Christine Boyka Kluge


The tiny gods are tired. Fluorescent lights accentuate their greenish pallor. Reduced to the size of babies, they stand on tiptoe on folding chairs to reach their poker hands. They keep forgetting the rules. Some of the cards are missing. Puffing on cigars, they take turns shuffling anxiously. Two of them have given up smoking for thumb-sucking, and desperate slurping replaces conversation.

Once they had been a team of mighty gods, each the size of Chicago, capable of juggling lightning bolts or curing leprosy. They sat on thunderheads like kings on thrones, thumping their chests and sweeping their sectors with beacon eyes. Even though they were never universal gods, only minor gods particular to Earth, they had taken their guardianship seriously.

Now they feel their powers dwindling. They're absentminded, frail. Ashes carelessly flicked from cigars have burned holes in the dirty white shag clouds. Through these scorched portals, they look down at Earth with telescopic eyes. They watch their protection falter. Earthlings have run amok. Their beautiful creatures race in circles, fight and die with infinitesimal fireworks. No humans have ascended in a long, long time. The gods turn back to poker.

One frustrated god sweeps half the cards to the floor. A few slip through burn-holes, spiraling to Earth like an ominous tarot reading. Another god hides the aces up his gown sleeve. They begin to whimper and bite and drool. More tantrums, more cards plummet through riddled clouds. The deck grows smaller. The gods grow bald. Fontanels reopen in their bitsy skulls and widen into wells where they store their poker chips. Due to the card shortage, they switch from poker to War. Even that confuses them. Crying, they crawl in circles on the stained tablecloth, knocking over soda cans.

Their terrible shrinking takes their breath away. Their bones grow as porous and dry as pumice. Finally, only one card remains: the two of clubs. Heaven constricts. The gods crumble, tumbling through the clouds like fallout.


THE TWO OF CLUBS grew from the first line: "The tiny gods are tired." I imagined Earth as seen from above, through the anxious eyes of shrinking gods. With the baffled incompetence of babies, they looked down on our craziness, our "infinitesimal fireworks." So much for divine guidance. As for the title--to me, the two of clubs seems like the low card of the deck. Here it was also the last one remaining. It's hard to continue to play the game with only one card. And doesn't that club symbol resemble a mushroom cloud?