The Lord Hath Taken Away

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Set your story in a casino.... view prompt


American Contemporary

The sound of the horse hooves clopping on the dead earth helped me forget the ranch. I followed the horses to the scrapyard where the animals weaved through the burnt-out husks of Nissan Maximas and Scania trucks. The horses trod more lightly in this constrained space. They neighed when they struck their shanks against the metal. They neighed when they were confused which way to turn to be free of the cars. I thought I'd follow the horses wherever they led as I had no place to be. They were wild horses.

But before I knew it the horses had galloped off. I reached the road to what I hoped was the town. I knew that after the town was the casino, and if I wasn't going to be on the ranch I'd be on the casino. The land abutting the road was barren and withered, but I came across an unexpected plantation of trees. The trees were soon gone, as if they had never been at all. The leaves lined the road long after the trees had disappeared. My hobnailed boots scattered the leaves and they returned to the sky. There was a leaf stuck to a hobnail of my boot when I reached Dagmar's fenced-in yard. She was arguing with a man, but I never saw who it was. The man left through a side door and drove off in a car. Dagmar's house sat on top of a hill, and the car snaked down the way. Later, I heard a clang like a woman banging a pot, and I thought that the woman inside was swinging a heavy copper pot in anger. I wasn't far from the truth. I didn't know who the woman was.

When I reached Dagmar's window, she was pacing in the kitchen. She was still beautiful. I hadn't met her before, but she seemed like a woman who was holding on to the last vestiges of her beauty. She wasn't old, but hard living can age people. Perhaps it isn't my place to comment on the subject. Dagmar walked to the window to rest her elbows on the sink. The metal sink was below the window. I heard her say to herself: "I'll tie up all the horses and leave." I hadn't seen her horses, but after she said that I noticed the paddock beside the house. It was several minutes more before she noticed me just a few feet away. When she saw me, she bade me come in. She opened the green-painted door for me and smoothed her shiny hair as I passed her to reach the inside of her house. Her hair was the most youthful part of her and she was proud of it. The house had a persistent horse smell, as if she let the horses trot in it. She led me to the living room where there were two chairs and a couch, and she told me to have a seat.

She wasn't immediately chatty. She slow-burned herself into conversation. She said: "You're not the first young man to run off the ranch and find his way here. I've been here 15 years and I've seen many."

She looked past me to the horses wandering in the paddock. They’d appeared finally.

"I didn't say I ran off the ranch."

"You didn't have to say," she said. "You have the look of someone who has. Several boys from the Macquarie place have found their way here."

Behind her was a framed photograph of a man wearing a 10-gallon hat.

"If you think you'll have a chance to sleep with me, you're mistaken," she said.

"I didn't say anything like that, Ma'am."

"I didn't say you said it."

"I didn't think it either," I said.

Dagmar turned from me and regarded the framed photograph on the wall. From her look I knew that she despised the man. Or she wanted to believe that she despised him. He was smiling and satisfied like someone who'd made a fortune in the petroleum industry and had moved someplace far. It was hard to say how old he was. He was one of those winsome, well-favored men who always appear young. He'd grown prosperous and left her here on this bedraggled scratch of land. He’d left her alone and she hated him for it. But the heart is deceitful above all things and what she felt wasn't anywhere akin to hatred. Someone had to remain and keep those goddamned cold-branded horses. Cold-branding is a way of branding animals so it doesn't hurt them. Or at least that's what people say.

Dagmar turned and smiled softly at me when she was done regarding her husband's photograph. She said: "I don't have much need for you. You could help me at the casino if you want. I already know that's where you're going."

"It's just over that hill there," I said.

"No, it's not," said Dagmar. "It's another 10 miles. You could walk it, but I wouldn't recommend it. I'll get Olga to drive you tomorrow."


"Yes, Olga. She's my main casino thief."

"She sounds like a female arm wrestler."

"No, she's not like that at all," said Dagmar. "She could be a model. That's why she's so good. You'll meet her tomorrow."

Dagmar stood up and made to walk from the room. She was on the thin side but beautifully shaped. "You'll sleep out here," she said. "That couch there turns into a bed. It transforms. If you need anything, you could probably find it in the kitchen. I even have men's razors: the brand my husband used to buy. I always hated when his beard became unruly."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"You don't have to call me, Ma'am," said Dagmar. "And don't come into my bedroom. You're here to help, not to have any personal dealings with me."

Dagmar left and walked into her bedroom. She slammed her bedroom door as if making a point. As soon as she was gone, I ran into the kitchen to see if she was telling the truth about the things in there. She was. I found Gillette razors and men's underwear and gentlemen’s sandalwood soap for shaving. The kind that really lathers up good. It's agreeable for when you're using a straight razor to shave rather than the electric kind. I felt so content just then, but I couldn't say why. I washed my face and shaved. I took my time. It wasn't even 11PM, but when I was done shaving, I pulled out the couch that transforms into a bed. My boots were already off so I just took off the rest of my things and got into the bed. As soon as I hit the bed springs, I was instantly asleep. But I awoke in the night. When I woke up, I saw that Dagmar's bedroom door was ajar. In the scarce light, I saw that there was a man-sized spider in the bed, but no Dagmar. Dagmar had transformed herself into a spider.

