Storyglossia Issue 27, March 2008.

The Golden Dragon Express

by Laura van den Berg


We played Monopoly every Friday night. The game had been routine for the past year, ever since my daughter, Cecily, won a Parker Brother's set in a middle school raffle. We would start at seven, after my husband, Rick, and I had returned from work, dinner had been served, and the kitchen cleaned. It was the only thing we did as a family.

It was my daughter's job to assemble the game board, my husband's to shuffle the cards, and mine to make drinks in the kitchen: sprite in a highball glass for my daughter, whiskey with no ice for my husband and me. Every other Friday night, my husband had been the Banker, handling the money, buildings, and title deed cards, but for this game, I had decided to change things up. Before leaving the kitchen, I plucked an ice cube from the freezer with a little pair of silver tongs and dropped it into his drink.

"Is there ice in here?" he asked when I brought it to him.

"What are you talking about?" I said, adding that I was going to be the Banker this time. And then the game began.

On my opening roll, I got a double and took my time deciding which property I wanted to buy. My husband drew a "chance" card that elected him Chairman of the Board and had to pay me and Cecily fifty dollars. In the next round, I passed "go" and collected two hundred dollars, Cecily advanced to Illinois Avenue, and my husband rolled three doubles in a row.

"It's jail time for you," I said, snatching up the dice. It had been two days since I overheard him on the phone with, I could only assume, the woman who kept calling our house late at night and asking for The Golden Dragon Express—even though there was no such restaurant in town—and always hung up after hearing my voice on the line. My lunch schedule has been cleared for the week, I'd heard him whisper into the phone. Do you feel like Chinese food again?

"You can have my get out of jail card for sixty bucks," Cecily said.

"Don't let him off that easy," I told her, then went into the kitchen for another drink.

After I inherited one hundred dollars and Rick got out of jail, Cecily left the game. Since Rick's Saturday and Sunday morning jogs had, over the last month, increased from thirty minutes to two hours, they'd stopped playing soccer together on the weekends. Sometimes I'd see her head-butting the soccer ball alone in the backyard.

"But you just advanced to the Boardwalk," I said.

"Algebra homework," she said before disappearing upstairs. "There's a test on Monday."

Once she was gone, Rick, breaking from our whiskey-no-ice ritual, got himself a beer. We divided up Cecily's money, surrounding ourselves with paper bills. On his next roll, he had to pay a fifteen-dollar parking fine; on mine, my life insurance matured and I collected a hundred dollars.

"If I were you, I'd brush up before our next game," I said, straightening a fat stack of green bills.

But then the tables turned. In the next hour, he rolled a double, bought a pair of hotels, went to jail but got out for free, passed go twice, and advanced to St. Charles Place, while I had to pay a poor tax and a fifty-dollar doctor's fee.

My husband went into the kitchen for a second beer, and I shouted for him to bring me another whiskey. Upstairs, I heard Cecily's footsteps, the thump-thump-thump of her radio. When he returned to the living room, he handed me a glass full of ice.

"Don't pass go," I said. "And tell me who's been calling here."

He looked away and pretended to tally his properties.

I knocked my hand against his piles of money, scattering the bills across the carpet. The living room fan swept up pink one hundreds and blue fifties, making tiny cyclones from them before blowing the bills back onto the ground.

"Don't mess this up for Cecily," he said. "Monopoly is the only thing we do together."

"Don't you think there's a reason she's not with us now," I said, rattling the glass of ice.

"About that person who's been calling," Rick said. "What if she didn't anymore?"

"You'd still have to pay every fine in the game," I said. "Including a ban on weekend jogs and an all-expenses-paid dinner at The Golden Dragon Express."

"Well," he said, picking at the silvery edge of the beer bottle label. "We'll have to talk about that."

I pressed the cold glass against my cheekbone. The fan blew an orange bill into my lap and I crumpled it in my hand. Rick pressed his fingertips against my knee, started to say something. In the kitchen, the phone rang.

Copyright©2008 Laura van den Berg