I caught her out of the corner of my eye just as the video poker machine dealt me Trip Eights. I was only playing the machine for a few minutes to clear $75 in Bonus Slot Dollars the Revel Casino had granted me as part of a promotion. She was dressed in a white and purple blouse, with a lavender skirt that was clinging to her hips like a Titanic passenger to a lifeboat. She stopped to watch when I hit the "Deal" button and whistled softly when I hit another eight to make Quads and 125 credit payout. "You're lucky" she smiled. "You brought me that luck" I said, returning her smile and holding her gaze long enough to demonstrate that I wasn't intimidated by her beauty. She was a short medium brown skinned stunner with shoulder length hair and a thick Spanish accent that could only mean that she was from the Dominican Republic. And before I patted the empty seat next to me to suggest she sit down, I already knew that she had been gambling and had probably lost all her money. I asked her for her name . . .
Which immediately brought to mind a late Spring night night four years ago when I was playing a $5 Jacks or Better machine in the Taj Mahal Casino and this pretty Puerto Rican chick in her mid-thirties had sat down to play the machine next to me. She was hitting the buttons with an air of desperation I had never seen before and spitting out the word "Coño" like it was sunflower seeds when her draws missed. I said "Hi" and she said "Hi" and she had lost her last credits and was watching me play for a few minutes when I hit a straight flush, which was a 250 credit payout, at $5 a credit. Her eyes lit up like Harrahs Water Tower at night. We started talking and I decided to cash out and asked her if she wanted a drink. We soon found ourselves upstairs at the Starbucks, me sipping a Grandé Earl Grey and her a Peppermint Latte. She had gone broke playing the machines and didn't know how she was going to pay for gas and tolls to get back home, which was up north in Jersey City.
As the son of a heroin addict I have a strict rule about not dating women with any kind of addiction issues and I especially steer clear of women with gambling problems. I also have always had a thing about how my name is pronounced-always with one syllable, so it rhymes with "soul", never, ever with two, so it rhymes with "Noel." But, I'm not going to lie. The first time she parted her glossed lips with the two syllables of my name, I knew she could articulate it anyway she wished and I wasn't going to be correcting her. Her eyes were amber as a shot of rum pierced by sunlight and almost as intoxicating. One thing lead to another and we found ourselves up in my room in the Chairman Tower.
I was with this woman for ten minutes, before she put the warmth of her hands under my T-shirt and twirled my knobs until the volume of my sighs were maxed out. It was as if she had been up all night studying the book of me; in ten minutes time she had figured out things that my last girlfriend of eight years had never known. Sometimes, a person just has your number and she seemed to have mine on Speed Dial. As a kid, I had always lamented the softness of my hands, but there are times when that is advantageous. My 15 years of spinning records have left me with a manual dexterity and lightness of touch that is uncommon in men with such large and powerful hands and being such a believer in reciprocity, I wasn't going to be satisfied until I had made her moan in at least two languages.
Somewhere in there, I promised her money for gas and tolls and she promised me she wouldn't use the money to gamble. Some people will roll their eyes and say that what we made wasn't love- and maybe they're right. But we at least made music. The kind of music the wind makes on winter nights when the last leaf on the branch still trembles in its wake. She stayed for breakfast the next morning at the buffet in the Borgata and when she said "Thank you, Papi" and fetched and buttered my biscuits, I was thinking that I could get used to this. She had two kids and was separated from her husband, he had quit gambling and they had split when she wouldn't. She had a good job and liked to come to AC on the weekends to relax. Even though she had promised not to gamble with the $100 I had given her, I had seen her eyeing the machines as we walked through the casino and knew what the deal was.
She texted me later on to say thank you, and that on her way out she had gotten lucky and won all her money back. I saw her the next weekend and many after that, but only on the weekends. She'd text me when she hit town and we'd meet up, usually after she had dusted off whatever funds she had brought with her, although sometimes it was after she'd won. And there was something about the coconut scent her hair left in my pillows that kept her presence fresh. Months went by and we fell into a familiar groove, she practiced me like a child practices their multiplication tables and I studied her like the grammar of a complex language.
One night, when we were lying in the dark and our breathing had just returned back to its normal rate, she turned and asked if she could ask me a question? I said "Of course", and she told me that her husband wanted them to get back together, but this would of course mean that she would have to give up gambling, what did I think she should do? Now I got more issues than Readers Digest, but everybody knows that if you ask me a question, I tell you what I think. Straight, no chaser. For better or worse, it's how I am and have always been. There was a long pause, filled with the kind of silence one finds in jars that haven't been opened in years. A famous Pop song once said "If you love someone, set them free." I asked her if she'd ever had a winning year gambling and before she said no, she already knew where I stood.
She turned around and kissed me, long and slow, her tongue going through all the rooms of my mouth, almost as if searching all the closets and drawers, making certain it hadn't left anything behind. We kissed and then we held each other in the dark, the way a candle holds its wick, unwaveringly. Somewhere in there I fell asleep. Morning greeted me with the shock of sunlight and the first thing I noticed was that the bed next to me was empty. She always stayed for breakfast, so I assumed she was in the bathroom. I lay there silently, listening for the sound of the shower or the toilet, but there was nothing.
After a few minutes, I got up and knocked on the half open bathroom door. There was no answer, so I pushed it aside to find nothing, no one. Just the quiet 'O' of an empty roll of toilet paper. I looked up and there across the mirror, written in lipstick, was a single cursive word. Gracías. The 'I' dotted with a tiny heart. I stared into the center of the heart, but found only my own reflection. I decided not to call her until she called me first. I never heard from her again.
Back at the Revel, the Dominicana had said her name, but lost in thought, I had missed it. "Yocasta" she said, pronouncing the first consonant the way we say the letter "J" in English. "Yocasta?" I repeated. "My name begins with the same sound" I said. "What's your name?" she asked. I said "Joel." "Jo-el?" she said, the second syllable rolling off her lips almost as if it were the Dominican word for God.
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet, (and dusted with cinnamon.)