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The Ticket

  

Winnings

         Paul had to stop at the convenience store on his way home from the office. He hated to do that, but Lila had forgotten to buy milk and cream when she shopped for groceries.  Dam it, why can’t she make a list of the things she need, instead of shopping just from memory, he thought. She knows all too well I loathe stopping at the local convenience store.  It smells of greasy food and the guy who runs it looks like he came from the slums of some place in Asia.

It was raining cats and dogs when he reached the store and he got wet running to the entry.  Dam it, now my suit will get wrinkled and I won’t be able to wear it for tomorrow’s meeting with the people from Barlow Ltd. he thought.    Paul went over to the cooler, got the milk and cream and walked to the counter and paid for it.  He noticed how dirty the man’s hands and nails was, when he gave him the money and shuttered at the thought that this guy handled everything sold in the store. Next time Lila asked him to stop at this damned place, he would find an excuse not to.

There was a sign above the tobacco cabinet proclaiming the weekly lotto prize was 45 million dollars.  Hell, he thought, why not get a ticket, even though he practically never gambled.  He asked for a ticket, paid for it and stuck it in his pocket.

“Lila, I’m home!  I put the milk and cream on the counter in the kitchen.  I got wet in the rain so I’ll go and change.  What’s for supper?”

“Pasta Carbonara and a green salad,” shouted Lila from the living room. I’ll call you when it’s ready”

Paul went upstairs.  He was pissed off and had a slight headache.  Jeepers, what a lousy day it had been.  His secretary was late typing the proposal and presentation for tomorrow’s meeting with the Barlow Company and he had to wait for it.  He spotted several errors in it when she gave it to him for approval, which caused additional delays. Sometimes, he thought, she was careless with her work and he planned to have a word or two with her about that.

After supper he went into his little office and began reviewing the presentation, thinking of how he best could impress the Barlow people.  It would be a very lucrative contract if he landed it and no doubt would result in a promotion for him.

Breakfast was the usual affair with small talk about this and that.  “Don’t forget, I’m going for lunch with aunt Cory, said Lila.  I’ll pick her up at around eleven and drive to Fall River where we will lunch at The Red Rooster restaurant”.

“OK, love, have a nice day and, – Oh by the way, can you take my grey suit along and drop it off at the dry cleaner on your way.  Tell the cleaner I won’t need it until next Monday.”

“Will do, sweet and good luck with the presentation, I’ll see you tonight.”

“Thanks”, said Paul and headed out the door, blowing a kiss toward Lila.  It was a nice sunny morning and he felt great.

Lila went upstairs, showered, put on her sexiest lingerie and a tight fitting blue dress.  After finishing her makeup, she dialled a number on the bedroom phone, said hello, hello and hung up.  Shortly after, the phone rang; she grabbed it: “Hello Richard, how are you darling? Paul left for the office an hour ago.  I’m fine Richard; I made the room reservation at Edgewater Inn as we agreed.  OK darling, I’ll meet you there.  I can’t wait to see you again.  Bye-bye for now”

She left shortly after in her little red Honda.  The morning rush was long over so the traffic was light.  Suddenly she realised she had forgotten Paul’s suit.  “Dam it,” she said to herself, and headed back to the house again.  She parked in the driveway with the engine running and quickly went into the house, took his suit, returned to the car and drove away again.

She stopped at the dry cleaning store, dropped the suit off and told the man that her husband wouldn’t need it until next Monday.  “Very well, he said, it will be ready before then, if you want to pick it up sooner.”

“Thanks,” said Lila and left the store.  She got into her car and drove away with a big smile on her face. The thought of being with Richard exited her.

Sergei’s parents had emigrated from Ukraine when he was a young boy. Life had not been easy for his parents for many years, but eventually they had prospered.  His parents had worked hard and saved their money until one day they could buy a dry cleaning business.  As soon as Sergei had finished his schooling, he began working for his father, learning the business.  It was not hard work, but long hours sometimes. After his parents retired and he took over the business, he had modernized and expanded it.  His wife was helping him and he had one employee, which enabled him to maintain normal business hours.  Life had become very good.

