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Lucky number 8. Lucky number 5. Lucky number 4.

They were Livan Rogonovich’s numbers, and every evening like clockwork she’d shift uneasily on each arthritic foot as she made her way to the roulette squadron, her hulking legs slumping from left to right. And there were always three of them waiting for her: a croupier in a red soldier’s suit with an overflowing cravat dashed with a faded Faux Espoir insignia, the pit boss whose job it was to eye all patrons with some circumspection, and Solly who, though on official retirement, was the oldest waiter the casino could think of, and they guessed that Livan would spend more if she was distracted by a bit of good conversation.

RouletteLivan had been alone 15 years. Well, really, she felt alone most of her life, but it was 15 years since Alyosha her husband had died. Since then, Livan had relied on routine for company, and a night at Faux Espoir Casino wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening. It was the House away from her Home that Livan found so compelling, for at home she could only wander from room to room and sort through unmarked boxes stacked from floor to roof. But the evenings was where it all happened: at the House she was welcome. She felt she belonged. The House was her home.
Livan had no for anything but roulette. There was something soothing and familiar about the spinning ball whirling counter clockwise around the wheel that made everything ok.

“Feeling lucky tonight, Ms Rogonovich?” Solly asked. He asked the same question every night with no real thought to what the answer might be.

“Never luckier never better,” was always the response. Despite her usual candor, Livan enjoyed certain predictably in the response, even on nights when she left far poorer than when she arrived. And she always bet straight up on the same three numbers: 8 for Aloyosha’s death, 5 for his last few good days, 4 for her days of ritual morning. On most nights, Livan left many hundreds of dollars more destitute, but that didn’t matter. It was the distraction that roulette provided, it was the way it numbed something aching deep inside her, and it was the illusion of collegial friendship offered to her by the bevy of croupiers waiting to welcome her. Not a bad way to spend the rest of one’s days, Livian often thought, even if it was all farce.

Stuck like a puppet emotions of betting and baiting, pushing and pulling, waiting and wondering, Livan’s ghostly presence became as immovable as the tables in which she played each night. Was she eking out the last flickers of her existence in a run-down casino strip operated by hoodlums in expensive suits with cheap smiles and expensive liquor? If pressed, Livan would have conceded. But she wasn’t looking for life, for vitality, for anything other than a tonic for the dull ache of the present moment. And the casino answered that call with its flashing neon lights and the promise of a better future.

But tonight wasn’t the same. Something was different.