shaky.
“Hon, it’s me.” She felt heavy hands grab her waist and pull her into his body. Eloise looked up at William who had an unreadable expression plastered on his face. Her eyes drifted to his lips and she felt her stomach stir, noticing that his jaw was clenched.
“William. You startled me. I thought you were Roger.” Her voice was barely a whisper as she kissed the side of his face.
“Yes?”Goosebumps spread down her arms. A pit now formed in her stomach.
“What are you doin’?” he questioned, tightening his grip ever so slightly.
“I’m tryin’ to get the gin up there.” She gestured toward the half-empty bottle on the shelf.
“No,” He paused. “I don’t mean that.”
“Then what do you mean?” Eloise dropped her hand to her side and turned to face him. She felt his hands grow tighter on her waist. “Will, you’re hurting me. Let go.” she placed a hand on his chest, and pushed back lightly.
“You’re a…” his voice trailed off as he clamped a hand behind the base of her neck, forcing Eloise to look at him. “Whore.”
“Stop it, Will. You’re drunk, and I haven’t done nothin’ wrong.” Her eyes darted to the door, begging for someone to walk in.
“You’re a liar.” His voice was apathetic and with each second that passed, his grip only grew tighter on her neck. He backed up, pressing her against the wall, upper body tense with rage.
“Will, let go.” She gasped her chest heaving in and out. “ You’re hurting me.”
“You screwin’ Roger again?” He pulled at the chunk of hair at the back of her head, causing a cry to escape her quivering lips.
“I never was screwin’ him. I only love you.”
With her last plea, he loosened his grip and pulled her close, hugging her to his chest. His lips grazed over her temple, kissing the side of her head. She closed her eyes, suppressing the tears trying to escape.
“I’m sorry Lou.” He pulled away from her, wiping the single tear that made its way down her cheek. “I was just upset. You know I love you.”
“I know.” The hollow words echoed in the void between them.
Eloise watched as he walked by her and grabbed the gin from the top shelf. From there, he went to the closet and retrieved a small handgun. He slowly pushed it into the side of his pants before looking at her.
“Will, is that really necessary?”
He looked at her and laughed. “I never said I trusted you.” With that, he shut the door.
Silence encapsulated the young woman who stood, hands open at her sides. The only audible sound besides the light flickering above was the shallow, unsteady breathing rushing in and out of her nose.
It was with the flickering light she noticed a shimmer of metal resting on the island in the middle of the room. She walked slowly, her unsteady gait evident by the uneven click of her heels.
Elosie brought a hand around the base of the small knife, bringing it up to eye level. It was small in size, barely five inches in length. She hesitantly drew her pointer finger across the smooth blade. It was barely sharp enough to cut through an onion, albeit any tough-skinned vegetable.
Glancing over her shoulder, she slid up the side of her dress, revealing the translucent tights beneath. Quickly, she took the dull knife and cut a piece of the fabric from just above her knee; stowing the discarded fabric in the pocket of her dress.
When she rose from her hunched position, her posture straightened and her jaw clenched. Before exiting the kitchen, she grabbed her coin purse and dignity, resting at the door.
“Perfect timing hon, we needed one more player.”
Her eyes narrowed as she slammed the door behind her. She didn’t answer, instead, watched the men wince at the sound. As she bent towards Roger her eyes were trained at William who was across the round table.
“Would you be such a doll and let me steal your seat? The lighting over there is just awful.” Her eyes sparkled with fury as she slipped a hand to Roger’s chest. Her fingers walked down his sternum.
“Yes ma’am, I’d be happy to.” Standing up, he pulled the chair backward, allowing Eloise to sit down.
“Thank you darlin’.” As she looked up at William, a smirk spread across her face. “Now that that is all settled, let’s play.”
William’s fingers flew as he dealt out the cards. Pairs of red soared to the five figures seated.
“William my boy, are you trying to make me win?” A slender man chuckled. He grinned as he held up the two cards to face everyone.
“Michael, that’s a handsome-looking deck.” Devon snorted, rubbing the bridge of his nose, with a knuckle. Elosie leaned forward, as he flashed his king of clubs and an ace of spades.
“Michael, you know the rules. Keep your cards to yourself.” Spat Roger. His eyes narrowed as glanced down at his own hand. But he continued to speak. “Elosie, have you eva’ played before?”
“Only once or twice. I barely know a lucky hand.” She spoke quietly, glancing at her two cards laying facedown on the table.
“We might as well go over the game then.” Roger spoke, looking at William.
“She’s jus’ fillin’ in for Weston, no reason to. She can’t win.” William replied coldly.
Eloise watched as the men drew their wallets from their innermost pockets, each laying a crisp ten-dollar bill on the satin tablecloth. She hurriedly opened her coin purse that had been resting in her lap and drew two dollars.
“Quite a small bet you have there Miss. You’ll need to match us”
She looked at the older man next sitting diagonally from her. An empty glass resting on his ginormous stomach. She watched his swollen, red face grimace as he rubbed the side of the glass.
“My apologies sir.” She opened her purse once more and meticulously inspected the bills, resting a five and three more ones in the middle.
“Lou, ya might want to pick up your cards and take a look.” William added pushing his chips into the center of the table. His voice caked with annoyance, as though she was bothering him.
