The Last Chips of Allison Rose

It was almost 1:30 AM and the casino was nearly empty. I was the only one of the staff other than the manager who hadn’t been sent home for the night, and my only hand was dealing blackjack to a woman who had been coming nearly every night of this cruise. I knew her name was Allison, and she knew that mine was Jeremy. Jeremy Harding, if you’re curious.

She was like any other guest who spent any noticeable amount of time in the casino, which meant that she tended to talk about herself, drink a drop too much, and usually managed to make a mess or a nuisance of herself in some way at least once during the course of the evening. Her latest feat was spilling a drink on one of the blackjack tables, which we promptly had to close. She wasn’t what I would consider drunk at the time it happened, and it was merely an accidental wave of the arm that anyone, even myself, could have committed. But it was she who did it, and it was not much of a surprise.

From previous conversations I had learned that she lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, and that her daughter had just left for college. She said that she was unused to being in an empty house, and from both the fact that she mentioned it at all and the way she said it I gathered that she was divorced or a widow. I mention the second possibility only to be fair, but I personally have no doubt that she was divorced. Within the year, if you wanted me to make an exact guess. We don’t get widows on this ship until they are in their 60’s–late 50’s at the earliest. By my estimation she was just a hair past 45, and while I don’t reckon that I have any great skill with guessing ages, I have picked up the habit of studying faces, gestures, and generational colloquialisms which defy a woman’s desire for her vintage to remain ambiguous. Looking at people from the waist up for 10 hours a day will do that to you.

Our cheapest blackjack tables have a $25 minimum bet, but no one who comes on this ship wants to risk looking cheap, so nearly everyone plays at least $50-$100 per hand. She was no different in that respect, and while she occasionally wandered over to the craps table, or managed a few half-hearted pulls on one of the slot machines, she never stayed away from our semicircles of chance for long. She sometimes changed tables, but her reasons for doing so were known only to her. She was never very lucky with any one dealer for even a brief length of time, so she can’t have been chasing a talisman. She did not appear superstitious, unlike so many of our guests.

She suffered from what I and my colleagues describe as the slow death, in that her losing was a long and drawn out, but inevitable, affair that tended to last the course of three or four hours, depending on what point in the evening she arrived. She was often the last to leave the casino, but never the first. Each night she would pull around two or three thousand out of her small black handbag, and play until that she had run through that. She never pulled out more money in the same night, but she always came back the next with cash.  I wouldn’t venture a guess how she was funded.
Unlike any passenger that I have ever come across, Allison did not put on any weight during the course of the cruise. How could I know that she never once ate in public? Not so much as a cup of coffee, not a single visit to a buffet, not a single night in the dining room sitting opposite a charming 63 year old dance host who had been specifically provided by the ship for her dancing and conversational enjoyment. Not a single bite was she seen to take.

I never knew that the room stewardesses that had been assigned to her room, noon and night, had begun making conversation regarding this odd ghost of a lady. They took notice of her infrequent but precise room service requests, which required one brief phone call per day , delivered in a slow, slightly rasping voice. Three slices of pineapple, one fudge brownie (with nuts), one glass of Moét champagne. One club sandwich (three bites), no french fries, one whisky sour, one orange, dish of black olives (three eaten). One peach, one heineken. Cup of Earl Grey tea with lemon, (untouched).

I never knew that her stewardess was nearly in tears from trying to figure out when she should try and make up the room. Eventually the poor girl’s supervisor instructed her to wait until it was dark and the casino was open, and enter when no one responded to her gentle knock upon the stateroom door. I never knew that Allison left her stewardess a nice tip, despite the constant untidiness of the room. She often asked for more shampoo and extra towels via a note left on the dresser, but those meagre requests were the only communication they ever received from her. She would smile faintly but warmly as she passed them in the halls, on the few times it happened.

I never knew that she could not afford to be on this cruise. Not for even one night, much less eleven, not ever, not on this ship or any other. I had no idea that she found her husband in bed with his boss (the modern workforce in motion), and that she had not been lucky in the settlement. Her lawyer could not give her what he had promised, while her husband’s solicitor was more than capable in such a match.

I never knew she used 4 credit cards, all now over limit and already beginning to leave messages on home phone, to purchase this cruise, and that the cash she used each night had been secretly withdrawn from her daughter’s bank account, which she had helped her open when she was a minor and needed a parent to sign for. I never knew that the missing cash made itself known (or unknown, as it were), when the budding biology major went to purchase textbooks for the next semester and found her card swiftly retained by the cashier. I would never know the bitter phone call that would follow, and that another person would leave Allison’s life for good. She often laughed when she lost a hand that should have gone her way.
I never knew she wanted to jump across the table and shake me in my cheap maroon vest, to shout in my face that she deserved a better life than this, and that I am a worthless pathetic fuck to sit there with that smile across my face. I never knew that she wanted someone to tell her why she didn’t deserve this, why she shouldn’t have this instead of someone else. I never knew that she died every time one of these ageing trust fund inbred society bitches raked in their meaningless winnings as if they were coupons, cut from the Sunday paper.

I never knew what she wanted. I don’t think she knew herself. An answer, for starters, to the questions that were never asked, but screamed at me every night with blue eyes that seemed as calm as the sea. I dealt the cards, and took her money, and tried to smile. I was never good with jokes, so I never made any.

I never knew she went to her cabin and downed a copious mix of sleeping pills and tranquillisers with shots of vodka (bought at airport, hidden from stewardess), and slept until she roused and shuffled her body into the shower the following day, usually at dusk. She never once bothered to stand on her veranda and watch the sun set. It never crossed her mind, but I wished it had.

She placed her final three chips on the table, and I drew the hand. She stood on eighteen, (pair of nines, heart & spade). I drew a three card twenty. She looked at the cards for a moment. They lay there, perfectly grotesque in their awkward combination of ten, three, seven. A muffled sound escaped her throat. She gave a false laugh of inadequate strength. She made some small parting talk. She shook my hand and told me what a pleasure it had been, managing to thank me and stand to leave and walk out the door all without ever looking into my eyes. I never knew her last name, (It was Rose).

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