Sergei took the grey suit the lady had just handed him and checked the pockets.  He always did that himself, for several times he had found some valuable items and wanted to make sure they be returned to the owner.  In one pants pocket, he found 35 cent.  Oh, well, he thought, I’ll put them in the charity jar on the counter. The jar was marked “Books for children” and was for the charity of his choice, -a bank savings account for his little boy, Michael. The take was on the average was $21.00 a month and there was 935 dollars on the account now. Someday, Michael would have a tidy sum of money for his education.  Funny how it is, for no one ever once asked expressly what the charity was for, they just arbitrarily put change into the jar, so he didn’t feel it was steeling, since he didn’t ask them to.

In the inner jacket pocket, he found a lotto ticket. Uncertain what to do with it; he put it by the side of the cash register.  He noted the ticket was for the coming Saturday’s draw and decided he would check it after the draw, just to see if it was a winning ticket.

Another customer came in with some clothes that needed special dry cleaning.  He discussed it with the women, who looked exquisite in her expensive clothes and made out a receipt for her. This kind of cleaning was very profitable and he thanked her as she left.

As he passed by the cash register, he looked at the lotto ticket again.  What if it was a winning ticket? Should he go and claim the prize or be honest and give it back to the owner?  In the end, he decided to wait and see.  It would be easy to be honest and return the ticket if it wasn’t a winner and no doubt enhance his reputation as an honest person in the eyes of the ticket owner. It gave him a strange feeling of delectation thinking about the ticket’s potential for winning and he compared it to the one he had bought a couple of days ago.  His wife didn’t like him gambling, but because of the big prize, he had stopped at a convenience store on his way home yesterday and purchased one.

He took his ticket out of his wallet and began to compare the numbers with the ticket he had found in the suit pocket. Well, he thought, this is quite a coincidence.  The lotto dealer identification number is the same on both the tickets.  Clearly, the owner of the suit had bought it in the same convenience store where he had bought his.

Most of his customers were business people who wore clothes of the type that had to be dry-cleaned, and he knew many of the repeat customers very well. Some of them were chatty, like the lady who managed a travel agency.  She always talked about her annual travel trips, which each year was to a different place, just so she could advise potential travel clients what a particular place was like.  She could talk a blue streak for ten minutes or more at a time, which Sergei listened to politely, nodding in agreement, adding a “yes” and “you don’t say”  here and there for emphasis and to act as if interested in her tall tales. The fact that he thought she was a real bubble head he kept to himself.

Then there was the old gentleman, a retired, apparently well-healed chap, widowed and always bringing his dog into the store.  The pooch was a mixture of an unknown number of misalliances with other street dogs of dubious background and could at best be labelled as an ugly mongrel, but he worshipped it profoundly, forever extolling its virtues and extreme intelligence.  He claimed he could talk to it as he would to his friends and it would understand every word he said. Out of respect for the old man, Sergei never contradicted him; even though he was convinced he was somewhere  in the middle stages of Alzheimer disease.

The day passed with an average number of customers coming and going, although after four in the afternoon, there was a sudden increase in patrons dropping off clothes to be dry-cleaned. His wife helped him serving the customers and by six o’clock, he closed the store.

The next morning, he opened at the usual time and put the needed change in the cash register.  He looked for the lotto ticket he had left by the side of it, but it wasn’t there.  It wasn’t on the floor either or anywhere he looked. He could only conclude that someone had pilfered it late yesterday afternoon, when the store was busy. Well, at least he didn’t have to worry about whether it was a winning ticket or not, nor having to return it to the owner. His conscience was clear.

