WHOSE DOLLAR, WHOSE DREAM? - CINDY ROSMUS
“Stay tuned,” the TV announcer said, “for tonight’s Pick-6, at eleven!”
Raoul pulled Lisa close. “If we win, we’re set for life, Mami!”
We? she thought. It was my dollar. Still, she enjoyed his closeness, how his curly dark hair brushed her cheek. His masculine but sweet scent.
Lots of her dollars had bought his Drakkar Noir and the butter-soft leather jacket. Her dollars were paying for their drinks, here at Bar 13.
Al, the owner, poured Raoul another shot of Petron. Smiling, he pointed to Lisa’s soaked bills. She felt Raoul nod. “Another beer?” Al asked her.
“Why not?” She snuggled closer to Raoul. Hey, he was hers, same as her spike-heeled boots, and the mole on her cheek. She looked great for forty-five, and he made her feel younger. Fuck anybody who didn’t like it: Al, and the regulars who eyed them, smirking.
Like Speed, whose junkie wife snatched purses and was banned from half the bars in town. And antsy Bobby C., who Lisa heard was a registered sex offender.
Yeah, let them cast stones.
“A hundred mil,” Al said. Tonight, his tiny ponytail made him look cool, less Tony Soprano-ish . “How much did you play?” he deliberately asked Raoul, who had no answer.
“A buck,” Lisa said. “That’s all it takes.”
“That’s right,” Raoul said wisely. “A dollar, and a dream.”
Whose dollar? Lisa thought. Whose dream?
Much as she dug him, it bugged her he never paid for shit. That he couldn’t keep a job. For a few days, he’d work, trudging home covered with paint, or grime, looking so miserable. For like ten bucks an hour. Then he’d quit.
I’m worth more, Baby, he always said. Lots more. There’s this guy...
Yeah, yeah, Lisa thought, sipping her beer. Who can make you a Boilermaker...
Same old shit. Imaginary friends with magic tickets to high-paying jobs. Might as well play Lotto.
All her life, she’d been surrounded by gamblers. In Atlantic City, her mom had dropped dead at the blackjack table. When Lisa’s dad died, his rooms were papered with losing Lotto tickets. Lisa’s ex-boyfriend had been a bookie.
But this one...
With Raoul, every set of numbers had meaning. Phone numbers, birthdates: theirs, his nieces’, the date his sainted mother passed, his first “date” with Lisa (“When you sucked my dick,” he said, leering, “outside the bar.”). All day long, Raoul played numbers and scratch-offs.
With my money, Lisa thought, again.
“Where’s your baby girl?” Raoul asked Al. Sophia, the night bartender, he meant.
The side door buzzed open. “’S about time,” Al muttered, when his daughter walked in.
“He-ey!” Raoul said. Lisa stiffened.
Sophia was just twenty-one. You could smell it. Baby-faced, with tanned skin, smooth as a baby’s ass. An impossibly white smile, and dyed blonde hair. And that fucking body...
Lisa’s heart sunk, as Raoul sat up straight on his stool. Like he’s not with me, Lisa thought. Or he is, but...
Doesn’t want to be.
“Why you always late?” Raoul asked Sophia, who giggled. Lisa clenched her teeth. “Keep your old Popi waiting...”
“Who, me?” Al snickered. Lisa was thinking the same thing.
“I had to play Lotto.” Sophia tossed a fat batch of tickets on the bar. “Before eight. A hundred million tonight.”
“Get out!” Raoul said, so sincerely, Lisa almost kicked him. “That much, baby?”
Smiling, Sophia nodded.
“If I knew, I would’ve played.”
Lisa felt everybody’s eyes on her. In her jeans pocket, she clutched her ticket, possessively. She felt like crying.
“Tell you what,” Raoul purred, leaning across the bar. “You win, we split, fifty-fifty.”
“Fuck you!” Sophia laughed. “Kick in for half the tickets...maybe.”
Before he could even try snatching it, Lisa swept up her money and hid it behind her back.
Al and Speed howled with laughter.
Raoul pretended to search his pockets. As Sophia walked away, laughing, he whispered to Lisa, “I was kidding, bitch.”
Lisa dumped the money back on the bar.
He was kidding, she told herself. I’m a flirt, Raoul had warned her, when they first hooked up. Before he’d moved his “underwears” in her drawer. I love womens, Baby. But...he’d sworn, I will never disrespect you.
Lips pursed, Raoul was eyeing Sophia’s ass. With her spiked heel, Lisa tried spearing his leg, but he moved in time.
