Jacob Lawrence, "Card Game" (1953)
Jacob Lawrence, Card Game (1953)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

December 15, 2002:

One morning as Gilligan walked toward the lagoon he found himself confronted by a barbwire fence, and a sign. "Private Property," said the sign, and, from the looks of the fence, it meant it.

Gilligan scratched his head. This was a problem. He needed to reach the lagoon to harvest fish from the lines and traps he kept there. A lot of work went into feeding a community this size.

Behind the barbwire sat Tre, a member of the First Class Cabin, on a high-backed swiveling business chair, behind a desk.

Before the end of the world, Tre was the acme and symbol of American free enterprise, an entrepreneur whose intelligence and ruthlessness had made him one of the richest men in history. He owed his success largely to his superb strategic sense, which led him to occupy key business positions from which other industries could be dominated. In time every business in the world required his services, and every business in the world paid him a tariff to operate. On the day the world ended he was worth as much as the poorest 90 million Americans combined.

"Hello," said Gilligan.

Tre regarded him with shrewd blue eyes from behind smudged gold-rim spectacles. He held his hands before him with fingertips touching, rocking back and forth in his high-backed chair.

"That is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever heard," he replied, matter-of-factly. He meant no offense.

Gilligan stood, blinking. Because he couldn't think of anything smarter to say, he said the truth. "I need to get to the lagoon," he said.

Tre nodded, rocking back and forth. "I can see that," he said. Leaning back, appraising Gilligan shrewdly, he added, "What's my cut?"

Gilligan thought for a moment. "I - I don't know," he said, scratching his head.

Tre leaned forward. He loved negotiating. Especially when he held all the cards. Or when his adversary thought he did.

"Two hundred dollars for an access license," he said, laying down terms. "One hundred dollars annually for tech support. Ten dollars per visit. Cash." He sat back, rocking in his chair contentedly.

Gilligan stood, blinking. "But," he said, confused. "We don't use money here." He scratched his head one more time. "We share what we have."

Tre snorted. "That," he said, "is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever heard."

Gilligan's injured head hurt. He felt the world spin. "But," he blinked. "That's where our fish come from," he said, pointing to the water. "You can't charge me to harvest our food."

Tre reached under the desk. Picking up an assault rifle, he placed it in unmistakable sight on the desktop, wordlessly. This was the sort of bargain he excelled at.

Gilligan's mouth fell open. Before Tre could say, "That's the stupidest fucking thing I have ever seen," he turned on his heels and walked into the village, scratching his head in confusion.

Fences and signs were going up everywhere. The island's real estate had been apportioned among the visitors. Individuals now owned the huts, the trails, the groves of mango and breadfruit and coconut. A corporation had formed to explore for minerals, appropriating much of the island's virgin interior. Zones of military significance had been set aside for the Generals and Admirals. The Howells claimed the golf course, the clubhouse, and the bar, announcing plans to build a resort hotel. The remaining natives, that is, castaways, received nothing.

Gilligan felt the responsibility of feeding everyone. He arranged to borrow money from Mr. Howell, to pay Tre's access fees. Tre, with his strategic gift, had shrewdly chosen to dominate the island's only protein supply. Every day that Gilligan fed the community he went deeper into debt.