This story is by Jarrett Wilson and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’ve fallen in Love…County, Oklahoma – Thackerville to be precise. If the proprietors of Winstar World Casino were here, they’d say I was in Paris. Amor, indeed.
Probably less confusing if I say “I took a spill in Love County, Oklahoma.” I’m now a guest at Carter County’s Mercy Hospital Ardmore, Thackerville’s exotic neighbor to the north. It didn’t take much testing to diagnose severe dehydration.
It’s funny how similar casinos and hospitals are. There are the blinking lights, and the veritable symphony of bells, chirps and beeps. The IV infusion pump at the other end of the tubes in my arm could well be a less enthusiastic coin machine. Instead of coins, it runs on bags of liquid. Instead of winning money, the player wins a cocktail of meds.
My adventure into a state of critically low fluid levels started two days ago. At that time, I was a well-hydrated 47-year-old man visiting “Paris” for a poker tournament – Paris if it became a gaming room parody of itself populated by muffin topped rednecks & chain-smoking grandmas and offered overpriced drinks, gimmicky slot machines and token table games.
“Falling in love” – either the kind where gravity forces you to the ground in south central Oklahoma/Paris or the kind that makes you act like a child – was the last thing on my mind. I’m recently divorced, so I’ve done the whole falling in love, til death do you part song and dance.
Get this, the theme of the tournament was “Fall in Love (County)”. It’s early September, the casino was kicking off Autumn with sappiness.
Now I’ll tell you about how I was hustled by a native American woman physiologically, emotionally and financially.
Firstly, my name is Gavin Cleveland. I’m a real estate speculator, or I used to be anyway; I did so well last year I retired. “Retire” sounds off – I have a lot of money, I don’t work. The end.
I enjoy gambling. What is real estate speculation but a high stakes gamble? I’m trying my hand, literally, on the pro poker tour. I’ve started small, at a casino in southern Oklahoma.
I say Thackerville, they say Paris, let’s call the whole thing off.
Shortly after my arrival, I met an exotic native American woman named Awanasea. The thing about her that revved me up was that she looked so wholesome, so genuinely native; a real woman with calloused hands and crow’s feet instead of Hollywood’s Pocahontas. Like a bay horse, her soft mocha skin contrasted sharply with her jet-black hair and brought out glimmering shades of brown in her dark, dark eyes. Her hair was long, with the crimped wavy quality of the occasional “I only have hair because it’s not acceptable for women to be bald” hair days.
I was at a table with two others, playing Texas hold ’em, when Awanasea, garbed in glossy black leather, squeaked leatherily (that is to say, uncomfortably) into the chair at the end of the table. She reached into her purse for some cash to buy in as I raised the dealer to the single bet limit of $50. After hearing that and gawking at my healthy pile of chips, she said “you must be here to Fall in Love.”
“Beg your pardon ma’am?”
“The poker tournament…” she winked.
“Oh.” I smirked. “That’s right. How’d you guess?”
Well, there’s the huge stack of chips, then your miffed expression when you said ‘I raise to $50’, right?” she raised her eyebrows. The house lights set off facets of umber in her eyes.
“That’s right, miss…” I trailed off inquisitively.
“Awanasea. Call me Sea.” she framed ‘SEE-YUH’ in air quotes. “Head over to the poker room for higher stakes, Mr…” She trailed off, imitating my ham-handed approach to learning her name.
“Gavin, name’s Gavin. Where’s that?” I asked.
“Well, Gavin – The poker room, higher limit tables, and the dollar machines are in London.”
“Such diversity in southern Oklahoma…” I quipped.
“Despite you people’s best efforts to the contrary…” she jabbed playfully. “That’s okay. We’re evening the score.” she said. She held a copper hand level with her nose, and rubbed her fingers together in the pan-tribal, indeed pan-galactic sign for money.
She was a feisty one, this Sea. I stood, gathered my chips. Then asked her, “How do I get to London?”
That’s right, a Caucasian American man in “Paris” asked a native American woman for directions to “London”.
She pointed towards some sparkling golden dragons to her right, hanging from the ceiling around a brilliant, terraced jade fountain. “Go through Beijing, Rome, then Madrid, the next area is London. The poker room is at the far end.”
She sounded like a demented geography teacher.
“Thanks. I guess I’ll ‘see-yuh’ later” I said, with a big shit eating grin.
She sighed. “I ‘Gavin’t’ heard that one recently!” she replied.
I was starting to like this girl.
“Clever!…I’m really going now. “You said past Beijing and Rome, through Madrid and to the far end of London?”
She nodded. “Tell you what. I’m pretty hungry. There’s a buffet right there, I’ll walk you over there, I’ll even point out the weak dealers.” she said as she lit a long cigarette, exhaled a cloud of smoke.
We left the table and joined a flowing river of pilgrims seeking fortunes from bedazzling machines and black tables topped with green felt.
We passed through two continents, and now stood before a relief of Big Ben on frosted glass. The buffet was just off to our left, and just beyond, a neon blue “poker room” sign.
Sea grabbed my hand, and we carved a path through machines offering the “Gems of Africa” or “Treasures of the Amazon”. These machines operated as much on money, as on the life forces of the players. She stopped well short of our destination.
“Let’s get a few games in…” she sat at a machine, patted the seat next to it, her dark eyes beckoned.
“I thought you were hungry…” I countered.
“I can wait, it’s open 24 hours anyway.”
What’s a few games on a nickel machine? I thought. That wouldn’t be the last time such a thought crossed my mind. I sat down, fed the machine a twenty and noticed that, being in the “high roller” area, all machines were a dollar. Sea reached over me and pressed the “max bet” button. Her leather jacket squeaked as she stretched. Her fingernails brushed my leg on the way back. This little touching was making me more curious about her.
We spent $60 of my money at the machine (well, not all of it. I still have $0.55 and $1.10 vouchers in my pocket), then we walked to the buffet.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye.” I said, feigning sorrow.
“What? A date with no dinner?” she asked indignantly.
I started. “Date?” I queried, confused but curious.
“Why not?” she replied, eyes sparkling.
“Yeah, why not” I parroted.
So, we ate and had cocktails.
Finally, the check came. I grabbed it to indicate that I was ready to go. Sea jumped up, grabbed my arm and hung on me as we walked to the register.
“Poker room?” she asked innocently.
“Yeah, you coming too?”
“Want me to point out the weak dealers?”
“Oh yeah. Let’s go.” I said, looking down at her. Our eyes met and she came up for a kiss. Nothing too salacious, just a quick peck on the lips.
At that point, it was early evening on Friday, August 25th. It is now midday on Sunday, the 27th according to the whiteboard in my hospital room.
In a casino, there is no time – there are no windows to indicate what time of day it is. There are clocks, but who cares about time when you’re throwing away money?
Sea had me so bedraggled by Saturday night, I forgot to do what I went there to do – play in the poker tournament.
Every time I tried to call it a night, she’d feed me a new reason to stay out. If it wasn’t “one more drink…” or “one more hand…”, it was seizing opportunity, or as she put it, “time to strike while the fire is hot.” The third time she said that, I asked, “as opposed to the fire being cold?” she stopped saying it after that.
Early Sunday morning, I excused myself to the bathroom with the intention of slipping away. Suddenly, the hallway was an old rickety bridge swaying violently back and forth, for me anyway. It got so bad that I staggered headfirst into a water fountain and went lights out. Talk about have a drink.
I woke up at the hospital with an arm full of needles.
My fluid levels are improving, still haven’t seen my wallet, car keys, phone… not to mention the girl I “fell” for.
At least I’m not in Love anymore…county or otherwise.