INTO THE NEON
Mike Tyson got into his first fight because someone tore the head off his pet pigeon. The television behind the desk at the Bellagio blares this fact, and everything in my body tenses at Mike Tyson's name. Mike Tyson. That dick. The TV goes on to show him peacefully raising pigeons in Harlem, rows of cooing, head-twitching birds on a brownstone rooftop. Then Iron Mike lifts his hands as if in joyful prayer, setting a pigeon free. Bastard. Who even has pigeons as pets, anyway? It's eight o'clock in the evening and I'm waiting to see if I can leave my broken old amoeba-paisley luggage behind the desk at the Bellagio, my favorite Vegas hotel, for the night. I've just left the biggest apple-hogging, Irish prick on the planet alone in his hotel room after ordering two thousand dollars worth of food, wine, and porn on his account. Don't feel bad for him—he deserved it. I have until eight o'clock in the morning to play in Las Vegas, twelve glorious hours alone with no idiot men dragging me down, no responsibilities pulling at me like a 1950s cherub-faced kid tugging at his perfectly coiffed mother's apron strings. My own cherub-faced kid is home with my ex-in-laws, Gee-Gaw and Chuck, twenty-five hundred miles away. I'm by myself in this crazy neon Strip that reminds me of an overgrown college campus, the casinos thinly veiled frat house theme parties, the corn hole replaced with high-stakes poker.
Pigeons. He's raising pigeons. What the fuck?
"May I help you?" The woman behind the desk is perfectly coiffed, narrow-waisted, ruby-lipped. I imagine her gently vacuuming her plush living room carpet in four-inch, peep-toed Manolo Blahniks, her crimson nail polish bright against the sleek handle of her Dyson.
I ask if I can stow my bag for the night. I tell her I've just left a giant jerk of a man across the street at The Flamingo and have nowhere to go, and that I want to play the Bellagio's slot machines and watch the fountains. And even though this maven of virtuously coiffed femininity must be so good she'd certainly never get herself into such a situation as mine, she softens, the fake-smile easing into an expression of pity, and she says she'll see what she can do. She turns to talk with a manager, and I imagine her coif disheveled, the peep-toed Blahniks strewn across the floor, her naked feet propped on a coffee table as she licks her fingers after devouring a bag of chocolate cream bon-bons. Or is it crème? I never know.
The television comes back from commercial, and that fucker Tyson is back again. His tattooed face fills the screen, little boy lisp-voice talking about how he's going to raise pigeons until he dies, talking about Birmingham Rollers and how they spin with such velocity they don't notice they might be rotating right into the spattered silver grate of a Mack truck. Bam. Feathers everywhere. Iron Mike talks about how pigeons are spiritual, how he comes up on the roof to watch them and drink Kool-Aid. This would be charming if Mike Tyson hadn't been the first man to ruin my life. There have been others, but he was the first.
Fucking ear-biting, beauty-pageant-contestant rapist. He probably only raises pigeons so he can teach them how to rape other birds.
The coiffed attendant says they'll keep my bag. She has me fill out a form, and I scribble while listening to Mike Tyson talk about pigeons' automatic cooling system, and how at peace he is when he's with them. The show cuts to a local newscaster who says that Mike Tyson is in Las Vegas for the week, promoting his new documentary and filming a cameo in a movie.
The attendant looks up. "Excuse me?" she says.
I push the form across the shiny desk. "Mike Tyson," I say. I roll my bag around to the opening in the counter, back to where people work serving tourists. Back where I usually stand. "I met him once, and it ruined my life."
The attendant's eyes widen. Claire, her nametag says. "What happened?" Claire asks.
She takes my bag and I tell her about being a kid, visiting Ohio, how he watched me do cartwheels, and how, even years later, Mike Tyson's reputation got all tangled up with mine. "His raping and ear biting were turning points in my rep going south," I tell her.
Claire tucks my bag under the counter. "That's terrible," she says. She leans in closer. In a whisper, Claire says, "I heard he's staying at New York New York."
He would be staying at my least favorite hotel. Who wants to stay at a dirty old fake city like New York when there's fake Paris or fake Venice right down the street? A fucking ear-biting rapist, that's who. "Thank you," I say to Claire. And I mean it. In spite of her coiffed perfection, I think Claire and I could be friends. And she's just given me my plan for the night. I'm going to find Mike Tyson, and I'm going to make him pay.
