[ Jenny 4th place]
THE WISHFUL MIEN
All of it was making her sick. The casino's noise, smoke and blearing lights in the back of her mind; this was not her world. These were not her people.
"I'm glad you came to dinner with us, Grace." Frank Wyatt's unwelcome hands crept around her waist. His voice belched in her ears. Steak, garlic, and tequila wafted up her nostrils.
"I'm speechless with gratitude. There's nothing left to say except; get your hands off me, Frank." The rest of the small crowd at the green baize table chuckled. That was the extent of their attention. Too much of the game was at stake to lift their eyes to the erstwhile couple.
Frank took the opportunity, and the lack of attention to grope farther. One hand tried to probe the vee at her pelvic juncture.
She grabbed his wrist with a bone-crushing grip, brought it to her mouth, and bit hard.
He spun away in pain, spurting bright red blood.
"I think she got his digital artery. Yep. Bright red, tiny little spurt." speculated the fellow standing next to Frank. "You ought to be lucky it wasn't your carotid, old man!" said another who laughed out loud at Frank's distress." "Frankie, better not mess with a woman who has bigger biceps than yours." Another offered advice. These were all her dinner partners. She wasn't too keen about being the only woman in the group.
A casino attendant rushed to Frank's assistance. " Sir! Could I get you a doctor?"
" I am a doctor, you twit! So are these other gentlemen, who are so helpfully giving me advice! So is the ----- person who inflicted this trauma."
I think now would be a good time for me to leave." Grace whispered to the one who made an accurate assessment of her biceps. She turned to leave, and was smacked on the behind.
"Good show, old girl! We were wondering when Frankie was gonna get his!" She turned to confront the next offender, but couldn't tell which of her smiling colleagues gave her the last send off. "It was him!" they all seemed to say, pointing to each other.
"Buncha' losers!" She spat back. Losers they were: The cashier at the green baize tables announced the total winnings. "...one hundred thousand won at this table, ladies and gentlemen, by the young' man seated at my left!"
An elderly oriental gentleman barely smiled as the attendants in the casino raised him on their shoulders and paraded him around the room.
By this time , Grace was at the door asking the doorman "Do they do this every time?"
"Every time it's a big enough winner, of course. It so happens this fellow also won last night. 22 million mega-bucks lottery. Maybe that's why he's hardly cracking a smile. I'd still be stunned!"
Grace just stared. "Isn't there any good fortune other than winning money? I don't think he looks too happy."
"He'll perk up. Just think how you would feel after winning all that!"
"Like taking a long walk, I suppose, or like running away. I"d be afraid that all my friends would want me for my money."
The Doorman's eyes scanned the silver-tissue gown Grace wore. The lights from all the neon in the vicinity reflected in every movement she made. "Madam, I don't think you have any cause to worry about that."
"Correct. I'm no gamester." She ignored the compliment. " I think I'm in the mood for a walk . Any suggestions?"
"Fremont street, Lucky Lady, just turn to the left three blocks from here. Stay with a crowd. You are less likely to be accosted..."
"I'll do fine. No one will bother me." She stomped away determinedly.
After 3 blocks of hiking in silver sandals, albeit a few blisters, she was amused by the shops, still open in the late evening. She passed the dress shop, the jewelry store, but walked directly into the art and antiques shop: The Wishful Mein.
" I'm amazed! Art and Antiques? There is room for such a business in this town?" She addressed a tall robust man with salt-and-pepper hair trimmed just below his ears. His ice-gray eyes had too much depth for Grace to peer into, and his beard hid a shy smile only slightly. She decided she could safely pursue a conversation. " Shouldn't that be spelled m-i-n-d, or m-i-n-e?"
"Nope. I always want people to wonder what's on my m-i-e-n."
"I take it you aren't a gamester, either?"
"OhLet's just say I've occasionally spun straw into gold." He smiled and resumed hammering a frame together. "Matter of fact is..." He looked up from his work with a sly smile. "...most of the big winners have been through here many times." He looked askance, not sure if she would believe such a tall tale.
She didn't. "Oh. I get it. You rely on superstition. ...buy my wares; they'll make you lucky...' Is that it?"
"Everyone comes in here goes out a winner specially if I tell em so."
"Maybe you don't." He eyed her so pointedly, that she became uncomfortable. "Maybe you don't know you're one of em?"
"You know, I'm not likely to run right out and throw my money on the table at this advice!"
Intent on showing all of her scepticism, she ended the conversation by edging toward the portrait displays.
