‘You need to use Chapstick,’ Emily said. ‘That’s the first thing.’
This was as we walked along the strip at sunset, rows of buildings wrapped in Christmas lights. Groups of Mexican guys crowded street corners, clicking business cards against their hands, handing them to you as you passed. Each card had a photo of a naked woman with a phone number beneath.
‘Because Vegas is in the desert, and that dry air will crack your lips like old paint. So be a tough guy about it if you want, but you’ll regret it.’
We caught a bus out to old Vegas. An old drunk guy with a wrinkled hole for a mouth sat in the back seat, drinking and talking too loud at some girl. ‘You’re ma’ cowgurl,’ he growled in that bending American twang. One of his eyes was bruised, puffed over like a fortune cookie. ‘I lurve you, cowgurl,’ he gurgled, sliding down into the seat.
Old Vegas was a ghost town of tiny light bulbs and rubbish and gun shops, and buildings like you’d see in black and white films. It looked like a carnival the day after; the air heavy with regret.
‘I’ve been staying just round the corner here.’ Emily pointed. ‘It’s a hostel, but it’s good, you know?’
We headed back to the strip as the daylight faded, the sun settling behind the desert suburbs.
They had a minimum drink tab at all the bars if you wanted to watch the game so we just walked until we found an outdoor bar on the footpath, a tiny TV set up between the bottles lined behind it. We sat in the sticking heat, watching what we could.
A couple in their wedding clothes were at one of the other tables: the bride slumped over it, groom draped backwards on his chair. Beyond that, a building under construction, cranes frozen against the horizon like dinosaurs. Metal framework poking into the sky. On the side of the building you could see the name ‘Lady Luck’ stencilled in the grime from where they’d taken down the letters.
‘Drinks are free while you’re gambling.’ Emily said. ‘You can drink us much as you want, all free.’ Someone in a passing car yelled out something about Kobe Bryant. ‘Honestly,’ Emily put a hand on my leg. ‘You’re going to have an amazing time.’
In the first hours of the morning, in the darkness of the hotel room, I stood naked at the full-length window, the air-conditioner breeze chilling across my skin. I could see out to where the lights ended, to the shadows of the distant mountains. Headlights trailed by down below, voices echoed up through the buildings-yelling, screaming, laughing. I put a hand up on the glass, mist steaming from my touch. The pale band ringed round my finger. A reminder. A scar.
Andrew Hutchinson is a Melbourne based writer. He has a website: www.andrewhutchinson.com.au