Strangers in Las Vegas

by Denise David
Beryl, blond and fearless, was a restless girl in Manchester, England during the war.  She met an American soldier, married him and went to a new life in New York, then a push on to California, until the earthquake swallowed their house. They would not stay after that.

They moved to Colorado, stayed for nearly twenty-five years until he died. Her new husband is Mexican, a stranger like her. His English is not great, but they love to dance, and they don’t like the cold so they head south to the Las Vegas desert.

Beryl has been my mother’s friend for forty-five years, letters and pictures link them, war brides from England, the ribbon of their native land wrapped around their friendship. When I take my mother on her first trip to Las Vegas, we fly over the desert. “Where’s the green?” my mother asks. “Not like home.”  She means England. She wonders how Beryl how handles the heat.

“We go to Walmart,” Beryl explains, she and Chad, to walk the aisles where cool air flows in rivers. I think Chad must be Beryl’s husband.

“Oh no. Chad is her little dog. Joe Say is her husband,” my mother says. I suppose she means José. “Yes,” my mother says, “Joe Say.”  She means no offense. The spelling throws her off.

I ask if the Walmart people mind Chad walking up and down the aisles, but my mother says no. Beryl tells them he is a working/walking/comfort dog. And sometimes she takes him to the Casino with her. It is cool and you can get a free drink.  I don’t ask.

The guide on the bus tour tells us the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is copyrighted. No one can use it without permission. On this day, people stream slowly past the sign anchored on the median among fifty-eight white crosses, lanterns with candles, and pictures posted on cardboard glued to sticks sunk into the desert sand. No one here talks about the shooting. They call it the incident; the incident is fresh. Not so fabulous today.

We have been back home for a fortnight when Beryl gives my mother a call. She says José has left, told her he was taking the wolf to Los Angeles to be near his daughter, and then maybe back to Mexico. “He means the Greyhound bus,” Beryl explains. She understands him after thirty years. Beryl tells my mother he has said it before, that he will leave, but this time when he says, “I go,” she tells him to bloody well go then.

They divide the money from their bank account.  He packs his things into two large suitcases and a few cardboard boxes. Beryl will not drive him. It is his idea. “Let him figure it out,” she says. When the cab comes, the boxes will not fit. The driver shakes his head. “You shoulda said you had all this stuff. You need a bigger cab.” José looks at Beryl. “Will you keep them?” he asks.

Beryl softens. “He’s not been well. I think he wants to go back to Mexico to die,” she says. “You know, back to the town where he was born. His brother is still there. He can’t see well, can’t drive anymore and has all this trouble with his legs.”              

Beryl calls his daughter in California to see if he got there, to ask if she should send the boxes. She hears him in the background shouting, “I am happy.”  Exactly like him to do that, she thinks. She wants to shout back, “Well, so am I,” but she doesn’t.

Beryl was a fearless girl in Manchester, England. She thinks about how only one’s first place is ever home.  She will stay here in the sun. It is not home, but this is where she will live.
Denise David has been a professor of English at Niagara County Community College for many years.  She is the daughter of a British War Bride, which has led to her love of scones with thick cream and raspberry preserves along with her research interest in the war bride experience.

© 2018, Denise David