The Graph Gambler

Andrew Gooch

Lights up on ROY and LEAH’s Living Room.

ROY is seated on a sofa staring out at the audience, with a remote in his hands, as if watching TV. LEAH is seated on an armchair a few metres away, casually flicking through a TV guide. Throughout the following conversation, she never tears her gaze away from it.

ROY                   

Ooh I like my graphs, I do. They’re my favourite things on the        news these days. Them minsters, they keep saying the same old    things: ‘stay in, stay safe.’ But then the graphs keep changing. One day they’re up, then on the weekend, they’re down. I tell you there’s no better time to be into graphs than when they’ve got their own segment on the evening news.

LEAH murmurs in slight acknowledgement as she flicks a page in her magazine.

ROY                   Ooh look, they’ve gone down a bit since yesterday.

LEAH                That’s nice.

ROY                  

And see there, we’re beating Italy and France in the total death tolls. See, I told you something good would come of voting ‘leave’, didn’t I?

LEAH                You should have been a prophet, dear.

ROY                  Here, look at how bad the Yanks are doing!

LEAH                Germany still beating us?

ROY                                

And the Swedes. I think there’s foul play going on here. Someone’s fiddling the numbers over there.

LEAH                You make it sound like the Premier League.

ROY                 

Who says it isn’t? Gotta follow something for sport; it’s nothing but repeats on Match of the Day now. Do you know ol’ Mick next door wagered a full fiver against us beating Spain in the ‘patients in critical care’ charts?

LEAH sighs and puts down her magazine.

LEAH                Roy…

ROY                   Shush luv, I’m trying to read me graphs!

LEAH                It’s only on the transport numbers. You don’t even drive anymore.

ROY                          

Yes! Sixty-six percent decrease in national railway usage! Moira from across owes me a bottle of prosecco.

LEAH                Roy!

ROY                                

Just a minute love. The overall number of cars on the road is only forty percent of what it was at the start of the month. Now wait a minute, let’s see…

ROY pulls out a notepad and pen and starts jotting down some calculations.

ROY                                

We’re on the 21st now. So, there’s still over a week left before all bets are off. Now, there’s no way we’re going to hit my original prediction of fifty-five. But I could go double or nothing with Colin down backway and stake our other reclining deckchair for his Foster’s parasol. If that pays off, that should give us enough capital to raise the pot with Abdesh over—

LEAH gets up and turns off the TV.

ROY                   You stupid woman, what’d you do that for?

LEAH                             

You can catch the repeats later. I wanna have a word with you before you end up gambling all the furniture in the living room.

ROY                  

I’ve told you before, it’s not gambling. It’s just a harmless hobby of mine. 

LEAH               

Harmless? You’ve already lost us the antique ceramics my mother left us!

ROY                                

I already apologised for that. I thought they were just a couple of porcelain cats you’d bought at a charity shop.

LEAH                            

And then there was the canvas of the Lake District I painted for you as an anniversary gift; the old Paddington Bear I’ve had since I was a child; and you may think I hadn’t noticed, but I’m also missing one of my summer dresses and a pair of my knickers, which mysteriously disappeared after I’d put them out to dry on the washing line.

ROY                                

Hey, Kev had me over a barrel on that one. It was the only capital he’d accept. It’s not my fault that he likes to dress like the other half do, now and then.

LEAH                            

So, I should blame the neighbours, then, for the fact that I’m now down to doing the ironing without a board?

ROY                                

Look, you’re focusing on our losses. Think of everything we’ve won these past couple months.

LEAH                             

Oh yes, who could forget the precious winnings such as the garden gnome without any trousers, and the ‘Take Your Shoosies Off’ CD signed by John Prescott?

ROY                  Alright, I’ll admit. My bargaining skills haven’t been the best of late.

LEAH                             

I don’t know why you even bothered to start this neighbourhood betting pool in the first place. Couldn’t you just paint the fence or something? Anything that doesn’t involve giving away our house and home!

ROY                                

But then we’d be missing out. All the neighbours are doing it! Don’t you see? This pandemic is the opportunity of a lifetime. While everyone is busy staying away from each other – keeping up social distancing and all that – now’s our chance to take ‘em all the cleaners.

LEAH                             

But don’t you think it’s cruel? Making a ‘profit’ from the hundreds of people dying every day?

ROY                                

You’re overthinking everything as usual. It’s not cruel. It beats lining up for half an hour to go to shops. It’s getting everyone to support one another. I’d call it, ‘bringing the community together’.

LEAH                I’d call it, ‘being a selfish prig’!

ROY                                

Selfish?! I weren’t selfish yesterday morning, giving next door but one that new pushchair for their eight-month-old baby, was I?

LEAH                             

You mean the pushchair that we were saving for our Silvia? The same pushchair that you bet against Wales beating Scotland in the pool on the seven-day rolling average of cases?

 

ROY                                

What do you want from me, Leah?! You want me to knock on all of the doors down street and beg for our stuff back? Won’t you be happy with anything I try to do until I’ve humiliated myself in front of all the neighbours?! Is that what you want?

