Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inspiration comes from many places . . .

Today's guest post comes to us from Martie Odell Ingebretsen

Inspiration comes from many places, and in different ways. This short story came from a trip to a thrift shop where I saw an old brown desk. It had stories carved all over it. Somehow it touched me as I read them and imagined the life they came from.

I didn't buy the desk, but I kept it here:

The Old Brown Desk

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I was twenty-five and a college drop out when I started having the gambler dream. I worked in a cramped office that smelled like the disinfectant in the restroom down the hall. Everything there was dull, except my old brown desk with the brown desk blotter. Under the blotter were the only interesting things in the office…carved names, etched hearts, and a peace sign, to name a few. It made me sad to think about the lives that desk had known. I'd imagine how they looked and what circumstances brought them to tell their heart's desire to the desk top. I knew that Mark loved Julie. Love is timeless happenstance, he had carved into the desk so deeply that pieces of eraser had become trapped in the inscription. Sometimes I would amuse myself by adding more of my own. I wrote, Life's a bitch, and What's it all about. A receptionist in the personnel office of J&B's Janitorial Services wasn't always busy.

To make matters worse, Jeff, the guy that I had been going with since I was a senior in high school, told me he wasn't interested in getting married, not to me anyway.

"I need someone with more ambition," he said one night. It had been the kind of evening I enjoyed with just he and I watching TV and making love on the floor with just the flicker of the light from some old movie glowing.

I just wanted a simple man who loved me. We would make babies, and every night after we tucked them in bed, we'd nestle like two spoons in the drawer of life. I didn't care about money or prestige. I guess I was a throwback to the 50's. I wanted to bake apple pies and sit on the living room floor playing monopoly.

After I told Jeff all this, poured my heart out to this jerk and basically proposed, he told me that we wanted different things. I should have seen it already, but you know what they say, "love is blind."

I started having a dream right after we broke up. I called it, The Gambler Dream. Every night it transported me to Las Vegas…and get this, I was Lady Luck! In the dream I was very popular and very rich, two characteristics I scorn in real life. Then, I got this silly idea that the dreams would go away if I went to Las Vegas. I guess I thought of them as a kind of unconscious message from God saying, Change your life and move on, girl, before that brown desk is your only friend.

I moved to Las Vegas with no job prospects and very little savings. I knew I could find a job doing something, but first, I needed a little time, to mend. I lived in a very un-pretty apartment in a sleazy part of town but I continued to have the gambler dream and it was driving me crazy. I decided it must be some sort of psycho-drama taking the place of a happy life. Soon, I was feeling pretty ridiculous about this plan I had for getting rid of it. That was when I decided I needed to do something even crazier than moving, I decided to pretend to be Lady Luck, and live the dream.

I went to the casinos and stood next to different people who were gambling, just to see what would happen. I never gambled myself. At first I was self-conscious about just standing around, but I kept at it. I wasn't bad looking. My hair was thick and dark and I was tall. A woman alone in Las Vegas wasn't unusual, but guys kept trying to pick me up. I'd usually tell them I was waiting for my husband. Sometimes I would be standing next to someone who was throwing a lot of money around and they would win. Wow! What a rush that was. It made me feel so powerful—as if I was the one who caused them to win. Jeez, I was crazy. I began to really believe I had some super-natural power. My obsession with pretending to be Lady Luck worked though. The dreams stopped.

In the dream the primary motive of the gamblers had been greed. In real life, most gamblers just enjoyed the fun of taking chances. But sometimes I was touched by a more desperate emotion behind the faces I saw. Greed never won because of me. I could see it. It was green and smelled a little like rotten eggs. I liked the gamblers that were pure of heart the best because I figured that winning wouldn't change them. I could tell which ones they were because they emitted what I called "sweet heat". I guess you could say that I could see their auras. I know that sounds strange and I wouldn't have thought it possible in my old life. Lady Luck taught me that many things are possible.

After the dreams stopped, I felt that I had to keep on being Lady Luck. I was afraid that something bad would happen to me if I didn't, something worse than the dreams. The security staff at the casinos became suspicious of me because I stood around so much and didn't gamble, so I came up with some disguises…The Harlot, The Librarian, the Sophisticated Lady…and my favorite, The Sweet Young Thing. The Sweet Young Thing was soap and water skin-glow and hair in a pony-tail, the perfect ploy.

The casino didn't sleep. It had no mask. Sometimes I thought of it as a living, breathing thing. Its organs were the slot machines and gaming tables, its blood, the people. Standing beside those accouterments of hope I would watch for The Gambler. I got pretty good at knowing about a person just by looking at them. Believe me, there are many different kinds of people in Las Vegas. For instance, one could be old and dressed in yellow polyester, another young, clean shaven and fragrant with optimism. She could be a woman in tight pants with stiletto heels and ample rear, or a man pock-marked by youth, or old and disillusioned by love.

