The Fortunate Lady
“How would you describe your dream experience?” the cheerful travel agent in the floral print shirt and white pants asked Daphne’s fiancé. “Are you interested in something exotic, a tropical island with a beach? Perhaps an adventure trip to the moon? Or there some exciting diving trips off the coast of Bali.”
Garrett looked at her with eager eyes, but Daphne quietly shook her head. Undeterred, the travel agent winked at her fiancé and continued: “Or how about a luxury shopping trip to the Aladdin’s Cave in Dubai. I hear it’s a desert jewel, a real treasure chest, where one can find all sorts of indulgences for one’s self. Does that interest the lady?”
Daphne looked down at her feet, which extended past her plain, ankle-length skirt. They were sheathed in brown, sensible shoes. She was not one to adorn her body with fancy clothes or jewelry, although her friends always told her she had the figure for it, even at her age. Truthfully, she had no sense for fashion and she hated to shop, as a rule.
“No, I’m afraid that doesn’t interest me, Mr. Cornelius,” she said. “I have very simple tastes.”
“Perhaps something a little more domestic might be better for us?” Garrett chimed in.
The travel agent shrugged and, as he did so, some of his cheeriness slid from his face and onto the desk, where his eyes scanned for more possibilities. “Well, I can get you domestic, if you want. It’s no problem. But with the state of affairs in some parts of the country, that’s why so many of my clients ask me to plan their trips abroad. After all, what’s a vacation if you don’t get away from it all?”
Daphne’s face pinched into a frown. She thought of the women in her community who had time enough to take two or three big vacations a year with their husbands and boyfriends. They came back tanned and strangely youthful, bragging about flings with pool boys and hunky bartenders. They’d show off their selfies with celebrities on topless beaches and expect you to touch them where the plastic surgery or genetic therapy had made their bodies firm and tight, like when they were 18.
“Of course, there’s always the clichéd but always reliable trip to Vegas. Any interest in saving costs on a big wedding?” the agent chuckled. “The Elvis Chapel of Love can get you in and out in under five minutes and $500.”
Garrett blushed a little, but clearly neither of them found Mr. Cornelius very amusing. “No, Daphne’s parents are very traditional. It’s a church wedding for us with all the fixings or none at all.”
“I can understand,” the agent smiled broadly. “Still, there’s plenty to enjoy in Old Vegas. They still have the Strip, casinos, shows, excellent cuisine. It can get a little on the seedy side at times, what with the illegals pouring across the border and the Ebola outbreaks, but they have tight security and strict health protocols. I guarantee you’ll both feel safe there and it is still one of the most economical trips available—depending on how much you gamble.”
Neither of them gambled. But then, neither of them had been on a vacation in more than three years. Work kept them both busy and keeping up with mortgage made vacationing impossible. Keeping up with the Jones’ was a full-time occupation and not just because three of the next-door neighbors were coincidentally named Jones. Beyond that, the rule of the Dome was that, unless you could afford to be extravagant, one never left the Dome unless one had to.
Her husband looked over the menu of choices the agent offered him, including glossy pictures and video of a variety of destinations in Canada and the Lower 48. “Honey, I think Mr. Cornelius is right about Vegas. It does seem like the safest bet,” he said. “I mean, it seems like a great time, don’t you?”
Daphne took the pad from him and examined the lights of the Strip, the advert banner that proclaimed “Vegas in 2020 ain’t about hindsight, baby, but it is about making history” and the caped animal wrangler pirouetting as a tiger leapt through flaming hoops. She pursed her lips. “I don’t know. It’s all so glitzy. This seems more like something the Radcliffes would like.”
“As a matter of fact, the Radcliffes were just in yesterday and planned a second honeymoon to Vegas,” the agent said. “I booked them a room at the Bellagio. I could piggyback you onto their itinerary at a substantial savings. Just for a weekend, right?”
When she heard the word savings, she knew her fiancé had set his mind. He was easily lured by the promise of a deal or special savings. Daphne sighed and smiled politely at her husband. “If it’s what you want, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.”