I turn away from Claire, digging my cell phone out of my purse as I walk under the blown-glass flowers on the ceiling. I call Charlotte. "Guess who's staying at New York New York?" I ask her before she can say a word.
"Mike Tyson?" Charlotte asks.
I jostle around a group of blond tourists in flowered shirts. "Shut up," I say. "You're supposed to say, 'who,' so I can yell, 'MIKE TYSON.'"
"He's seriously there? I was just making that up," Charlotte says.
"He's seriously here." I wander past upscale shops and go in to look at a pair of python Prada boots.
"You should get him to beat up Eamon," she says. I'd been updating Charlotte about the Eamon debacle via text message.
"I'm going to get revenge," I say.
I walk out of the Prada store. The boots cost more than I make in two months. "I don't know," I say, and I head towards the penny slot machines. I was so disappointed when I realized that penny slots didn't actually take pennies. I'd been saving them up and brought a Ziploc baggie-full with me. Every time I saw a penny on the ground when I took Walter for a walk I'd pick it up in case it was the penny that would make me a gazillionaire.
"Let's think about this," Charlotte says. "The punishment has to fit the crime."
I sit down, hold the phone between my shoulder and chin, and dig out five dollars. "And his crime was twofold," I say. I slide the money into the machine and pull the handle; cherries and bells and plums and number sevens roll and whirr. "He made me believe he was good, and then he ruined my reputation."
"So you have to ruin his?" Charlotte asks.
The slot machine stops. A seven, a lemon, and a bar. I pull the handle again. "But how much worse can his rep get? Raping, biting off ears—I got nothing on that."
"What if you get him to buy you a drink and then slip him a rufie? That sounds like fun."
Cherry, cherry, bell. Dammit. I pull again. "He'd probably just absorb the rufie into his face tattoo," I say.
"That doesn't make any sense," Charlotte says. "Are you drunk?"
Plum, cherry, bar. And my money is gone. That was not entertaining. That was not worth five dollars. "No, but that's brilliant. I'm going to get a giant bong-looking drink and walk down the street with it." I shoulder through the crowd and head to the door.
"I'll be up late on a grading marathon," Charlotte says. "Call me if you find Kid Dynamite."
I put my phone back in my purse. Outside, the dry air rasps over my skin. The absence of water bothers me, the thirstiness of the night sky in this shithole desert. Mike Tyson. How am I supposed to find Mike Tyson? And where do I get a bong-looking drink? I walk up the stairs and go over a crosswalk bridge, resisting the urge to go inside The Flamingo and see if Eamon's discovered that I'm gone yet. On the way to New York New York I find a bar that's advertising one dollar margaritas, so I get in line. It's not a bong-looking drink, but it's cheap, and it'll do to get my courage up. Someone bumps into me and I turn. It's a short little gray-haired lady who immediately reminds me of Aunt May. "Sorry, hon," she says. She pats my arm. I think she's soused.
"No problem," I say. Then I decide to do some recon. "Have you happened to see Mike Tyson around here anywhere?" My mother always says it's best to be direct.
She says no and hiccups. Aunt May would never hiccup; she could hold her liquor. She would also never give up. I scribble my phone number on the back of a drugstore receipt for maxi pads and hand it to her. "If you do run into him, could you give me a call?" My margarita tastes more like a slushie. It doesn't feel illicit to walk around with it, but I go outside and start walking anyway. There's a place past fake Paris that has mojitos for three dollars, so I get one to make up for the lousy margarita. I sip it and tell the businessman next to me that I'm looking for Mike Tyson.
He raises his eyebrows. "Why's a girl like you looking for a man like that?" He swirls his drink and I imagine him as a 1950s husband who expects his wife to have a steaming green bean casserole on the table for him when he gets home from work.
"I'm going to get revenge on him for ruining my life, but I don't know how to find him."
He sips his Scotch. It absolutely has to be Scotch. Or maybe Whiskey. Whiskey would do. "Easy there, tiger," he says.
