Before I went downstairs to the casino I gave Bill a call because I didn’t want to have to check in all night long. Not that I had to check in, Bill wasn’t that kind of guy, but old habits die hard.
-Be safe, he said.
I promised I would be safe…if I felt like it. I said it with a laugh in my voice and Bill got the joke. He always got me. We had only been married six months, so I thought it might change down the road, but for those first six months we had been thoughtful and gotten on like we had before marriage. Most men reveal themselves to be assholes eventually, but not Bill. He had been unlike any man I had ever known and he continued to prove that he was an outlier the more I got to know him.
I hung up the phone and got up from the bed and finished blow drying my hair while I looked in the mirror. I had five pounds around my stomach that I couldn’t lose. My breasts were starting to sag a bit, but men still liked them. I could say that I liked my hair. I was going to wear it big that night and down at my sides like a mane. I know lionesses don’t have manes, but you know what I mean. I was going to wear it with pride.
I wanted to like my face, but it was difficult. I have a big, Italian nose that is ever-so crooked and it exaggerates my droopy eyes. In school my teachers thought I was stoned because my schnozz pulled my whole face forward. And then there was my smile. It was yellowing from cigarettes and insincere from life. I had a professional smile, but it was bad enough that my manager suggested I take another tack. That’s how come I was allowed to wait tables in the bar. Bar folk don’t care if you don’t smile so much or if you’re tough with them. It kind of turns them on.
Everything was starting to droop a little bit, but that’s thirty-four. I was more worried when I was twenty-four and gravity was a distant notion. I would spend an hour primping in the mirror so an asshole with beer goggles would buy me a vodka Red Bull. I hated myself so much then, put myself through so much.
Fifteen years ago my getaways to casinos were always to Vegas. Well we went to Vegas but not to the casinos. My girls and I would all buy cocktail dresses and then drive out to Vegas on the 15 freeway. We would stay in one big hotel room that we got on discount because we went to the same hotel, The Flamingo, every time. We would do each other’s hair. Then we would go out with our asses tightly wrapped in thin fabric and our breasts pushing out the top of our dresses. Nobody carded us at the club or made us wait in line. We went straight to the dance floor and got all the attention we craved, usually from some Arab guy with a limousine and money to burn. We would take his free drinks and let him cop a few feels and move on. At some point in the night we would find our guys. They had dog tags, wore polo shirts and drank like fish. They had tattoos on their biceps and left pectorals. They woke up from a night of drinking and went straight to the gym. They took us back to their hotel rooms and had their way with us. And we loved it. For a while.
My phone rang while I was sliding into my jeans. I still looked good in jeans. I was sure of that.
-Are you ready yet or what?
This was Ronnie’s trip and I was holding up the show.
-I just gotta put my top on, you wanna come to my room?
-Un-uh. I’m going down. I’m thirsty. I’m goonnna have a drink at the bar.
I could hear that she had already had a drink in her room. Probably a double.
-Alright. I’ll see you in ten.
I hung up and went for my suitcase. I didn’t do cocktail dresses anymore. You get older and you realize that you don’t need all the affectations. I pulled my beaded top out of my luggage and held it in front of me. The top tied in the front and showed the proper amount of cleavage. I looked good when I wore it. It was perfect.
Ronnie was downstairs sipping a Long Island iced tea. She was trying to look like she was drinking it slowly, but I saw her drink half of it in two sips before she spotted me approaching the bar.
I ordered a vodka Red Bull. I never drink that shit at work or at home, but it goes good with the electricity you feel when you’re out. You know what I mean? Not talking about a beer at the local place, I’m talking out.
-You look great!
I wasn’t lying though I would have if necessary. She actually did look good. Her light blond tousled hair was up but a few strands fell on either side of her face framing it angelically. She had on makeup, but not too much. It was the amount that men think is natural until they see it scrubbed off and realize what the woman underneath really looks like. That’s not to say that Ronnie wasn’t pretty. She was cute. She was always worried about being fifteen pounds too heavy, but she didn’t realize that the extra weight on her was endearing. It made her look wholesome.