“Oh, dear, are you sure?” he asked, wide-eyed.
She took his hand in hers and cradled it against her cheek. “I’ll be happy wherever we go as long as I’m with you.”
“So romantic,” the travel agent sighed wistfully. “Reminds me of when I was young and full of romantic energy. It almost makes me want to find that long-lost teenage sweetheart of mine and rekindle something.”
“I didn’t like high school,” Daphne said glumly.
Her husband chuckled a bit, but she had not intended to be funny. Daphne loved Garrett but there was a lot that he found amusing that really wasn’t. It was fortunate that he was sincere when he needed to be and that he sincerely wanted to please her. That’s why she’d let him plan the trip. He caved so easily on everything else.
The travel agent gleefully filled out the paperwork, and a week later, the young couple was packing their luggage into a limousine bound for the airport. The Radcliffes were only two happy to share the fare with them and even brought an ostentatiously vintage bottle of champagne with them to toast bon voyage as they passed. The bubbly was too tart for Daphne, and as it turned out, so was Mrs. Radcliffe, for whom everything seemed delightfully ironic. Mr. Radcliffe was Vice President at Cesnac, a Chinese-owned nanotechnology outfit that operated a branch just inside the Dome, the same place her fiancé worked. It made her uncomfortable to be around them because she didn’t want to embarrass Garrett in front of superior, since so much depended on him keeping his job and she advancing her career. She fidgeted nervously with her wine glass, then became self-conscious of her fidgeting and wished she hadn’t worn heels so she could curl her toes without anyone noticing, anything to take her mind off of how uncomfortable she was around the Radcliffes.
“This is going to be one hell of a trip, eh, Garrett?” Mr. Radcliffe said with a leer. “Roll some dice, play some Baccarat like James Bond or take in a show at the Cat House.”
“Charles!” Mrs. Radcliffe ribbed her husband in mock horror. “Not on my watch will you go to that Cat House and gawk at other women.”
“Who said you had to watch?” Mr. Radcliffe said with a wink towards Garrett. “Besides, there’ll be plenty of sin for the ladies to take in. Why don’t we make our first night an unofficial bachelor and bachelorette party? The ladies can go out and have some girls-only fun and we men can entertain ourselves with the masculine joys of meat and bosoms. Wouldn’t that be swell?”
Garrett glanced nervously at Daphne, but he wasn’t about to refuse even the most casual request from upper management. So, the schedule was set. She would be stuck with Mrs. Garrett for the first day of their vacation and have to share her husband with these people the rest of the time. Mr. Garrett’s wife—her first name eluded her—gave Daphne a cool smile and then began to chat with her husband about her plans to fire their groundskeeper when they returned.
Daphne’s eyes drifted and she quickly found herself watching the scenery change as the limousine passed through the first checkpoint near the inner perimeter of the Dome. It is only when one is close up to the enormous protective wall that one can see how truly ugly it is. The interior of the dome which shimmered and gave the illusion that the community was set against a backdrop of purple majestic mountains and endless blue skies seemed flat and insubstantial up close. This must be what it feels like to be a goldfish with its face pressed up against the glass of its aquarium, she thought.
At each checkpoint, uniformed police officers stop the limo. They have a brief chat with the driver and there is a shuffle of paperwork and IDs before they let them pass. When they reach the last exterior checkpoint of the Dome, Daphne notices scenery change from verdant greens and blues to dingy browns and sallow yellows. Here, a row of sleepy soldiers carrying assault rifles watched them guardedly. Further down the perimeter of the wall, stray groups of human flotsam and jetsam gathered about shacks and campfires. Then, the limo turned onto a toll freeway that merged with another larger one and they were whisked away by a swiftly flowing stream of traffic headed for the airport.
