by E. Dobbins

        Brad shrugged off his wife’s kiss. 
“Not now,” he said.  “The guys are here!”
        Maura rolled her eyes.  “Sheez.  Don’t worry, tough guy.  No one saw,” she replied, peeking into the dining room.  “Fine.  I’ll be upstairs, then.” 
        True to her word, she walked past him, tromping up the steps.  Crossing his arms like a contortionist, Brad struggled to lift three big plastic bowls of chips and pretzels.  He carried them into the dining room, salty snacks tumbling in every direction.  They crunched beneath his feet.  
Tom, Jeff, and Pete stood up from the table, each reaching across to grab a bowl.  Then all four men sat down, ready to begin the monthly poker-night ritual started three years ago to keep in touch after college.       
“I’m still in denial,” said Tom, continuing a conversation from when Brad was gone.
“Yeah, I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime, either,” said Jeff.  “I doubt any of us did.”
“I know!  Can you believe it?” said Brad, figuring out the topic.  “The President of the United States?  A black man?  I doubt anyone would’ve seen this coming.”
Silence.  Not the reaction Brad expected.  Pete finally broke it.
“What the hell are you talking about?” he asked.
Brad gave a confused expression.  “Huh?  The election.  Obama winning.  What did you think I …” 
Tom interrupted. 
“We were talking about the Phillies,” he said.  “Dumbass.”  
They all began to laugh.  Brad’s face flushed.   
“Yeah,” said Pete.  “Big deal about Obama.  That’s nothing.  I mean, we’re talking about the Phillies here, man.  The Phillies.  They actually won the World Series!”  He took a chug from his beer.
“Right.  Obama winning, sure, that was a long-shot,” added Jeff.  “But a Philadelphia team winning a championship?  Six months ago, that wasn’t a long-shot, Brad.  That was an impossibility.”
“We were jinxed, man.  Jinxed,” said Tom.  He looked around at his friends.  “Hey, what do you all think broke the jinx, anyway?  Stuff like this doesn’t just happen, ya know.  There had to be a reason they finally won.”
“I know what it was,” said Jeff.
“Yeah?” answered the others. 
“It was the Billy Penn thing.  The curse.”
Two of the friends grunted in agreement.  A plausible answer.  Brad looked clueless.  “What curse?” he asked.
The other three rolled their eyes.  At last, Tom responded.  “Dude, where you been the past twenty-five years?  You don’t know about the curse of Billy Penn?”
Brad shook his head.
“It goes like this,” interrupted Pete.  “Back in the 80’s, the city finally let there be buildings taller than City Hall.”
Brad nodded.  “Yeah.  I knew that.”
“Well, the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall didn’t like being passed,” continued Pete, “so he put a curse on all the Philadelphia sports teams so we wouldn’t win a championship.”
“A bunch of different Philly teams got to the championship since then,” added Tom, “but none of them won, Brad.  For twenty-five years.  Think about that.”
Tom, Pete, and Jeff became somber at the dreaded number’s mention.
“So, what broke the curse, then?” asked Brad.  “There’s still plenty of buildings taller than City Hall.  It’s not like they knocked any of them down.”
“Yeah, well, that new building, the Comcast Center, is the tallest one now,” said Jeff.  “When they finished it last year, they put a little miniature statue of William Penn up on top, so Billy could be at the city’s highest point again.  And now, the year after they did it, look what happened: instant championship.  That’s got to be it.”
Brad nodded.  “Hmm.  Interesting.”
“Yeah.  Interesting.  But that ain’t it at all,” said Pete.  “Sounds nice, makes good press, but it ain’t true.  The supposed ‘curse’ of Billy Penn started in ’87, when the city let other buildings pass him, but the last championship was in ’83.  The years don’t match up, dipshit.”
“Oh yeah?  You got a better reason, little Peter?” asked Jeff.
Pete ignored the worn-out put-down.  “Yeah, I do.  Voodoo,” he said.  He smiled.  “See, this year, I made a voodoo doll of the other team’s star player every playoff series.  First there was C.C. Sabathia.  Then Manny Ramirez.  Then Evan Longoria.  Worked like a charm.  I just stuck a pin in the doll each series, and the other team stunk.”
