By Alayna Seggi
I grabbed a chunk of hair, smoothed it, clamped it into the curler, and wrapped and released the hair. Only a million more pieces to go. Ally had such thick, hazelnut hair that her appointments always lasted an hour and a half.
“Betty, I think you’re almost out of hairspray,” said Ally, sitting in the salon chair under the pink bubblegum cape in her cat-eye glasses. She was right. The bottle cracked and sizzled, desperately attempting to spray out the remaining drops.
“If you didn’t insist on this beehive updo near every week, then I wouldn’t be out!” God love Ally, but she really was the reason why I had to stock so much hairspray.
“I like to be vintage,” said Ally. “It works for me.”
Working on a regular customer one chair over, Daisy flipped on that hairdryer. It whirred and spurred above the noise of the radio, the gossip, and the fan. Sadly, we couldn’t afford no air conditioning. Growing up in a small town had taught me that there are no such things as secrets. Maybe that’s why I’ve decided to come back to an even smaller town. At least here I knew that people were telling the truth. As I continued the process of pinning and teasing Ally’s hair, I hummed along with the Four Seasons as my mind drifted back to a place that I never wanted to return to—Las Vegas
* * *
I was twenty-five years old, just trying to get lost from my down-home town in Oklahoma. I bought a one-way ticket to Vegas and didn’t never look back. The lights beamed from miles away, and when the bus pulled into town, I knew that this place was bigger than life. Caesar’s Palace, Riviera, Stardust, the Aladdin, and the Four Queens towered over my ant body, the heat from the lights burned my eyes, and the strip itself seemed to say to me, “I’m gonna eat you up.”
The moment I met Jimmy was when my life changed. He was handsome and rough around the edges. Deep brown eyes and slick midnight hair surrounded his charisma. Jimmy took me in when I had nowhere to go, not a chance at surviving this place. He taught me how to hustle and deceive men into giving me money. I learned about gambling and how to cheat in the big-league casinos. There were typical mechanics, handicappers, cappers, and colored-up players, but that’s how you get caught. A good hustler is always on the edge, and that’s how Jimmy taught me to be. I would cozy up to the fat politicians who were there without their wives and played the game.
Sometimes they just couldn’t stop drinking and those men were the easiest to steal from.
“Another cocktail, honey?” they’d ask me.
“Only if you’ll have one too!” I’d say, with a fake blood-red lipstick smile and batty eyelashes that I curled dark as night and long enough to brush my cheeks when I blinked.
Jimmy always said, “You gotta catch their attention. Stand out in the crowd, be the most beautiful woman there, and you’ll get the action because you’re likable.”
Velvet dresses, long curled hair, and towering stilettoes worked wonders. I started my shift at 11:00 PM and walked out of the casinos with a buzz and three million dollars by 6:00 AM. The Georges even tipped me for my generous hospitality, and I’d hand their share over to the valet as I left the building. We all worked together in this industry.
One night, I was working at Flamingo. The men were flirting and buying me strawberry daquiris, so I knew it was gonna be a big hit tonight. This one porky government man, what was his name?—I’ll just call him Mr. Piggybanks—was firing away and winning and going all in. I slipped him a pill, just like Jimmy taught me, and I claimed my winnings when he passed out in the men’s room. I paid up my partners and went on my way until Jimmy speedwalked up to me outside of the casino.
“Where’s my money, huh? You owe me,” he said with liquor on his breath.
“I’ve already paid up, Jimmy, what more do you want from me?”
“No. You give it to me, or I’ll have you arrested, you good-for-nothing whore.” Jimmy’s words slurred.
I’m not sure what he was on, but he wasn’t right.
“Hey, over here! She’s smuggling money, she’s cheating, call in an eighty-six!” Jimmy screamed from the red carpet.
“What are you doing?” I recollected myself and painted on my signature smile, rows of white sparkling teeth to reassure the several stopped spectators. “Jimmy, dear, let’s be calm. I’ll talk to you at home.”
“No, we’re tal—”
I cut him off as I strode to the limo, pulled him in, and slammed the door. After he screamed, cussed, and swung once or twice, he finally passed out. I can’t believe I still went home with him. Not just to avoid prison, but because I wanted to be with him.
After the driver helped me carry his limp body inside, I was disgusted by the vast amount of powder all over the countertops, the bottles rolling along the hallway. The answering machine blinked so I hit it. A low, dry voice bellowed out of the speaker, “Hey, Jim. Tonight, there’s gonna be eyes in the sky at Flamingo. Be sure to point her out.” Beeeeeeep. Jimmy was still asleep. He made sure to hide the combination from me, but he taught me how to read cards and smuggle jewels from the rich gamblers. He thought I was stupid, but I cracked that safe and let the door swing out as I walked away with my things.
Since that night, I haven’t been back to Vegas or talked to anyone there. As far as they know, I’m dead. I fled into the early morning, mascara streaming down my face and heels in hand. I took up a new identity, new name, new lifestyle, new hair dye. Dye, that’s right, I needed to order some more Fierce Red for the salon.
“Betty, look at those curls!” said Daisy.
“I love it, looks good every time,” said Ally.
I had finished Ally’s updo and her head filled with large curls. “You’re welcome sweetie,” I said.
I heard on the news that Jimmy overdosed or went to jail, but I couldn’t be sure. I stepped out for a cigarette, wrapping my jacket around me before the chill seeped into my soul.
Alayna Seggi is from Erie, Pennsylvania and attended Fort LeBoeuf High School. She is majoring in English education and will graduate in the spring of 2021. She plans to attend graduate school and earn a degree in school counseling while simultaneously teaching. She played volleyball for three years, and in her sophomore season helped her team secure an AMCC championship and NCAA appearance. This is her first publication. She’d like to continue studying creative writing at some point as well. Santa Date, War Zone, Working with Ameera