When they reached the airport, the driver deposited their luggage on a robotic steward and the two couples sped through the fast-track lines at security. The flight itself was pleasant and gratifyingly brief. Daphne was pleased that Garrett still didn’t mind her leaning her head against his shoulder and catching a quick nap, even though it wasn’t a restful sleep as she’d hoped. Throughout the flight, her husband was quiet, lost in his own thoughts about the wisdom of traveling with another couple, even if it saved them a few dollars and kept them out of debt.
Before long, the Las Vegas skyline could be seen, a twinkling pile of jewels strewn across the growing desert twilight. As the plane landed at McCarran International Airport, Daphne composed herself and checked her Google watch, which displayed the local time, weather and news.
They rejoined the Radcliffes on the concourse and made their way past holographic pop-up ads that screeched about showtimes of the Space Jam magic show and entreaties to come see Cirque du Spaz’s latest death defying feats above the din of the clattering slot machines. It was as though all Las Vegas had come to greet them at the plane and howl at them all at once. Outside the hotel, more of the human wreckage that had watched them warily outside the dome now watched them with famished, sunken eyes from behind tidy groupings of watchful soldiers and privately owned security teams. A few of the women, with smears of color across their faces to suggest make-up were clearly seeking employment in the oldest profession.
The Luxor hotel was a bit quieter, but it was also a casino. A hum of people buzzed about the main floor between neat rows of blackjack tables and island bars as Daphne, Garrett and the Radcliffes made their way around the giant replica of a step pyramid in the lobby and climbed to the 28th floor, where an open hallway that was only a few floors below the radiant peak of the pyramid. Looking down into the cavernous casino made Daphne feel nauseous with vertigo. The stacked rows of numbered doors encircling the atrium below reminded her of the pictures she’d seen of high security prisons, only fancier.
“What a quaint hotel,” Mrs. Radcliffe chirped.
At last, the two couples arrived at their adjoining rooms and each stumbles in to their suites with luggage in tow. Daphne fell upon the bed with a weighty thud and considered staying there all weekend until she looked back at her husband.
“Are you hungry, honey? Do you think we should change and get something to eat before we go out on the town with Kenneth and Sierra?” he asked.
“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to take our vacation with the Radcliffes,” Daphne said, rubbing the sides of her temples. “I’m not one for light conversation and I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“Oh, you could never embarrass me, Daffy,” he said, using his pet name for her. “In fact, whenever you come up in conversation at work, all I here is how generous and lovely you are. They like you much more than they like me.”
Daphne scoffed at that. “They can’t be that in love with me. The women in our district hardly ever call on me or include me in their activities, unless it involves some sort of volunteer work.”
“They just think you’re a bit… aloof,” Garrett said. “Sierra is on all sorts of committees and groups in the community. Perhaps if you go and have a good time, show her you can loosen up a bit in an informal setting, she’ll include you in more of their shopping trips and gatherings. You’ll be just like one of the girls then.”
Daphne smiled faintly. “I’ll try,” she said. “For you.”
She went to the bathroom, fixed her hair and changed into a simple black dress that Garrett said complimented her figure. By the time she was finished, there was a knock at the door. The Radcliffes were ready to go. She was careful to grab her purse on the way out.
Mrs. Radcliffe told her husband she would take Daphne with her to one of the newest live shows on the Strip—one that offered a night of “girlie” frivolity— and Mr. Radcliffe explained that he and Garrett would visit a few of the more traditional casinos on the Old Strip so they hustled to the monorail and the girls and boys took separate cars to their presumed destinations.
But when the tram reached the destination, Mrs. Radcliffe seemed distracted. “Oh dear, I seemed to have left my credit slip back at the hotel. How convenient!”
“We can go back and get it,” Daphne offered.
“No, no, I wouldn’t think of making you have to go all the way back to the hotel with me. I can go back and get it by myself. Then, I can meet you at that casino over there. You can have a little fun while you wait.”
Mrs. Radcliffe was pointing at a curvaceous pair of neon lady legs that winked at them suggestively under the words “Fortunate Lady.” With a pat on the shoulder, Mrs. Radcliffe said cheerfully: “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll be back before you know I was gone, and then we’ll be off to the show.”