"Don't 'easy there, tiger' me," I say. Patronizing men annoy me. I finish my mojito—it's good and rummy—and head straight to New York New York. I figure if I talk to enough people I'll find someone who's seen Mike Tyson. I sit down in an Irish pub inside fake New York and order some French fries. They cost nine dollars, so I don't get a drink to go with them. I talk to two guys with Greek letters on their sweatshirts who love Mike Tyson, but haven't seen him. A girl with a pink Mohawk says she'll help me kick him in the balls if I do find him. A motherly-looking woman in Capri pants and Crocs saw a guy who sort of looked like Mike Tyson going into the Bellagio earlier tonight, but she's not sure it was him. I tell her she's a rock star, then head back down to the Bellagio. It's hot and I'm tipsy, but I stand with a crowd of people and watch the fountains for a minute. The streams of water waltz and twirl and spin like dancers. I want to go dancing, but I have to find Mike Tyson.
I don't know what else to do, so I go to the bar and take a seat beside a guy who looks like a bodybuilder. I like a man with shoulders, but these things are out of control. I'm about to lean forward and push my arms together to create cleavage and get the bartender's attention, but then I remember two things: one, I'm still dressed in my Eamon-revenge clothes—a short skirt, heels, and a plunging-necked top with a push-up bra—so I don't need to push my arms together to create cleavage; and two, I'm dressed like this in Las Vegas. What was I thinking earlier? There's no way in hell I'm buying my own drink. I cross my legs and turn to the bodybuilder, tossing my hair over my shoulder. "Come here often?" I ask.
The bodybuilder says something in return, but the music changes to a thumping bass, and I can't hear him. I lean in towards him and cock my head. "It's my first time in Vegas," he says. The cadence of his speech reminds me of an old-school gangster. "I'm Vonny," he says. Or maybe he says Donny; I can't really tell, but I decide that Vonny is more interesting. He holds out his thick hand.
"Evie," I say, shaking it. His grip is surprisingly weak. Maybe he sprained something lifting too many barbells. "It's my first time here, too."
Vonny beckons the bartender. "What'll you have?" he asks me. Whaddaya have?
"Anything with tequila in it," I say.
The bartender brings two shots, lime, and salt. I lick the curve between my thumb and forefinger. I can never remember which comes first, the lime or the salt or the tequila, so I wait for Vonny to drink first. He salts, shoots, and limes, and I do the same.
Vonny says something that sounds like liggaslammasucka. I lean in closer and he says, "Lick it, slam it, suck it," into my ear. His breath smells like tequila with a hint of vomit. Classy.
"I've got to go find Mike Tyson," I say. I stand up.
"Me too," Vonny says. He stands, and his legs are twig-tiny. I wonder how he doesn't topple over.
"You don't either," I say. I walk towards the door.
Vonny follows me. The music quiets. "What're you looking for Mr. Tyson for?"
I stop. I narrow my eyes and turn to stare at Vonny Liggaslammasucka. "Did you just call him Mr. Tyson?"
Vonny raises his arms to the sky. "What else would I call him?" But in my head he's saying, fuggetaboutit. And I'm not even that drunk yet.
"Who are you?"
"Who are you?" Vonny counters. He jabs a finger in the air around the general vicinity of my nose, then sighs and pats my shoulder. "It was nice to meet you, but I got to go to work." Gaddagotawork. And Vonny turns to walk down the hall.
"Wait," I say, grabbing his arm. Vonny doesn't stop walking so I march after him. The hallway tilts slightly; the tequila's kicking in. Or maybe it's the shuddering brilliance of the insight I've just had. "You work for Mike Tyson."
"Badda-bing," Vonny says. He actually says badda-bing. Out loud. We walk outside and cross the veranda.
The fountains spray up to All That Jazz and my hips sway in time to the music as I walk, almost of their own accord. "You have to let me meet him." I'm gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down.
Vonny's hips don't sway as he walks. His scrawny legs move side to side like a bulldog's. "I can't do that," he says. And all that jazz. We merge out into a crowd of people on the sidewalk and move up the Strip.
I keep swaying my hips even though the music fades behind us. There's only one reason a man would buy a woman a shot of tequila five minutes before he has to leave for work—Vonny wants to get in my pants. I touch his arm. It's all vein-y, but I don't pull away. "What if I came with you while you're at work, and meet Mike Tyson, and then you and I hang out afterward?"
Vonny glances down at me, but keeps bulldogging up the Strip. "It's my job to protect Mr. Tyson, not bring him groupies."
I take my hand off Vonny's arm. "Two things," I say. My head's a little spinny and the heat, even at night, isn't helping. People stream past Vonny and me, brushing our elbows, their voices rushing like water. Such a weird place, this sparkly hole in the desert, not a sea sound around. I need a bong-looking drink. "Make that three things." I pull Vonny through the open doors of a bar and lean over to wave down the bartender. "One: buy me a bong-looking drink."
