When I was young, I read and enjoyed literary fiction. When I began writing, I dreamed of creating the Next Great American Novel. I pictured a tome about people and their lives and what it all means. The problem is, most of these stories come to either a bad or at best, a neutral end.
I need all's well to end well.
I've written one tale that did not contain my humor. Even now when I read it, I'm not even certain I recognize my own voice. Yet I know I wrote it. I won an online contest with it. It's called Quarter Life.
* * * * *
Whoever said deserts were hot had never been to Vegas in February. Reuben shrank into his borrowed jacket, away from the morning chill. As he did, something shiny caught his attention.
He reached down to the curb, his cold, stiff fingers trying to grasp the object. Stuck to the pavement, it seemed to be glued by the flotsam and jetsam of Las Vegas, layers of dirt and grease and human bondage. His fingernails dug at the hard edge until he pried the silvery coin loose from the concrete.
A quarter, one of the new ones. Reuben flipped it over and saw horses, running from the sunrise. Nevada, the Silver State, it said.
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 he couldn't wander, penniless, through the slot machines. The employees knew him too well; they had asked him to leave.
He had spotted Carl, the night manager, walking through the poker slots. Reuben knew Carl, knew the way he'd start a friendly conversation that would end with, "Want me to call the shelter, Buddy?" As he headed toward the door, Reuben saw a windbreaker draped on a chair.
"This place owes me," he had mumbled to himself, and casually picked up the jacket as he exited.
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 in return, 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." His words drifted 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. "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.
* * * * *
Sad, yes? And yet I find some weird hope in it, in that Reuben believes this might be the magic coin sent to save him.
If I wrote fantasy, I might make this coin truly magic and take Reuben on a journey to redeem himself.
This is why I'll never write that great novel.