Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2018    poetry    all issues


Cover Elena Koycheva

L. L. Babb
Admit One

Katherine Enggass

John Maki
The Easy One

John Etcheverry
The Third Daughter

Gibson Monk
The Poison Oracle

Jan Allen
My Real Mother

Bill Hodgins
Interior Decorating Suicide

Efrem Sigel
Born Again

Noëlle Gallagher
Le Fanu's Host of Curiosities

AJ Powell
Delivery Man

Gretchen Mayer
To Keep A Promise

JP Roarke

Brett Ramseyer
God Will Provide

Joe Zugelder

Writer's Site

John Maki

The Easy One

Jamie Joyner stands astride the Bellagio casino and scans the crowd for a path forward. It’s midafternoon in Las Vegas, before the big bettors appear. She smooths her dress, senses an opening, and steps out, heels clicking, shoulder bag swaying. She passes the chocolate shop and its brown viscous fountain, dodges a marine, and falls in behind an Asian couple wearing black suits sharp enough to cut titanium. She whisks past the Asians and smells perfume and quickens her pace and closes in on a fat man pushing a stroller. As she passes, she hears a woof. He is pushing a bulldog.

Jamie walks with an easy confidence that belies anxiety. Tomorrow her ex-husband Trey will marry his boyfriend Larry Parker in a Bellagio chapel. She will wear a red silk organza gown, a Luly Yang, that will make Larry jealous. She will pass out rings and sooth Trey’s parents and eat precious food. And she will dance. And in the end, after the champagne and band are gone, she will try to convince herself once again that her many contributions—maid of honor, origami cranes, calligraphed invites, a signature cocktail—were made, not for the blessed couple, but in memory of her and Trey’s failed union, a sadness that follows her everywhere. Earlier she asked Trey if she could skip tonight’s rehearsal dinner. He agreed. He wants her in high spirits tomorrow.

Jamie finally arrives at the Bellagio’s high-stakes slot lounge, where she finds her favorite machine Huevos, orders champagne, lights a cigarette, and begins to play. Cartoon egg characters fling sombreros and fire shotguns and cry egg-citing and egg-celent and she laughs at their preposterous behavior. She is still deep in Huevos-land fifteen minutes later, when a wiry man in Bermuda shorts and black army boots sits down next to her. His floral shirt suggests a tourist but his cinched blond ponytail something else. He is sipping bourbon and toting an oxygen tank. He feeds some bills into his slot machine and it dings and chatters.

Jamie stops playing and stares at the man’s clear tubes. She has seen tubes before, but they look different on him, more composed. He sees her watching and asks, “Ain’t it fun?” She tucks her hair behind her ear and says, “What’s with the gas?”

“It’s a fashion accessory.” He taps his game, urging it on. “Do you like it?”

“Sure,” says Jamie, staring, trying to decipher his meaning.

“I’m Ben by the way,” says the man, extending his hand.

“Jamie. Take it off. The gas.”

“Right now? I could die.”

“I doubt it,” she says and he smiles.

Ben unhooks the tubes and hands Jamie the nose piece, the cannula, a small flute. She tests its hard plastic with her nail and imagines blowing into it. She hands it back and he stows it in his medical backpack. He seems fine untethered.

“What’s it for, really?” asks Jamie.

“Nothing. I like how it frames my nose. It’s less intrusive than a piercing.”

“Get out.”

“No really. Caught your eye didn’t it?”

“Okay, that’s too funny,” says Jamie. She still doesn’t believe Ben but he is more interesting than most of the men she has recently dated.

“Where are you from,” asks Jamie.

“Henderson. I’m a local.”

“And you like the high-stakes game?”

“Among other things. Have your eggs produced today?”

“Not really. You play roulette?”


“Hang on a sec,” says Jamie. She phones Trey and says, “I met this guy. Ben. He wears army boots and plays roulette and has an oxygen tank. Yes or no?”

She hangs up, and says, “Let’s go.”

At a quiet roulette table, Ben stacks chips and studies the numbers, as Jamie runs her hand over the felt, feeling for bumps. The croupier asks if they are newlyweds. Jamie says yes and Ben plays along, pecking her cheek and calling her sweetie. She figures he has resources. He cashed out his slot for over a thousand dollars. The croupier closes betting, spins the wheel, and releases the ivory ball, which circles maddeningly, flirts with the pockets, and finally settles into the zero. Someone groans and Ben complains that zero never pays. He continues to bet and lose and is becoming frustrated when Jamie suggests the number three, which hits on the next spin, a thirty-five-to-one winner.