Vonny looks confused, but he pulls out his wallet. I point at a lady wearing a long, plastic, bong-shaped daiquiri around her neck, and the bartender brings me one. I loop it over my head, take a sip out of the long straw, and go back out to the Strip. Vonny and I resume our walk. "Two," I say. "Mike Tyson doesn't need protection. He's Mike Tyson. You're just for show."
Then I think I've hurt Vonny's feelings, but when I look over at him, he's just trundling along on his twig-legs. I drink some more. "And three: I've been many things in my life, but I'm not a groupie. I already met him when I was little, and I just want to say hello again."
Vonny shakes his head. It seems like he shakes his head sadly, but I'm also tipsy. "I just can't bring Mr. Tyson random ladies."
"I am not a random lady. I am Evie Austin Oden Austin. And I did not name my son Austin Austin. His last name is Oden. Seriously."
"I didn't say you did," Vonny says.
"So you'll take me to Mike Tyson?" I take a drink. Strawberry-y.
Vonny pats my back, right between my shoulder blades. "I'm awful sorry, Evie Austin Oden Austin." Awwwstin.
I try to make myself cry, because that always works in movies when a woman wants something, but I've never been an on-demand cry-er. I look up at him with big eyes. I think about biting my lip to make myself well up, but I'm not into the idea of having a bit-up lip. "What if I let you frisk me?" Then I imagine Vonny's vein-y hand on my left breast. "Back of the hand only. No cupping action."
Vonny's walk slows down. He raises his eyebrows and nods. But then he shakes his head three times, emphatically. No. No. No. "No can do. I got a job to do, and that job is to protect Mr. Tyson."
"We've already had this discussion. You're not actually protecting him." I drink some more strawberry goodness. "You have to take me to him. Please?"
Vonny stops walking. We're across the street from fake Paris, and I look up at the fake hot-air balloon. Dang. That's way up in the air. Way up there. And it's strawberry time. I do a little happy shimmy drinking dance. Strawberry time. Strawberry time. Wait. Focus. Mike Tyson. I turn to ask Vonny if he wants a drink because it's kind of rude to hog it and I'm not rude. But Vonny's not there. I take the straw out of my mouth, shocked. I turn to an Asian man standing beside me taking pictures of the fake hot-air balloon. "Have you seen a giant-shouldered man with tiny, tiny legs?" He smiles politely but doesn't answer. "No, really. It's like he was two people mashed into one. Big giant dude on top, eleven year-old boy on bottom." I mimic Vonny's bulldog walk. The Asian man points up the Strip and there goes Vonny, trundling away as fast as his tiny legs can carry him.
I thank the Asian man and start to run. I feel like those horror movie girls, tottering along in my high heels. "Vonny!" I yell as loud as I can, which might be a little louder than usual since my decibel level tends to hike perceptibly when I've been drinking. Vonny doesn't turn around. He dodges behind a crowd of bachelorette party girls and then I lose him. I stop running, but try yelling again. "Vonny! Get your twig legs back here and take me to Mike Tyson." The bachelorette party girls stumble towards me and I feel my face reddening. In my head, my mother yells at me for making a spectacle of myself. Evelyn ANN Austin, that sort of behavior is simply not tolerable. If I were home on the Outer Banks and hollered something down the street, at least eight people I know would've heard me. I'd have been related to four of them, and within two minutes, it'd be all over the island that Evie Austin was making a spectacle of herself. Again.
I call Charlotte. "I just made a spectacle of myself," I tell her. "Again."
"I don't think that's possible in Las Vegas, unless you set yourself on fire. You didn't set Mike Tyson on fire, did you?"
I sit down on the sidewalk and drink some more. It doesn't taste like strawberry anymore. It just tastes like rum. "I met Mike Tyson's bodyguard, but I lost him because I was drinking and making a spectacle of myself."
Charlotte says, "Mike Tyson doesn't need a bodyguard. He's Mike Tyson."
Rum rum rum. "That's what I told Vonny Twig-Legs."
"Can you find him again? What are you drinking?"
I fiddle with something on the sidewalk. "Gross, a cigarette butt." Before Charlotte can ask me if I'm drinking cigarette butts, I toss it down and tell her that I'm drinking something that once was strawberry goodness but is now mostly rum and maybe more rum. I wipe my fingers on my skirt and stand up. Spinny.