“Excuse me, Pete.  What are you smoking, and can you please pass me some?” asked Tom.  “Your story makes no sense at all.  Manny Ramirez had one of the best playoff series ever!  If anything, your doll helped the Dodgers, not the Phillies.  They won in spite of you!”
“Well, it worked for the other two series,” replied Pete.  He huffed.  “What?  You got a better idea?”
“Of course I do,” said Tom.  “And it’s simple enough even you could follow it, little Peter.”
A collective oh! rose from the other three.
“Well, let’s hear it, then,” said Pete.
“Like I said, simple,” said Tom.  “It’s because of my season tickets.  First year I ever got ‘em, and look what happens.  Parade down Broad Street.  I’m telling ya, I’m good luck, guys.”
The other three grumbled.  They couldn’t refute Tom’s theory but that didn’t mean they had to accept it, either.  They started to chant the word “bullshit” in unison, continuing for a long time before finally tiring and falling quiet.  Then Brad spoke up.
“Actually, I think I’m the reason the Phillies won,” he said, his smile widening.
“You?” the other three jeered.  “The same guy who asks how many innings it takes to get a first down?”
“Yeah,” said Brad, adamant.  “I’ll have you know I went to four different Phillies games this year.”
“Uh huh.  Only because Maura dragged you to see Chase Utley,” laughed Jeff, digging an elbow in Tom’s and Pete’s side.  “Hell, she’s a bigger fan than you are, Brad.”  
“True,” he said, smiling.  “But I still went.”
Taking Brad’s answer in, Tom gave a confused expression.  He asked, “Hey.  If I remember correctly, Bradley, didn’t they lose all four games you went to?”     
Brad nodded.  “They did.”
“So how are you responsible for breaking the curse, then?”
“Hmm—what did Christ say?  I believe it was, ‘Touch the scars, Thomas,’” said Brad.  He held out his hand to Tom.  “So touch the scars, Thomas.”
“You got issues, man,” said Tom.  “And I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Doubting Thomas,” said Brad.  “You know, like the Bible story…”
“I’m still lost,” interrupted Pete.  “How does you going to four regular season losses make you responsible for them winning the World Series?”
“You don’t know your Norse mythology,” said Brad, waving a scolding finger.
“No shit,” answered Pete.  “And your point would be?”
“It’s like Odin, see.  The All-Father.  He hung from a tree for nine days so that he could sacrifice himself for the greater good.  In this case, I sacrificed those four losses so that the Phillies could get four wins in the World Series.”
Brad looked smug.
“Yeah, well, you don’t know your Norse mythology, either,” interrupted Jeff.  “I took that class with you, jackass.  Odin sacrificed himself to himself, to give himself more power.  So your analogy makes no sense.  Idiot.”
Brad gave a sheepish grin.  “Actually, yeah, you’re right, now that I think of it…”
“Excuse me, boys,” came a woman’s voice.
They turned around.  Maura stared at them from the front of the table with the same sort of frustrated and hopeless look they’d seen on their mother’s faces so many times when young. 
She grabbed a pretzel and chomped down on it.  “I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this great mystery you’re trying to unravel.”
“Yeah?” they replied together, uniformly skeptical.
“The reason a Philadelphia team finally won a championship,” she said, giving her most obvious duh expression, “is simply because they had the best team.”
She popped in another pretzel.
“Got a better explanation?” she added. 
They stared at one another silent.  Brad finally broke the quiet.   
“Yeah.  I like the voodoo one better,” he said.
“Right.  Whatever you say, honey,” answered Maura, rolling her eyes again.  “I just wanted something to eat.  I’m going back upstairs now.” 
They all grunted goodbyes as she left. 
“All right, whose deal?” asked Jeff. 
Brad shuffled the deck, and dealt.  As the four friends played, the scent of alcohol and cigars permeated the room.  Yes, a curse had been broken.  Yes, a new president had been elected.  But poker night would continue on, like always. 


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