She was having guy trouble. As usual. It was the same guy, Adam, that she had been dating for six years. They had met at the restaurant we worked at six years ago and had stayed together through arguments, lies, cheatings, drunk escapades, the whole gamut of restaurant romantic drama. Their relationship was common but no less perverse for being so. One or the other should have left a dozen times, but neither wanted to be the one. Everybody knew it wasn’t going to end well. Ronnie was holding out hope that they would get married, but Adam was never going to do it. He hated himself too much to drag someone else into it. Then he would have to hate two people when he barely had energy for himself.
The bartender put my drink on a cardboard coaster with the name of the casino, or the Indian tribe for which the casino was named, on it. Ronnie ordered another drink.
-How’s it going?
-You know, everything’s fine.
-Ronnie, would you stop it? We came out here to have a good time and we’re not gonna have one as long as you keep acting like this so let’s have it out right now. Get it all out of your system and then we are going to forget about everything and just party.
Ronnie smiled at me. I knew that smile. She was tired, mentally and spiritually. I used to look like that before I met Bill.
Adam could take that look away if he ever manned up, but he was a little boy. He was well over thirty but still spent his days off smoking pot and playing video games. Occasionally he pretended to be pursuing a different career as a writer, but usually he didn’t bother going through the motions.
-He doesn’t want me to spend the night anymore. He’s always talking about space, so I gave him space. He moved out and I didn’t say a thing.
-You threw all of his stuff onto the sidewalk in front of your complex.
-Some of the stuff was in boxes.
I took a sip of my vodka Red Bull and grabbed Ronnie’s pack of Marlboro No. 27s. I had Kools in my bag which I normally preferred, but No. 27s had this great distinctive crackle when you inhaled. I lit a cigarette with my squiggly, turquoise lighter.
-Anyway, the fucker wants more space which means he wants me to come over and fuck him and then drive home. I told him to go fuck himself. I’m done.
-You don’t believe me?
I looked her in the eye. She turned from me and nodded her head at her glass and let out a sigh. She picked up her drink, took out the straw and finished her Long Island in one go. They made those drinks strong. Immediately her face went red. I could see her skin getting older as it glowed under her makeup. Her neck, her cheeks, they were aging; her youth was running away from her and she was scared as hell.
She ordered another drink before she sat the glass back down.
-Ronnie, look, I’m not your nice friend.
-No, Amy’s the nice one.
Amy was my oldest friend. We actually went to high school together. I never figured out why people thought she was nice. She would say the kind of things I said but with a better smile. It must have been because her nose was smaller.
-That’s right Amy’s the nice one and I’m the tough bitch so it’s my job to tell you that Adam is never going to change and you’re kidding yourself. You say you’re done, but did you actually break up this time?
Ronnie shrugged as the bartender put her drink down on a coaster with house comedian Pepe Gonzalez’s face on it.
-Did you or didn’t you?
-Well we did, but then last night I went over to his house after work…
-We fucked. Is that bad?
She smiled her buzzed smile with her eyes halfway closed. We both cracked up. I slid two cigarettes from her pack and handed her one. We lit both from the single flame I held between us.
-Alright, that’s it. We’re done talking about this fuck.
-Is that right? You sure that’s not the Long Islands talking?
-It’s definitely the Long Islands talking.
Ronnie tried to lower her voice as she leaned closer to me.
-You know what I’d really like to do? I’d like to get fucked.
I saw this coming. Ronnie is always aggressive when she gets drunk. It’s actually pretty fun but I wasn’t sure I had the energy. These days we chose the Indian casinos over Vegas because they were laid back. We went there to relax, have some drinks, laugh at Pepe’s ancient routine, go to the spa and shop at nearby outlet malls during the day. Amy usually planned the activities because she always got discounts out of people. Yet another way she was nice, constantly needling people until they gave her what she wanted.