With that, the older woman turned tail and ran for the tram. Daphne wasn’t certain whether her companion had planned to abandon her here all along or if she had really forgotten her money in her room. Why hadn’t she kept it secure in her handbag, she thought.
Daphne was not sure she liked gambling. She checked her watch and wondered how she was going to fill the time by herself in this strange city. She walked rather quickly through the casino’s doors and past double rows of one-armed bandits, glittering with gilt and silver, shining with faux pearl handles and opalescent 3D screens. The glare of the lights made the people inside seem like shadow puppets flitting between the tables and booths.
She saw a sign for gift shops that directed her to another floor, so she looked for an elevator. She found one next to a strangely beautiful tree made from colored glass, its leaves twisted and unnatural, yet compellingly alive like an alien flora. The tree made her think of her own garden. They wouldn’t be able to grow something like that out here, what with the water use restrictions and frequent droughts.
She got into the elevator, went up, got out and found herself aglow in the electric current of the casino gift shops. She was astounded by the sheer number of them, enough to fill a small mall back at the Dome—and this was for one casino here. There were fewer people on this level and gone was the incessant cackle of the gaming machines, but it seemed muggier here, as though the climate controls were broken. One broad hallway labeled “Easy Street” in English with Spanish and Arabic translations beneath it beckoned to her. She spied some silk scarves on a large cart inside one of the stores. She went in and turned over a heap of about 100, embroidered with mountain scapes but also chrysanthemums, daylilies and daisies. She buys one covered with forget-me-nots, perhaps because it is the only one in the cart and it seemed rare. She began to think this might be a good opportunity to do a little Christmas shopping for her friends and family, so she began touring the other shops. She bought a set of official casino chips and some holographic cards for a male colleague who worked at the school she used to substitute teach at and a golden Faberge egg with the Vegas skyline in miniature. Each shop she entered was like a cell in a bee hive; each revealed a new cache of nectar.
The glare of the lights began to get to her so she fished in her handbag for a tissue. She was surprised to notice that the emergency cash she meant to stow in a wad near the bottom was not there, nor were the small package of tissues. She looked at her watch and, surprised at how speedily time has seemed to fly, decided that it might be time to get back to the entrance. To her dismay she noticed an entire rack of forget-me-not scarfs, better than the one in her bag. As she passed the rack, another shopper bumped into her and she ricocheted off the rack. Her dress caught on something metal and the top button of her bodice popped off.
“Excuse me,” she muttered to herself.
Daphne reached down for the button on the kaleidoscopic floor and then searched the area for a bathroom or secluded place where she could repair her wardrobe malfunction and cover her exposed cleavage. She found a ladies’ room around the corner, but when she entered, she was confronted with a hall of mirrors. Every surface was shiny or reflective. After nearly opening the doors to three occupied stalls and eliciting angry cries from the tenants, she finally squeezed into an empty booth, a tight fit for even her slender frame. She began to wonder if this was a restroom or carnival funhouse, except with all of the fun carefully extracted. Also missing was the toilet paper, towels and moist towelettes. She took a small sewing kit from her purse and removed her dress so that she could reattach the button but the fabric near where the button had been was too damaged to reapply it and the button itself refused to be attached anywhere else practical. Exasperated, she put her dress back on and did her best to adjust it to defend some semblance of modesty.
In the mirror, she noticed her mussed hair and faded, smeared red lipstick. She tried brush her hair to straighten it out, but in the heat of the room, the hairs had minds of their own and curled defiantly. On her way out of the restroom, she slipped on a puddle and broke a heel. Gingerly, she took off both shoes and tossed them into one of her shopping bags. It was then that she realized that her bags feel a little lighter than they should have.
There was no place to sit down in the shopping area of the casino. She fumbled numbly through her shopping bags, but it was clear that some items have gone missing. When she had lost them, she could not fathom. So, she hobbled on, sweating and panting, a slow panic creeping up on her. She began to feel naked and vulnerable.
