Evelina Zuni LuceroUSAWriting2004
Sovereign Seven

On the same night she won a million dollar jackpot. Estella lost her innocence. The casino lights quivered in the early evening. Lana drove under the portal and stopped before the casino entrance. Stella fumbled to open the car door, first pulling on the window lever and armrest before finding the door latch. Excited at her night out, Stella stepped out lightly, her purse dangling from her arm. She smoothed imagined wrinkles in her purple dress, and straightened the white lace collar atop her best cardigan sweater. Before she closed the door, she leaned inside to catch Lana’s words. “Mickey said he’ll pick you up on his way home from work. Look for him around ten o‘clock.” She pointed at the ten on her wristwatch as a reminder, then called out, “Good luck!”

Such a sweet girl, Stella thought. Mickey was more than lucky in marrying her. How many women would put up with her son’s pickiness and on top of that, agree to take in a mother-in-law? Quivera Palace was busy, but not as jam-packed during the week as it was during the weekend. Estella’s blood raced as it always did at the sound of slots spinning, the clang of coins falling into metal trays, and the computerized music of machines paying out. Promise permeated the air. Suddenly, she was filled with an unexplainable sense of expectancy, the same feeling she had long ago as a young girl at her First Holy Communion, dressed in her white starchy dress and petticoat, white gloves, white shoes, and white veil, when she opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue to taste for the first time the wafer the priest poised before her. But curiously, it was the memory of her first confession that came back to her with such clarity as to transport her back in time. She was stepping up proudly to the confessional to tell El Padre her sins, relatively minor transgressions, venial sins, such as talking back to Mama, and stealing gum. She had even made up some more sins to confess since that didn’t seem enough for the blood the precious Savior had shed as the Sisters taught it. Mama had allowed her to wear her new white shoes to break them in, and as she neared the confessional, the slick underside of the shoes slid across the newly waxed wood floor, and down she went, her dress flying up in front of her catechism class. So embarrassing! And worse yet, she had scuffed one of the shoes with a black mark. She quickly picked herself up off the floor, and entered the confessional, grateful for its dimness. In a timorous voice, she said, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”

The memory made Estella blush. Just in case it was a premonition, she stepped cautiously on the thick carpet. She wandered the floor, enjoying the flashing lights, and clever game themes, looking for the machine that would call to her. By the end of the evening, her clothes and hair would reek of cigarette smoke, the smell of the forbidden, the reckless and wild. Estella had never been in a bar in her life. She had never sat on a stool in front of the mirrored bar with its rows of hard liquor sparkling in pretty bottles, or felt a glass of cold beer sweating in her hand or the burn of tequila down her I throat. This was the reason she came to the Indian casino though she had never been able to explain to Mickey exactly why she gambled.

The Sovereign Seven machines, the pride of the casino with huge payouts of $100,000, $500,000, and a million dollars were prominently placed at the entrance and throughout the casino. Estella ignored them. Not only were the stakes too high - it took one-dollar-minimum bets to play the machines - but she felt insulted by that type of slot, three gold-crowned Sevens lining up. Huh! What skill was involved there? Any chango pushing the buttons could eventually hit a jackpot.

She threaded her way among the clusters of slots to the twenty-five-cent video poker machines with the progressive jackpot. She slipped into an open chair between two other players, snapped open the clasp on her vinyl purse, looked around cautiously, and then quickly withdrew a crisp twenty-dollar bill from a side pocket. Earlier in the day, Lana had taken her to the bank to withdraw money, five twenty-dollar bills, which she had tucked into five different places in her purse. Unknown to Lana. Estella had dipped into her savings. Mickey had insisted she open the account and save a portion of her small income from Social Security “just in case.” Just in case she got real sick and they had to put her in a nursing home. He made the possibility seem so likely, she agreed, not wanting to be a burden to her children. But sometimes the thought crossed her mind that maybe the account was just in case she died of natural causes, there’d be something for all his troubles of taking care of her.