‘Remember to forget,’ the signs in the Las Vegas airport yelled at me from every direction.
That was why I was here, to forget. Only I wanted to forget everything I had left at home.
‘But I chose you!’ Joseph’s words shouted through my head.
‘It was not your choice!’ Had been my last words to him before I had slammed the door.
The person who had the affair, the adulterer, was not the one who was able to choose whether the marriage carried on.
If he had told me at the time, if I had known then, maybe I would have chosen to stay. But two years afterwards…
He should have been honest then. It should have been my choice then.
Now it was my choice and I had chosen to walk out and fly to Las Vegas.
I was running away with my hands covering my eyes and ears. See no, hear no evil. But I didn’t care. I had lost me somewhere. I wanted her back. I was trying to find me again because the foundation I had worked so hard to build my current life on had been a lie for the last two and a half years. I thought I had been a respected woman at work and a loved wife. Instead, I had been cheated on and lied to, and nearly everyone around me knew.
I wanted to shout and scream for the sake of screaming—to let the anger tearing at me get to the outside. I hoped, in the noise of Las Vegas, my screaming would be drowned out.
Today I didn’t love Joseph anymore, and today I did not think I ever would again. He had stamped on my heart and crushed the love out of it. He did not deserve for me to care what he felt. But maybe tomorrow that would change. I did not understand how to respond when someone declared that they’d had an affair that had ended two years before but that they had stayed with you because they had realised how much they loved you. Two years ago!
This was my time to choose whether I loved him enough to forgive him for something that had happened in the past.
For now, though, I was going to forget about him and spend money. If I did sue for divorce he did not deserve to have any of the money I had been saving for four years. It was meant to be for my future. I would rather ruin that and waste it all than let him have half.
When I walked out of the airport’s air-conditioned hall, Las Vegas’s heat and humidity hit me; it had been a gloomy, showery April day in London.
I was here, in the USA. It was my first time. I was a Las Vegas and American virgin.
I smiled for the benefit of no one but myself.
This was me.
This was the me who stood up in front of bad people and helped deliver justice. This me was strong, and she had come here to prove to herself that she could be alone and not scared.
My fingers tightened their hold on the handle of the suitcase. A suitcase was the only thing I had left to hang on to. I had taken every lifeline away from myself by coming here. But I needed to prove to myself that I could do this.
The heels of my stilettos clicked on the tarmac as I walked towards the taxis.
I was here, and I was here to gamble and go wild. If I wanted to. I could do anything here. No one judged in Las Vegas. That was the saying that had brought me here to buy into it. I did not want to be judged; I just wanted to be and not have to think.
The taxi driver got out to take my case and put it in the car boot.
I slid into the back of the taxi without anything to hold on to.
‘Where to, ma’am?’ he said when he dropped into the driver’s seat.
I told him the name of the hotel.
The second thing I discovered about Las Vegas, other than that it was hot, was that the middle of it was much smaller than I had expected. My eyes looked left to right and back again as the taxi travelled. Everything was more spacious than London, the streets were wide and mountains stretched into the sky in the distance. There was no distance in London.
It took fifteen minutes to reach the hotel. I paid the driver. He collected the case from the boot. Then I was left on my own on the pavement holding on to my suitcase. The taxi had crossed the main street where everything exciting must happen but I was at the back of the hotel. Here, it was just queues of vehicles dropping people off or waiting to pick them up.
My tongue stuck to the dry roof of my mouth. I tried to swallow when I turned around and walked in.
How many people came to Las Vegas alone?
The man who booked me in at the reception desk honoured the Las Vegas escapists’ code and didn’t even raise an eyebrow at my aloneness. He smiled and asked if I would like to go on any tours while I was here, book a show or a table in the restaurant?
I refused everything. I wanted to explore and understand Las Vegas before I planned anything. I was cautious. It had taken me six months to accept Joseph’s invite to go on a date and he had flattered me constantly at work and bought me thoughtful gifts until I had finally believed he was real. Only to discover four years later that he was not real.
The hotel room was spacious. A queen-size bed, sofa, and desk furnished the bedroom, and a walk-through wardrobe, with one side of mirrors, lined the route to a bathroom. It had a sense of an apartment. Which was good because I had not booked a flight home. I might decide to stay for weeks or months if I chose not to go back to Joseph.
I put my case on the bed and unzipped it, hung up my evening dresses, put my T-shirts, skirts, shorts and underwear in the drawers, then put my makeup out on the vanity table in the dressing area. I took my toothbrush into the bathroom and then it all seemed final. That was the moment when I believed I had separated from Joseph.
And I was in Las Vegas!
My heartbeat pounded in my arteries, ringing in my ears.
I faced myself in the bathroom mirror.
‘You do not deserve me, Joseph.’
The scar on the left side of my throat caught my eye. I looked away from it, at the reflection of my face. A voice that Joseph had stirred up spoke of ugliness and uselessness.
I turned away from the mirror, from that insecure woman. I didn’t want to be her. I had cut off her hair years ago, when she had first run away, thrown out her clothes and become someone new.
