Bingo Night in the Sahtu

January 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Well that’s not a bingo but I guess we know the phone’s working.

Benji Wrigley’s right next to the radio. He’s got his sock feet planted square on the floor, elbows on his knees, slow-burning a cigarette in his right hand. The announcer’s been playing the same Loretta Lynn album all afternoon with a straight face, and she calls the Friday night bingo in the same style. She’s got a deadpan that cuts clear through the smoke.

I’ve been getting prank calls all day, I think I know who. I think they’re from the Wells. I 23.

Nadine Wrigley’s on the other side of the room, at the kitchen table. She’s got a stack of newsprint bingo cards piled up on her place setting and a red dabber. She works as a camp cook at a diamond mine near Yellowknife and just got back to Tulita yesterday, after 37 days out. There’s a lemon meringue pie on the counter, homemade white cake with frosting, a plate of escargots and stuffed mushrooms.

B15. Beeee…fif-teen.

The station phone rings, maybe a bingo. Nadine and Benji start new cigarettes while the announcer checks the caller’s card.

Numbers?

“37 days is too long to be away,” says Nadine, and over on the couch, Benji nods. On the dining room wall, there’s a photo collage that Nadine must have made after high school. There’s Nadine as a baby, in the bathtub; at three or four, covered in chocolate, Benji holds her; at about eight, in moccasins and an Inuvialuit parka; at her grade seven graduation, posing proudly beside her dad.

The announcer hangs up the phone. Sorry folks, no bingo this time either. I’m gonna bannock-slap that boy when I see him. 065. Ohhhhh six-ty-five.

Nadine laughs, then: “Bingo!” It’s a straight line through the centre.

The cordless phone’s on the table but the signal’s busy; two people ahead of her got bingo at the same time. The announcer checks their numbers and then the line’s free.

Your name? “It’s for Benji,” says Nadine. “Numbers are six, 28, 49 and 69.”

It’s good. Any more bingos? Okay, bingos by Dorian Campbell, Chantal Renard and Benji Wrigley. When you come down to pick up your money can you bring some change? I have no change. No change, no money.

The announcer spins the ball cage for the next round. There are four more rounds and then the Jackpot, which pays a couple thousand dollars; it’s what everybody’s playing for. Benji gives his cards to Nadine, says “good luck,” but they don’t win again.

By eight p.m., bingo’s over. “Mississippi Man” fades back in and Nadine’s going out to meet some friends. Benji heads over to the station to collect their $100 prize, split three ways between the winners: $33. “I don’t play bingo too often,” he says, steering his pick-up truck over the hard-pack roads. “But I really do like it when Nadine’s home.”

This story was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Up Here magazine. Read that version, with an illustration by Jonathan Wright, here

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