The Casino: A Short Story

Andy Frakes

Editors Note: The following is a short story.

We arrive at the casino late, but not too late. It’s never really too late to show up here. I’d been pried off the couch after a listless afternoon, convinced that even throwing a twenty away at the tables would be better than more sitting and stewing in the living room.

The drive out from town was just long enough to use the cruise control.

It’s a sad crowd that fills this place. Toothless locals barely older than us but with their years lived hard. One stumbles around the parking lot and tells us as we walk toward the entrance that there are too many goddamn red Blazers, and we nod in return. There are too many goddamn red Blazers.

We wander around, completely sober, and I wonder when he’s going to fish the cigars out of his pocket so I can feel a little more at ease. None of the sights or smells or sounds are distracting enough to unwind me from my coil.a_Gambling

A well-dressed couple, he in a tucked-in plaid shirt and she in a dress, throw dice and yell excitedly at the far end of the craps table. Blackjack looks full, roulette is crowded.

Plenty of slot machines are open, but that’s not our game tonight; an old man, how old I’d never be able to tell, sits at one of the machines pulling the lever and feeding it dollar bills. His cigarette is half-ash and rests between two outstretched fingers. The  ash  is  the  same  color   as his hair.

We circle back and sit at the roulette table, deserted now save for one fellow with a big pile of chips in front of him. He bets varyingly on blacks and reds, splitting when it’s appropriate. Diversifying his portfolio.

As the dealer waves his hand to signal no more bets, the guy tips back in his chair and smiles. His chips are half-dollar apiece and the pile is actually not so impressive, but even so, a stack like that would buy dinner for two.

I’m handed a cigar and I run it under my nose, but the smoky air in the place makes it difficult to discern the quality of this thing. We’re lacking contrast here. I shrug, light it and hold it between my teeth.

After a while I’m up over twenty dollars and a small part of me wants to leave. The rational part, I suppose. We get up from the table and wander around some more and I’m buzzing from the cigar. I get a short gin and tonic from the casino bar to calm myself down. My hands shake slightly as I hand my money to the bartender, and I let my eyes go sleepy so I don’t seem so tense.

We’re at the blackjack table, and I’m losing money when I finish my cigar. My lips burn slightly from the paper it was rolled with and I smirk through the haze as I hit on thirteens and fourteens. My drink is empty, to no great effect, and my hands are cold. I bust a lot. It’s enough to negate whatever good I did earlier, and after I’m handed a few chips to keep me in the game, I stand up.

I’m not feeling all right at all now, but we’ll be home soon and I hunch in the passenger seat as we drive back. We’ve been in there almost two hours and won a few dollars overall; there’s an offer to buy me a burrito, but it’s after midnight, and my stomach feels in knots.

All I want is a shower and my bed. I vow never to smoke a cigar so fast again, or to hit on fourteen, damn it all. But all of this, the shivering fingers and the sandy-eyed drive home and the oily feeling of smoke in my clothes, is better by a long shot than sitting and thinking, and thinking and sitting, and pacing and not thinking, making a sandwich not because I’m hungry but just for something to do.

A new image fills my head when I close my eyes: a dark parking lot full of cars and trucks, snow in between the parking spots.

Too many red Blazers.