By the author: "Loneliness-in-a-crowd. Depression-at-the-beach. These are very real scenarios to many of us, but we struggle with the “why” of it all. Why are we sadder and more isolated when we’re surrounded by happy vibrant people? How do the sights and sounds of families enjoying life affect others who are coping with loneliness and loss? My 1100-word story, “Sore Eyes”, does not attempt to solve this psychological riddle, but merely to put a face and a voice to loneliness – the kind of loneliness that often comes from personal or family illness, and the devastating loss of normalcy entailed thereby. Las Vegas is a perfect setting for dramatizing the contrasts that make loneliness such a palpable thing."
It was he tip-toeing on tiles that felt wet, gray. In the men’s room mirror a dripping steamy blur. That’s all he was. He blinked to blink away the chlorine burn. If only he could blink back something good: like his erstwhile hairline. The lonely remnants of which were plastered, left-right. By his last plunge.
It was he walking out. The sun still did its nosedive at him. Pop music stung him with high decibel force. The former had beckoned him poolside, hadn’t it. Book in hand. The latter had rudely spoiled his reading. He sat on the white aluminum and vinyl lounge chair where his jogging shoes, t-shirt, sunglasses and Steinbeck had pined for his return.
The chair was long enough, against his back the plastic straps pliable enough. The shade was tolerable. He could look up, and did. At two monoliths. Only picturing them at night. Outlined in blue neon. When the desert is just starting its cool-down. When each little tinted room chooses whether to be a soft yellow haven or a black mystery.
He a Vegas vanguard? A casinophile? Not in this card deck, partner. But. Those glassy rectangles rising above the pounding madness. Like rival stairways to heaven. They get him meditating on things. Like people, and how their lives go.
Go, you see, into little rooms. Into a corner. To live life in. And be safe. Which contradicts itself. Life is never safe. It’s a good bet there are regrets and fears stuffed into every last room up there, like junk mail into a wall of P.O. boxes.
“Can I gettu any-tin to drink?”
A small gold cross dangled over his unprepared bluish eyes. He turned them upwards toward two pools of melted copper. He did not let them stray. Even though something peripheral told him that a smooth arcing brownness was inches away, and little gauzy loincloths not very much farther.
His mouth smiled, not his eyes, as he said no thank you, and speculated what a nice Filipino girl like her was doing in a place like this.
What he felt, actually, was that his chest was ready to cave in. He only stared out over the sprawling pool. And tried to keep his thoughts afloat. A tattoo-covered body builder was wrapping his little girl in a plush hotel towel. He sat her on a lounge chair, with her Barbie doll and Little Mermaid sunglasses. Two other guys, maybe his buddies, were playing at tossing ice cubes into a plastic cup. The cup still had its wedge of lime in place.
A tall deep-tanned blond stood up. She was alone, and he wondered. She pulled a Kobe Bryant jersey over her bikini and walked away. She walked all the way out of the pool area, dropping her towel in the big hamper.
A guy suddenly burst out of the four-foot water, gasping for breath. He choked with laughter. “Barry White!” he yelled. Another guy wading nearby thudded himself in the head with the heel of his hand. “Barry White, that’s it! Thanks, Dude! That would have bothered me all day.”
For some reason, this didn’t connect with his funny bone. Or any bone. He just let out a soft snort. And tugged at some vague mental thread so thin that it broke. His mind couldn’t backtrack to where it had been. But he did not belong in this place.
Until a fresh voice poured upon him. And said, with decisive energy, “Hi. Would you mind if I borrow part of your shade?”
“No. Help yourself.”
She dragged a lounge chair out of the sun and alongside his. “Can you believe they charge fifty dollars for a half day for a cabana?” She looked too young to have any interest in such things.
“Charging for shade. Only in Las Vegas.”
“And what if it turns cloudy? Do you get your money back?”
This ray of satire warmed him. “Good question,” he replied, with crumpled brow. “They should at least prorate you for partly cloudy.”
“Ha. I agree.”
He had not expected to be so near anyone as to smell sweet coconut. He took some extra breaths in.
“How’s the water?” she asked. Eyeing him.
“Oh – ” For some reason he had to look down at his bony legs for an answer. “A little cold at first but, you’ll get used to it.” His mind was drowning in cornmeal mush.
Nodding, lightly tossing off her flip-flops and throwing down a copy of Sparknotes: Hamlet, she sat back. He saw her adjusting her shiny white shoulders. He saw her eyes flutter closed. Her mouth turn peaceful. Then his own eyes shifted and went limp.
Two pocket-sized gray and black birdies hopped about. In purple bougainvillea. Which scaled the stone wall above her head. The desert wind had picked up. The lanky palm trees around the pool all got weak-kneed and wavered. Watercolor clouds streaked the northwest horizon. Over beige foothills.
A hissing sound nearby. Distracted him. A dripping, shivering teenager. Spraying his younger brother with sunblock. Not caring about the fumes. Which blew at a young couple, eating burgers and fries. Who were equally oblivious.
“Mike – ” sailed a voice from behind. More familiar than the wind.
“Hi -” Her voice was a splash of cool water, and he blinked. Something dank and heavy lifted off his chest. It evaporated. He sat up straight.
“Do you want to stay longer?”
“No,” he waved off the idea. “I’m ready to go.”
“I wanted it so much to play one of those penny machines, you know, but they were all taken and the people wouldn’t get up. They were really winning and they were such fun machines –“
“Lots of bells and whistles, huh?” It was he standing up and seeing her. Putting on his shoes. Sensing the caress of a mirage that doesn’t blur. Or fade away.
“Yah, and tonight I really want to go early and get one of those machines.”
“OK, my darling.” The wry look on his face was surrogate for an underlying peace. “So if it’s midnight and I haven’t seen you for five hours, I’ll know that you’re winning millions of dollars on the penny machines.”
“Yah,” she cooed with a little girl voice, and gave him a soft hug. He curved one arm around her in a gentle hold, careful not to press the scar tissue that once had been her breasts. He was whole again.
Written by Chuck Redman
Written by Chuck Redman