Gary had rented a bachelor apartment and simply just relished being away from his parents, under whose roof he had lived for 20 years.  It wasn’t that he was ungrateful to them for making sure he got an education, and keeping him at home, rather, he wanted his freedom and live on his own.  He had completed community college and gotten a job as an electrician with a local building contractor, which paid quite well. He had wanted a bigger apartment, but not enough money put a damper on that. It would have to wait until he had saved some more loot or perhaps win in the lottery.  That ticket he snitched in the dry-cleaning store yesterday, when he brought his jacket in to get cleaned; well, one never knows, that might just be a winner. He couldn’t resist the temptation.  The ticket was lying on the counter next to the cash register, so he just grabbed it, when the old man turned around, put it in his pocket and walked out.

He took out the other two tickets he had bought in the convenience store last Monday and compared the numbers with those on the ticket he had snitched. They were quite different, kind of oddball, but what the hell; the odds of winning are astronomical, so those numbers would be as good as any he thought.

Gary had invited two of his friends over for a couple of beers and to watch a hockey game on the TV.  He opened up a bag of potato chips, dumped them in a bowl and put it on the coffee table together with some small bags of peanuts; arranged the chairs around the TV and sat down to wait for Tim and Peter, who arrived just before the game began.

During the first intermission, Gary got an idea.  “Hey guys, he said, did any of you buy lotto tickets for tomorrow’s draw?” “Yea, said Tim, I bought one” What about you, Peter?” asked Gary.  “Sure did, he said, I’ve got two.” OK, guys, between us we have six tickets, for I have three. If you are willing, we could have a bit of a fun game here. What do you say if we put all six tickets in a bowl, mix them up and each of us then draw two tickets? If any of us wins anything, we share it evenly amongst us.” “Sure, said Tim and Peter, that sound fine.  We each improve our chances of winning at least something, if one or more of the ticket numbers are drawn. “Well, said Gary, to make it more interesting, let’s agree to give the holder of a winning ticket and extra ten percent of the winnings.” “Yea, why not, that sounds OK, said Tim and Peter.

They put the tickets in the empty chip bowl, face down, and mixed them up.  Each drew one ticket, then reversed turns and drew one more.  “OK, said Gary, we will meet here tomorrow and check the tickets.  The second period is coming on guys; let’s watch the game now.”

After the game, Tim and Peter left. Tim didn’t have a car, so Peter drove him home.  Tim had been unemployed most of the winter and was a bit hard up for money.  He had just landed a job at a local parts manufacturing plant that had opened again after being closed a couple of years, due to an economic down turn in the auto industry. He hoped he could keep this job for a long time, so he could get back on his feet again. The room he had rented in a private home was like a jail cell to him, and although the owners were nice, he couldn’t stand living there.  He wanted an apartment of his own again.

Tim made some coffee and sat down to watch the news.  There was a brief mention of the lottery prize being 45 million dollars for tomorrow.  He took the two tickets out of his wallet and looked at them.  One had some real oddball numbers: surely, that would not be a winning ticket he thought, but then again, anything is possible.  He drank some of the coffee and began thinking about his girlfriend, but those odd tickets numbers kept nagging him.  “Jeepers, he said to himself, supposedly that was the winning ticket, what kind of life-altering event that would be.” He began dreaming of all the things he could buy and places he could go. His girlfriend would go nuts; for she wasn’t particularly well heeled either, and she would want some of all that loot to go shopping.

Tim got all excited about the prospects for winning with that ticket. He had to share the winnings with Gary and Peter, which would give each of them 15 million dollars, although he would get ten percent off the top for having the winning ticket, giving him 19.5 million.  “That’s serious pocket change, he said to himself.  I wouldn’t make that much money if I worked the rest of my life at the plant. It almost blew his mind fantasising about this whole, crazy scenario.

