The ringing bells and chimes of the slot machines nearly drowned out the rock music playing in the background. Rosa began to panic. The rent was due and if she didn’t pay it this month she and her kids, Tito and Maria, would be out on the streets. She punched the play button as if it were the enemy. A little old white lady had sat beside her this morning. Right next to her, the woman’s diamond rings flashed in the artificial light of the slot machine floor.
Her machine’s bells rang and rang. The woman’s tightly coiffed blue curls shone in the flashing lights. “Oh my, God! Oh my, God! I never win at these things,” she went on and on. And what did she need the money for anyway, all those diamonds and fancy clothes? Rosa watched the pictures on her machine spin around and stop with a match that repaid her fifteen credits. Bah, what good was fifteen credits? The woman this morning won $10,000! She punched the play button again, the electronic dials spun.
And where was her no good husband? Prison for selling a little pot. Bah, the police and the courts knew nothing. What else was a poor person to do to escape life’s miseries but smoke a little weed in the evening to relax? The counter deducted another 40 credits from her total. She didn’t have much left. She whispered a little prayer. “Mother Mary, please help me,” and punched the play button again.
Her abuela had told her last month that she wasn’t going to help her with money any longer. Grandmother promised to take in the kids but not her. If Rosa was going to waste her little bit of money on the gambling, abuela was done with her. What kind of mother would that make her, dropping her own babies off on her grandmother? “Please, Mother Mary. I don’t need ten thousand; five thousand will cover the late rent.” She pushed the button again, part of her prayer.
She was distracted by a slot machine’s winning alarm going off three machines away. A young man was fist pumping and jumping up and down. Gold chains on neck and wrist and a diamond pinkie ring flashed in the lights. She noticed her machine had deducted another forty credits. Her eyes rolled to the ceiling, condemning Mother Mary. “Again? He obviously doesn’t need the money. Please!”
There were a hundred and twenty credits left, three more plays. She won twenty credits, then fifteen. “Thank you, Mother Mary.” Rosa hit the play button again. “Just three thousand dollars, Mother Mary. Please?” she prayed as the pictures spun. She won fifty credits. This was good. Things were going her way now. Rosa had to use the bathroom but she’d been on this machine all afternoon. If she left someone else would get the jackpot she’d been working for all day. There was no way she was leaving in the middle of a winning streak. Her silent prayers continued at each press of PLAY.
A loss came up, forty credits deducted. “I’m on a winning streak,” she told herself as she punched the button again. Another forty credits disappeared.
“Come on,” she pleaded with the machine. “Give me a jackpot.” She played again, and again, and again, the credits steadily dwindling.
She ordered tequila when the drinks waitress came around despite the pressure in her bladder. The credits disappeared. She dropped a single dollar on the waitress’s tray when she brought Rosa’s tequila. A little good karma, she thought as the waitress moved on and she downed the drink in a gulp. See, Mother Mary? I’m a good person. A little help here? Rosa pushed the button again, forty more credits gone. Only two plays left. The children were coming home from school and she needed to be there. “Come on,” she urged the machine. The pictures spun, there was no match.
Her fist pounded the machine. A nearby casino security guard cautioned her about abusing the machine. Rosa’s bladder complained again. She crossed her legs and apologized to the guard. “Jesus, please, help me.” Once more she pushed the button, aware of the guard watching her. Her eyes were intent on the spinning pictures. “A match, please, Jesus. I’ll come to church and offer a candle every morning.”
She didn’t make the spinning stop. Let them roll until Jesus stopped them. The pictures fell into place, there was no match. Rosa screamed her frustration and pounded on the face of the machine, there were no credits left. The security guard hurried over. “Miss, you’ll have to leave now.”
Tears ran down her face as the nearby players turned to see what the commotion was about. “I can’t leave now. I can get credit!” The guard murmured into his shoulder radio as she beat on the control face of the slot machine. “I need to win. My rent is due.”
The back-up officer arrived. They each took hold of one of her arms and began to drag her away. “Nooooo,” she yelled as she tried to dig her flip-flops into the multicolored carpeting. Her bladder gave up and urine gushed onto the floor. The guard’s faces showed their disgust. Rosa stopped yelling and blushed scarlet, her shorts and legs wet. She submitted meekly as one of the guards used his radio to call for clean-up in area twenty-three.
They took her to an office where they made her sit on a plastic trash bag in a standard office visitor chair. Her picture was taken despite her disheveled hair and running mascara and she was given an official letter that told her she was banned from the casino for life. On the sidewalk outside the casino she stood and stared at the entrance. It was so beautiful, all light and glitter, lovely people laughing as they freely walked through the welcoming doorway. It was all gone. All of it.
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