In the Light of Day

By Gayle Carline

     Darn this cold. Reuben stood and lifted the col­lar on his bor­rowed jacket. Even the glare of a new day’s sun was not enough to ban­ish the chill. Where was every­body? Some­thing shiny caught his attention.

     He reached down to the curb, cold stiff fin­gers try­ing to pick up the metal object. It seemed to be stuck to the pave­ment, glued by the flot­sam and jet­sam of city life, lay­ers of dirt and grease and human bondage. His fin­ger­nails dug at the hard edge until he man­aged to pry the sil­very coin loose from the concrete.

      A quar­ter — he rec­og­nized it as he straight­ened. One of the new ones, Reuben flipped it over and saw the horses, run­ning from the sun­rise. Nevada, the Sil­ver State, it said.

      High, stac­cato music from the casino beck­oned him fran­ti­cally, urgently, aton­ally. He had just left Buf­falo Bill’s, hav­ing kissed his last dol­lar good-bye. From expe­ri­ence, he knew that he couldn’t wan­der, pen­ni­less, through the slot machines and tables for very long. The employ­ees knew him too well; they’d ask him to leave sooner or later. He’d like it to be later, since his short-sleeved polo shirt didn’t keep him very warm at five in the morn­ing. Not in Vegas.

      He had spot­ted Carl, the night man­ager, walk­ing through the poker slots. Reuben knew Carl well, knew the way he’d start a friendly con­ver­sa­tion that would end with, “Buddy, I think it’s time you went home. Want me to call the shel­ter?” As he headed toward the door, Reuben had seen a wind­breaker draped on a chair.

      “This place owes me some­thing for all the money I’ve spent here,” he had mum­bled to him­self, and casu­ally picked up the jacket as he exited the building.

      A car horn blasted his eardrums as tires kicked up gut­ter water onto his stained chi­nos. The taxi woke Reuben from his trance, a dark-skinned dri­ver herd­ing him away from the well-dressed, well-drunk cus­tomers with a yell. Reuben waved his hand angrily and yelled some­thing back, unin­tel­li­gi­ble even to him.

      He stared back down at the quar­ter. Three years ago, he’d come here with ten thou­sand dol­lars and a plan to turn it into more. With Vegas’ help, he was going to buy back his house, buy back his fam­ily, buy back his life. Vegas was sup­posed to save him.

      It only took a week to break him.

      “How you doing tonight?” Carl asked, lay­ing his hand on Reuben’s shoul­der. “You need a ride to the shel­ter, buddy?”

      Reuben turned and stared through him. He used to be able to talk to peo­ple, but he just couldn’t see anyone’s face anymore.

      “How about I give you a voucher for break­fast?” Carl reached into his pocket. “You look like you could use a hot meal.”

      Reuben con­tin­ued to stare. “I got a quar­ter,” he said, his words drift­ing at the manager.

      “That’s great, buddy. You put that in your pocket, and I’ll get you some breakfast.”

      “I got a quar­ter.” The sen­tence became a prayer.

       Carl sighed. He loved his job, loved watch­ing the peo­ple hav­ing fun, and hated what it did to guys like Reuben.

      “Okay, buddy. Let’s go pick a machine for you.”

      “I got a quar­ter,” Reuben repeated, fol­low­ing the man­ager back into the casino. A Nevada quar­ter, he thought. It was karma. It was fate.

      This time it would be different.


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