In the morning, I heard the sound of a horse whinnying in the paddock. I heard a machine churning in the kitchen. Then came Dagmar's footsteps. She leaned over me, still in the bed. "Get up, Tommy," she said. She was attired more formally today: in a handsome dress that came down to below her knee and was cinched in at the waist. In the kitchen, I asked her if that meant she was coming with us to the casino too, and she told me she wasn't. I realized then that I didn't know where my clothes were. I was only dressed in my under clothes. Dagmar told me that she’d hand washed my clothes and they were hanging on the line. The sun was up and it was a smoldering Nevada sun, so they'd be dry in no time. I said: "I hope they'll be dry before Olga gets here. That way I'll be dressed." And Dagmar said Olga might like it better if I wasn't dressed. Pretty boy like me. She didn't laugh or turn to smile at me so I didn't know if she was serious.

When Olga came, she pulled up behind the house in her car and honked the horn to signal that she was ready. I was dressed by then. My clothes looked the showiest I'd ever seen them. The red-gold flannel shirt was even showier than when Mr. Macquarie had given the shirt to me on my first day at the ranch.

"And you'll need this," Dagmar said before I walked out the door. She took a cowboy hat that had been sitting on the kitchen table and set it gently atop my head. I didn't ask if the hat belonged to the man she’d been arguing with when I turned up yesterday. I didn't care. "It'll make you look official. You'll look like you belong at the casino, and the two of you can get as much money as you can."

"I'm not a thief," I told Dagmar.

"I didn't say you were," she said. "You're just there to help Olga."

Olga honked again and that was my sign to get along. Dagmar hugged me unexpectedly, and I walked through the door. Olga didn't meet eyes with me as I approached her car: a non-burnt-out Nissan Maxima. This non-meeting of the eyes only made Olga seem more beautiful. And she looked expensive and out of place in the country. She had this way of styling her hair.

Olga told me it'd be easy, all this casino business. Once we got to the casino, we'd find a blackjack table or a roulette table or a Texas hold 'em table. We'd play, or at least Olga would play, and I would keep to her like it was the '60s and I was her escort to the hootenanny. Olga had money for gambling. And as luck would have it (her luck, not the casino's), Olga was actually good at casino games. And when she wasn't winning at games, she was sliding her hands into the back pockets of the men that came to the casino to burn their money away and meet the casino groupies.

As Dagmar said, the casino was 10 miles away. At one point, we came close to converging with two cowboys that led a herd to a crossing point in the road. But Olga stepped on the gas until the Nissan engine rattled and spurted and we passed the herd before they crossed. Otherwise, we would have had to wait for the herd to fully make it to the far side of the road and God only knew how long that would take. The cowboys yipped at us as we drove past, but they didn't seem angry.

I still heard the cowboys yipping when I reached the casino with Olga. The cowboys weren't there but it was like we'd carried their heady spirits with us. Olga got out of the car first and I saw how tall she was. Taller than I was. I didn't know if the people at the place would believe I was with her. But just before we reached the glass doors into the casino, Olga looped her arm into mine. I suddenly lost myself. I was reduced to just another part of Olga. We were greeted when we went into the casino. No one asked us for ID. Olga was known at the place. We first went to the slot machines where Olga collected at least one wallet. Then we went to Texas hold 'em as a lead up to the blackjack, where the real high-rollers are, so Olga told me. I had actually never been to a casino before. A boy named Adam on the ranch told me if I hated the ranch so much I could just go work at the casino. He was trying to be nice, though I didn't realize it at the time. As I watched Olga play her game, I saw that the people mopping the floors and restocking the slot machines with nickels were all boys my age. That's what I'd be doing soon enough.

We made our way to the blackjack table. The casino opened early so it’d still been daylight out when we entered, but now night was rolling in. Just rolling up on us like wild horses coming down a hill. The men made a space for Olga at the table and I stood off somewhat. But it was acknowledged by all that I was with her. The men just sort of looked at me and knew. That's why I was there after all. A young woman who came to the casino alone was suspicious, but a young woman who came with a cattle rancher was free to swipe as many wallets as she pleased. I didn't want to think about because it felt wrong. I scanned the room. But Olga was good. She not only won a round of blackjack, but when the men all laughed and chatted amongst themselves between rounds, she grabbed the wallet of the man nearest to her. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away.

The Lord also smites, but Olga's time for that was far in the future. At one point, Olga signaled to me that she wanted to leave after the next round. When the round was up, she got up to leave the table, but was stopped by a man who approached her. He was friendly about it. They got to talking and I learned that his name was Reynolds. He was a man sporting a bright blue store-bought suit and a bushy mustache. Olga had a way of looking elated when she talked to men. Bushy-tailed. She touched Reynolds's forearm and squeezed it as she spoke to him.

"Didn't I see you at Dagmar's day before last?" Reynolds asked.

"I don’t believe so," said Olga.

"No? Maybe not," said Reynolds. "You have to stay for one more round."

Olga agreed, and by the time the round was over and everyone had cleared the table, Olga had stolen his watch. It was a kind of magic.