He slept till late Saturday morning, late being nine o’clock, for he was so used to getting up at six. The coffee machine was on and he made some toast while waiting for it to brew his morning caffeine fix. He turned the TV on and watched the news for a while, which typically consisted of reports on murder and mayhem.  Why is there never any good news?  He thought. It’s depressing to listen to all the violence, corruption, conflict and what not going on around the world. The weather report called for rain later in the day, so he decided to go and get the few things he needed now.  On his way back, he stopped by the drug store, bought the local newspaper and something to snack on.  He saw the ad above the lotto booth, proclaiming tonight’s 45 million dollars prize and a crazy idea hit him.  He walked over to the booth, grabbed a player slip and took the ticket with the odd numbers out of his wallet, copied them down on the slip, handed it to the attendant, who put it through the reader and printed the ticket. He checked the numbers against his ticket and they matched.

Saturday evening Tim bought a dozen beers and took a taxi to Gary’s place.  Peter arrived a bit later, also bringing some beers.  “Well, said Gary, tonight is the night. Are we going to win or not?”         “You’ve got to be kidding, said Peter, the odds of winning are simply astronomical.”

“You never know, you have to be optimistic and I think positive,” said Tim. They will be drawing the numbers at 9:00 o’clock, so turn on the TV and we can watch it.”

“Well, said Peter, there’s the numbers.  Let’s get our tickets out and check them.” Gary checked his tickets first and had only a couple of numbers correct. Those numbers are weird, he said. No-one will win that prize.”

“I told you, said Peter, we are not going to win.”

Peter checked his tickets next and shouted “Oh my God, I have four numbers correct.  We just won 10 dollars. That’s just enough to buy a few beers. Tim, it’s your turn now.”

Tim took his two tickets out. “Hey, look at that, I have three numbers right on the first ticket.  That’s good for a free ticket, so we can play again next week.” He checked the second ticket and grew silent.  He just sat there, not saying a word, with an uncanny expression on his face.

Peter interrupted the silence. “I told you guys, the odds of winning are astronomical.  We didn’t win the big prize.

At that moment, Tim let out a yell that could be heard a three blocks away. “Guys, he said, we are all millionaires, for I have all the numbers correct.  Check it out, guys, double check it again.”

Peter and Gary checked the ticket and began hooting and hollering. “We are rich- dam rich, rich, rich, we can buy whatever we want.  God, this can’t be true, said Gary.   Tim, sign the ticket so you can go and claim the prize on Monday.”

“Boys, I have some very good news for you, said Tim.  I can’t sign that ticket, because I have two of them.  I bought a second ticket yesterday, with the same numbers.  I thought they were odd, but I had a totally uncanny intuition that it would be a winner. One of you two have to sign the ticket and claim the prize, for it would look suspicious if I claimed them both. You two can keep the winning ticket we played together and share the prize between you. I’ll claim the prize for the second winning ticket which I bought yesterday.  You will each get 11 million dollars and I will get 22 million. That’s more money than I could ever earn in my life.  I have for years dreamt of living on some pacific island, off the tourist beaten track. Don’t ask me what I’ll be doing there.  I’ll cross that bridge when I find the right island”.

“How do you know there are only two winners?” asked Gary.

“Well, said Tim, the numbers are so odd that it seems extremely unlikely there are more, but even if there is, I’ll stand by this deal.

—-Paul came home from the office early.  He was elated, for the Barlow people had accepted the deal. His presentation had been successful.  He turned on the TV and to watch the news. There was a mention of the big lottery prize and suddenly he remembered the ticket he had bought. He had put it in his jacket pocket, but his suit was at the dry cleaners.  He would ask Lila about it, but she wasn’t home.

The phone rang and he grabbed it. “Hello”, he said.”  “Would you be Mr. Carlson?” a man’s voice asked.  “Yes, he said, what can I do for you?” “I’m the manager at Edgewater Inn. I’m calling about the earring your wife said she had lost in the room during your stay here last Monday.  We have found it and wonder if we should send it to you or she will pick it up herself? “I would appreciate it if you would send it.  Do you have our address?” Yes, we have it from your wife’s credit card, which she charged the room to and by the way, we all admired the yellow Ferrari you are driving.  What a marvellous car to look at.”  “Thanks you,” said Paul, and hung up.

