“B 11, N 42, G 37,..”
The Voice of Bingo, they would laugh. In that snotty way of theirs. Raising money for the needy. Your community dollars. Or so it said. All that money. It could make anyone wicked or just plain greedy.
“O 62, B 9,..”
The Voice of Bingo settled itself like a calming balm.
It was good now. With her blue and red and purple dabbers. With the squares before her. Little George, the plastic monkey.
Like a good girl, she found solace in the hush that hung over the crowd of participants. That’s how it used to be in school, sitting in class. With the runners, like teachers, giving out rewards for a job well done.
Dolores stuck the tip of her tongue out of the corner of her mouth.
She once started a story that way. In grade six when they had their first male teacher. Mr Flimsey. The year when hormones were raging like a fire. In grade seven she used that line again. For Miss Sully’s class. Dolores the heroine, her tongue seductively in the corner of her mouth. Miss Sully had frowned over her reading glasses but not said a word.
Dolores. The name conjured up far away places and never consumed love affairs.
“I 23...” sang the Voice of Bingo.
The game spilled over into a feeling of elation for only a few. Irritation and a sense of guilt chased the others out into the parking lot or up the street to catch the bus.
But there was always the game after.
“You went to bingo again, didn’t you?”
“No, Charlene, that’s just not true!I’ll get you the rent by tomorrow.”
Dolly bit her lip until she could taste the blood. She would have the rent tomorrow. She could feel it. While her left thumb rubbed the plastic monkey that she always carried in her sweatshirt pouch, tears burst from her eyes, just like that. It should account for something.
“You can’t pay me, can you?”
“I swear to you, Charlene. I’ll get it for you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow just ain’t good enough, ain’t it now, Dolly. Not when I need the money today.”
“I’ll give you some. I can give you some now. I’ll get you the rest tomorrow. I swear.”
She could feel it. Tomorrow would be good. Her favourite club too. The sisters of mercy, as she called them. They gave service to women in trouble. Anything for women. She started walking toward the fridge, careful to put her left foot first. When the sisters were there, she always came away...
“How long has it been since you won a penny at that place? How long, Dolly, tell me.”
“Okay, okay. I’ve had a bad streak. But tomorrow. You’ll see. I promise.”
“Just give me what you have now. And I’ll make it up myself. Just don’t go and waste any more of it.”
“I have one hundred and fifty dollars. That’s it.”
“Give up, Dolly.”
Charlene could be such a bitch. No, no. She shouldn’t think that. Charlene had bailed her out more than she cared to remember. You don’t find sisters like that very often.
“Give it to me, Dolly.”
“Hundred and seventy, that’s all.”
Charlene spewed flames at her. Pimples stuck out red and sore on her pale cheeks.
“Don’t shit with me, kid.”
“I’m not shitting you. I swear.”
“On the grave of mom.”
Charlene’s eyes bored themselves into Dolly’s. On the grave of mom. Dolly held her breath and repeated her four favourite numbers. Two times over. Nice and slow. “On the grave of mom.” It wasn’t until she got to her basement room that she let finally go of her breath.
That should do it. The last thing she needed was for the ghost of her dearly departed mother to put a curse on her.
Maybe she should go back tonight. No, not tonight. It never worked for her at night. But maybe she should change her pattern. Entice Lady Luck.
There was a time when she could have become anything she wanted. When nothing but good things happened to her. With her blond hair falling long over her brown eyes. A regular beauty she was. And popular in high school. With the guys as well as the girls. The former all wanted her; the latter all wanted to be like her. Dolly, with her pretty smile and quick wit. Dolly, who imagined her name was short for Dolores until she got her birth certificate. Dolly it said. Just like that. Dolly. Not even a real name.
That was shortly after mother had died.
Things kind of came apart from then on. She started running around the block, as if to overtake herself. Pull at her hair, until it hurt in the hope of grounding herself. Catch her breath whenever she thought about the fact that she had a life, a body, organs. Sometimes she’d hold a burning cigarette to her arm, just to prove to herself that she was real. That she could feel.
Charlene never knew any of it. No one knew. No one.
Upstairs, right above her head, the kids were running around chasing one another about something or other. Their little feel went clunk, clunk, clunk. Dolly’s head felt as if it would burst.
Charlene was so lucky. She got a nice husband. Hey, he didn’t drink and he didn’t beat her!
