Prose Header


by Oonah V. Joslin

Ben stood still, momentarily dazzled by his surroundings. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness, he saw that light was splintering off in all directions from an enormous glitter ball in the centre of the domed ceiling. The only other illumination was diffuse, and its colors slowly changed as it emanated from behind coving at the top of the walls.

He was looking for some kind of reception desk or kiosk but the effect of the lighting was extraordinary and disorienting. There were lots of people and a hum of quiet commotion about the casino but sound was swallowed up in the softness of the carpets, the curtains and the baize.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the suit by the door. He wore an expression of unstudied indifference.

“Don’t know, erm...” Ben looked at the name tag, “Michael. I’ve never been to a casino before. Do I buy... chips?”

“Well if you’d step up to the desk we can check your details, sir.”

Ben gave his name and watched the other gamblers. This might be kind of exciting. Three bags were brought from the back.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked. They had his name on them. “Do I have to pay to get in here? What’s the price of these?”

“The price is the same for everyone, sir but we deal only in commodities here, not cash.”

“What are these commodities then and how do I get some?”

“Oh you already have some, sir,” came the reply. “Your name is on our list. These are your commodity bags. I’m just going to calculate how much credit you have in commodities.”

“I don’t understand,” said Ben. “What credit? What are you counting?”

“According to our records you had roughly seven million commodities. This bag,” he took the smallest, “is what you spent.”

Michael lifted it with some difficulty onto a set of scales.

It looked heavy for such a small bag. “Is that bad? Have I spent too much?”

“No. It simply varies from person to person depending on the quality of the commodities within the bag.”

“I see,” said Ben not liking to appear ignorant.

“This one is what you wasted.”

“Oh dear!” Ben said noting the size of the bag.

“It is larger but it doesn’t seem to weigh much, sir, so you didn’t waste many quality commodities. And this contains all the waste that isn’t attributable to you directly.”

Ben had given up trying to appear intelligent. He just stood there looking suitably confused, awaiting an explanation.

“You just gave it where it wasn’t wanted or appreciated or whatever. These things happen. So we give you back half the value of those commodities and we get...”

“Wait though,” interrupted Ben. “Let’s go back a bit. Seven million what? I think I’d have noticed seven million of something. Say, what is this commodity? Is it what I gamble with?”

“This is yours to spend as you will, sir,” answered Michael handing Ben the bag.

“Let’s try again,” Ben said convinced at last that he might not be the dimmest diamond in this den. He spelt it out slowly, “What is the price of the chips?” He felt down into the bag but there was nothing in there.

“Don’t you mean the cost, sir?”

“Hell’s teeth, what is it with you? Do you have to speak in goddamn riddles? And this bag is full of empty!”

“As I explained, the price is the same for everyone but only you can determine the cost for yourself. And could you not use that language here, sir? ”

“Where for Christ’s sake?” Ben shrugged. The décor seemed peculiar even given that he’d never been in a casino before. On the carpets, curtains and walls, depictions of hour glasses, sun dials, analogue and digital clocks, marked candles, images of the Sun and Moon — all manner of measuring instruments from the most ancient.

“You must understand, sir. These commodities are entirely yours. You do not have to spend them here in the casino. It is your choice.”

“But I could win more?”

“Yes, or you might lose what you have left. Every question of cost is also a question of value, sir.”

Ben thought about this. What was he was being asked to risk? He had no recollection of how he got to this place and there was no one here he knew. He looked at this new acquaintance, so calm and detached. “What would you do, Michael?”

“I do not know, sir. The commodities are of no value to angels. We cannot spend them.”

“In that case I think I’ll hold on to mine,” said Ben.

Clutching the bag tightly, he walked towards the revolving doors in the hope they would lead back to wherever he’d come from and determined never to waste another minute.

Copyright © 2008 by Oonah V. Joslin

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