“Wow, thanks,” says Ben, hugging her. She hugs him back. She feels lucky too, happy, and pumps her fists in the air. Ben cashes out and they grab a bite at the Shake Shack, where he tells her about his Home Depot job and she explains about Trey and Larry’s wedding.

Ben is nonplussed.

“I’m doing it mostly for his mom,” says Jamie, which isn’t true. She’s doing so she can put an end to something. “If you hadn’t come along, I would have spent all evening praising Judy Garland and admiring teeth.”

“Happy to be a distraction,” says Ben. “How long were you married?”

“Eight years. Got married out of college. We divorced a couple years ago.”

“And didn’t you know . . . uh, couldn’t you tell . . . ”

“Guess how many times I’ve been asked that?”

“Just curious.”

“Our bodies have nine holes and our brains have eighty-six billion neurons. Do the math. That’s a lot of combinations. You ever been married?”

“Once. I’m divorced. She lives in LA.”

“Why did you split?”

“She wanted kids and I didn’t”

“So, your worlds looked different.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Us too. Our snow globes didn’t match.”

“How’s that?”

“You know, out little bubble worlds.” Jamie imitates shaking an orb. “His had different stuff than mine. Mine was all picket fences, backyard barbeques, a gondola in Venice, a Cialis commercial. His was blue swimming pools, late nights, black tuxes, and little dogs. I could have managed the sex.”

“What’s in your snow globe now?” asks Ben.

It’s an interesting question. Nobody has asked her recently. She thinks and says, “I don’t know. Maybe you. Let’s go try that gas.”

It’s an hour later. Ben and Jamie are in bed. Her panties are tied around his neck, his boots are on, and they may both have rug rash. She stares at a tiny spot of light as Ben groans and loosens his grip. She likes him. He was intense without being clumsy and curious without losing focus. He slumps against the headboard and takes a swig from a bottle of Dom Perignon.

“This is good shit.”

“The boys only do good shit,” says Jamie, acknowledging that Trey is paying her way. She can afford it. She is a successful accountant, but he insisted.

“You ready to try?” asks Ben, pointing at his tank. Jamie nods and he sets her up.

“Close your eyes. It’ll feel better,” he says rubbing her back. She presses the cannula into her nose. The tank hisses and she breathes slowly, in and out, in and out. She feels something. She isn’t sure what.

“I feel light headed. It tickles. How many women fall for your little trick?”

“You’re the first ever,” he says. She drops the cannula and flips him off and kisses him and pinches his nipples and they tussle. Her phone rings. It’s Larry. Trey wants to change the wedding readings. Larry is hysterical.

“Work it out,” scolds Jamie. “You’re big boys now.”

Trey comes on the phone and asks, “Are you in bed JJ?” She motions for Ben to be quiet.

“Goodness no. I’m watching Oprah in the Keno lounge.”

“You’re in bed. I know that sound,” says Trey in mock suspicion. “Did you get the champagne and chocolate I sent over?”

“Yes. Lovely. Thank you.”

“Don’t stay out too late. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

Jamie laughs and hangs up. She doesn’t consider Trey gay. She considers him more in love with someone else.

Ben stares at Jamie and the phone. “What are you, their mother?”

“In a way. I did give birth to them.”

She can tell by Ben’s expression that there is no way to adequately convey her role in her ex-husband’s life. She straddles him and teases him with a chocolate truffle and he eats it whole.

The Strip is hopping when Ben and Jamie climb into a cab and head toward a jazz club in west Las Vegas. It’s his favorite night spot. They are dressed to match, him in a short sleeved black shirt and her in a cocktail dress. She watches tracers dance on windows as they pass strip malls, gas stations, sports bars, and warehouses, interspersed with walled neighborhoods where people actually live. Trey had wanted to marry her in Vegas instead of in his parent’s church, but they couldn’t afford it.