In the car, Olga told me about her plans. She seemed to think there’d come a time when she wouldn't be stealing anymore. When her life would be entirely different. But I suppose I understood life better than she did. Olga was prettier when she was herself. Like a woman who has suddenly removed all her makeup to reveal that beneath all those layers there had always been this person that no one had seen before. We came across the same cowboys that we had met on the way to the casino, but this time Olga didn't try to race them to the crossing. We waited for the cowboys and their herd to slowly cross the road. Painfully slow, dreadful. But Olga seemed at peace and I joined her in this peace. When we reached the bottom of the hill where Dagmar's house was, Olga turned to me in the passenger seat.

"This is your stop, Tommy," she said.

I got out, but Olga got out too. She joined me at the hood of the car. She handed me a stack of bills and told me to give it to Dagmar. Then she hugged me real close and slipped a watch into the back pocket of my wranglers. I told her I didn't want it, but she was already walking back to the driver’s seat as I said it. I began to walk up the hill and I heard the sound the car tires made as they rumbled on the road.

When I reached the house, Dagmar was waiting for me. But she turned her back to me and pretended she was doing the dishes. She turned on the faucet, but there wasn't a single dish in the sink.

"I got a call this afternoon," she said.

"Really. Who was it?"

"It was Reynolds, a friend of mine," said Dagmar. "He said someone stole his wallet at the casino."

"Is Reynolds the man who was here when I came yesterday?" I asked.

"Yes, but I don't see what that has to do with anything."

"I didn't steal his wallet," I told Dagmar. "I didn't steal anyone's wallet. Here," I told her, and I produced Reynolds's gold watch from my back pocket.

"Goddamn it," Dagmar said, slamming her fist on the laminate counter top.

I left the gold watch on the counter and walked out of the kitchen. I wasn't half out of it when I heard: "Here, you keep it." And I felt the heft of the gold watch smack me between my shoulder blades. It jolted me and I stopped dead in my tracks. That night, I transformed the couch into a bed again, but I didn't sleep. Somehow I was still jolted. When I got up, Dagmar was sitting in the living room by the television.

"I'm angry about something," Dagmar said. "Reynolds. I'm angry about Reynolds."

I laughed and sat up in the bed.

"You're not angry about Reynolds," I said. "You're angry about Olga. She was making the moves on me yesterday. You saw her and you didn't like it."

Dagmar stood up and turned her back to the television. She turned her gaze to the framed photograph of the man wearing the hat. The man in the 10-gallon hat raised a single hand and swatted away some dust that had collected on his shoulder. He stepped out of his portrait. First one leg, then another. He was much heavier than he looked when all you could see was his face. He walked out of the house and found the road to the scrapyard. He scattered the fallen leaves with his hobnailed boots and they returned to the sky.

January 11, 2023 05:15

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Tommy Goround
05:21 Feb 08, 2023

This story is memorable


Alexey Williams
14:16 Feb 08, 2023

Thanks, Tommy.


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Tommy Goround
18:58 Jan 16, 2023

Geeze. Everytime I thought you might make a good story stale, you flipped the pancake over. Whorehouse? Maybe not. But a nice little ranch somewhere in Nevada, where the proprietor becomes a large spider at night, males find themselves between hard work of the ranch and work at casinos that require tiny fingers. Olga is a "fingersmith" to quote a Dahl. Nice homage to moustache and Reynolds. The characters are Steinbeck good. Ten gallons are actually quite a large amount. I wonder where the expressions drives. Maybe it is because soldie...


Alexey Williams
02:18 Jan 17, 2023

Thanks, Tommy. The story was real for me too. A working class story that takes place in the West, rather than a true Western. As you mentioned, the narrator is making the most of a situation. But really, they're all making the most of their situations, which for me is where the undercurrent of class comes in. I have to admit that I like these DH Lawrence types of stories where the class issue is kind of the elephant in the room. Sometimes it's mentioned, but other times it isn't. It's just sort of there.


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Lily Finch
15:13 Jan 17, 2023

Alexey, the running theme in the story's undercurrent is the different distinctions between people and their places in society. The characters are believable and easily readable, including the incidents about life with cows. You seem to have a great grip on that life. I enjoyed the ending. People have ties to where they "belong in life" but must also take "their current situation and make it better for themselves." This story had great flow, pacing and build-up. Well done! Thanks for the great read. LF6.


Alexey Williams
18:28 Jan 17, 2023

Thank you, Lily.


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Hannah K
22:50 Jan 11, 2023

I love the western aesthetic! I find descriptions of the western scenery, clothing, and lifestyle so intriguing! Westerns used to be so popular. Now I feel like they're less so, but I'd love to see the western return, because it's such a fascinating genre. I also loved the dreamlike/mystical quality of this story. I find the simple way you write descriptions very effective. The sentence structure is so simple, it grabs the reader's attention just for the sake of simplicity and creates a clear image. For example: "The metal sink was below t...


Alexey Williams
03:38 Jan 12, 2023

Thank you, Hannah.


Hannah K
15:05 Jan 12, 2023

You're welcome!


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