"Just go in the direction you last saw the bodyguard," Charlotte says.
But I'm demoralized. I start to tear up. Where the hell were those tears when I needed them? "No, I screwed up. I always screw everything up. Or I screw people, and that screws everything up. The bottom line is, I'm a screw-up, and I ruined my chance to get revenge on Mike Tyson."
Charlotte sighs. "You're not a screw-up, Evie."
I walk over to a drugstore. Its fluorescent-lit familiarity seems comforting, but I wonder if I'll get in trouble for taking in my rum bong. I don't care. I'm a screw-up. I might as well get arrested in Las Vegas for rum violations. I swing the door open and browse through the vitamin aisle. "I couldn't even finish pregnant without getting college." That might have been backwards. Whatever.
But Charlotte understands. "You didn't get pregnant all by yourself."
I pick up some hair barrettes. "I wasn't not taking birth control," I say. I've never told anyone this, not even Charlotte. "I just threw up a few times from drinking too much. I must've thrown up the baby-stoppers. I just threw them right on up." I make a barfing sound for Charlotte's benefit.
"It doesn't matter, Evie. Anyone who's going to judge you isn't worth your time."
I try on some fake hair. It's blonde and my hair is dark, but when I look in the wavy mirror on the sunglasses rack, I decide that it looks awesome. I look awesome. The fake hair is within my price range. "I'm buying some fake hair," I tell Charlotte. This drugstore probably has some other things in my price range. I check out the sparkly nail polish. "Drinking and sex are bad, though. I was kind of bad. But that was Mike Tyson's influence. I blame Mike Tyson."
"Drinking and sex aren't bad. They're human."
I chug the rest of my rum and stash the bong-looking plastic in a corner. I don't want the cashier to hate me and arrest me. I've never even smoked a bong. I've only seen them. "But you agree that Mike Tyson has to pay, right?"
Charlotte sighs again. She's being so sigh-y. I start to tell her that, but she's saying something about a chain of events that impacted your self-perception and undeniably contributed to your sense of what is and isn't socially acceptable in terms of sexual mores. I paint each of my fingernails a different sparkly color while she talks. I'm not buying any polish, either. I'm that bad.
I blow on my fingernails to dry them. I'm getting tired of this drugstore, but I don't want to ruin my manicure when I get my wallet to pay for the fake hair. "I'm not so bad that I steal fake hair, though," I say. "I'm not a steal-er."
"Evie!" Charlotte shouts. She's making a spectacle of herself. "I just had an idea. Hang on."
On the other end of the line, Charlotte taps at her computer. I tap my sparkly fingernails together to test their dryness. Purple fingernail, green fingernail. Tap tap tap. Dry enough. I need more rum. I cradle my phone in my neck and go pay for my fake hair. Outside, the Strip sparkles and flashes, a lurid neon night. "Just get on a plane and come here. It's no fun without someone fun."
"Mike Tyson is giving interviews at The Venetian tonight."
I join a pack of girls wearing different kinds of animal ears. One of them, I think she's a cat, claws the air beside me. "Wait, what?"
Charlotte says, "Go to The Venetian. Mike Tyson's giving interviews at fake Venice."
"How do you know that?" I walk through the jostling crowds.
"I don't have two Master's degrees for nothing," Charlotte says. "I'm a research ninja. I come in the night and steal all the information away."
"Oh my God. You're amazing." I hang up and walk to fake Venice with the wild animal girls. One of them yells, a high-pitched wooooo, and I want to tell her that yelling wooooo is not attractive. Music thumps and everything sparkles and flashes and a fake volcano explodes. I walk and walk. My feet hurt. I take off my heels when I reach the marble terrace of The Venetian and break into a run. I half expect a sign that says, "Mike Tyson, this way," with an arrow, but there's nothing. I decide to comb through fake Venice floor by floor. I go through two nightclubs—one with a giant mural of a naked lady getting a massage, or else she's about to get it on with her lovah, and one with a bunch of Buddha-dudes—a champagne bar, a piano lounge with stalactite lights dripping from the ceiling, a sushi restaurant, and all the fancy shops before I find Mike Tyson. He's standing in a little boat under a fake blue sky with white, puffy clouds, posing for pictures wearing a black-and-white striped gondolier shirt, holding a long oar poked into the fake Venetian canal. That fake canal can't fool me, and I tell it so. "I know you come from a buried pump somewhere and not a lagoon near the Santa Lucia railway station in Venice, Italy." I squint. That is for sure, most definitely a fake canal, but it's not my imagination or the alcohol that Mike Tyson is pretending to be a gondolier.