When they get to the jazz club, Ben introduces Jamie to the owner and asks her to wait in the cigar-tanged green room while he chats with some friends. She checks out the floor-to-ceiling black-and-white photos of jazz greats such as Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck, and Ella Fitzgerald and sees one of Ben standing next to a grand piano, gripping the neck of a glistening bass. His jagged signature suits him. He’s completely bald.

The club owner comes over and hands Jamie a drink. “Without a doubt, you are not Ben’s sister.”

“Who is he?” asks Jamie. “Ben?”

The owner looks her over. He is standing too close, something she hates.

“Who is he?”

“Just a hometown boy done good.”

Jamie examines Ben’s photo again. He’s content and smiling. Happy. She wonders how other people see him and how other people see her. When Trey came out, he said that his college friends wanted her and because he had her, they saw him as strong and male-worthy, a difficult situation but better than despair.

Voices interrupt Jamie’s thoughts, stage technicians calling places. She turns to face the club owner, to thank him and head for a table.

“Don’t do it,” he says.

“Don’t do what?”

“Hurt Ben.”

“Why would I hurt him? I hardly know him.”

“I don’t know,” says the club owner. “But you look like someone who could hurt someone.”

“I can’t,” whispers Jamie, shaking her head. “I can’t hurt anybody.”

The club lights dim and Ben joins Jamie at the table. He orders drinks and the act comes onstage, a drummer, a guitarist, a female vocalist, a saxophonist, and pianist.

The show begins and Jamie listens intently as the musicians pass melodies, beats, counterpoints, and rhythms back and forth, playing and improvising, signaling and nodding, motioning and digging, laying the foundation. She doesn’t know much about jazz but likes it. Ben is rapt. He closes his eyes and nods and yells yeah or uh and periodically drums the table, acknowledging the performances. At intermission he tells Jamie he will catch her after the show and heads backstage.

When the second act begins, Ben is introduced as a guest artist. He carries his bass onstage to loud applause. Jamie Googled him before the show and discovered he has two Grammy nominations for ensemble work. She wonders why he didn’t mention his music earlier. Clearly, he has many interests and abilities.

Ben plays in the background for a couple of numbers but soon takes over and during an extended version of A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square, he launches into a solo, nodding and rocking and loosening his grip and yelping and leading the room into a smooth passage with blurry edges and fat undertones that soften and spread like warm jam. Jamie enters a soothing fugue state, where time disappears and calm envelops her. After a while, a gentle voice quietly doo-wops her back to reality.

When the show ends, Ben comes out and introduces Jamie to his musician friends. She is honored and tries to praise him. In the cab back to the Bellagio, she presses herself into his slender frame and he twirls her long dark hair around his fingers. Seeing him perform has changed her idea of him, of who he is and who he will be. She thinks about tomorrow’s wedding and how often she tried to pin Trey down, make sense of his predilections and contradictions, absorb his apologies and remorse, and squeeze herself into a world that she didn’t fit in. Ben’s seems to fit everywhere.

The next morning over a room service breakfast, Ben and Jamie discuss the wedding. He has business to tend to but can make it to the reception. After he leaves, she calls Larry to add him to the guest list and endures some teasing. She reminds Larry that he and Trey owe her. Besides, Trey already approved.

She puts on a swimsuit, goes to the pool, and sets up in a lounge chair. For the next couple hours, she swims and reads and listens to Coldplay. Men make eye contact, but she avoids them. She feels good and the desert heat feels great. Ben phones to say he may be late and she says okay but begins to worry and texts don’t be a butt. A half hour later he texts it’s better than being an ass, which does not comfort her.

Later, walking back to her room, she thinks about her toast and whether it should be serious or funny. Trey relies on her to make sense, to keep the peace, so funny is risky. She decides that if Ben makes it she will be Amy Schumer and if not Sara Silverman. In her room she does her hair, dresses, and wraps an orchid corsage around her wrist. She looks in the mirror and fingers her pearls. She likes to think she is lovely. She tidies her hair and sucks in her cheeks. No matter how often she looks, something is off about her face, its symmetry, nothing she can fix.

The private chapel is packed when she arrives. Yellow roses and pale green cacti adorn the altar, a tasteful homage to the desert. She knows what to do. She has been over everything with Trey a dozen times. She sees her old massage therapist and waves. Trey’s accounting firm colleagues and a small contingent of new gay friends are seated up front. She joins them and nods and smiles and scolds herself for being nervous. The minister appears and she stands and goes to the altar.

