WEDNESDAY: Jenny Can’t Go Back to Bismarck


Copyright is held by the author.

YOU WOULD THINK if you left your twin toddlers drowning in the basement wash sink you wouldn’t go to the casino to throw your grocery money at the slots. Yet, not more than two hours after the little buggers took their last water-filled breath, Jenny Simpson of Bismarck, North Dakota, slipped on her best jeans and favourite satin blouse and the pearl earrings her grandmother had left her and drove 30 hilly miles to the Prairie Nights Casino. Jenny looked good, too — perhaps she was a bit too thin and perhaps she wore too much blue eye shadow, and if you looked closely at her arms, you’d see needle marks — but she definitely turned heads.

You would also think after committing a double infanticide you’d have a certain degree of paranoia wailing like a siren deep in your moral centre; yet, Jenny weaved her way through the herd of obese, cheaply dressed, chain smoking, and oh-so-hopeful degenerates towards her favourite slot machine, the Mad Hatter, feeling optimistic about her future and mercifully free from her current boyfriend’s anger management issues associated with his inability to hold a job or an erection.

Jenny settled onto the stool before the Mad Hatter’s maniacal neon eyes and pulled a bagful of quarters out of her purse. She shot the woman to her right a cursory smile and immediately began dropping quarter after quarter into the Hatter’s belly and prepared to collect the $199,999.99 jackpot the machine’s fancy ass graphics promised.

The slot machine’s lights flashed; bells clanged. The Mad Hatter’s animated arms flailed in computer-generated precision. But the Hatter not only failed to drop the 200 grand into her lap it also refused to disburse even a token quarter back into Jenny’s slender hands. Undaunted, Jenny reached into her purse and removed the stack of reserved quarters and her grandfather’s silver dollars hidden in a secret pocket at the bottom of her purse.

The result remained the same. Driven by cruel algorithms, the tumblers turned and fell and quickly drained Jenny of more than $100, quite a sum for a waitress who worked the late shift at the International House of Pancakes.

Now, at this point, you would think Jenny would consider her situation: the outrage sure to come from her family and community, her dwindling funds and, of course, the moral implications of her actions, but Jenny simply bit down hard on her lip and considered her plan, which had gone so well until now. She ran her hand along the Mad Hatter’s face and said: “I’ve kept my part of the bargain. Keep yours.”

A series of red lights within the Mad Hatter’s eyes flickered, but it remained silent. Such arrogance, Jenny thought as she turned to the large, red-headed women crushing the stool next to her. Jenny noticed the woman’s change bucket overflowed with nickels and quarters. “You’re having a nice night.”

The heifer ignored Jenny and poured nickel upon nickel into the Cat in the Hat’s grey belly.

“Excuse me, I’m speaking to you,” Jenny said.

The heifer glanced at Jenny, spat out her gum, turned back to her machine and pressed the “pull” switch. Nickels flooded out of the cat’s hat into the cow’s bucket and onto the floor.
Jenny felt the anger rise within. She rummaged through her purse for a vial of coke; a quick line would be nice right now; perhaps a little infusion of crank —crystal methamphetamine— anything to keep a tighter edge. Just in case, Jenny thought, I feel the urge to put the bitch down. She found nothing, just her last five quarters. Christ. “What makes you special?” Jenny said to the woman. “You think you’re better than me? Look at you. You’re gross. You’re a worm. If you weren’t wearing shoes, I wouldn’t be able to tell your head from your ass.”

The woman stood, grabbed her bucket of coins and lumbered away, her massive butt swaying from side to side.

Clearly now you would expect Jenny to reconsider things. Sure, her little tantrum made her feel better, but her plan had taken a detour. She had lost focus. She had lost most of her money. But Jenny leaned closed to the Mad Hatter, her warm breath gracing the machine. “You owe me,” Jenny whispered. “I deserve my reward, for all my sacrifices — my health, my dignity and most of all my youth, and isn’t that more precious than anything?”
Jenny shuddered thinking about the endless hours and days wasted with those miserable little boys. At least that part of the plan had worked perfectly. They hardly fought. They thrashed a little at the end. Their eyes darted back and forth, but they didn’t suffer. Not really.

With grim, pinched face determination, Jenny reached down into her purse and snatched her remaining quarters. She dropped the five quarters into the slots, grabbed the lever and paused. What if this doesn’t work? She thought. What if the Mad Hatter fails me? Then what? What’s my move?

Jenny rubbed her sweaty hands along her hips. She glanced down at her legs. Yes, she thought with a smile, I always have my body. I’ve used it before. I’ve kept myself fit. I’m not part of the herd eating my way to an early grave, killing myself with selfish indulgence. With this body, I can go anywhere. I can find another man if I want. I could make a living dancing. That’s not so bad, is it? Another smile. Yes, I can go anywhere. I just can’t go back to Bismarck.

Jenny pulled the lever. The Mad Hatter laughed and spilled out a pile of quarters.

Jenny screamed: so loud and so hard and so full of joy. Happily alone, a lovely wide world awaited her.


  1. Frank Sikora

    Thanks all. As I told Nancy, the prizewinner is actually about 200 words shorter (to fit the contest rules), a little sharper, and believe it not, a little darker, and also, a little more poetic. With each edit, the story changes, and in the end becomes something new. I am proud of each version, and I thank Nancy for her support. Also, please support Ascent Aspirations and buy the anthology when it comes out, and of course, buy Nancy’s first anthology and the new one when it comes out. I proudly have a story in each.

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