She eyed the men as they copied his move. Slowly, she lifted up her hand, her face remaining expressionless. Queen and ten of hearts.
“First card of the evening gentlemen is a King of hearts.” William grinned eagerly.
Eloise’s gaze passed from Roger whose frown lines had deepened to Michael who was already counting his chips out for the next round.
“What’re y’all betting now?” Asked Eloise, who sat motionless.
“Folding.” Roger placed his hand on the table and sat back in his chair.
“Check.” The rest replied, placing another ten in the middle.
“It’s okay hon, you can fold.” William scoffed innocently.
“That’s alright dear.” Eloise smiled. “I still have a little left.” She gathered two fives and placed them in front of her.
“You sure picked a stubborn one.” Devon laughed, winking at Eloise.
“An opinionated one too.” Eloise spat back. Mocking his remark.
She watched as the men looked at each other, then back at her. She scratched at her bottom lip, wiping the excess pigment from her lipstick on the tablecloth.
“Well then,” William cleared his throat. “Our next card is a Jack of hearts.”
Eloise felt her stomach sink to her toes as she stared at the two cards that lay before her. The men around her were riled up, sloshing their alcohol on the floor as they gathered their wallets for the third and final time. She glanced at her coin purse, she only had a dollar left.
“I’m out boys.” Devon pushed his chair backward, slamming his hand down.
“Copy that.” The arrogant older man agreed.
“Lou, you still in?” William asked.
“I am, but I only have a dollar.” She uttered quietly.
“Well, then you can’t play. You’ll have to fold.”
“Let’er play.” Roger spoke.
“And why would I do that?” William growled.
“Because she has no chance of winning.” Michael replied smugly.
“Fine then. Play your damn bill.” William rolled his eyes and thumbed the last and final card. “The last card is…” He turned the final card over. “I don’t believe it, it’s an Ace of hearts.”
The men went silent around the table, one could’ve heard a pin drop, but then the once quiet room erupted in hollers and shouts of disbelief. Eloise felt the color drain from her face as she went over the cards in her head. Ten, Ace, Jack, Queen, King. Ten, Ace, Jack, Queen, King.
“I haven’t seen that in quite a long time.” Roger laced his fingers together, eagerly staring at three cards.
“Look-ere boys,” Michael spoke. “Two of a pair.” He laid down his hand of two kings and two aces.
“Damnit,” William spat. “I got less than you.” He put down a pair of queens and tens.
“Eloise, are you okay? You look like ya’ seen a ghost.” She looked at Roger, his face anxiously searching hers.
“Yes. Very well might’ve.” A sly grin spread across her face as she laid down her hand.
“I don’t believe it. She has a royal flush.” The arrogant man stared at her dumbfounded.
“You won?” William launched to his feet excitedly.
“I did.” Her aura darkened as she rose to her feet, hands placed on the table.
“Then what’s wrong?” William’s brow knit together as he looked at her.
“I don’t want the money. I want something else.”
“Of course hon, I’ll get you anything.”
“A divorce?” his eyes narrowed furiously. “And why would I permit that? You have a wonderful life here.”
She watched as the men looked uncomfortably at their feet. Only Roger stared at her, a look of perplexion on his face. William seemed to notice this and jumped to his feet.
“Oh, you son of a bitch.” Taking one look at Eloise, he sent Roger’s head flying backward. The momentum sent Roger to the floor.
“William, what the hell?” Eloise jumped backward at the sound of bone-to-bone contact.
“Whore! I knew it.”As though the punch didn’t satisfy him, he turned around, sending his fist through the wall.
“How dare you William!” She roared in a heat of rage, drawing the knife from her tights. She held it in front of her, pointing it at William who was rounding the table.
“You’re crazy!” William shouted.
“And what if I am.”
“I should have you institutionalized.”
William was now facing Eloise. Their breathing was in sync, hard inhales and exhales; cheeks red with exasperation.
“I’m through with your bullshit,” her voice echoed in the silent room. “I’m through with you.” She gripped the knife harder.
It was as if the next moment stood still. The sound of a gunshot rang in her eardrums, her heartbeat pulsating in her ear canal. A splatter of scarlet blood now up the wall behind the slumped Roger. The look of disbelief and horror crept up the colorless faces of the men who began to rush to Roger’s side.
Eloise drew her eyes away from the scene to stare at William. Her eyes began to water and her hands went numb.
“You-” He snarled as he walked toward her. He swatted at her hand, sending the knife cascading to the floor.
Shutting her eyes, she placed her hands over her heart. The cold metal barrel suddenly dug into the skin between her eyes.
Please, please, don’t let me die like this.
And suddenly, time stopped as she heard the trigger sound.
Click, click, click.
Eloise, opened her eyes, the gun was still resting between her eyes, but of no use. William was staring at her, not even an inch away from her nose, assessing the bulletless gun. She could taste the alcohol on his breath.
“Get away from me!” She screamed, kicking him square in the groin.
He dubbed over, dropping the gun on the floor. As he reached for it, she kicked it to the side, sending it crashing into the wall opposite them.
Clumsily, she scrambled from the parlor and rounded the corner. Without glancing back, she pushed the front door open and ran into the moonlit grass. The sound of her heavy breathing drowned out the outside world.