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A Personal Lightspeed
The blurred slot-game lights of the Tiger Lily Casino dimmed and the tornado of light around Yara slowed. She held up a nearly empty dirty martini to her mouth, tilting the glass and dipping her finger in, rummaging for the olive that lay swaying with the movement of the remaining liquid. It popped into her mouth and Yara bit down, only to scrunch her nose in disgust. She slid the glass to the side then eyed it again, grabbing it and downing its remnants in a gulp.
The olive brine stung in her mouth and echoed down her throat. In the stuffy casino air, time flew by her in a pass of wind that twirled around her and disguised itself as an attractive glass of fruity vodka. It was easy to be swept up in the flashy array of lights, games and fresh money and mixed cocktail drinks; Yara, especially, was one to comply. It was sour lipstick stains on a shirt collar, and it was sweet nothings whispered in the midst of a love affair. The slot machine had been in her favor, and now she gripped a purse full of hard-earned money. Whatever swollen entangled mess that had plagued her mind before was gone now, scribbled out and dissolved into a glass of vodka with a smile.
As the bartender passed out tequila shot glasses and Yara took shot after shot, her view dimmed and turned hazier by the second. She’d been sucked into a whirlpool of pulsing, hot and humid air, neon bulbs of colored light, and the sweet-and-sour smell of smoke. The catching glimpse of shining glitter on pins and sequined dresses stung her eyes as people passed, and the aftershave-stained, sweet stench of the casino was strangely addicting. And yet, a strange dragging feeling licked at her, as if she was sitting in front of flames confined in a fireplace.
She glanced up over a passing employee’s head to see a two black-framed clocks; one with red hands, staying stock-still, and one with blue hands, moving backwards. She furrowed her brows as she emptied her glass. As the red velvet-covered tables started to feel like an itchy wool rug that dragged along her tired skin, Yara’s head swirled. She bent over and held her head in her hands, combing through her large, dark curls with her fingertips and nails.
She pushed herself off of the seat, spent, and placed cramped, high-heel adorned foot in front of foot and made her way dizzily to the door. She pushed the metal doors open slowly, sweaty fingers stretching over the door’s surface. Yara winced. The impact of the bruised night sky’s darkness pounded pain into her head and behind her eye sockets.
She let out a cough, induced by secondhand smoke, and wiped sweat from her forehead. Feeling a gooey substance on her hand, she brought it down to see her foundation plastered to it. Yara cursed under her breath and looked back out to the street. It was dark out; the streetlights burned fluorescent splotches into her eyes. She was careful in her footing, trying her best to make her way successfully, but her heels dug into the dirt and wobbled as she walked, pain swirling in the heels and balls of her feet.
The ticking of a clock rang lightly in her ears. Tick. She turned around to see the casino eroding away before her eyes, brick by smoky brick. The casino crumbled into itself and disappeared as if it had never been there. Tock.
Yara blinked, astonished. Tick. Blinking had apparently not been a good choice--now a completely new building stood in its place. She stood in dumbstruck awe, combing one hand through her hair and using the other to smooth the dents in her blue silk slip dress. A clock's chime boomed in her head and was less than satisfying.
She pulled out her phone and fumbled out the number for a taxi. Yara figured she’d apologize to Oscar when she trotted back home, sweetening the deal with the large sum of prize money she’d won.
As her boyfriend opened the door to an intoxicated Yara, lightly cursing under her breath, his expression dropped into something she couldn’t recognize.
He stared at her with wide eyes.
“Hey, I’m …. sorry about last night, what I said, it was stupid. I was… I was just-” She stopped.
“Oscar, who’s that?” Yara pointed a stiff finger at the young woman in a wrinkled, over-sized t-shirt and underwear standing next to him, eyeing a silver ring wrapped around her bony finger.
Oscar looked baffled and reached out in an attempt to grab her shoulder and his voiced fumbled as he said, “Are you real?” She was taken aback by this and her brows furrowed, a chuckle escaping from her lips. “I just.. I just need to sit down right now. Who’s this lady in our house? It's late…”
“Yara, oh my god, where have you been?” He stood, his mouth agape. He tried again, only for his thoughts to stiffen at the bottom of his throat. “I thought you were dead.”
The lady wearing the ring next to Oscar stood for a few moments in a veil of confusion until something seemed to click. “Oh- Oscar, honey, this is Yara? Oh…” The woman reached for her phone sitting on the counter.