LEAH                            

I want you to admit that you’ve got a problem with all this gambling. All you ever do these days is sit there looking at your stupid graphs! You never bother to check how I’m coping with all this! No, it’s just all ‘Track & Trace alerts’ and PPE figures with you.

ROY                                

How you’re coping? You’re the one that was complaining that I was sat on my arse too much. You said at the start of this bloody lockdown that I should do something productive with my time.

LEAH                             

I meant do something like paint the bedroom wall, not turn our house into a betting shop!

ROY                   You’re just not getting it though, are you?

LEAH               Getting what?

ROY                 

(Groans.) Don’t you see? I’m trying to do something nice for a change.   

LEAH scoffs in disbelief.

ROY                                

It’s true. I’m doing all this for the neighbours’ sake. You’ve been too blind with what I’ve been losing to notice, but I started the whole graph gambling thing as a kindness.

LEAH                ‘Kindness’?

ROY                                

You remember that first week of the lockdown? There was all that shouting from the couple next door but one. Young Carol and that new bloke of hers…what’s his name?

LEAH               I know who you mean, the shifty one – what about them?

ROY                                

Well, I was out backway one evening and I heard ‘em going at it like they do. She was calling the hell out of him; apparently, he’d been flogging her stuff for weed or something of the sort.

LEAH                You two should go for drinks together.

ROY                                

Just shut up and listen for a minute. You know I don’t like him anymore than you do. I was on my way back inside when I heard a load of clatter-bang-wallops coming from young Carol’s kitchen. Whatever happened after that, I don’t know, cos I’d already shut the back door on the whole thing. Anyway, when I was next on my walk round the block, I decided to knock on their window and see how they were doing.

LEAH                She didn’t answer, did she?

ROY                   No, but her fella did.

LEAH                Did you make sure to stand two metres apart?

ROY                                

For God’s sake woman, I wasn’t popping round to enforce social distancing! I wanted to check if Carol was alright! I mean, you keep hearing that these domestic violence cases are on the rise these days. They made a graph for it.

LEAH                Of course you’d remember what a graph says.

ROY                                

Well, there was no chance of him letting me see poor Carol. God knows what he’d been doing to her, but I didn’t see her for days after that and unless she tested positive for Corona it wasn’t as if the police were likely to waste time getting involved.

LEAH               Alright, but what’s this got to do with all the graphs and betting?

ROY                                

I’m getting to that, if you give me chance. Now I definitely remembered seeing Carol’s fella hanging around the Betfred, back when they were still open. And you know better than anyone the strain excessive gambling can put on a marriage. Anyway, as luck would have it, the very next day I ended up behind him in the queue for B&M – Cliff! That’s his name! I knew I’d remember! – So, we got to talking and all that. I couldn’t get him to talk about what was going on at home, but he did mention that he was on a bit of a losing streak. So, I proposed a little wager. Nothing special, just a free meal from the chippie on which minister would be hosting that night’s update conference. I naturally bet on the Prime Minister. Now, I knew that was a poor choice, cos, back then, old Boris was still in intensive care. But that’s cos I was trying to lose deliberately. I figured maybe if I let Cliff get a win in for a change, it might ease him up slightly and make it less likely that he’d start battering our Carol on a night, and… guess what? It worked. Ever since I gave him that £3.50 for some scampi and chips, I haven’t heard a single swear or shout backway. Then it just took off from there. Before I knew it, Cliff was betting with Kev on what retailer would be shutting down next. Then Kev was wagering his lawnmower on transport figures with Mrs Baqeri across the way. It was like I’d helped bring the community together through the power of one-upmanship. All everyone round here cares about now is winning each other’s stuff. You can call that ‘cruel’ if you want, but you know what I’ve noticed? No one’s arguing. Everybody’s staying in to look at the graphs and it’s all because of me.

LEAH               

So, all this reckless gambling has just been to cheer up the neighbours?

ROY                   Told you, I weren’t being selfish.

LEAH                             

And you’ve been losing all our stuff deliberately? To help keep their spirits?

ROY                                

 Well, no. Not exactly. At first, it was, before I realised how bad I really am at this betting lark. I’m only doing it at this point to try and win back our tumble dryer.

LEAH                I knew you hadn’t taken it for repairs!

ROY                                

So now, you see. It was all a selfless act of kindness. Now let’s put the telly back on. You never know; it might have been our lucky night.

LEAH                             

Oh, alright, if it’s to help the neighbours. But no more thoughtless betting!

ROY                                

Love, I promise. From now on, whatever I plan to give away will go by you for approval first. Deal?

LEAH sighs and sits back down in her chair to read her magazine. ROY switches the TV back on and picks up his notebook. He begins to look back and forth between his notes and the TV. With every glance he looks more despondent.

ROY                   Err… Love, how attached are you to the cat?

LEAH gives him a stern look.

Fade out.

The End.