‘The Las Vegas me,’ I said aloud to silence the voice, as I walked into the bedroom, ‘she is strong.’ I would fight this, and maybe I would make myself someone different again when I went home. Although I couldn’t cut my hair any shorter unless I shaved it off.
I picked out a black cocktail dress that was covered in sequins. I’d bought it for an office party three years ago. The Christmas before I had married Joseph.
The memory made me hang it back up.
I put on an electric blue dress that I had bought for my sister’s forty-fifth birthday party. The fabric had a satin texture with a tuck at one side of the waist. It had a flattering, but not flirtatious, pencil skirt and embraced me beneath and over my bosom. The short sleeves cupped the tops of my shoulders. I looked good in the mirror. The colour pulled out the blue in my eyes and the low V-neckline set off the way my blonde hair was styled to taper at my nape. It made my neck look longer. My gaze caught on the scar at the base of my throat. I looked into my eyes.
I didn’t want to look good for the benefit of anybody else, just for me.
At home I spent hours in gyms and beauty salons because those things helped pin me together.
But Joseph’s affair had sprinkled doubt in my head like a packet of cress seeds. The jumbled twisted roots of negative thoughts were growing through my mind in a tangle of confusion. I didn’t trust anything. If my past had been different perhaps I could forgive him—instead I had travelled halfway around the world to run from the pain. Not him. I had not run from him. I had run from me.
Put a face on. Hide the reality. I could cover up anything with makeup. I had done it for years.
I did it tastefully, with natural colours, setting a glow to my skin beneath the powder. I could be me.
I looked at my full-length image.
No, I can’t.
I sat down on the bed. My hands clasped the back of my head as I leaned over, cowed. My spirit was so knocked it wanted to drag me down on to the floor. Why had Joseph done it? I had believed he’d loved me. I had been tricked. How could I be who I had been two weeks ago?
Because I could not let this crush me.
I had to fight.
I straightened up, my hands falling, then stood. It was just about strength. I had to be strong.
Dutch courage would help.
I had bought a bottle of gin from the duty free on the plane. It was in the wardrobe to stop me from being tempted to drink it too early in the day. It was not early now and if I was going to walk downstairs my legs needed gin to start moving.
The screw cap was stiff but after a moment it twisted loose. I drank several mouthfuls from the bottle. The hit from the alcohol shivered through my blood. Then I screwed the lid back on and put the bottle away. Joseph had said sometimes I drank like an alcoholic. Sometimes I did but I think my life justified that, sometimes.
‘Just get out of this room and go to the casino, the noise will fill your head and you won’t feel trapped anymore.’ I said the words to the woman in the mirror. ‘You know if you stay here tonight you’ll never build up the courage to go out on your own.’ The determined voice slapped my bottom, making me move.
I walked over to put some shoes on and selected the highest heels. Then picked up my handbag and the room key from the vanity table in the dressing area by the door.
I clasped the door handle.
I opened the door and walked out before I lost courage.
The room was at the far end of a hall and it meant I had a long walk to the lifts. Courage and strength of mind was all I needed.
The two couples who shared the lift with me talked and laughed, expressing how excited they were to be in Las Vegas.
I should be excited too. I should think about that. As I rode down, standing in the corner because the couples filled up the rest of the space, I held my handbag in front of me like a shield. The bag tapped against my stomach with the tremble in my hands.
The lift doors opened and the noise of the casino swept in, music, loud voices and the tunes of the electronic gaming machines.
My heart jumped, joining the rhythm of the background music. I forced my legs to walk me out of the lift on to the gaudy brown and gold patterned carpet.
There were a few empty tables in the room but most of the tables had groups of people around them. One craps table was surrounded by about twenty men watching a woman throw the dice. A couple of the roulette tables had crowds watching too.
‘Before you lose your nerve, get some chips,’ I whispered the words at myself, trying to keep my legs moving and my lungs breathing. I did not want to panic here.
A woman who had come out of the lift ahead of me looked back.
The strange single woman was now talking to herself.
I smiled. She smiled back.
It was Las Vegas. I had come here because if I could not be weird here, then where?
At the cashier window, I was going to hand over a hundred dollars, but—why hold back? I used my bank card and changed a thousand. Once I had the chips in my hand I turned around, looking at all the tables. The only game I knew anything about was blackjack, and the blackjack tables were the quietest.
There was a blackjack table with no players in a corner right at the back on the far side of the room. If I went there, less people would be likely to cross the room and join the game. My heart pounded again as I wove through the tables with a slow, high-heeled enforced sashay.
A finish line sign dropped from the ceiling above the table and I was running, in slow motion, to reach a ribbon I could tear through. Just a few more meters without anyone else noticing I was alone and out of place.
My eyes focused on one of the high, long-legged chairs. I had to climb on to that chair in a pencil skirt. My new concern was not reaching the table but getting on the chair without falling or tearing my dress.
When I reached it, I put my bag on the table and navigated the ascent with as much class as I could.
I was on it, and I was here, doing this.
I looked at the croupier.
The young man smiled.