Steward announces landing. Nan tightens her seatbelt,
tries to breathe. Sweet girl, somewhat fearful, a dove, not
splendid. Latter-day flower child,
Nan believes in kindness, healing.
Her career, massage, bodywork for pets,
kneeling on the floor stroking tumored Labrador
Retrievers, injured cats. She’s flying from Seattle
to join her boyfriend Thomas.
He’s been here a week, phoned, asked
her to join him, party, get married
at a cute little chapel (Viva Las Vegas,
or Little White Wedding). Tom’s a honey, blond high-
lights, wool sweater, great kisser…
She can’t quite believe her luck;
this gorgeous guy ignoring stares of lus-
cious women in bars, supporting her career, wanting
marriage, children. She hasn’t called her parents, just
told her friends she’d be away
this weekend, hugging excitement
close. But when she exits from the gate, he’s
not there to meet her (phone’s not answering). She waits
on the blazing sidewalk, finally hails a cab.
He’s not at Circus Circus,
but left a message for her to wait…
guaranteed the room with her credit card.
Breakfast buffet, All You Can Eat is included,
as is striped wallpaper, big-top peak headboard, red
balloon lights. In his backpack
she finds the joint she’s looking for,
lights up. An hour of Animal Cops, Food
Network, she can’t sit here a moment longer (Tom,
Tom the baker’s son, stole my heart and away he run),
goes out looking. Taking cabs
past Bellagio (rare
water coaxed into falls, fountains), looks
among palms at the Mirage, under Elvis’
statue in the Hilton. Stops beside plunging plaster
horses to mount the colonnade
of Caesar’s Palace. Slave girls, draped
in lamé, tasseled gold bras, plumed
headdresses, offer trays piled with frosted grapes. She’s sewed
a dress to marry in, but wanders the Forum,
bear the weight of coffered
ceilings, iron banisters, Burberry,
Versace, Roberto Cavalli. Tourists in jeans
like herself, but also some bee-stung lip elegance
sliding Appian Way. Houndstooth
cigarette pants, butterscotch
retro bomber jacket. Stiletto
heels. Long crystal earrings, even thin crystal rope
twined in her piled blond hair. What Nan made will just not do.
In Max Mara, she finds
a simple shift of ivory silk
with jeweled halter, scarf. For a moment
she sees herself as Venus—nails done, hair streaked, sown
with diamond clips, jeweled sandals, Botox maybe.
Dress doesn’t quite flatter
her tiny breasts, narrow hips,
this dress she can’t possibly afford.
Maybe she could make some money? I’ll be back when
I win big, she promises; salesgirl smiles wanly.
At the end of the Strip,
in Luxor’s dark pyramid,
Nan plays blackjack in Eternity Bar.
Winning at first, waiters in striped wig-covers
keep the free daiquiris flowing. Men in wheelchairs,
tethered to oxygen carts,
enter like pilgrims at Lourdes.
Winning is their miracle. Winding her way
back from charging another hundred on her Visa,
she misses her charm bracelet, Tom’s gift. Tiny hands,
Golden Retriever, lucky dice.
She crawls under the table,
but it’s not there. Suddenly sober, finds
her wallet empty, credit card two thousand down.
She opens the hotel room door to a strange scent,
blond wig hanging from the knob,
open bag of white powder
on the desk. Below the mirrored ceiling,
Tom blinks naked in red balloon light. Damn, he says
I forgot you were coming. Behind him, also
rising on her elbows, dark-haired
Nan, ten years younger, skinnier—
no, not twenty-five, maybe fifteen years old.
Her breasts are tiny shot-glasses, small snorts beneath
her black baby-doll. Hey Nan, meet your twin sister,
Tom slurs. Nan sees an endless line
of herself receding, each
smaller in a smaller frame. She will never
marry him, make little miniatures of herself
for him to use this way. Suddenly on her own,
too shocked, angry to cry
or plead—she’s a splendid
warrior, falcon, no longer Good Girl.
Okay, Nan says, I’ve lost a lot of money, my
head aches. I’m going home; don’t ever call me again.
She lunges for his wallet,
grabs all the cash, his copy
of her credit card. Piles together her things,
slams out of the room, leaves this place where you can be
a Goddess for a price. Falls asleep on the plane,
dry-mouthed, red-eyed, sore-hearted,
still she wakes smiling from a dream
about throwing balls for a three-legged
dog, all joy in retrieving. She says to her-
self: I’m going back without (I will not say his name),
back to my garden, my friends,
my life I love, which I will live
one small, tainted pleasure at a time.
Roberta P. Feins is an editor of Switched-on Gutenberg, one of the oldest online poetry magazines.