“Winner of $174 Million”
I began playing the lottery after my ex remarried. Like any man who’s been divorced because the very virtues his wife married him for became the reasons to leave him, I’d have hated to have to share possible winnings with her. This may seem small-minded, but we were married four years and I paid support four more, so I believe I fulfilled my obligations.
Not that I ever won anything substantial. Seven dollars a few times, three now and then. Once I thought I won $150, but I had read the sequence of numbers wrong. What I was hoping for was a twelve million dollar jackpot, which, taken in one lump and after taxes, would amount to about five million or so. Depending on interest rates at the time and along with my city pension, this would generate enough money to retire, buy a small house, live in comfort, subscribe to a number of concert series and travel now and then to different cities with great and small art museums, paying as well for my woman friend Margaret (don’t call me Maggie) Fisher.
Around the corner from my apartment was Calvin’s Convenient. Ostensibly a snack food, bread, milk and sudden need store, over time it had given more than half its space to a collection of inferior wines and a surprisingly decent selection of beers and ales. So every couple of weeks I bought a six-pack of Harp Lager, and twice a week a Quick Pick lottery ticket on my way to work as Assistant City Clerk in charge of birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses for Carbury, Mass, one of the small, densely populated cities around Boston.
Not all petty bureaucrats like me are bitter, dissatisfied individuals whose only desire is to protect their fiefs and exploit to the fullest the little power they have. I considered my quiet, orderly job both necessary and useful, an essential contribution to civil society. My salary was decent, and once I had only myself to support, even comfortable, allowing me to save, then spend moderately during vacations, buy the odd book and CD, go out to dinner, join the Museum of Fine Arts. So playing the lottery was just a two dollar a week indulgence leading to pleasant fantasies and no expectation of actually winning.
Instead, I won.
As usual, I read the paper that morning with breakfast (orange juice, French Roast coffee, muesli, whole wheat toast and strawberry jam). From childhood habit I always started with the funnies, but then I went on to the editorial page, the front page, through the major U.S. and world news and on to the Metro section where the lottery numbers were in a box on the second page.
Ordinarily I’d compare the winning numbers with my pink and white Quick Pick slip, see one, perhaps two uselessly matched numbers, accept the expected with a nod or a shrug, once in a while with a sigh.
This morning the numbers matched. All six. And below, the words and numbers: Jackpot $174,000,000. One Winner....
I encourage all to read “Winner of $174 Million” by Norman Waksler, and I urge everyone to examine the other excellent works in this initial issue of Valparaiso Fiction Review.