“Petron!” Raoul ordered. He felt for Lisa’s hand, and she relaxed, finally. “I tell you my boy might come down?” he asked Lisa. “Vic. The Boilermaker.”
“No.” Lisa was watching Sophia in action.
As she poured shots for Lisa and Raoul, she poured one for herself, without asking.
“Buy the bar,” Lisa said, smiling. She squeezed Raoul’s hand tightly. “I feel lucky tonight.”
“If you won,” little Lisa asked her mom, “what would you do with all that money?”
Mom’s look made her cringe. “Do?” The ashtray went flying. “What do you think I’d do with it?”
“Buy a new car?” Lisa said. Theirs was so old, the neighbors laughed.
“Why?” Mom said. “So you can steal it someday?” She retrieved the ashtray, lit another cigarette. “Run off with some guy?”
“A big house?” Lisa looked away. “Or a mink coat?” she said hopefully.
“Shut your mouth!” When Mom grabbed her, Lisa gasped. “You know what I’d do!” Mom said.
Lisa’s head spun, as Mom shook her. “Make an orphanage, for lost babies!” Mom yelled. “Send money to starving kids...in Africa.”
The slap stung Lisa’s cheek. She whimpered.
“Kids who’d be grateful,” Ma went on, “for a bowl of rice...”
Now if I won, Lisa thought, as the Petron hit her, I’d...
What would she want?
A BMW? Nah. She’d never learned to drive. Besides...he’d be driving it.
As Raoul looked up from the pool table, his smile melted her. If he’s smiling at me, she thought.
“Don’t smile at him,” Al muttered to Sophia. “Guy’s a fucking leech.”
“He tips good.”
“She tips good,” Al corrected. “Give her a fucking drink.”
When the fresh beer appeared, Lisa didn’t thank Sophia, or even smile.
One day at their gym, Lisa was on the leg press, with Sophia beside her, on the leg extension machine. In between sets, Sophia swung her feet like a little girl. Without knowing why, Lisa wanted to hack off those swinging feet, leaving bloody stumps.
Now she knew why.
Not once, in the six months she’d been with Raoul, had Lisa felt...well, in charge. “Mami,” he’d say, “Buy me scratch-offs?” Or... “I’m outta smokes.” When he was out of beer, he guzzled Lisa’s good wine. Last night, he’d popped the Moet she’d been saving for Valentine’s Day. “You got robbed!” he said. “It’s not even sweet.”
OK, she was a fool. But if she didn’t pay his way, somebody else would! Raoul was the best fuck, ever. Just watching him play pool got her wet. In his black leather, he was lean, panther-like. Sexually, he was a perfect fit for her. With him, nothing was too wild, too kinky.
So if it cost her a few extra bucks...
All day long, she worked hard, for her money. But him...
What did he do all day?
Hours, he spent, at Bar 13; she paid his bar tab. But it was never that big.
And Sophia worked nights...
Again, the TV flashed the Pick-6 drawing.
“One more hour,” Speed said, “And somebody’s a rich motherfucker.”
“Maybe you,” Al said. Speed shrugged.
“If I won that money...” Al folded his arms behind his head. “What would I buy?”
A big house? Lisa thought, from out of nowhere. A mink...
“Mmmmm...” Al didn’t look over, when the side door buzzed open.
“My man!” Raoul yelled, when the guy came in.
“I know I’d sell this fucking place,” Al said, but Lisa was eyeing Raoul’s friend.
A walking cannoli, he looked like, about Raoul’s size. He checked out everybody in the bar, before sizing up Lisa.
That’s her, she bet he was thinking. That’s the meal ticket.
When Raoul whispered in his ear, he smirked over in Sophia’s direction, and jabbed a cigarette in his mouth.
“No smoking in here,” Al said. “State law.” Like Raoul’s friend was a dumb piece of shit. “Smoke out back.”
“Be right back,” Sophia told Al, who trudged to the end of the bar.
“If I won the Pick-6,” Speed told Lisa, “I’d pay to get my wife whacked.”
As they walked out, Lisa saw Raoul rub Sophia’s back, in a too-familiar way. Drunk or not, tears burned Lisa’s eyes.
“Not shot,” Speed said. “Hacked to pieces. Like some drooling psycho killed her.”
Lisa was still watching the side door. She heard Speed gulp his beer.
“There’s guys who’ll do it that way,” he added. “For extra bucks.”
“Speed,” Lisa said, “Is Raoul fucking her?”