She tried to backtrack her steps to find the elevator she had come up on, but she could find no sign of it or Easy Street. The shops seemed to be arranged like a maze, each hallway leading to a blind alley or dead end, drawing the unsuspecting shopper towards the center of a giant spider’s web, with no way out. All the shops began to bleed together. After a few moments, she began to curse her foolishness. Her bladder began to twinge and she realized there had been even more pressing business she should have taken care of back at the restroom. She was fearful to look at her watch again, but she did anyway. By now, Mrs. Radcliffe must have had enough time to get her card and return to the casino. She tried to dial her, but there was no answer. Yet, she needed to find a way down, she thought. The entrance was down and there were sure to be better restrooms there.
She tried to find a clerk in one of the stores to ask directions but they had all disappeared along with the Faberge egg and scarf from her bags. Finally, she gave up on the elevator and decided that she’d settle for a set of stairs, escalator or even a fire escape, anything that would take her down to the gaming floor.
She finally spotted a door that looked like it led to a stairwell, but she was perplexed as to why the signs in this area contained only Chinese, Arabic and Spanish, no English. She burst through the doors and as she descended the stairs, she dropped her purse and the contents went tumbling ahead of her. It was then she realized that, looking up and down, the staircase seemed to stretch infinitely above her and below her. The feeling of vertigo nearly overwhelmed her. She numbly picked up the contents she could find and then rushed down the remaining stairs, doubled over in pain from the pressure of a full bladder. Her feet began to felt sticky and then she realized her stockings had worn holes at the soles.
She burst through the doors at the foot of that flight of stairs and stumbled into the cacophony of the slot machines and bustling crowds. To her dismay, she was nowhere near the entrance and was finding it difficult to orient herself amid the mass of distractions and lights. Each row of slot machines stood to the side of a blackjack and craps table with what appeared to be cloned nameless dealers in smart red vests. She wondered where Mrs. Radcliffe was. Despite her misgivings about the woman, she would be a relief compared to what she was going through.
She took another time out in a nearby restroom, another demented funhouse hall of mirrors, and glanced one last time at her watch as she emptied herself into the clean porcelain toilet. The watch has become a pale expression of terror. All that was left was pink, compressed rectangle of skin with a red imprint were the clasp had chaffed her wrist. Daphne moaned a little as the knot rose in her throat and then the moan ascended to a sharp shrill cry. She looked about her, a little self-conscious. No one appeared to hear or see her, neither the bustling gamblers or waitresses shuttling exotic drinks or the security guards, intently watching the crowds around roulette wheels and slot machines.
Yet, the scream seemed to help empower her. She screamed and screamed again, trying to pierce the clamor about her. Finally, one of the dealers left his table and brought a security officer, brandishing a gun and Taser wand.
“Please help me,” Daphne said. “I’m from the Dome, I have been robbed and I must get back to my husband.”
“Papers,” said the policeman.
She searched her handbag, but discovered her ID and other documents were gone. There was nothing. “Stolen,” she said.
“People like you are not allowed in here,” he said.
She looked at him blankly. Suddenly, it dawned on her how he saw her. In his eyes, she was just one of the disenfranchised masses, a cheap hooker holding a bag half-filled with somebody else’s life.
“My fiancé will come and look for me. Mrs. Radcliffe must know I’m missing by now,” she told the security officer.
If she could just wait in the casino, one of them had to find her here, she thought. Garrett must find her. She imagined herself swept away onto the street, sitting with the wrecked people in the darkened underbelly of Las Vegas.
“I’m not moving from here,” she said and sat down heavily in front of one of the slot machines. She decided her survival depended on staying in the casino. The security officer prodded her a little with the wand.
“Move, please. These are for patrons only.”
“I’ll stay here as long as I need,” she said. “All night, if necessary.”
She realized that she couldn’t even tell if it was still even night. The casino had made a mockery of day and night.
“Forever, maybe,” she added.
She struggled to imagine her husband coming to the rescue, but she couldn’t believe in being saved. She couldn’t imagine being anything more than a Fortunate Lady beyond the Dome.