The wedding chapel isn't doing much business tonight. Arch of Reno. The neon flickers. Inside, the office is strip-lit. A middle-aged man in a shirt and tie sits behind a desk, his palms flat on the surface. Motionless. A wedding portrait sits on his desk. On the wall, a prominent sign: 'No food or drink'. The glass doors are patterned with peeling heart transfers. Portraits of satisfied customers are arrayed in the display window, in black and white, some with WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE emblazoned across them in Wild West typeface. A tux is displayed for rent. 'Se habla Espanol'. A large graphic of a gold trophy sits over the door. 'Best of Nevada 2003', it says, right beside the sign for the Reno Tattoo Company. This will last forever.
Plastic sandwich boards outside advertise special offers.
I turn back towards the hotel. I fall into step with a man pushing a pram. He's got a wide-brimmed baseball hat on, some scrappy facial hair, pale skin. Howya doin', he says. He's young. A battery-operated stereo is nestled amidst the toys and blankets in the tray of the pram. It's blasting generic American rock. I don't recognise the band.
We make our way across an empty car park, trailing tinny distorted guitars in our wake, skirting around a roller derby practice session. We are eyed by lycra-clad middle-aged women with neon headbands. Some are striped with war-paint.
A pink-clad one-year-old sits bolt upright in the pram, chubby hands on the bumper. Wide blue eyes, fixed on the road ahead. She turns around to look at me. I wave. She doesn't respond. I make a face. The blue eyes blink. There's a drum fill, synthesized strings come in for the chorus. The high frequencies crackle. He drums his fingers on the handle of the pram.
'Is this your daughter?'
'Sure is, ma'am.'
I ask how old she is. She's one, he tells me. I wave again. No response.
He laughs, apologetically. 'Yeah, she's got that dead stare. Sometimes she smiles, y'know, but mostly she just stares at ya.'
She's very sweet, I say. He thanks me.
'You have a nice evening, now.' Same to you, I say, turning into the foyer of my hotel. Good night now. They continue down the street, their raucous clamour fading. The child swivels and leans out of the buggy to keep her cool blue gaze on me. I look over my shoulder.