-So what do you think?
-Getting some guys?
I glanced at my ring finger.
-Oh right. I forgot for a second. You shouldn’t. I mean Bill’s great. But what about me?
-It’s not going to make you happy.
-Who wants to be happy?
Unsurprisingly the casino had a club, one we had never been in. It was one of those ratty joints you find in outpost Californian towns. You see it off the side of the freeway and think: who the fuck goes there? The club was tiny. There was a dance floor in the center and a DJ booth off to the side. Different color lights were projected from the ceiling. Usually clubs like that would be filled with vatos and Black dudes and white bros and there would be something shady going down in the parking lot. This club, The TeePee, would have been like that too, but it was at a casino which catered to couples. Most people who came to the casino were pushing forty, not the clubbing type. The TeePee rarely had single ladies for dudes to ogle and thus the dudes tended to not go there.
I hadn’t been clubbing in forever. That wasn’t a Bill thing, I stopped almost as soon as I hit thirty. I was worn out. As soon as I walked into The TeePee, however, I felt that electric tickle dance up my spine. I guess after four years I missed it a little. Or maybe they put something in Red Bull that reacts to pulsating beats. They must put the same thing in Long Islands because I looked at Ronnie and she was feeling it too.
We went to the bar and ordered drinks. Ronnie switched over to vodka Red Bull. We found a table a few feet from the dance floor with high chairs. We lit up cigarettes. I switched to Kools. We felt good.
Scanning the room, I saw mostly young couples in their thirties, the kind that got married right after high school or college. They needed clubbing to make them feel better about throwing away their youth with one person.
Among the sea of couples there was one table that caught our eye. It was four men, either out for a stag party or else they were locals. Ronnie noticed them the same time I did. She raised an eyebrow at me. I nodded slightly. Club language. I can’t remember if I ever went to Vegas with Ronnie back when we were first at the restaurant, but it didn’t matter. We all knew club language.
We played it smooth from there. We shouted over the music about how bad the songs were occasionally bobbing our shoulders derisively to the beat. We laughed at ourselves and smoked cigarettes. We caught glances from the table of men and we let them catch us looking once (maybe) so they would feel encouraged.
Eventually two of them headed in our direction. They were probably a bit younger than us, but not by much. Already their bodies had started to accumulate extra girth that would have slipped off of them a few years ago. Now every tequila shot and late-night taco showed around their midsection. One of the guys was noticeably more attractive. He was Hispanic (but not a vato) with soft, brown eyes and a small, nice smile. He wore a buttoned-down black shirt and jeans. His friend was a little heavy and a little scraggly. He looked like he usually wore backwards baseball caps and t-shirts. He wore a striped buttoned-down shirt with faded khakis.
As they walked over I couldn’t help but perk up a bit. I didn’t have any designs on doing anything other than talking and getting a few free drinks, but why not give them their money’s worth? I sat up straight in my chair so my breasts were a bit more inviting.
-How you ladies doing?
The cute one said and then introduced himself as Michael, not Mike. His friend’s name was Taylor.
-Can we buy you something to drink?
-What are you, a server?
Ignoring me, he looked directly at Ronnie. Not once did he look in my direction. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal. All I wanted was a free drink and some chit-chat.
I didn’t get any chit-chat. Taylor sat there like a bump on a log while Ronnie cozied up to Michael. They were standing a few inches apart talking into each other’s faces and laughing like everything said was the funniest thing either had ever heard. They forgot all about the drinks.
I lit a cigarette. A few minutes later they went to the dance floor. Taylor stayed with me.
-I like your top.
It wasn’t such a bad line, but he said it so late. Why not when he first got to the table? Because he didn’t have it. Michael had it and he hadn’t looked my way at all. He had chosen Ronnie, which was fine. That’s not what I was looking for anyway. I wasn’t looking for anything.