I drop my shoes. Now what do I do? I throw down my purse, sit, take out my phone, and call Charlotte. "I found him. He's wearing a striped shirt and rowing a boat on a fake canal. Now what do I do?"
"Do you see his 'bodyguard' anywhere?" I can practically see Charlotte making air quotes around "bodyguard."
I scoot back and lean against a wall, but I can't see Vonny. I stand up and go behind a corner, peering my head around. This is just like being a spy. All I need is my raincoat and daisy sunglasses.
"Negative on the 'bodyguard.'" I make air quotes with the hand that's not holding the phone. Over on the canal, Mike Tyson grins and answers questions, saying something that sends up a ripple of laughter from the reporters. Bastard.
"You could do cartwheels and see if Mike Tyson recognizes you."
"That's totally what I'm going to do."
Charlotte squeaks. "Evie, I was joking. Don't attempt cartwheels. Do not—"
"Love you," I say, and I stash my phone beside my shoes and stand up. I take a breath and do a few quick stretches, then hike up my shirt so my boobs don't fall out. This is it. I am going to make the mother of all spectacles of myself, although maybe it doesn't count if I'm aware that I'm about to do it.
I walk over to the pack of reporters. They look just like they do on TV, little tape recorders and notebooks and hand-raising and shouting. "Hey." I can shout, too. "Hey!" A few of the reporters turn around, but Mike Tyson hasn't noticed me yet. I shoulder my way through the reporters until I'm only a few feet away from Iron Mike. "I have a question," I say it loud. I might be yelling. I say it again, and this time I'm sure I'm yelling.
And then, as if it's happening in slow motion, Mike Tyson points at me. His hands and fingers are long and slender. I don't know how. You'd think they'd be big old fat ham-hands with all that punching he did. I can't stop staring at them. "You. What's your question?" Mike Tyson is standing there in a gondolier shirt, pointing at and talking, in his high, lispy voice, to me.
A stream of anxiety floods through my veins. What was my question? Shit. I feel for my purse so I can call Charlotte, but I left it on the floor so I could do cartwheels. Cartwheels. "Do you remember me?"
Mike Tyson squints. His tattoo crumples up funny. I would never get a face tattoo. "Should I remember you?"
The reporters next to me start shuffling and shouting, Mr. Tyson, Mr. Tyson, over here, Mr. Tyson. "Imagine me littler," I say. "Before I had these." I point to my boobs. "Imagine me, littler, boob-less, in Ohio, in Don King's backyard."
Mike Tyson shakes his head. He points at a reporter who's waving his arm like an overachieving third grader who knows the answer to Chile's top exports. Copper, fruits, and fish. I close my eyes. I can't let this slip away. I begin to slowly and methodically push the reporters away from Mike Tyson. One at a time, I place them behind me. I feel a new confidence welling in my chest, behind my big-girl boobs. I'm a Zen master, like a bar Buddha. I will draw Mike Tyson to me. "No," I say, under my breath. "You will look at me now." I scoot back, take a few steps, and turn a cartwheel, the fake Venetian sky whirling to the ground. I haven't turned a cartwheel in years, and I never was very good at them, but somehow that blue sky goes back overhead and I'm on my feet. "Recognize me now, Tyson?" I pull my skirt down.
And then, as if they were a pack of wild vultures smelling a tasty carcass, the reporters start yelling and taking pictures of me. They shout and flash and jostle and press, and then the sky is in the wrong place again, the world whirled around, and I'm up to my elbows in a fake canal. I gasp. It's cold. Then I gasp again because Mike Tyson jumps out of his little boat and splashes in beside me. He boosts me up to the reporters, then climbs out. We stand there, dripping, looking at each other.
"What the hell is on your head?"
I reach up and touch my hair. "That's fake hair. It cost three dollars, and it looks awesome."
"It looks like a long-haired Chihuahua climbed up there and passed out."
I give Mike Tyson the stink-eye. "You only wish you had one."
The reporters snap pictures and shout questions, and then Vonny is there, nodding and talking to Mike Tyson, and shooing them away. He clears the reporters out in thirty seconds, and I can't wait to tell Charlotte that Mike Tyson really does need a bodyguard. Someone brings us towels, and Mike Tyson asks me my name.
