Fiction

Michael Melgaard

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 Little to Lose 

Debbie had dinner at the place across the highway from her apartment. When the bill came she went over to the ATM and punched in sixty dollars. She got an insufficient funds message so she tried forty. Two bills shuffled out at her. The slip let her know she was eight dollars short of the limit of her overdraft.

Back at the table she made a great production of looking over the bill and then her money. The waitress waited. Debbie said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t take out enough money. I need to hold on to this cash,” she held up her two twenties, “but I could use some change.” She thought about it a minute, “So, can I put eight on my debit, then have you break this twenty for the rest? Is that okay?” The waitress didn’t care.

Debbie left the restaurant and walked into the mall across the parking lot from the diner. Most of the shops had moved to the new mega mall outside of town; there were only a handful of store open inside. The managers stood out on the concourse and nodded to Debbie as she walked by. She didn’t notice, she was thinking about how she had thirty-eight dollars cash and her overdraft was at the limit. Her visa was at ten thousand, with a minimum payment due the next week. Her other credit cards were maxed out at five and six thousand dollars, but their payments weren’t due for three weeks, so she didn’t have to worry about them. Her paycheque was coming in later that week, but it would only just cover rent and not any of the bills, which were so far behind anyways she couldn’t even think about them — which reminded her that she did have to worry about the car insurance even though there was really nothing to do about it and she’d been driving uninsured for a month anyways. The main thing was the minimum payment on her main credit card: fifty dollars. An amount she was twelve dollars short of.

The thirty-eight cash she had was as good as useless since it wasn’t enough to actually cover any of the bills, so she thought that she might as well try to make something of it. By then she had wandered out the back door of the mall. The town’s newly built casino shone its lights across the parking lot at her.

She walked through the sliding doors on to the thick, oddly patterned carpet. She tried to slip by the security guard while he chatted with two regulars, but he caught her eye and smiled. “Hold on there, miss,” he said. “You look too young to be coming in here.” She made as if to pull her wallet out of her purse and the guard just laughed and waved her by with a “Good luck.”

She walked past the dollar slots near the entrance to a bank of quarter slots near the back wall. There were six grouped together that were tied in with a show she liked. She fed a twenty into one and her credits came up on the bottom of the screen. The star of the show said his catch phrase. She pressed the bet max button.

The screen spun while the theme from the show played so quiet it blended with the background noise of all the other machines. Shapes settled in to five columns and five rows and red lines appeared connecting the patterns that matched. Her credits went up. She played on, sometimes it was three or four lines, sometimes none. When half her money was gone, she switched to the next machine over and started betting less. Less risk meant less payout, but she could play longer. She kept at it and then everything lit up and the machine said, “Bazinga.” Everything connected, but she had only bet on two lines. Her credits went up, but not as much as they could have. She started betting more. Her credits went steadily down to zero.

She went to a different game and fed in the last of her money. She told herself she’d cash out at ten, but when she got down to that she decided ten wasn’t enough to really do anything with anyways, so she might as well keep going.  A small win took her back up to twenty, which wasn’t much better to ten, so she kept going and then it was all gone.

The security guard was different when she left; he didn’t look at her. The parking lot was dark. She walked to the highway and ran across to her building. The elevator took a long time to get to her floor and its buzzing fluorescent light. She passed no one in the hall, then got into her apartment and tossed her jacket and purse on the couch and lay down over them.

***

Debbie’s phone buzzed her awake in the morning. She dug it out of her coat pocket and tried to turn off what she thought was the alarm but instead picked up a call. It took her a second to register her sister’s voice asking if anyone was there. She brought the phone to her face and said yes. They made plans to have coffee that afternoon. 

Debbie scraped all the old food off plates into the garbage and stashed them in the dishwasher. She swept and then decided it would be better to shower than to tidy more. When she came out there was no time for curlers so she wrapped her hair in a scarf and then the buzzer was going off. She hit the button to unlock the front door and took a quick look around. She tossed a newspaper over a pile of unopened mail just as Anne let herself in. They hugged and talked about how it had been too long, and Debbie made a pot of coffee while Anne sat at the kitchen table and started shuffling a deck of cards.

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