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by Jane Copland

The full-chested, tight-throated excitement sweeping arrivals through the airport and dulling the bottleneck of the taxi queue is fueled by make-believe. People who like this city the best are the ones who need its lies the most. That viral, allergic sting of smoke and drink doesn’t hurt until the third night, and the whites of our eyes are still white.

A hard, expensive pressure leans on us from the smooth lacquer of every rounded black bar. It says, keepy uppy on the fairytale, princess. The days pass and it sidles closer. At the end of a week in December with snow coating the mountains behind the city and a thin orange sunset at half past four in the afternoon, my arse prickles on the industrial carpet and feet sweat in heeled loafers. I’m in the throes of a head cold, only the bug is this town. He stands over me with thumbs tucked into the straps of his backpack and says, You done?

I’m done.

The expansive parking lot of the Convention Center doesn’t care which we choose: a desert winter walk back to the electric jungle in the frigid twilight or a brief rush of heat from the hotel to the south, lobby filled with delegates and swirling lager in fluted pint glasses. He pulls the backpack tighter across his shoulders. I have a pint of my own, an Americano to hasten the arse sweats, as hot as August and searing my fingers but on track to be an icy brick of burnt grit by the time we reach the Wynn.

I fucking love Las Vegas.

Crude fakery persists, even ten minutes after sunset, ten days from Christmas: a lonely, costly mirage. The Wynn towers above us, inspecting our room keys as if we were attempting to access the express elevators, but the bronze building is over a mile and ten dollars away. I strain on the shoulder strap of my satchel, and later, the woven synthetic will have made marks in my skin that show under the red satin cocktail dress. Came here to learn something, as noted by my twirling conference lanyard. A lesson best not wasted.

At four the next morning in the lobby bar, even the worst of us is looking for steely morning daylight and the town’s last trick is the tumbler of Baileys whose ice melts at the same speed as we drink. A perpetual lowball of milky shame, it keeps pace through the hour approaching dawn.

We’ll keep drinking it until the taxi comes for me at ten, and another for him shortly after noon.

You’re miserable, I say. It’s our last chance.

The tinny, glinting ring from every slot machine hangs expectantly, imploring reckless decision. They are all programmed in C Major to reduce the clash of competing keys.

For years to come, the shriek of the till every time a grocery store cash register flies open will haunt me to the bottom of my soul.

Jane Copland is a writer from Wellington, New Zealand. Her work has been published in Ellipsis Zine, the London Independent Story Prize and Tandem Press. She has work forthcoming in Virtual Zine, and her stories were also shortlisted in the 49th New Millennium Writing Awards and inaugural Nobow Press short story competition. She lives in Reading, Berkshire, and is on Twitter as @janemcopland and online at janecopland.com/.