Vonny answers for me. "That's Evie Austin Oden Austin. She did not name her son Austin Austin. His last name is Oden."
"I would never think you did, Evie Austin Oden Austin," Mike Tyson says.
"Why are you acting so nice?" I hate him so much. I don't care what my therapist, Judy, would say; I hate him so much I want to push his tattooed face back into that canal, but I don't think I could get enough velocity. Mike Tyson is big. He's not nearly as bulky as Vonny, but he's a big dude, and his legs appear to be proportionate to his shoulders.
"I'm a nice man," he says.
"Nice men do not rape women and bite off ears." I'm so mad I could shove Mike Tyson all the way to real Venice so he lands in the Saint Mark Basin and gets germy canal water up his stupid nose. Maybe he'd get a pigeon caught in his teeth on the way.
"You're right," Mike Tyson says. He nods. His face looks sad, tattoo drooping. "I'm nice now, but I wasn't back then. I was a pig."
I wrap my towel around my body. "What?"
Mike Tyson sighs. What is it with people sighing tonight? "Would you like to get some shrimp cocktail? We could talk while we eat."
"Fine," I say. "But you're buying."
I get my purse and put on my shoes and Vonny, Mike Tyson, and I walk outside, one on either side of me. I throw my towel down on the Venetian veranda because I'm not a steal-er. Mike Tyson keeps his towel, because he's bad. For a moment, everything is so surreal I wonder if I should ask one of them to pinch me, but I bet their pinches would hurt, so I don't ask. We cross the street with a crowd of people and go into a tiny, random bar with a sign out front advertising ninety-nine cent shrimp cocktails. The floor is sticky and the walls dark. We sit and Mike Tyson points a shrimp at me and says, "Now, tell me about how we met."
Vonny sets down some tequila and we toast and then lick it, slam it, suck it like old pros. I tell Mike Tyson about Ohio, the cartwheels, and how I thought he was the nicest famous boxer I'd ever met. I tell him about the rest of it, too, how everyone ostracized me because of him. I even use the word ostracize. It's a funny word. It makes me think of ostriches.
Mike Tyson doesn't apologize. He eats shrimp cocktail, dipping them into cocktail sauce and placing the tails on a napkin. "Did you know that pigeons are war heroes?" he asks.
"Did you know that ostriches can run at forty-three miles per hour?" Fuck this. If he's not going to apologize for ruining my life, then he doesn't get to talk about pigeons. "They can do that for up to thirty minutes."
"I love to Google things, Evie. I love knowledge."
I tell him that I once won a trip to the Dominican Republic by answering fifty trivia questions a day for a month, and that Googling is no match for me. "Did you know that a female lobster pees when she wants to get it on?"
"That's disgusting," Vonny says.
"I'm trying to make a point," Mike Tyson says. "A point about knowledge. And pigeons." His voice takes on a TV evangelist tone. I brace myself to be converted to the Church of the Holy Rolling Pigeon. "Pigeons have gone to war. Pigeons have been responsible for helping win the Franco-Prussian and both World Wars. They saved countless lives by smuggling messages behind enemy lines, soaring through bullets and poison gas. Pigeons can fly eleven-hundred miles and be trained to save drowning sailor's lives at sea. Isn't that spectacular? Isn't the world a spectacular place, Evie Austin Oden Austin?" Across the table, Mike Tyson nibbles shrimp cocktail. His sits sideways, one arm slung across the back of his chair.
"Doberman Pinschers were in wars, too," I say. "Doberman Pinschers have gone to war, and been responsible for helping put people in concentration camps."
"But do you know about their ears? In order to get their ears to stand up straight, those dogs get surgery, and so what their ears once were, they no longer are."
He's not getting me there. "I know about their ears. I know all about their ears. I know that after they get surgery, people have to stick Tampax in their ears to make them stand up straight. How would you like to walk around with Tampax in your ears?" Vonny asks how they get the Tampax to stick, and I tell him they have to tape it. "They're jumbo Tampax, too."
Mike Tyson takes his arm off the back of his chair and turns to face me. I have a shivery second of imagining him near my ear. "Evie, I admit this to you. Objectively, I'm a piece of shit."
A wave of dizziness spins through me. Mike Tyson admitting that he's bad is throwing off the equilibrium of my entire life. Or maybe it's the cheap tequila. Either way, everything is upside-down, like I'm poised mid-cartwheel. "Yes," I say. "Yes, you are." Mike Tyson's face doesn't change, so I can't tell if I've hurt his feelings or not.
