This story is by Karen B. Call and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Melissa leaned forward and threw the dice into the wall of the empty water tank. Her grandfather looked.
“Eight, sweetheart, you rolled another gol dern eight,” he said.
Grandma called, “Melissa. Amanda. Come wash up. Your mama will be here soon.”
Melissa climbed off the chair and walked to her grandpa. Wilson squatted down and put his good arm around her.
“Your throw’s comin’ along, Missy, and you’re only 10. Good run today.”
The screen door banged. Mandy must already be in the house. Missy hugged her grandpa and ran out the door. Grandma said she should stop lollygagging and get inside when she was called.
Missy was really getting the hang of dice throwing. Wilson put the dice in his pocket. He’d keep them warm for their next practice session. It’d be easy to keep them warm in Arizona in July.
Their mother arrived weary from her waitressing job, put her arms around the girls and drew them to her.
“They had tomato soup and cheese sandwiches for lunch,” grandma said. “Looked at books for awhile after lunch then played outside –”
“With sunscreen?” their mother asked.
“I got some on Mandy but Missy got away too fast.”
Her mother looked down and ruffled her blonde curls. “Missy, when you play in the sun you must have sunscreen. You’re so fair.”
“Yes, mama, but I helped Grandpa in the barn this afternoon. I didn’t think I needed it,” Missy said.
“Well, let’s always put sunscreen on when you leave the house. You never know when you might wind up playing outside.” Mama gave her a quick hug. Missy’s heart sank. Grandpa didn’t like it when she got all greased up as he called sunscreen. He said it messed up the dice and messed up her throw. She’d have to think about what she could do. Maybe they needed a bucket of water, soap and a towel so she could wash it off.
The girls kissed their grandmother, thanked her for watching them and then went to their mother’s car.
“That no-good Jimmy paying child support?” her mother asked.
“Some months. I told him I’m gonna apply to get it out of his check if he misses one more month,” she said. “I need the money. The girls are getting older, always more things.”
* * *
Mandy carried the last box into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed by Missy.
“Thanks for letting me stay here, Missy, it’ll save me some money.”
“I’m looking forward to free babysitting. I don’t make enough at the casino. With you here I can leave the girls at night, get another job. Remember you promised to pay $150 a month,” Missy said.
“Yes, and it’s still a bargain. Beats paying for a place of my own – or getting roommates.” Mandy asked, “Is Randy paying child support?”
Missy was silent then said. “He was until the current bimbo. All the others made sure he paid for his kids. This one doesn’t want them around and doesn’t want him to pay child support. Since she came on the scene he’s missed taking them two weekends. They don’t understand why and I had to get a babysitter so I could go to work which zapped my weekend tips. Another reason I’m happy you’re here.” She gave Mandy a quick hug.
“Here’s a key.” Missy pulled it from her pocket. “I keep the place locked, even when I’m here.” She glanced at her sister. “Yes, I know. I could get an apartment closer to downtown with security but people are jammed so tight. I checked it out. Had to have a house. I just drive more.”
Missy continued. “I keep meals simple and make things. Like soups. No fast food. We eat a lot of tomato soup and cheese sandwiches. I’ve told the girls that was our favorite meal when we were kids.”
“I like to cook,” Mandy said. “I can make some things, too.”
Two little blondes ran into the room and jumped on the bed. “Wow,” Missy said. “Four women in one house.”
Grace giggled. “Hope and I aren’t women, Mommy. I’m six and Hope is just three.”
“Oh, but you will be too soon.” She rolled the girls into the bed for a tickle fest until they all were exhausted and lay there breathing hard.
Missy rolled over. “Let’s have dinner. You need to go to bed soon,” she said to the girls, “and I need to go to work.”
“I’ll fix something,” Mandy said and walked to the kitchen.
“Who’s our babysitter tonight?” Grace asked. She sat up and ran her fingers through her tangles
“Aunt Mandy will take care of you while I work. She is going to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas,” Missy said.
* * *
Missy had thought this was going to be a night when she took light beer and water to the gray-haired contingent at the slots, but her supervisor told her he needed her on the gaming floor.
In the locker room she slipped into her uniform and leaned over to push her breasts up and out. She stood, surveyed herself in the mirror and dusted the pale mounds with the bronzing powder that the showgirls used. Better tips. She walked onto the floor pleased the shoes had two-inch heels. Missy checked into the station, greeted the bartender and headed onto the floor with her tray and notepad. She arranged her face in a welcoming smile as she walked toward the blackjack tables.
With Mandy here she’d been thinking back to the days when they spent time at their grandparents. How her grandpa had taught her to throw dice and get good numbers. She never gambled. Her father had spent so much of their money on gambling and booze that she vowed she’d never waste what little money she had. It was just a game she’d played with her grandfather.