He took too long to answer.
“I knew it,” she said softly.
Tears slid down her cheeks. She was aware of everything around her: Al’s fucking with the ice, the crack of balls on the pool table. “Stay tuned for the Pick-6, at eleven!” the TV announced.
As the side door opened, she wiped her face, hurriedly.
“Vic,” Raoul said, when they got back, “this is my woman, Lisa.”
“He-ey,” Vic said. His predatory leer should’ve pissed Raoul off. Gigolo or not, Raoul was one jealous fuck. But he was busy acting all cutesy with Sophia.
“I love black hair,” Vic said, about Lisa’s. She wasn’t surprised when he ran his hand through it. This guy, she thought, can be bought.
Vic bought Lisa both a beer and shot. Something Raoul never did. “Salud!” Vic said, and they gulped their shots.
As hers hit her, Lisa felt giddy, and warm, from within. Like her body was a pizza oven, or...
A crematorium, she thought. Strangely, she giggled.
“So you’re a Boilermaker?” she asked Vic.
His smile vanished, but just for a second. “That’s right.”
Peeking over, Lisa saw Raoul nuzzle Sophia. You fuck, she thought.
“’Scuse me,” Vic said, and went over to Raoul.
Speed leaned over Lisa. “Think I was kidding?” he said, drunkenly, “about axing my wife? Some fucks’ll...”
Lisa caught Sophia’s eye, and the girl looked away.
“...Do it for the joy of it!”
On Vic’s way back, Speed added, “Pickaxe, chainsaw. You call the shots.”
“Hey, Vic,” Lisa said, “You do any side jobs?”
His eyes narrowed. “Like what?”
A blast of jukebox music made them jump. Lady Gaga.
“Shut that off!” Al yelled. “The Pick-6 is on!”
“Get your tickets out!” Bobby C. yelled, on his way back from the pool table.
“Watch that fuck win,” Al muttered, to Lisa, as she pulled out her ticket. “Fucking child-fondling...”
As Sophia spread her tickets out on the bar, Raoul looked guiltily over at Lisa.
You fuck, Lisa thought. For spite, she squeezed Vic’s arm.
“What kind of side job?” Vic said. “Painting? Construction?”
You’re no Boilermaker, she thought. You’re...
The redhead Lotto queen smiled. “And the first number is...”
Six, Lisa prayed.
“Shit!” somebody yelled.
“I got six, on one of these.” Sophia’s tickets were all over the place. Raoul leaned over, to help her check them.
“And...the next number is...twenty-eight!”
Yes, Lisa thought. Around her, the others searched their own tickets wildly.
Damn, Lisa thought. All three, she had! She felt Vic eyeing her ticket, and she covered it.
“If you win, I’ll marry you,” he told her.
“I got nineteen on two of these,” Sophia said. “Dad, see if there’s a twenty-eight somewhere.”
Al wasn’t moving. “It ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“Eleven!” the Lotto queen said.
Lisa peeked at her ticket. Oh, man, she thought. Her heart swelled.
“My age,” Al said. Speed laughed.
Lisa’s heart would pop any second. I’m dreaming, she thought. It can’t be...
“And the last number is...thirteen!”
Sophia threw down her tickets. “Shit!” Bobby C. said.
“No cursing!” Al snarled. “You fucking pedophile!”
Lisa’s head was still spinning. Shut your mouth, she heard, as if from beyond the grave.
And this time, she would listen.
She dropped the ticket on the bar.
“No luck?” Vic said.
A big house, Lisa thought, a mink...
When he wasn’t looking, she slipped the ticket in her bra.
A pickaxe...a chainsaw...
As Raoul and Sophia sneaked a kiss, Lisa pulled Vic close. “No-ooo,” she told him. “Not a paint job.”
He leaned against the bar, gave her an ear.
“Something more creative,” she whispered.
BIO: Cindy is a New York textbook editor by day, a hardboiled Jersey female by night. Her fiction has appeared in Black Petals, The Beat, The Cynic, Red Fez, Zygote in My Coffee, Hardboiled, NVF, MediaVirus, Mysterical-E, The Monsters Next Door, Out of the Gutter, Devil Blossoms, 13th Warrior Review, and Beat to a Pulp. She has four collections of stories out: Angel of Manslaughter, Gutter Balls, Calpurnia’s Window, and No Place Like Home. She is the editor of the e-zine, Yellow Mama. She is also a thrill seeker, a Gemini, and a Christian.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
11 hours ago