Paul was astounded. His wife unfaithful; the thought had never occurred to him. He knew exactly who owned the only yellow Ferrari in town and couldn’t wait for Lila to come home and explain just what she was doing sharing a room in Edgewater Inn with Richard Dalton, his former boss, on a day when she was supposed to have lunch with her aunt at The Red Rooster Restaurant in Fall River.

He felt a migraine coming on.  This wasn’t going to be the celebratory evening he had anticipated and he had every intention of calling Richard Dalton’s wife to inform her of her husband’s indiscretions. With a feeling a dread inside him, he put the bottle of champagne he had bought to celebrate his success, out in the garage.

       Kenny Beechmount, Copyright 2011.

        Comments are welcome

 

Creative Commons Licence
This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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The Old Grist Mill

The Miller’s Daughter

Efrain was sitting in his favourite garden chair underneath the cherry tree. It was what he did every day during the summer months, if the sun was shining and the weather warm enough to keep him comfortable. Some days, when it was not, he would ask for a blanket from his daughter, Tina, who was caring for him in the evening of his life. It was a glorious, early summer afternoon with a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the gnarly old cherry tree, loaded down with sumptuous looking red berries that the starlings feasted on several times a day. Strangely, no-one else seemed interested in eating them.

He had often sat and studied the tree and today, he thought how much it reminded him of himself. He didn’t think it was as old as he, but the contorted, knotty branches seemed to imitate the way he felt about his own ancient body, racked with arthritis and worn from years of hard work at the old grist mill and making malt at the brewery. He felt immensely tired today but didn’t want to fall asleep. Instead, he let his mind roam down memory lane for there is nothing like a journey into the time that once was, he thought. After all, today’s foolish world could not be compared to the old days.

The sun warmed his aged body as he drifted into a world of his own. Presently he found himself sitting on the wooden driver’s seat in the front of a wagon, loaded with sacks of grist, as he had done so often when he was young, but there was no horses hooked up to it. How strange, he thought. Was he dreaming? The wagon floated in the air above the grist mill and he could see Wilona, the miller’s daughter, with her white apron draped around her black dress and her dark hair tied with a green ribbon. He tried to wave to her, but he couldn’t move his hands. It was like he was paralysed, unable to call out to her or get her attention. 

Slowly, the wagon drifted over the landscape, past farms, manors and small groups of houses, all of which were familiar to him. For a while, it hovered over the little house where he was born. He thought of his parents, both of whom had spent their lives in abject drudgery on the farm belonging to the nearby manor house. He knew he had grown up in poverty. There was never money to buy all the things they needed, but his mother always had a little candy for him when she returned from her weekly trip to the country store.

He smiled as the wagon drifted toward the sheltered, small cove and the little straw thatched house near the beach, the first place he lived after he had married Wilona. He looked for his little daughter, but couldn`t see her. Perhaps she was inside with her mother, waiting for him to return from the mill. She was such a lovely little girl, full of life and rambunctiousness.

Life in the small cottage had been filled with love and tender care, but when he looked down on it again, he saw that it had changed. . The picket fence was no longer there and the little shed where the pig was kept had also been removed. The wagon drifted into a cloud and nothing was visible for a while. He gazed into the misty greyness and tried to remember what had happened; why the little house, where he first lived with his bride, had changed so much?

The cloud passed by and the wagon floated over the church where he had married the miller`s daughter so many years ago. He tried to spot her grave, but there were too many and he couldn`t distinguish hers from others. Why had she left him so early? Like a phantom image, Wilona appeared before him, her open arms beckoning him to come. Efrain desperately tried to reach her, but he couldn’t move. He called her, but no word came from his mouth and he didn’t understand why. What was the matter with him? Why could he not embrace his love or speak to her?

