On the Fourth Pull
I did not want to have our honeymoon in Las Vegas. Americans,
I thought, were fat and much too cheerful. They came into my
bar and drank Slivovice in shots, like it was cheap whiskey,
and they smiled all the time. But Bohumil wanted to see all
the world wonders on one street and win one million paper
dollars. I thought he might want to avoid Las Vegas because of
all the neon lights, but he said it was his first choice, and
so we went. I, however, have never forgiven neon, which is why
The Bohemian is the only hotel on the strip never to have used
a single neon bulb. As I've said, in Brno, our memories are
was very young, we took a trip for a week to visit my Babicka
on her farm in the hills. The only life on that farm was one
old lady, one thousand white rabbits, and an overgrown field
of potatoes. Babicka's house smelled of wood fire and stale
pickled cabbage. My father spent the entire week repairing the
roof and my mother spent it in the kitchen, peeling potatoes.
In the afternoons, Babicka would take me to see her rabbits.
"Don't feed them carrots. They'll bite your finger to the
bone," she said.
one of my grandmother's eyes could see; the other was held
prisoner behind a thick, opaque paste. I remember one
afternoon at the rabbits, Babicka bent down towards me, her
face full of warts and connecting wrinkles. She said: You,
too, will be a young widow. Then she licked her long,
crooked finger and smoothed my wild eyebrows. You will be a
young widow, she repeated, but you will also be rich
married Bohumil, I thought Babicka must have been wrong, since
he was only a paper mill manager. He earned a decent salary
but wasn't at all rich or with any rich prospects. I never
dreamt of money like so many Americans and European Unionists.
I dreamt of excitement and clarity of purpose. But Bohumil's
bright eyes, when he saw the card games and the green bills
exchanged for multi-colored chips in the casinos of Las Vegas,
showed a greed that shocked me.
to stay in Las Vegas for seven days at the Orleans Hotel and
Casino. Bohumil chose the Orleans because he said it
represented a place in America that knew struggle and
abandonment in a time of crisis, and because he read somewhere
that the odds and the seafood buffet were the best. When we
arrived in the morning, I was tired and wanted to sleep, but
Bohumil said first we must make love and then we had to go eat
all we could of shrimp. I didn't understand why we had to rush
to make love, since we'd done it so many times before, but he
had his way: we made love and then went downstairs and gorged
on shrimp until neither of us could take another bite. Bohumil
was happy but I thought we smelled like the French. Even
though he wanted to stay and gamble, I insisted we go up for a
shower and a nap. When I awoke a few hours later, Bohumil
wasn't there. He left a note on his pillow saying he'd gone
down to gamble and would be back soon.
window, I saw flatness, cars, dirt, and, far off in the
distance, a mountain peak covered with snow. The snow seemed
so out of place, I thought perhaps it was another casino, with
a Swiss theme. I waited for Bohumil but he didn't come, so I
went downstairs to find him. In the casino, you couldn't tell
it was midday, with so much lighting and smoke and people, but
without any windows or clocks. I sat at a bar to drink a beer,
and it was as if nobody saw me, like when I was a little girl;
people were so hypnotized by the games and the giant TV
screens. So many types strolled by: fat, old, young, sick. I
saw Chinese people, black people, Indians, Germans (who are
also fat like Americans but more red in the face and always
wearing terrible sandals). After two beers, I grew tired of
the crowds and noise. I didn't see Bohumil, so I went back up
to the room to wait. Bohumil was sitting in the room, on the
edge of the bed, looking down at his shoes.
didn't win," he said.
"Only people with money win," I said, kneeling down
and taking off his shoes.
down next to each other.
"Where would you have picked to go?" he asked.
"What's the point? We're here."
"America's so strange," he said, and we fell asleep
while sunlight still dominated the room.
up early in the night, both ready to venture outside and
explore the strip. A shuttle bus took us to an intersection at
the center of all the action. When he gambled, Bohumil played
poker and blackjack. He said slots were for people with fried
eggs for brains, but on a corner in front of the Eiffel Tower,
stood an enormous slot machine.
"The Centennial Slot," read the red neon sign.