I cheers-ed Taylor’s comment and finished my cigarette. He was out of lines and I didn’t feel like talking.
A minute later Taylor made the slow walk back to his table, defeated. I would have been happy to flirt with him a bit if he wasn’t so oafish about it. Guys like him get a little pushback from a girl and fold into themselves like a poker table. Who needs that?
I pulled out my phone and texted Bill. What are you doing? Ronnie was right. I was lucky to have Bill. I shuffled through some pictures waiting for a response but it didn’t come so I stared at the dance floor, watching my friend grind on a stranger like she was ten years younger than she was. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to dance. They stayed out on the dance floor for the entirety of three songs.
-Hey, what’s up?
Ronnie was full of spunk now, not a bit of the cloud remained from earlier.
-Where did your guy go?
-He slinked back over to his table. He couldn’t handle what I was selling.
We both laughed. I saw Michael looking over at us. My phone vibrated on the table. It was Bill. Watching a movie. You? I turned off the screen. I didn’t want to tell him I was at a club. He wouldn’t care, but there was no reason to worry him.
-It looks like things are going well.
-Would you mind if I stepped out then? If they ask say I wasn’t feeling good. I’m going to go play the slots. If you need me just text. I’ll be up.
Ronnie didn’t mind. I had served my purpose as a sidekick. My continued presence would turn me from sidekick into bitter third wheel. I stood up and we hugged and then I left.
I went to the bathroom and used the toilet. I washed my hands and looked in the mirror. No wonder Michael hadn’t glanced at me. It wasn’t my nose. Everything was droopy. My breasts? Yes. I turned. My ass? Yes. Even my lips. I hadn’t known that was going to happen. I sighed. My phone vibrated. ?. It was Bill, a vibrating mantra: I was lucky.
I’m playing the slots. Which movie?
Zero Dark Thirty. Our TV is too small. Any luck?
Tons. Love you.
Love you too.
I looked in the mirror again and everything looked a little firmer. In that moment I can honestly say I didn’t care what I looked like.
I got change from a vendor and sat down at a coin-operated slot machine. It was the last one at the casino. They had replaced all of the other coin slot machines with sleek new video models. At first the old ladies who lived at the slot machines swore they’d never touch the video slots, but after a couple months they couldn’t be pried away from the screens. I still preferred the old slot machine though.
Before I played the first coin I got a text message from Ronnie. Going up to my room. Don’t wait up 😉. I smiled. I was happy for her. I decided I would play a bit anyway. I put in a quarter. Whir, whir, whir. Jackpot.
The coins cascaded out of the machine like a waterfall. The casino was already loud with chatter and electronic beeps, but the crash of coins rang out above it all. Hearing the commotion, a few dozen people came to stare at me, some of them smiled, most were angry or jealous. Fifty bucks was always my gambling limit. I had never done better than broke even. I couldn’t believe it. A few casino employees walked over to verify the win and to make sure no one tried to rob me of my winnings. They brought over two five-gallon paint buckets to collect the quarters and a cart to push the buckets to the vendor’s window.
-That was quick, the vendor said.
They had a scale to weigh the coins and estimate the earnings. The vendor said that I was likely the first person to win the jackpot in three or four years, ever since they started buying video slot machines.
While he weighed the coins, I decided to look around the prize shop. I had never been inside of it before. I had never had a reason to go inside of it. As soon as I walked in I saw a giant flat screen TV in the center of the display floor. The salesclerk came and stood next to me.
-Did you need help with anything?
30 minutes later I was driving home with the flat screen lying right side up in the bed of my Ford Ranger.
Before I left I checked out, paid for Ronnie’s room and sent her a message that I knew she wouldn’t get until the morning and by then she wouldn’t care. We were only staying one night anyway. I didn’t send Bill anything.
