James sat before his machine lost in the lights, the repetition, and the plateau high of five straight hours of gambling. The reels came to rest, one-by-one, and for the seventh-straight roll he got nothing. His credit count cycled down to zero – a far cry from where he’d risen to over an hour ago.
‘Damn,’ he hissed to himself as he gave the machine a little kick.
The Queen of the Nile’s face staring down at him from the headboard seemed to smile a little as he slid in his last twenty-dollar note.
Rubbing his dry eyes as they struggled to focus, James swivelled in his seat. ‘What?’
The waiter, a young woman of twenty or so, stood behind him. ‘Would you like another beer, sir?’
Despite being fairly well oiled already, he fumbled in his pockets, wrenched out his wallet, and came up with less than two dollars. For a moment he thought about his credit cards. Flicking the corner of one he already knew was empty, he looked over them, trying to remember which ones had any credit. He looked up at the waiter. She smiled kindly and patiently. James shook his head and went back to his game.
The lights flashed at him, his credit count was back up, and the possibilities herein for riches were endless. He smiled as he reached out, remembering the look on Emma’s face that time she’d opened the door to their apartment and he’d waved seven-thousand, six-hundred and forty dollars worth of bills under her nose.
If he could just get one more win like that, the last year would be alright. Emma would stop crying all the time. The landlord would stop hassling him for money. The phone company might even reconnect his service. Just one more win.
He took a deep breath and pressed the button for dollar bets.
‘Come on, come on, come, on,’ he whispered as he watched the reels through tunnelled vision.
The reels were spinning again in a second, though his memory of reaching out to push the button was gone in the blink of an eye.
‘Come on, come on, come on. Please, just come on.’
‘Come on you fucking bastard!’ he growled, barely noticing the stool crash to the ground behind him as he stood over the reels as if he could will, or intimidate, a win out of them.
‘Come on, fuck you!’ he shouted, kicking the machine hard.
Someone had the temerity to tell him to shut up. He gave them a mouthful of his choicest insults, never taking his eyes off the screen.
He hit the button again, and again, and again.
“ARISTOCRAT GAMING THANKS YOU FOR PLAYING QUEEN OF THE NILE”
James fell on his arse, as if punched by the message that came up on the screen. His credit count flashed zeros in blinding white. Tears stung his eyes. Emma’s disappointment had already begun to crush his chest.
“WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY AGAIN?”
‘No, no, no, nonononono, NO!’ He shoved himself to his feet.
‘Fuck you Queen!’ he shouted at the machine. ‘You’ve ruined me! She’s gunna leave me because of you! You tricked me! You stole everything!’
He swirled around and looked at the spattering of fellow players around him. ‘Don’t you see what they’re doing? They’re just taking our money!’
He pointed at an old man. ‘You! How much money have you put through these –‘ he looked at the Queen of the Nile again to see the “ARISTOCRAT GAMING THANKS YOU FOR PLAYING QUEEN OF THE NILE” sign was up again, ‘ – Aristocrats?’
The man shrugged. ‘Hundred-thousand?’
‘And you,’ shouted James as he moved on to a young woman. ‘What about you?’
She opened her mouth to respond but he cut her off. ‘I say, no more! I say, down with poker machines! Down with the Aristocrats!’
Someone started a slow clap. It died a quick death.
‘Sir?’ the waiter was behind him.
‘Are you gunna help me?’ he said loudly.
She knelt down and grabbed the stool. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Am I okay? Aristocrat Gaming have just stolen my life through this Queen of the fucking Nile, took every last cent I have and then some. I borrowed money from Emma to come here for lunch five hours ago. Now that I haven’t won a fat wad of cash to win her back, she’s going to walk out of my life – how the hell do you think I am?’
‘Sometimes rock bottom is the best place to start again,’ she said, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
She straightened the stool with a smile. ‘Why don’t you have a seat, sir? I’ll get you something.’
‘What could possibly make this any better?‘ he said. But she had already turned and left.
James stood still a while, his mouth gawping, before taking a seat. Nausea swelled in his gut, mixing with a skinful of beer and Doritos. He shoved his hands in his pockets dejectedly. The hard edge of a coin nestled against his fingers. He pulled it out and saw kangaroos etched in gold. The one dollar coin shone before his eyes, all promise.
The machine next to him made a noise and he looked up. A wizard with a long beard looked down at him with a smile. He looked back down at the coin. He closed his eyes. Emma smiled at him there.
‘I can do this. I can do this for her,’ he whispered as he reached out and dropped the coin in.
‘I can make her love me again.’
He pressed the button.
‘One last spin.’
The reels spun on the screen. One by one, they stopped.
He won ten dollars.
He looked up triumphantly as the waiter handed him a glass of water.
‘Perhaps, sir, you should go home?’
‘No, my dear waitress!’ said James, ‘Can’t you see my luck’s changed?’