The wedding music begins. Trey and Larry enter, walk down the aisle, and embrace Jamie. The minister speaks and the boys stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. Trey reads Shakespeare and Larry reads Bob Dylan, their voices thick with emotion. They make their vows and Trey hands her the rings, gold Celtic knots. She does her part, they finish the ceremony, and the men kiss. Trey breaks away, quickly embraces Jamie, and whispers, “Thank you.” The men kiss again, deeper and longer this time, the room applauds, Trey shouts, “Champagne,” and everyone heads to the nearby ballroom for the reception.

On the way over, Trey’s mother intercepts Jamie and says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” bowing dramatically and pressing the back of Jamie’s hand to her forehead. They chat. She is eternally grateful that Jamie is still in her son’s life.

“How are you?” Trey’s mother asks, finally.

“Great. Never better,” says Jamie. “Almost perfect.”

“I’m so happy for you.”

At the reception, diaphanous curtains drift, arpeggios soar, and sculpted male waiters wearing white gloves pass ornate appetizers, shiny quail eggs piled with Beluga caviar and cubed foie gras impaled on toothpicks. Jamie remembers the Albertsons cake from her own wedding and feels wistful. She searches for Ben but does not see him. She tries not to worry; he said he might be late. Trey’s father toasts the newlyweds, the waiters pour more Dom, and the room’s energy kicks up a notch. Jamie mingles with Trey’s college friends and, after a while, he finds her and pulls her aside. She can’t hide her sadness and he strokes her hair.

“I don’t see him,” she says, worried.

“See who?” asks Trey.

“That bastard, Ben.”

“Who is Ben?”

“You know, the guy I met yesterday. Remember. Army boots? I told Larry this morning.” He should be here. She needs him. She is shaking inside.

Trey stops and holds Jamie at arm’s length. “I don’t think so, JJ. You and all your boy toys. The Bellagio is expensive.”

Jamie searches Trey’s face, bewildered. Trey, Larry, Ben. They’re all so fatuous.

“He is on the list, isn’t he?” she whispers, barely able to talk.

“Stop.” admonishes Trey, grinning, every tooth an insult. He shakes his head. “You’re far too old for all this nonsense.”

She wants to kill him. She remembers when he first moved out and returned a week later, unsure of his needs and feelings. She remembers arriving home from work and finding him unconscious on the garage floor with the car running and rushing to the Emergency Room, crying all the way, sick with guilt and worry. She remembers the hum of the Intensive Care Unit and Trey connected to a tangle of tubes. She remembers telling him that she could let him go and would let him go, if that was what he needed.

“You’re an ass,” screams Jamie shoving Trey backward harder than intended. He staggers into a waiter, knocks over a drink tray, and lands on his side. The arpeggios stop and Larry rushes over to help. The entire room is staring at Jamie.

“A toast,” she yells, raising her champagne flute. She is hot and emboldened. She yells again. “Come on everybody. A toast to the happy couple. Now. Come on. That’s right. Do it. Raise your glasses.”

It is her big moment. She has earned it. She believes Trey and Larry only exist because she saved Trey’s life. They’re both on the floor staring up with glazed expressions. Trey’s mother has joined them.

Jamie begins to shout instructions again but stops when the ballroom door opens and Ben enters. He is wearing a red and green plaid sports coat, red Bermuda shorts, and green army boots. He sees Jamie’s salute and returns the gesture.

Two hours later Ben and Jamie are dancing. He hums and she leans into him, so he can turn her. Nobody is watching. He pulls her tighter and suddenly she feels like his bass, absorbed in his arms, full of music. He gently kisses her cheek and says, “That was a nice toast.”

“I overdid it,” she slurs. She is more than a little drunk.

“Does he really hate musicals?” asks Ben.

“Hate? He takes pride in hating them. He has always been contrary. He’s a prick. You’re not a prick, are you?”

“Larry seems so nice,” says Ben, ignoring Jamie’s question.

“Larry is a dick,” says Jamie.

“Why is everyone suddenly a prick or a dick?” asks Ben. “You’re better than that.”