After Dolly quit high school – she dropped out because she found it too boring – she got herself pregnant. Kind of accidentally on purpose to get away from her dad and Charlene. They were always on her case. And dad had become so needy. Wanting things. Charlene would look at her with suspicion. As if she were leading dad on, or something. When she married Freddy, she didn’t even know if he was the father of her kid. Freddy never questioned.
She had the baby. A baby boy. Then one night when she got home from bingo, Freddy and the baby were gone. She never saw them again.
If only they’d quit running up there. She could hear the thumping little feet echoing off the walls of her brain. She could hear it like a thousand little voices screeching in her head.
The baby was probably a whole lot better off, not living with her. She’d always been the restless kind.
Then Dolly’s mind exploded again.
Once, after this happened, Charlene had found her lying curled up on the bed, not wanting to get up. Not ever wanting to get up again. Charlene had taken her to the Landers Institute but they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. She had passed all the tests.
Like in school. She’d always been a good girl with teachers walking in between the desks and them writing their tests.
She would go tomorrow. To bingo. She had thirty dollars hidden away. If she only got a five strip, she’d still have enough for cigarettes and coffee. Five strips were her lucky charm. It would be all she needed to get on top again. She could just feel it.
It was after the Landers that bingo had started to take over her life again. She’d met a women there, named Ronny. Ronny liked bingo something fierce. She went just about any time she could get her hands on money. Ronny could never hold down a job. Because sometimes she wasn’t Ronny, she said. Whatever that meant. So, she depended on welfare for most of her money.
Talk about having to budget.
No, Dolly would not like to be in that position. She made good money cleaning offices. Okay, good. Enough to pay the rent, at least. That is, if bingo didn’t take over.
Ronny said she had quite a few personalities. Dolly never really understood how that worked but Ronny wasn’t even her real name. Apparently.
It didn’t matter to Dolly. She liked Ronny.
Dab, dab, dab.
That’s how they met.
Dab, dab, dab.
Ronny had been standing at the easel next to hers in the beautiful glass room at the Landers. They were doing therapeutic art.
With bingo dabbers.
It had felt so good.
Dab, dab, dab.
When Dolly looked over she had caught Ronny’s eye on her.
When they went for coffee after, Ronny invited her to go along to a bingo game. Back then, Dolly had been sure that bingo had been to blame for the loss of Freddy and the baby, so she said: “It’s gambling, Ronny. There’s nothing good to it.”
“Bullshit,” Ronny had said, dragging on a cigarette that she held clamped between two yellow fingers. “It pays for a lot of good things. It’s like smoking. Most of it goes to taxes. We pay for all this here, with these cigarettes. And with the bingo.”
At that, she had waved her hand about so casually that Dolly had almost choked.
“Your community dollars put to good use, that’s what bingo is for. So, don’t fret. You’re doing everyone a favour.”
That Ronny. She was something else. Charlene would never understand.
“N 44, B 9...”
Dolly found herself a place at Mary’s table. Mary had brought her granddaughter’s pictures with her today. She’d arranged them carefully at the top of her bingo sheets. And she had her pumpkin markers. This being Thanksgiving and all that.
It should be good today.
That’s Mac over there. He owns the place and he has a way about him. Smile nice at Mac, Dolly. He’s the best looking thing around here.
And there was Sue Winters with her yellow hair layered high on top of her head. Cigarette between her long, slim fingers with the huge, red fingernails. Mac, big cigar in the hand that leaned on the back of Sue Winters’ chair, whispered something in her ear.
Look at her giggle. And the hair doesn’t even move a fraction. God only knows what he promised her.
Madeline walked by and smiled at her. She was selling the “Sponsor’s” cards and the “Nevada” tickets. She was one of the sisters of mercy. Nice girl, that Madeline. Talks to you like you’re a person. Congratulates you when you win and thanks you when she sells you something.
If only they were all that way. She overheard their whispers. Those poor people, they would say. As if they were any better with their fancy jobs and their education. Judging us the way they do for coming out for a bit of fun. As if regular people weren’t entitled to indulge in some vices of their own.
“B 3, N 42, O 66...”
It’s all good again now.
The smell of nicotine mixed with the pungent smell of the purple dabber and the coffee from her styrofoam cup. Little George was smiling his dumb smile.
And her card was almost full.