"I was a tornado, a hurricane. A god with no emotion."
I stare at my rainbow fingernails. "I live on the Outer Banks. I know hurricanes. You don't."
"But one day, I saw a pigeon. And I remembered how to feel. I was like a newborn, trying to learn how to sleep, how to walk, how to talk. It was like I had Tampax in my ears." He eats a shrimp. "Metaphorically."
I have an urge to tell him he's not so bad, to make him feel better. The room tilts to one side and I hang on to the table. Someone lights a cigarette beside me and for a moment I'm afraid I'll barf all over Mike Tyson's shrimp cocktail. I want to go home. I hate it here. I hate bars and I hate Las Vegas and I hate the desert. My home could get obliterated by a hurricane at any moment, it's true, but at least there's real water there. There's water everywhere at home, moving and rushing and sparkling and glimmering, and sometimes, on the Sound, standing still in a shimmer of sunset, like a piece of silk I could run my hand over. Like I could wrap it around my shoulders and float up into the sky. "I have to go," I say. I stand up, and so do Mike Tyson and Vonny Liggaslammasucka.
Mike Tyson holds out his hand. "It was a genuine pleasure getting to know you once again," he says.
I stare at his hand, and again I'm taken aback by the tapered delicacy of his fingers. "We didn't know each other that well before," I say. "You were mostly busy training." I shake his hand so as not to be rude. My mother has already yelled at me enough in my head.
"I still think it looks like you have a long-haired Chihuahua on your head," he says.
"I still think you're jealous of my fabulous pretend-hair choices."
Vonny asks if he can escort me anywhere, but I say no thank you. I pick up my purse and give them a little salute. "Thank you for your time, gentlemen. Evie Austin Oden Austin out." I flash them a peace sign and leave.
Outside, people scream and holler and bump and carry on. I snake my way around a cluster watching a fake pirate ship and walk up the Strip. I'm dizzy, but I don't stop until I get to the fountains at the Bellagio. Those fountains are built on a fake lake in the middle of the desert. It should just be sand and rock, but it's not. Instead, it's dancing and swaying and soft pink and blue lights and the splish and spray of water shooting up and falling back into itself. It's like someone put Tampax in the ears of the desert, and up sprang a fountain.
I call Charlotte. "Mike Tyson and I just ate shrimp cocktail. He's jealous of my new hairpiece and he admits he was bad."
"Does your revenge feel complete?" Charlotte asks. She yawns.
I run my hand along the fountain's fence. I grab on to a rail, lean back, and pretend I'm a showgirl on a stripper pole. "I feel very discombobulated."
"It was a major life goal to cross off your list," Charlotte says. "Discombobulated is probably to be expected."
The fountains dance to something symphonic and classical. I don't know what it is, but it makes me want to stop pretending to be a stripper and start pretending to be a ballerina. "I suppose I did take some small part in making out with all those boys in the baseball dugout." The water rushes up and hovers for a moment in mid-air, a tiny, crystallized moment of anti-gravity perfection, before it falls back down into the lake.
"Maybe just a little," Charlotte says.
"Hatteras changes all the time, doesn't it?" I ask. It's true; it does. Hurricanes blow in new inlets. Houses wash out to sea. "And here, people just build lakes where there used to be sand. If they want Paris or Venice, they put it right up." I start walking over to the veranda. Veranda is a lovely word. Veranda. "If I ever have a daughter, I'm naming her Veranda," I say to Charlotte.
"When do you have to leave for the airport?"
Shit. I'd forgotten all about the airport. I take the phone away from my face and poke a button to check the time. "Not for another few hours."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know." What am I going to do? I sit down, close my eyes and lean my head back against the cool marble of the veranda post. I can feel my blood pulsing through my ears, my face, behind my eyes. The music changes. 'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free. I don't know what I'm going to do. All I know is that I'm Evie Austin Oden Austin, and I only have a few more hours before I can go home.
Heather Frese received her master's degree in English from Ohio University and her MFA in fiction from West Virginia University. Her essays, poems, fiction and interviews have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Los Angeles Review, Front Porch, The Barely South Review, Switchback and The Southeast Review, among others. Her essay, "Fatigue," received notable mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Essays. She's a freelance writer living in Durham, N.C.