One night when I was looking for gamblers and was dressed as the Sweet Young Thing, I walked right into an elderly lady who was so tiny that I didn't see her standing there. She wore a navy blue dress with a lace collar and the smell of Gardenias surrounded her. A bun, dotted the top of her head. I could see her past in the lines etched across her face; roads of passion, sadness and disappointment, pathways to wisdom. She clutched a bucket of quarters and dangling from her right arm was a black pocket-book the size of a suitcase. She looked up at me as I apologized for bumping into her, a twinkle of sweet heat in her eyes. They were the color of a meadow in spring, or the mossy gowns of green in the trees of a rain forest.

"Oh, dear, I wonder if you can help me?" she said. "I seem to have lost my machine."

I walked with her to my favorite quarter machine and stood there while she deposited, one, two, then three quarters and pushed the button. One little machine can make a lot of racket when someone hits the jackpot like she did.

The gamblers had taken the place of the old brown desk in my life. I would stand next to them and watch and listen, become involved with their lives somehow. In just a few short minutes I could see their reasons for putting one last quarter of their life into a machine. Sometimes I saw the longing in newly-weds, or the sickness in someone with no money to pay the medical bills. To win, was often the best hope for some, or the only key to a door of escape, for others

One time, a young couple caught my eye. They were sitting side by side at a dollar slot machine with a bucket of silver dollars between them. I went over and sat down next to then and was immediately caught up in their life. I noticed that they both had their fingers crossed and if hope had a face, it shone from theirs. Before they put their coins in, they looked at each other over the top of the bucket. In the look I could see the love they held for each other and without knowing exactly, I knew that any money they won would make more than just their life better.

Strangely though, I felt bitter disappointment as I watched them win. I had always felt part of what was happening before, but this time I just felt sad and left out. What about my life, I thought. Was this any better than J&B Janitorial and the old brown desk?

Walking away from the commotion at the dollar machine I spotted someone else. He was tall and blond. I could tell he was a winner. He had an aura about him that was more than just sweet heat. As I inched up to his beige Dockers pants and button-down shirt, I noticed the slender, tucked in firmness of his body. I got closer and looked at his hands. You can tell a lot about a person by their hands. His were un-kept and I could see calluses. That was good. That meant he worked with his hands, not behind a desk. As I stood there I could feel the hairs on my arms yearning in his direction, like some kind of electrical charge, that's how powerful the pull was. He turned his blue gaze at me before he threw the dice.

I met Hugo that same day. He was a stage manager for one of the big shows. He won while I was standing next to him, of course. He was so happy and excited that he latched onto me like an old friend. We got to talking. I told him that I needed a job, and I did. My pocket-book was empty.

He looked at me with adoration and said, "You're show girl material, darlin', I know, I've seen a lot of them. Can you dance?"

I didn't trust anyone in those days, except my Teddy Bear. I slept with it every night and it didn't betray me or ask me to be something I wasn't. Hugo was like a Teddy Bear—I didn't sleep with him, I trusted him. He was the only one I told about Lady Luck and the gamblers. He didn't think I was crazy, but he did think I needed a job that paid. He arranged for me to get an audition.

"I knew it, you're a natural," Hugo said when I was hired.

I dressed in gold net with sequins at the nipples and belly-button. Strings of gold fell from my hips and would dance with the air from the fan in the corner.

"Gypsy, my pretty one, you are sooo gorgeous!" Hugo always said. He had helped me think-up the stage name, Gypsy Rover, which came from an old Irish folk song that he loved. He would tilt his head back and look up to see my face and say, "How about you and I do a little Tango together after the show?" The attempts he made at a lecherous wink always made me laugh. Hugo wasn't just a bumpkin, he was kind-hearted and smart. He worried about me. "If you believe in dreams coming true," he said, "then dream yourself a sweet dream."

Being a show girl seemed glamorous at first, but it was a lot of hard work. I made pretty good money and was able to move into a nice condominium built around a lake. It was peaceful there. I had a cat I named Cob. He had been hanging around since I moved in. One day when I was bringing in groceries, he snuck in through the open door. He had a fresh, warm piece of corn on the cob, buttered and everything in his mouth. That's how he got his name. I would sit in my green-with-plants patio with Cob curled up in my lap, and for awhile I felt like life was sweet. I liked it that way, with just me and Cobb, for a short time.

After the incident with the tall blond gambler, I realized that I was lonely. I didn't want to get hurt again but my hormones were obviously raging. Just to get the idea of men from my mind, I called Jeff the Jerk. I told him all about being a show girl and owning my own place and how happy I was. You should have heard him after that.

"I didn't know where you went," he said. "I'm sorry. I made an awful mistake. I miss you. Can I come see you?" It was all so pitiful.

"Look," I said. "I'm the same person now as I was then. You said you didn't want me, and now I don't want you." Then I hung up the phone. I didn't feel much better when I realized that I was as mean as he had been.

The very next night I was in the casino dressed as The Librarian. My hair back in a tight bun and I wore makeup that took all the color out of my face…no lipstick or eye stuff and big rimmed glasses. In my straight-up-and-down dowdy suit and sensible shoes, I was p-l-a-i-n.