“Duh. Because I don’t have one,” says Jamie, patting Ben’s member. He removes her hand and pins it behind her back.

“He wanted me to wear one,” she whispers seductively. “I did. I can do it for you. You’ll like it.”

“It’s okay.” Ben says, soothing her.

“I loved him,” says Jamie.

“I know,” says Ben. “I know. Let’s go outside.”

The small private deck above the Bellagio fountain is empty. Geysers dance to Mozart. Jamie digs out a cigarette and lights it. Something about the evening isn’t right, even after her little spectacle. Something hasn’t changed. Out on the Strip, hordes of people are walking straight into nothing.

“When I first picked up the bass, I was terrible,” says Ben. “It was big. It felt, I don’t know, ugly, unmanageable, but I kept trying.”

“Please,” says Jamie. “No homespun wisdom.”

“Okay,” says Ben. “It is free. And well intended.”

“I still don’t want it.”

The fountain arcs and whooshes and the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel disappears into a watery cloud.

“Gimme a cigarette,” says Ben. Jamie lights one and hands it over. He has been scolding her for smoking, so she is surprised.

“Are you going to smoke it?” she asks.

“You know I won’t. I just like holding it.”

“But you want to.”



“Why what?”

“Why don’t you smoke?”

“Because my first wife smoked and died of lung cancer after we divorced.”

The spray stops and the Eiffel Tower reappears.

“I’m sorry, Ben,” says Jamie. She wonders how many times she has said sorry and never meant it. First wife. She wonders if Ben knows he has slipped up. Worlds within worlds.

“It’s okay. It was a long time ago.” He taps his cigarette and ash disappears into the breeze.

“I’m married Jamie.”

“I know,” she says. “It’s okay.”

Back in Jamie’s room, without his clothes, standing sideways, Ben resembles a solid flat-chested girl. He has a bit of a tummy and pale, lightly-tufted pubic hair. The only problem is his large, distinctly male hands that look like small stringed instruments all on their own. Jamie seldom inspects so closely, but she wants to remember him, since it is their last night together.

After the reception, they played roulette again. Ben pretended to be a wealthy eccentric and Jamie his royal Portuguese wife, a former beauty queen, who spoke broken English. The ball landed on zero twice before they ran out of money and Ben ran out of energy.

He crawls into bed with Jamie and turns off the lamp. He is too tired for sex.

“It’s okay,” says Jamie. “We have the morning.”

“As you wish my Queen, my liege,” says Ben.

“Will you do something egg-celent for me tomorrow?” asks Jamie. “An un-wedding present?”

“Certainly,” says Ben.

“Will you kill Trey and Larry,” she asks. “Gash them about the head and ears, perhaps remove a testicle.”

“Which one first?”

“The testicle or the person?”

“The person, silly.”

“The skinny one,” says Jamie. She imagines Trey and Larry making love, Trey cupping Larry’s head, and Larry crying out with joy. She always knew Trey liked men. She just didn’t know how much. She cuddles Ben from behind and wraps her arms around him. He grasps her hands and she feels happy alone for the first time in years.

The next morning, Jamie’s phone rings as she lays in bed checking the weather. She has been awake for a while, watching Ben sleep. It’s Trey. He really likes Ben. She can bring him around anytime. She gets out of bed, heads to the bathroom for some privacy, and trips over Ben’s boots.

“Ow. Fuck.”

“Excuse me?” says Trey melodramatically.

“How was your evening?” asks Jamie. “I’m sorry about my little outburst.”

“That is why I’m calling. We’re worried sick about you.”

“We have to break up,” says Jamie. “Really. It’s time. All of us. We have to break up.”

Trey is silent.

“Okay. We can give you some time.”

“I don’t need time, Trey. I need to break up for real, as in not see you or Larry or your mother or friends ever again. I have to stop calling you and you have to stop calling me.”

“You don’t mean that. It’s your hangover talking.”

Jamie gathers her strength and starts again. She’s not used to speaking to Trey in this way. “Look, you don’t owe me anything, okay. We don’t owe each other anything. I know we said forever at our wedding and again when we signed the divorce, but we don’t have to keep our vows. It’s over. We’re done.”

“We’ll talk later,” says Trey, gently. “I’m glad you’re having a good time.” He hangs up and Jamie screams in frustration.