“Did I miss something, Oscar? Who is that?” She shifted her gaze to her boyfriend’s ring finger, only to see a ring identical to the one belonging to the woman standing next to him. The veil of intoxication ripped open and was sent reeling back over her head in a sharp rush. Everything was clearer. She noticed now; the wall was an eggshell white, different added objects she didn’t recognize. He started to inch closer to her, but all Yara could see was a stained glass image of a man with blood on his hands.
“What’s wrong with you, Oscar?”
“What’s wrong with me? What’s up with you storming out one night and not coming back until now, years later?” Oscar’s hands trembled at his sides and then reached for her again, his eyes lamenting the saffron body in front of him. “I waited for you a long time, Yara. Until I couldn’t anymore, and I just want to know if you’re okay now.”
“What the hell… Just because I left doesn't mean this is okay… you...”
Oscar’s eyes turned to hard candy, and Yara paused to hear the woman talking in a hushed voice to what she assumed to be the police. The person on the other side of the phone’s interrogation drawled on. Oscar ran a hand through his curls and seemed to sigh so deeply his lung’s must’ve turned inside out. “Okay, just sit down? Please. Do you want something to eat? Anything?” Yara exhaled through her nostrils stiffly. “Oscar. I know I was rash, but I’ve been gone what, like, a day-”
“Yara, it’s been seven years!”
He spat the words out like gum on a sidewalk, and they lived and breathed like perfume inside of the room and immediately sewed themselves into Yara’s membrane. She was struck silent for a few seconds, trying to make sense of what was happening. She tried to say something, anything, but she could only choke on her words and drink her vocabulary dry at this point; anything she tried to wring out of her throat would only sink to her stomach.
“What? Are you serious?” She choked, feeling her headache coming back on. Yara looked back at him; it was like a long piece of his thread was being slowly unwound, every second she was present. She met the clock’s glance and suddenly it wasn’t the blue martini’s foggy stupor encircling her anymore; something else encompassed her blurring vision. Her head grew heavy.
“You’re legally dead.” Oscar tried to look at her as hard as he could, as if she could possibly slip away again in a matter of seconds. “Here, just stay and let me call your mother-”
“I can go notify my own damn mother I’m not missing,” Yara lowered her voice as she spoke. Her eyes fogged with a film of tears and Yara tumbled her way past Oscar and through the door.
Once she was far enough, she looked out onto the highway, full of speeding cars. She was alone. She caught the cold night air in her throat. The images flashed in her head: frames of flipping gold tokens, ditsy music, and the multicolored twinkle of rusty slot games, like a light in the near distance. The balmy Arizona night was absent of anything like it; she missed the smell of smoke.
Yara later showed up on her mother’s dewy doorstep, the only place she knew to go. Her moon-eyed mother knew nothing else but to tremble in shock and only squeeze her daughter tighter between joyous sobs.
“I brought you a gift,” she chuckled weakly, holding up her money briefcase. Her mother laughed and kissed her on the forehead before ushering her into the house and bombarding her with questions so concerned and sincere that Yara didn’t mind at all.
The smudged plop of unblended foundation still sat pasted on her palm. She grimaced. A dirty martini sounded nice right about then. Sitting alone in her old bedroom, her weight pressed the pearly mattress and its stale bedsheets into a different mold. Yara tried to sink but felt herself bobbing up at the bed’s surface like a block of ice. Neon flourescent light dripped onto her face through window blinds, she rolled over again and again until the blankets swaddled her warmly enough to forget through sleep.
That night she dreamed of a desert, one haunted with the distant sound of a clock ticking; a familiar sound. She blinked and there was the Tiger Lily in the far distance, rebuilding itself, brick by magical brick. In a frenzy it hung its signs back up and bordered itself again with neon lights, offering Yara an inviting smile. Her old Ford appeared in a sandy wisp all at once, seated in the low dunes. A key materialized in her hand; Yara held it up to face a blue desert moon, the moon’s glint of blue light reflecting off the key onto her hand, a small gust of wind lifting spare sand off her metal talisman.
The desert breeze met her and wrapped around her face, running past her ears into her hair like a lover’s fingers. Her heart swelled. As Yara put the key into ignition in the car and inched closer and closer to the magnificent, materializing casino, the dust began to clear and everything only felt all the more real with each second she approached it.