GAMES OF CHANCE • by Jerry Kraft

He slid the card into the door and smartly pulled it out. Everything was electronic now, no real keys, no coins tumbling out of the slots, no cash to be found anywhere in the gaming rooms, except maybe as tips for the drink girls. In the old Vegas silver dollars became chips, and chips became dollars, and neither had anything to do with real money. But this was even less real. Now you bought a slip of paper with your credit card, put it in the machine and punched a button, watched the reels spin, and maybe cashed out for another slip of paper.

Sandy was propped up on the bed, reading a magazine. She looked over the top of it as Denny stepped into the room. He closed the door behind him.

“You were gone a long time,” she said, her voice even and controlled, no hint of inflection that might tell him whether she was angry or not, disappointed or anxious, just a statement of fact, an observation.

Denny pulled his shirt up over his head. The armpits were wet and stained, even though the casino had been fully air-conditioned, like every casino, and unless you stepped outside a person would never imagine the dry, 107-degree temperature of late June in the desert.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he said. He unhitched his belt, unzipped his pants and stepped out of them, dropping them to the floor. Sandy went back to her reading, half-way interested in whether or not Tom and Nicole could reconcile. She heard the shower go on and laid the magazine down beside her, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

Was it possible they had only been here since yesterday? She looked around at the hotel room, nice but nothing special. It was still a lot more than they could afford, especially now.

“They don’t really want you spending a lot of time in your room,” Denny had said, and he was right. The only reason for a room in Vegas was to hold a bed, and what you made of that was your business. “We’ve got to get away,” Denny had said, and he was right about that, too.

Sandy stood up and walked to the window. These past few months had been rough. Denny put everything into the new business — the house, the retirement, their savings. He had certainly worked hard enough, twelve to fourteen hours most days, often waking during the night with this worry or that on his mind. And nobody expected a big national chain to open up in their little town. That was just bad luck. He did good work, and he just bet that people would support a local guy, would keep enough business coming his way that he could keep afloat. The first few months for any business was bound to be tough, a long-shot, but once they got back on top of the cash-flow…

Sandy didn’t want to think about all that. That was all back home. Denny wanted to do something special for their anniversary, and made it sound like a weekend in Vegas was a perfect idea. He was so excited, his eyes bright and enthusiastic in a way she hadn’t seen them for too long. And it was fun, she thought, walking around looking at all the pretty people and all the big money that was everywhere.

Yesterday she had gone into a shop to look at some nice bags, and she found one, a little black leather purse with buckles, that she thought was kind of pretty. When she asked how much it was (nothing in a Vegas shop has a price-tag) the clerk said thirteen-hundred, and Sandy handed it back with a quiet gulp. Some people live in a world with a different kind of money, she thought.

She heard the shower stop and turned away from the window, leaning back, half-sitting on the sill. Maybe they could go out for a late dinner. She hadn’t felt like eating earlier, before Denny went off on his own for the evening and she had come back to the room. She had a little bit of a headache. Denny said he wanted to just play a few hands of blackjack. Why not? Maybe he’d win a little and they could take some of the edge off the cost of this trip. Maybe he’d win a lot and they wouldn’t have to worry so much about the business. Not that she really thought that was likely to happen. She was a realist, and not a risk taker, like Denny. She would never have had the guts to do what he had done, to risk everything on something as chancy as starting a business. She really hoped, for him, that it would pay off.

The bathroom door opened and Denny stepped out, completely naked. He hadn’t even wrapped a towel around himself. His hair was still wet, and he walked over to the edge of the bed, directly across from where Sandy was standing at the window. He sat, hunched a bit forward. Sandy felt an odd sensation, a kind of tingling in her toes, like you feel when you’re standing on the edge of a tall building.

Slowly, Denny looked up, looked across the room and directly into her eyes. His shoulders sagged, his head tilted slightly to the side. His lips were tight, as if they were holding back some great flood that was trying to leak through their seal. She looked directly at him, forced his eyes to look back into hers. They were these eyes now, no bodies, no place, no time for past or future. They were these eyes now, looking to each other.

“My God, Denny,” she said, “how much did we lose?”

Jerry Kraft is a playwright, poet and theatre critic. He has produced or published 15 plays, his poetry has appeared in Willow Springs, Blood Orange Review, Rattle, Tidepools, Driftwood Review and others. He reviews theatre for and is a regular contributor to “Living on the Peninsula” magazine. He lives in Port Angeles, Washington.

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