She took orders at the blackjack tables then turned to the craps tables. She walked slowly toward one table and watched as a young man threw the dice. Literally. When the stickman pushed them his way he just grabbed them and threw them to the other end. She took drink orders then hesitated by the shooter. Her grandfather had taught her that she should never interrupt a shooter. No exceptions. She walked slowly behind the young man onto the next player.
“Hey,” he said. “I want a drink, too.”
“Sorry,” she said. “Didn’t want to interrupt you. What will you have?”
“Bud,” he said.
She took drink orders, walked to the bar and loaded her tray as the drinks were made.
Back at the craps table she delivered the drinks but the shooter was gone.
She looked down but didn’t see a cover at the place he’d been. “Is he coming back?” she asked. “No,” the dealer said.
She went on to the blackjack tables, delivered their drinks and found a home for the Bud. She watched the craps table, the shooters and how they handled the dice. Some won a little. Others won more. Once there were DON’T bettors. They ruined the atmosphere of a table faster than a bad run of throws her Grandpa had said.
At the end of her shift she changed and headed home. She hadn’t held a pair of dice since being with her grandpa. She remembered how they had felt. Cool until she warmed them up. When she arrived at home she shuffled through the girls’ games until she found a game with dice.
She sat on the floor and faced the couch. She held the dice in her cupped hand and let them get comfortable in her palm.
Then she positioned the dice in the flying V formation. She threw them against the base of the couch. She saw a 6 and 2. Her favorite number. 8. She picked up the dice, scooted further back eyeing the distance to the couch and threw them again. And again. She mostly got good numbers.
Mandy came down the stairs and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I worked the gaming floor tonight. Haven’t been there for awhile. It was … ”
“Yes?” Mandy said. “It was what?”
“Fun. Reminded me of grandpa,” Missy said.
“You know, Mama would have killed him if she’d known what you two were doing in the barn,” Mandy said.
“Well, she didn’t. And thanks again for not telling her.” She looked at her watch. “No wonder I’m tired. I need to go to bed.” Missy got up and they went upstairs
* * *
Missy continued working her regular shift, Mandy began her classes and Randy failed to make the next two months’ child support payments.
One evening after she’d put the girls to bed, Missy sat at the kitchen table and watched Mandy do homework. She didn’t want to interrupt, but she was desperate. “Mandy, could you loan me $200. I – I can’t make the rent this month.”
“That louse pay child support?” Mandy asked.
“No, but I’ve filed to have it come out of his check. It could take six months for that to happen though,” Missy said.
“Six months is a long time to wait.”
“I know,” Missy said. “I’ve asked Mama for some money but she says she can’t give me much – maybe not anything. I think she’s afraid I’ll keep on asking.”
“Listen, on my next day off I’m going to go and play craps somewhere. I’ve been watching the tables and the shooters are so erratic. I throw better than most do.”
Mandy thought that was probably true. Missy had been throwing the dice at the couch until it was getting dented. It wasn’t rigid like a craps table’s wall.
“With what money? I thought you couldn’t pay the rent.”
“Yeah, well, I’m going to use the $200 from you to gamble. I’ve talked to the landlord and she’s going to give me another month’s reprieve. I think she was a single mom. I’m not going to push it, but I’ve got to try this. I’m not getting ahead. I’m not even staying even and I don’t have any job skills. I dropped out of college when I got pregnant with Grace,” Missy said.
“What if this doesn’t work?”
Missy was silent.
Mandy said, “I don’t have it here. I’ll get it from the credit union. You’re off today. Were you going to play tonight?”
Missy didn’t know anyone who worked at Dynamite’s. She dressed like a tourist with the diamond earrings Randy had given her when Grace was born.
She watched a grab and throw shooter, one who set the dice but didn’t have a consistent throw and others. She stepped to the table, put her player’s card down and a hundred. Finally the dice came around to her. She put a $5 chip on the Pass line, arranged the dice and threw them.
“Seven. Winner. Seven. Pay the line.” The stickman sent the dice back. That should have been an 8. She arranged the dice and threw again.
“Six. Point is six. Place your bets. Any hard ways?” He looked up.
She put three $5 chips behind the line then threw again.
“Eight. Place your bets.”
Missy threw several more numbers, players raked in the chips, then she threw a six.
“Winner six, three – three hard way.”
“How’d it go?” Mandy asked at noon.
Missy looked at her sister. “Well, I managed to turn $200 into $150 but it took six hours. I took a chance on another shooter. He was lining them up like I like, but he hadn’t practiced his throw to where he had a decent result. Maybe I should just bet on myself.”
Mandy shook her head.
Missy went out her next nights off. Mandy could tell things weren’t going well but she didn’t ask. The landlord called.
Three weeks later Missy came home at 3 a.m. and slid three C-notes under Mandy’s bedroom door.