Both of their hearts were broken, and they had the same scars slicing their chests in perfect halves. They met in the cardiac ward. Lana had a bypass at thirty-two; Mitch had a transplant at fifty that almost didn’t take and then did. Later, lying together in bed, they pressed their chests together and marveled at the symmetry. He put his ear against her left breast and then leaned back in surprise. “What on earth is that?” he said, and she said, “It’s a bell, of course.”
It was true: he had heard it chime. When he asked about her family, she said, “My mother was a slot machine, and my father was a church.”
He was an accountant for a drug store chain and she worked in real estate, but then there were layoffs and the recession, and they sold their house and moved farther from Boston and closer to Manchester. The cold made their lips turn blue. They hired a sturdy neighbor boy to shovel snow. Sometimes Mitch felt the grip of his heart’s former owner—a stamp collector who had been hit by a snowplow—and he locked himself indoors and pasted rows and rows of flags and butterflies and profiles of leaders he didn’t recognize into leatherette books. Don’t lick the stamps! Lana warned him, but he would emerge dazed and ashamed, his tongue coated in glue.
On their first anniversary, they went to Vegas and stayed at the El Cortez on Fremont Street, which they chose because it was thirteen dollars a night and featured an Elvis impersonator in the lounge. Outside, a giant red slipper twirled and twinkled against the desert sky. Inside, coins fell into buckets and smoke filled the air, and they sat side-by-side and fed nickels and quarters into silver machines that dinged and clanged. Coins overflowed their plastic tubs. The Elvis impersonator sang “Don’t be Cruel,” and pulled Lana onstage to croon to her. Reflected in his sunglasses, she looked like she was in outer space, floating. Mitch applauded.
After two days, they had won almost three thousand dollars. Wrapped in a sheet after making love, Lana stood up and looked out the window, at the freeway and the palm trees and the revolving slipper. She touched her belly. “Jackpot,” she said to Mitch.
Their daughter Priscilla’s heart was perfect, and her laughter was like coins falling. At three, she took to wearing sunglasses inside. At four, she stole the pennies from the collection plate at Sunday school and when Lana tried to coax them out of her purse, she said, “They’re mine,” and would not let go. Lana and Mitch enrolled her in dancing and singing lessons, and she won every talent contest at school, singing “Don’t Be Cruel,” in a startling, perfect Elvis voice. One afternoon, Lana found Monopoly and Life money stashed in Priscilla’s dresser drawer; she returned it to the game boxes but later found money missing from her own wallet.
When Priscilla was sixteen, she took Mitch’s car to Boston and lost it in a snowstorm. “Everything isn’t yours,” Mitch told her, and Priscilla said, surprised, “Oh, but it is.”
On her twenty-first birthday, she told her parents she had something important to say, and set out a deck of cards on the kitchen table. She laid out a King, then an Ace. “I’m moving to Vegas,” she said. Mitch’s heart squeezed up on him, and he spent the rest of the afternoon with his stamps. Lana’s heart gonged—“Stop it, Mom,” Priscilla said, rolling her eyes—and then, shamed, tinkled like a dinner bell.
Priscilla sent postcards: sparkly, glittery ones featuring casinos that hadn’t been there all those years ago: the Eiffel Tower, a New York skyline. A sphinx. There was no return address. Her phone number was always going out of service. In this way, several years passed; Mitch and Lana retired and decided they should move to Las Vegas, buy a house in the desert and find their daughter. A post card still arrived every month or so, featuring a new casino, a glittering wheel or a strobe of light, with messages like: Doing fine. Love, Priscilla.
That winter, during a blizzard, Mitch was hit by a snowplow and killed. Lana’s heart played the chimes that called the mourners to prayer, and as she followed the casket to the frozen cemetery, she felt something crack in her chest as the clapper slammed.
Her doctor sliced her open and replaced her heart with a doorbell—a modern appliance, with a buzzer—and when she was finally healthy enough to travel, Lana went to Las Vegas and searched for Priscilla. She stayed at the El Cortez and took the double-decker bus to the end of the new strip, and she wandered through every casino, past the roulette tables and the slot machines—all electronic now, flashing lights and cartoon characters, churning out tickets in a sound-effect burst of fake coins. She wound her way through the blackjack tables, the dealers standing with their hands crossed like corpses upright in their coffins. She sat in smoky lounges listening to Elvises, trying to see their real faces through their big sunglasses. She worked her way from one end of the strip to the other, and then she started over.
Her daughter had vanished, but Lana had the odd thought that Priscilla was, in fact, everywhere—something about the sound of those machines. She was surrounded by Priscilla’s laughter like coins falling, or maybe it was the other way around—the coins were like Priscilla’s laughter—and finally it didn’t even matter, because it would have to be enough. Everything that had ever happened to her: it was all treasure, it was all just luck.
Becky Hagenston’s first collection of stories, A Gram of Mars, won the Mary McCarthy Prize; her second collection, Strange Weather, won the Spokane Prize. Her third collection, Scavengers, won the Permafrost Prize and is forthcoming in March 2016 from University of Alaska Press. Her stories have appeared in Gettysburg Review, Subtropics, Crazyhorse, The Southern Review, and many other journals, as well as twice in the O. Henry anthology. She is an associate professor of English at Mississippi State University.