Mac entered the shop and tipped his cap at James the cashier, actions he’d performed a thousand times before. He came in once a week around 4PM wearing the same getup—probably the full outfit he had: a striped long-sleeved work-shirt, a straw hat with the hole in the brim and tired old work boots. But his wide blue eyes always shone and grew wide with excitement when he plopped his money down on the counter to play the same 6 numbers. 4, 18, 67, 89, 4, and 18. The same order. Every week. Every time. Except today.
“You alright, Mac? You’re looking a little…I dunno, pale, maybe?”
“Naw, just a bug is all. You know how it is. Kids come home from school carrying all kinds of colds and flu.”
“You don’t have any kids,” James reminded him gently.
Mac looked down at the counter. “I—I meant Lottie’s nieces and nephews. Lorne brought them over for a visit last weekend.”
James nodded, now understanding. “Jessie came home just last week with some stomach thing. I swear, there was shit all over the house, from the main floor to her bedroom and the bathroom! I’ve been sleeping in the barn with the damn pigs, smells better than what’s going on inside the house! Reeks like all Hell!”
Hearing this, Mac turned an even more pale shade of ‘pale’. He took the ticket James gave him and slid it across the countertop. The he counted his change and then pocketed them both. “Well, hope that gets cleared up soon.” He tipped his hat a last time and finished with, “be seeing you”, just as he always did. Mac turned and walked out of the shop.
“Y’all heard about Mac?” James ran up the porch, making all the slats squeak and groan under his weight.
Peter and Lorne nodded, both of them blowing smoke rings whose side collapsed when their edges touched. “Yeah,” Lorne tossed out between pulls on his pipe. “The whole town heard. His numbers finally came in.”
“But no one’s seen him! I’ve been runnin’ all over town, spreading the word for folks to keep an eye out for him. Looks to me like he’s gone.”
Peter laughed. “Gone? That ain’t like him, especially on Numbers Day.” Peter tapped out the spent tobacco and prepared to refill the bowl. “The man’s as consistent as the rising and setting sun. How many years he been playing the lotto, using the same numbers?”
“Ten years, at least. It’s a miracle!” James exclaimed.
“Well, have you talked to Lottie? I’m sure she’d know where to find him. Especially with the amount of cash on the line, she’d move heaven and earth to find that man.”
James looked away from Lorne while rubbing the back of his neck with a hand. “Well, I asked her and she don’t know where he is either. Said she hasn’t seen him since yesterday, after he came home after buying the ticket.”
Now it was Lorne’s turn to laugh, nearly coughing on a puff of smoke. “I’ll bet that harpy is reeling mad! You know how she gets about money! Ooh, I know she’s already divided it up in her head and spent it all.”
“That’s just it,” James said, “She can’t find the ticket. When I left, she was tearing the place apart, pillows and blankets flying every which way. Cursing up a storm, too.”
“That’s Lottie for ya,” Lorne said,still smiling. “She always had a terrible temper, even as a kid. I warned Mac not to marry her.”
“Mmm hmmm,” echoed Peter. “We all did. But he liked those cans she had back then.”
“Likely hanging down to her knees right now, I bet! Lordy, the pleasures of the flesh are all vanity! That’s from the Bible!” Lorne said, guffawing and slapping his knee.
“She ain’t gonna find no ticket, that’s for damn sure. The only thing Mac had was that lotto and the hope that one day his numbers would come in. No, he has it with him, where ever he is,” James said, interrupting Lorne’s slapping fit.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Lorne said, sobering at last.
“Mmmm hmmm,” agreed James.
“Wish we could help, James, but we’ll keep an eye out for him. He can’t have gone far.”
Peter nodded in agreement.
“Well,” Mac said, heading back down the walk. “Guess I’ll be heading home. Marcy’ll be waiting for me. Shame we couldn’t find mac, though. Woulda been good to give him some good news. Sure looked like he coulda used some the last time I saw him. Didn’t look like himself at all.”
Mac switched off the radio. He couldn’t listen to it anymore. Too much blathering about schools catching fire and idiot gunmen running about public places to shoot up innocent people. The world was crazy. And it was making him crazy.
Ten years! Playing the same damn numbers, faithful to the nth degree, spending money he didn’t have, all for the slimmest of chances that one day his numbers would come in. Lottie shouted at him every time he pooled together the change he needed for a ticket, complaining it could be put to some better use. Yeah, like some war paint to hide that boiled ham of a face! If ever he did win the lotto, he told himself he’d do something useful for them both like get her a boob-job. That would shut her up and finally give him something to enjoy about his mouthy wife again. Those teenaged days of low-cut tank tops and tight jeans seemed so far away.
But that’s what this world was about. Life sucked and squeezed everything good thing from a person and left nothing behind but a brittle and broken husk. It takes your job, you love, your joy. Even your children.
The last thought made him pause. That wound had never healed. The school psychologists lied, saying something along the lines of “Time will heal your pain.” Time was a taker not a giver. Time wasted everything that was good in this world. Well, just like his only son who’d come to the same conclusion he had, time had run out.
Taking the lotto ticket from his front pocket, he hesitated a moment, thinking maybe he should turn on the radio to listen for the numbers before tearing it to shreds. Just in case. But he shook his head. After ten barren years, what were the odds that today would prove any different? He was tired of people looking at him like a fool because he was more faithful to those numbers than he was to his wife. Lottie knew it, too but she didn’t care. Actually seemed happy he didn’t chase after her anymore. Didn’t matter anyway. After today, he wouldn’t have to hear her voice screeching in his ears, beating him down like a vengeful hammer of sound.
Everyone thought he was crazy. Maybe he was crazy. But he was tired of hearing it.
Mac took the ticket and tore it to pieces. He put the car in neutral, made sure it was creeping towards the lake. Then he jammed the tips of the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.