Then I had that feeling again. There was a flutter in my stomach and a kind of general aching. I spotted the tall, blond gambler standing in the lobby looking around the casino as if he were looking for somebody. I walked right by him, close enough to smell his after shave and admire the square line of his jaw. He looked in my direction. I felt like he knew I was there, but couldn't see me. He had that rigid attention of an animal in heat. I followed him as he walked through the casino searching faces and questioning the guy at the roulette wheel where he had won the other night. I followed him out into the hot Las Vegas parking lot to his black Toyota pick-up truck. As I watched him drive away I remembered the words I'd engraved on my old friend, the ugly brown desk—"What's it all about?"

I continued to play Lady Luck at least once a week to keep the dream from coming back, and five nights a week I was a chorus girl. When I danced I didn't pay any attention to the audience, besides you can't really see them very well because of all the bright lights. One night I was dancing as usual, when I felt that twitchy feeling again. The first row was really all I could see, and there he was. I could tell he was looking at me. My focus on the sway of the music was lost and my legs turned to jelly. Luckily we were almost done and I managed by keeping my eyes on my friend Lulu.

Walking to my car later from the stage door exit, I saw a black Toyota pick-up. I looked around and there he was again, leaning against the fence watching me. He was waiting for me I could tell. I had changed out of my show girl duds and into my jeans and a sweat-shirt, but had not touched my make up or hair. I thought about how I must look, like one of those puzzles where you can put the head of a dog on the body of a pig. Well, I had the head of a show-girl and the body of a farmer. He started walking towards me. Then suddenly, Jeff the Jerk hurled out of nowhere, grabbed my arm, and pulled me to him.

I pushed Jeff away from me with an exclamation that must have sounded sort of like "yieeea". The Tall Blond Gambler didn't need any other invitation to come to my rescue. He had grown taller and stronger, or certainly seemed to, as he came between Jeff and me and said, "Hey, is this man bothering you Miss?"

"Yes, I mean no, I know him, but I want him to leave me alone." Jeff was looking at me in disbelief.

"Who is this guy, honey?" Jeff's old term of endearment slipped out.

"I'm not sure, but I think he's my rescuer and I'm not your honey," I said.

"Hi, I'm Daniel," the tall blond gambler said. "I was waiting for you. I've been seeing you everywhere, even in my dreams."

"Your dreams?" I said.

"Just a minute now," Jeff said, trying to regain my attention, which was fixated on Daniel's blue eyes. I felt the sweet heat coming from him as he stood there defending my honor, and I wondered if he could feel the magnetic pull he had on me.

"I saw you the other night, remember?" Daniel continued.

Jeff grabbed my arm and tried to pull me next to him. "Let go," I said, "I told you on the phone, I don't want you anymore. Get lost."

"But, we can start over; I promise I'll do better. I love you." There was a whining sound to Jeff's voice now, and I had a momentary vision of him as a little boy not getting his way.

Then just as smooth as chocolate pudding Daniel led me away from Jeff and toward his black Toyota Pick-up. "I just need to tell you, ever since that night I've been thinking about you" he said. "I thought I saw you in the line-up at the show and I waited for you. You looked so gorgeous. I couldn't take my eyes off you, and then I kept having these dreams about you every night. I knew I needed to find you…anyway, that night when I won so big, well, after you left, I went on to play black jack. I was feeling so lucky, you know, but I lost every penny."

He was talking fast, as if he was afraid he wouldn't be able to get all the words out before I disappeared.

"So?" I said with my best negative nonchalance, feeling like my heart was wearing three inched, spiked high-heeled shoes on life's golf course.

"Well, I wanted to find you again. I've been looking everywhere. Don't you see, there's a connection somehow, I feel it."

Did he think there was a connection between me and his winning? Did he think I was Lady Luck? Maybe that was what he was dreaming. He was so cute and so earnest. Could winning have changed him? I didn't want to find out that he was looking for me so he could win again. I didn't think that was possible. A pure heart was a pure heart. I trusted sweet heat more than I trusted Cob.

"Look", he said as if reading my mind. "I don't believe in Lady Luck, if that's what you're thinking, but I could feel this energy coming from you, I don't know, it's hard to explain. The magic I feel is more like a spiritual connection."

I could feel the magic too, in the melting power of his blue, blue eyes.

"Just give me a chance. Let's stop somewhere and get a drink or something. What do you say?"

I let him lead me to his truck, and as he opened the door I looked back at Jeff. He was standing in the parking lot with his hands on his hips and his mouth open. I waved good-bye.

Daniel took my hand and as he ushered me into the passenger seat he said, "I've been having this dream about Las Vegas. It takes place in a casino and has to do with love at first sight."

How could I resist? I knew all about dreams coming true; besides, Lady Luck shouldn't be afraid to gamble, Lady Luck always wins, doesn't she?

We hope you enjoyed today's guest post from Martie Odell Ingebretsen, a poet and  author of Sweet William. This was the second in our regular series of guest posts. All of them will be written by our authors, and their topics will range from: Writing Tips to Short Stories, Poetry to Flash Fiction. If you enjoyed today's entry, please leave a comment, and share this link on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

You'll want to subscribe to our blog or bookmark us so you don't miss the next in the series on April 16th when novelist, Michele Shaw brings us her short story, "Firebird." Michele was a winner in our Mystery TImes competition in 2013. She took second place with her story "A Shot in the Dark."   

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