Slowly she vanished from his sight and when he looked down again, he saw the town in the distance with the tall church belfry and the little harbour with all its fishing boats. It lay nestled picturesquely in the bottom of the bay that stretched its shimmering surface along the shores, with all its small, secluded beaches. He recognised the little red summer cottage on one of them and gleefully reflected on the many times he and Wilona had spent a Sunday afternoon there, drinking coffee with Charlene, the widow of the barber, who owned it. Tina would play in the sand on the beach, chattering excitedly to herself about things that only she and the make-believe world she momentarily lived in could comprehend.

He could see the brewery, where he had toiled for so many, many years, making malt. Strangely, he was able to smell the steamy, yeast-like odour that permeated the room where the malt was made. It was hard work, he thought, year after year the same, but such had been his lot in life and it had not been all that bad. The door to the stable where the horses were kept when he was young was open, but no horses were there; instead, several trucks were parked in the yard outside. Much had changed, little by little, during the 40 years he had worked there. Machines had replaced work that used to be done manually and new owners took over just before he had retired. He didn’t worry about it, nor did he want to think about it, for it had been a place of drudgery for him.

It must be late afternoon, he thought, for the sun was making longer shadows in the narrow, cobble-stoned streets that hadn’t changed since his great grandfather’s time. He liked some things to stay the same and remembered walking down the narrow alley ways, lined with houses that seemingly always had been there, although the really old, straw thatched houses were gone before his time. Then he saw the old house where he and Wilona had lived so many years and where Tina grew up. The little back yard was still there, but there were no flowers and the house seemed to be empty and not well cared for. It was old and frail like him and would disappear someday soon, just like he would, he thought.

Saddened, he looked ahead and recognized the little wooded area beyond the marshland on the east side of the town. He wondered if the centuries old oak was still standing there and imagined the tree as it used to be when he was young, its giant trunk and huge, thick branches, knotted with large burls. The ground around it would be covered with a blanket of acorns in the fall of the year, on which the squirrels would feast for days on end and fill their larders for the winter. The sweet woodruff grew nearby in the thick undergrowth. He remembered how his father had taught him to pick them and put them up to dry in small bunches and then hang them on a wall in the living room. A while before rainy weather arrived, they would give off a sweet, wonderful aroma. He had always marvelled at that and called it “The rain plant”.

With the afternoon waning, the sun had turned a deep copper colour. The wagon drifted slowly toward the harbour, passing over the centre of the town and the old bell tower, whose bells had tolled for the departed souls of the town ever since it was built several centuries ago. It would not toll for his, he thought, for he would rest beside Wilona and the bells of the church near his birthplace that tolled for the souls of his forefathers for more than 300 years, would also toll for his. It was the way it should be, for it represented continuity with tradition and connection with the past, and that mattered.

The wagon was now over the water, crossing the bay that was bathed in the deep orange light of the setting sun. He saw a few fishing boats leaving the harbour to set their nets for the night and the gulls that always seemed to follow them. Presently, he was floating over the farmland where his ancestors had toiled since anyone could remember. It was the same as it had always been and he was pleased to recognize so many familiar places that had remained in his memory for so long. He saw the church and not far away the old mill, but its wings were damaged and no longer turning. He wondered what had happened. Why had it stopped working?

His daughter’s house came into view in the landscape and languorously the wagon drifted over the garden. He saw himself sitting in the chair by the cherry tree and couldn’t understand why. How could he be both down there and up here at the same time? A blinding light encircled the wagon and a strange, unfamiliar sensation enveloped him, but it was a good feeling. He saw someone coming through the light and reached out with his hands and then he heard Wilona’s voice saying “Efrain, I have missed you”. He could move again and felt curiously strong and full of vitality.

Tina walked down the garden toward the cherry tree to bring her father into the house. A large flock of starlings scattered from the tree as she approached Efrain in his chair. She called out to him, but he didn’t answer. Efrain had gone to join the miller’s daughter forever.

Kenny Beechmount

Copyright 2011

Comments are welcomeCreative Commons Licence
This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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