It took about forty-five minutes to get home from Temecula Valley. Usually it took me an hour, but I was gunning it a bit. I was pretty excited. I pulled the truck into the driveway of our rented house trying to be as quiet as possible. I wanted to park on the street, but the TV was in the bed of the truck and I was paranoid even though we lived in a nice area.
I couldn’t lift the TV into the house. I figured I would wake Bill and tell him that I blew a tire and I wanted him to look at it. It was the best excuse that I could think of; if he said he would look at it in the morning then I would have to tell him that I had a surprise for him and it couldn’t wait.
I opened the front door and took the first stair and stopped right in my tracks. I could hear it enough to make out the unmistakable sound of flesh slapping flesh. I walked up a few more steps to verify and then I walked back down the steps and went to the kitchen.
I took a Corona from the fridge and opened it with the bottle cap opener on the end of the bottle-shaped wine key. I carried the sweating beer back to the steps. I walked up the stairs three quarters of the way, all the better to hear them, and sat down and slowly drank my Corona.
I almost spewed up my second sip of beer when I recognized the woman’s voice, but thankfully I didn’t waste it on the cunt. It was Amy’s.
People think of rage as instantaneous or else some kind of fugue state that is triggered by a traumatic event. For me I was very much aware and very much controlled in my actions.
I finished my beer and walked up the stairs and into my bedroom where Amy was bent over the side of the bed with Bill thrusting into her from behind. They didn’t see me. I moved swiftly to the bed and raised the Corona bottle and brought it down on the crown of Bill’s head. He gave a little yelp, like a bitch after someone’s steps on her tail, and fell over. Amy heard the glass and felt Bill pull out. She turned with the most horrible expression of confusion then guilt then anger. The neck of the bottle was intact in my hand. The body of the bottle was now jagged shards of glass. I briefly thought of stabbing Amy but I didn’t. My cooler head prevailed.
Instead I threw the beer bottle down and grabbed Amy by her jet-black hair and drug her from the bed to the floor. She was sex-weak and her tits were fake and didn’t sag a bit so she moved swiftly through the darkened room. I pinned her arms down with my knees and I sat on her silicone breasts, their firmness an unpleasant reminder. I drew blood with the first punch which probably also broke her nose. If not, the second punch definitely did. I hit her until my knuckles hurt and then several more times after that. I really only stopped because I heard Bill stir.
He was on one knee on the side of the bed when I reached him. I hit him with everything I had. His head hit the night table and he was out again.
Amy was crying at the foot of the bed. I wanted to shut her up, but I was done. My hand hurt and I didn’t have anything left.
I went downstairs and to the kitchen and got another Corona. There were limes in the fridge. I cut a wedge of lime and shoved it into the neck of the bottle. It made the beer fizz bubbles when it hit the surface. I watched the bubbles disappear.
I returned to my spot on the stairs and drank my Corona. Emanating from the room was a much different series of noises. Crying, gurgling, cursing, fumbling, tripping, more crying. Once more I felt that electricity up the spine, amplified by the sound of sirens a few minutes later. I wasn’t worried about the cops. It felt like someone ought to see my handiwork.
One of the officers inspected my busted hands and the other asked me a few questions. When they were sure that I was calm they went up the stairs and surveyed the scene. One of the officers came back down the stairs a few minutes later and started to record my version of the events. They weren’t too dissimilar.
After they finished taking my account they told me I had to go with them. They let me finish my Corona. Then we walked outside and down the driveway, past my pickup truck with the flat screen TV sitting in the back.
Bobby Wilson lives in China where he teaches math and writes. His writing has appeared in Litro Magazine, Anxy Magazine, Exposition Review, The Gambler and several other places. He is currently the nonfiction editor at Litro Magazine. He has a podcast about books by Black authors, The Most Dangerous Thing in America. He spends most of his time reading, writing, and cooking. He’s married and owns a cat.
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Bobby’s podcast, The Most Dangerous Thing in America, is about books by Black authors. https://soundcloud.com/bobby-wilson-588095918
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