"One Hundred Million Dollar Jackpot."
read the sign and his eyes got bigger, but he said the line
was too long and we would have to try it later. We did an
around-the-world-tour, with a pilsner in each casino: Paris,
New York, Monaco, Egypt, Venice, Rome, Italy, Morocco…and
where was Eastern Europe? Where was Budapest or Prague or
Krakow? Las Vegas seemed to me like the epitome of the shallow
west: putting up a fancy façade, highlighting its greatest
hits and pretending the rest of the world didn't exist. Not to
mention that every casino had dirty, old, busy, awful carpets.
very late and much less crowded when we walked back to the
Eiffel Tower for our pull at the Centennial Slot. Bohumil
hadn't gambled at all that night: I think he was saving his
luck for the big one. We held hands as we waited in line. A
sign asked us to please limit ourselves to three pulls
whenever there was a line. We looked behind us when it was
finally our turn. There was a line. Bohumil pulled three times
and we didn't win. Here, he said, handing me three more
dollars for a maximum bet. You pull the last one. It
was our fourth pull.
believe that when extraordinary things happen, time changes
speed. When the bald man took out his knife, the sound of the
blade against its sheath seemed delayed and distorted; when a
rabbit bit my finger to the bone as I snuck it a carrot at
Babicka's, its big front teeth came down so slowly, I felt I
could have pulled my finger away if only I wasn't so curious
as to how the bite would feel; when Bohumil entered me for the
first time, in our cheap hotel room in Budapest, time almost
stopped with the pain and the pleasure of it (for such a
skinny man, Bohumil was surprisingly large in the penis); and
when, on our fourth pull at the Centennial Slot, the number
100 appeared three times in a row, all sound and movement
slurred. I looked up in a daze and saw fireworks oozing into
the sky: red blots, purple blots, blue blots slowly exploding
into flower shapes and falling downward like lazy shooting
stars. I heard distant car horns, shouts, sirens and whistles.
Only then did I look at Bohumil, my sexy, solid young husband.
Only then did I see his pale face, his eyes bulging huge, his
whole body frozen rigid with shock, and only then did I
realize he wasn't breathing. Bohumil, I shouted, and
waved my hands in front of his face, as time reversed its
tricks and he fell fast backwards onto the sidewalk, stiff as
a tree and dead as a tree turned to paper.
see the image of Bohumil, lying there dead in the street,
everything gone suddenly quiet before the ambulance came,
before the men in suits came with their papers to sign, before
the swarms of news crews descended with long, probing
microphones. I was too shocked to speak or to sign any papers;
I could only climb in the back of the ambulance and ride next
to Bohumil's cold body. The men from the city followed in a
stretch limo; they waited in the hallway while I stood next to
Bohumil in the hospital morgue for hours, his mouth still
smelling of pilsner, his green eyes no less brightened by
death. It was almost dawn when a doctor came and asked me to
leave. The two men from the city still stood in the hall. I
had won the jackpot and there were many papers to sign, and
because my husband had died and we were only on a one-week
Visa, there would be more papers and bureaucratic matters to
come. The two men gave me a briefcase with fifty thousand
dollars cash, until the remaining sum, minus taxes, would be
delivered by check.
Orleans, our room was as we had left it when we'd woken from
our long nap and gone out into the early night. I could still
smell our lovemaking, and the shrimp, on our sheets. I tried
to lie in the spot where my body had last been next to
Bohumil's, but it was too painful and tightness took hold of
my throat. I walked to the window and sat, looking for a long
time at the snowcapped peak in the distance. Snow does not
belong in the middle of the desert, I thought. Death does not
belong in the middle of life. A knock came at the door. It was
"Compliments of the house," said a cheerful bellboy,
pushing in a cart with eggs, sausage, juice, chilled
champagne, croissants, toast, waffles, more than I could ever
eat even if I wasn't feeling severe shock and grief. The
waiter left and again I was alone, with the sickening smell of
hot food to remind me that life just goes on. I opened the
champagne and took it to the window. After I finished the
bottle, the phone rang. It was a newswoman; she offered her
condolences, then asked for an exclusive interview. I hung up.
The phone rang again. It was a man from the city. He said
they'd extended my visa to take care of paperwork and tax
formalities, and that a lawyer would come by in two days to
review the details and bring more papers for me to sign.
Inside, I laughed at how happy Bohumil would have been at the
amount of paperwork generated by the timing of his death.
After hanging up, I called downstairs and ordered more