The portrait of a small child caught her attention. So much life and light in the girl's expression. Her emotions were caught by the artist with photographic precision. Dark eyes smiled, but the determined stance and the way she clutched two protesting kittens, was caught with stop-action precision. Fuzzy, blonde ringlets spilled over a white lace collar, contrasting with a dark green dress.
"I see our Janey' has caught your eye."
"Are you the artist?"
"No." he smiled when she spun around to face him. Too close, she backed away instantly. "But I could ask the artist if she'll sell."
"She displays, but won't sell? Ask if I could get a photographic copy. This is too precious! It's more than cute; it's chaotic!" Her amusement rippled outward in quiet laughter. "It's as if she just wrestled the kittens at the last moment before the scene was captured." She held the portrait up to eye-level, looking for the artist's signature. "Janey Lynn." The need to have the portrait was overpowering. " I must have this little girl for my own! How much is it? How much does she want? I'll pay the price she wants. Just name it!" The art salesman, already on the phone, signaled for quiet. Grace listened.
"... you will?" He whispered into the phone. "What made you change your mind?" He waited silently on the phone. "How much?" He breathed deeply. "This time, I really think you're nuts!" He turned to Grace, paused, not sure how he would say it. "She wants $2400."
Grace, stunned for all of 30 seconds, madly searched through her evening bag for her credit card. "This will do, won't it?" She slapped the card on the nearby counter.
He spoke again to the artist. "I have a winner for your Sweet Janey'." He whistled into the phone then hung up.
"Talk about winners, little Janey looks like one." Grace couldn't keep the eagerness out of her voice. "I'd like to take her with me tonight, never mind shipping. No, never mind wrapping. I just couldn't tolerate her being confined."
"At least let me call you a cab."
Another moment later, the art salesman shut the door of the taxi, waving bye' to the Janey-portrait and Grace.
"Yep. Knew it all along. Knew it in my knower'. Tonight was a night for another winner." He smiled smugly and returned to the shop as the taxi melted into the neon mix of lights down the strip.
The trip to her hotel only took minutes, but fatigue began to overshadow her pleasure at acquiring the sought after portrait. It seemed bigger and heavier as she hauled it from the taxi to the elevator.
"Phshew! Must be getting hotter. Maybe I'm just getting tired, Janey." She spoke to the portrait as the elevator rode skyward to the 23rd floor.
"A quick shower. Maybe read a little." She rambled as she slipped the key-pass into the door-lock. Inside the room, she placed the portrait on the dresser.
"If I had it to do over again, Janey Lynn, I'd have one just like you." This wish finally uttered, Grace fell across the bed and slept, neither showering, nor reading.
Dreams of running and playing plagued Grace all night. She tried desperately to open her eyes several times. Her dream spilled over into reality as she realized someone's child was running loose in the corridor. No. Someone's child was running in her room.
Someone's child just bounded up onto Grace's bed. Grace, screaming, was certain she was in the depths of a nightmare.
"Mommie! Where's breakfast? I'm hungry! Mac and Zac are hungry!"
Grace peeled her eyelids open wider. "I must be dreaming." Words just fell from her mouth.
"I'm dreaming too! Mac, Zac and me! All of us dreaming!" The little blond 4-year-old whispered conspiratorially. "It's lotsa fun to dream."
"Whose...?" Grace was afraid to ask. "Whose little girl are you?'
"Yours!" Janey chirped, as if to respond to a frequently played game, and bounced off the bed in pursuit of two energetic kittens.
Grace reached for the phone, intending to call the front desk. Hand poised over the phone, she couldn't think of a rational thing to say, and she didn't want to sound like an idiot.
"Mommie..." She stumbled over the word like a schizophrenic having an identity crisis. "...is going to take that shower. Just be good awhile and I'll take you with me" She had to think where. "-- to the art store. That's it!" She slammed the shower door shut as Janey caught the kittens.
"We'll be so good, Mommie!" Was barely heard over the noise of the shower.
The mental struggle ensued.
"The kid and kittens are real enough. Ergo, I'm the mother. Right? I'm suffering delusions. I'm cracking up. Soon as I get home, I promise to see a psychiatrist." Her voice echoed in the steamy bathroom. Cautiously opening the bathroom door, she checked to see if the game of tag was still in progress.
No sign of activity. No racing child or kittens. Merely a quiet portrait of Janey. Patiently waiting. Cats too.
" I really am going to see a doctor." she promised the portrait.