Ben walks into the bathroom rubbing his eyes and asks, “What happened?”

“I broke my toe on your ridiculous boot.”

“Stop,” says Ben. “You’re hurting my boot’s feelings. Let’s see.” He kneels to inspect Jamie’s toe and kisses the inside of her ankle.

“It’s just bruised,” he says. “It’ll get better.”

Jamie wanted Ben to do it standing up, military style, but he suggested otherwise. It’s your first time so you’ll remember it later, he said, and it should be a good memory. Instead, he moved a padded chair into the bathroom, covered it with a sheet, and dimmed the lights.

Jamie sits naked and still as Ben shaves her head with his electric razor. She had asked him about his photo after his show. He called it ritual cleansing.

Jamie imagines the razor’s dull buzz on a sound visualizer, an evenly spaced wave form. It is how people see her, especially Trey and Larry and perhaps Ben: steady, reliable, but uncertain. She works things out, barely. What remains of her dark hair falls away beneath Ben’s smooth strokes. Earlier he removed her locks with scissors so she can donate them for a cancer wig.

When Trey came out, Jamie wanted to stay together. Others had before them. Why couldn’t they? Many things could remain: birthday parties, the annual trip to the coast, the way they said don’t forget and meant it. Larry could move in. It could work. It would work.

But it couldn’t. The picture was wrong, said Trey. Wrong. It wasn’t about body part on body part or even about love. It was about the difference in their worlds, the beauty of their worlds.

Ben works on the back of Jamie’s head near her neck.

“What’s your wife like?” she asks.

“Shhh, I’m concentrating.”

“That’s not an answer,” says Jamie.

“She’s nice. I’m the disgusting one.”

“So am I,” says Jamie. “How long have you been married?”

“Eight years or so. She’s my producer.”

“Or so?”

“Okay. Seven and change. My first wife . . . ”

“ . . . I know. Died. Why do men always round up?” asks Jamie.

“Because we’re competitive and never satisfied,” says Ben.


“With my first wife. A girl. Miranda. She lives with her grandmother. It was the right thing to do. I see her a few times a year.”

“I love that name,” says Jamie, choking back tears. She wanted to have children with Trey.

Ben finishes and Jamie is bald. She likes her apple-shaped head. She has never seen it before, except in baby pictures. Ben sits down and she shaves him. His head is avocado shaped.

“It itches,” says Ben. “Does yours?”

“Remember your learning-the-bass story last night?”


“It feels like the end to that story.”

“So, it hurts?”

“No. It makes sense.”

They make love for the last time in the shower, a slippery, clumsy final performance. Afterward they dress and pack. Ben asks Jamie to keep the plaid jacket.

“Why?” she asks, tugging at the garish cloth.

“I don’t know,” says Ben. “It was a onetime thing.”

“Does your wife care?” asks Jamie. “About this? You and me? The cannula? Other women?”

“Guess how many times I’ve been asked that question?” asks Ben.


“She loves that I love to improvise.”

Jamie smiles and says, “The beauty of your world.”

In a dark corner of the casino, Jamie and Ben cuddle in a cocoon chair. She smokes and he periodically holds the cigarette. They’re playing a Rolling Stones slot machine. The Bitch blares from the chair speakers, as Mick’s preposterous, obscene red tongue grows and shrinks in rhythm to the music. As Jamie watches, she sees her reflection in the screen’s glass and says goodbye to her old self, to the one who grasps too tightly but can’t hang on, to the one who cares too much and too little, to the one too young and too old and nothing in between, to the easy one.

Jamie’s seat mate on the flight home, a teenage girl, covers her face as the plane ascends. It’s dusk and the sun is setting behind Red Rocks, Vegas’s massive ocher and scarlet western boundary.

“It’ll be okay,” comforts Jamie.

“I just don’t like the feeling,” says the girl.

“You’ll get used to it,” says Jamie.

Jamie shuts her window shade and reaches into her purse for Ben’s cannula and clutches it. She imagines his wife watching him play his bass, applauding him, celebrating him. She doesn’t think about Trey and Larry. She watches the shimmering lights of the Strip disappear. It has been an egg-celent trip, but she won’t return soon.

John Maki is a Seattle-based short story writer. He studies at Hugo House. For more information visit

Dotted Line