C. Jenise Williamson


In a field stood a man as skinny as his dog. When the people of Rock Bay stared at him, he imagined them saying to themselves, What a pity. I’m glad I’m not like him. But most people didn’t look at him at all, and the pain of isolation, despite walking among others, made him avoid crowded sidewalks and art fairs in high season. He imagined himself to be the sighting of local color that tourists mentioned in their travel journals. Jack couldn’t bear to be pitied though he pitied himself for all of his loss, his not belonging. Most of his time he spent alone, walking with his mutt Henry in the fields on the far side of the bay, a rocky bluff brushed by the cold wind of the sea.
From that vantage point, Jack could see moored fishing boats below, a place where fishermen came and went depending on the weather. He stared across the water, imagining a life on board a vessel sailing on a dangerous January sea, one that would let him float onward and away from this life. Then he turned his back to it all—the bay, the boats, the sea, his future, his past.
The wind whipped around him. His frayed jacket flapped against his numb body. The hood was blown on end at the back of his head. He stood with his heels positioned at the edge of the cliff. If only the wind were blowing toward the sea, not away from it, he thought. A quick compassionate gust in his direction would have been enough.
He had once wished for more. Now he only wished there could be someone to look after Henry when he was gone.
Jack took a few steps forward and sat down, not so close to the edge this time, and revisited the memories he’d held for the last few years. His ex-wives no longer needed him. His mother had needed him but now she was dead. His girlfriend had needed him but she had thrown him out of her house three times, the last time for good. Then a woman, much younger than he was, came into town. She had been more needy than the others had been, more needy than he himself, a combination that, in helping her, made his life worthwhile again. She was gone, too.
He took a rumpled photograph from his pocket as he did many times a day. It showed a man in the peak of health with a beautiful woman on a blue sky day in July. Jack looked robust and alive with lust and good intentions, and the woman whom he had loved more than any other stood beside him. His salty red hair was lit by the sun. Their peaceful smiles were like little white laps of water. The ocean lined the background with tiny waves, as if the water were smiling, too.
He slid the picture back into his pocket.
Where do people go when they go away? Jack longed to be in that place. A place where he’d be missed by those he’d left behind, welcomed by those who’d gone before. He had tried so hard, loved so deeply. He had always been the one to stay, the one who was left behind.
Henry lay beside him and put his head on Jack’s lap, raising his brow a couple of times, aiming his look toward Jack as if for approval or to make sure Jack was okay. Suddenly Henry lifted his head and poised himself to run, but Jack lay a reassuring hand on his head. “It’s only Ivy,” he said.
Walking toward them was Ivy, a fisherman who’d lost his way of life by a great white shark when he was reeling in lobster ten summers ago. His right hand had been severed and his left hand had taken over a hundred stitches to be pieced back together. The limp muscle did little, making the hand itself a mere ornament of scars in wild patterns of constellational figures that people couldn’t help but look at even if they already knew his story.
The townspeople were reminded of his loss every day if they happened to pass the docks where Ivy waited for other fishermen to return. Once back on land, they shared their seaside stories of the ones that had gotten away and a few rounds of Guinness at Maxie’s Bar and Grill.
Jack knew the shark attack hadn’t been anyone’s fault. He held no one accountable for anything, so he rarely made eye contact, not even with people he knew as well as Ivy.
“Mind if I sit with you a minute?” Ivy asked when he approached.
Jack waved his hand to suggest that a seat on the hard ground next to him would be just fine.
Ivy crossed his legs as he lowered himself and said, “I won’t keep you long.”
The two men sat with Henry between them for a long moment with the sound of waves hitting the piers below.
Ivy said, “I almost won the lottery.”
Jack wondered how almost winning could be possible. Either one did or one didn’t. He waited for Ivy to continue.
“I’ve been playing the numbers of the date of the shark incident. Been playing ‘em ever since my wife won a huge wad of cash playing the numbers she gleaned from the spirit of her deceased mother.”
At this, Jack looked quickly to his friend. This was a story he hadn’t heard.
“Yeah, my wife played her birthday on the anniversary of her mother’s death and the numbers came in. It won her a hundred grand. That was ten years ago. The day before me and Gordo got the bite. The next morning I went out and lost what felt like my whole life.”
Jack was staring at Ivy now. Ivy had kept it a secret all the years they’d known each other. How did someone get so lucky as to win so much money? But it wasn’t lucky Ivy’s wife’s mother had died, and it wasn’t lucky Ivy and Gordo had gotten bitten by a shark.
“Marketta blamed the incident on winning. Said it was bad luck. Since then I’ve been playing the numbers of the day of the bite to off-set the bad luck, thinking a little irony could bring us back to the way things were before. So last night I put in the same numbers of the bite as always.”
When Ivy paused, Jack became anxious for him to go on, but Rock Bay was a small northeastern place where people didn’t pry into other people’s business. People took their time there. Rushing was a sure way to keep skittish acquaintances in the shallows. Rock Bay was stronger than that, deeper than that. So he looked away and waited until Ivy was ready to say what happened next.
“Gordo always penciled them in for me for obvious reasons,” he said, lifting his arms slightly to show his metal prosthetic and his limp hand. “But like I said, Marketta’s been feeling a bit off ever since the big one came in for her. Then, sure enough, last night my numbers came in ten years to the very day.”
At this astonishing fact, Jack involuntarily pulled Henry closer. How long had he waited for things to get better in his own life? Going from girlfriend to wife to another wife then girlfriend to girlfriend took a steady pace, a straight-up dedication to playing things out to their natural, unhappy end. He wanted to know immediately what happened with Ivy. How much did he win? What was he going to do with all that money?
Stories flourished in Rock Bay’s cold weather when the townspeople were idle and needed each other’s worded breaths to help keep them warm. He was also secretly wishing Ivy would share his bounty with him so he could go someplace where there weren’t reminders of the women he’d once loved. But Jack knew how to stay, so he remained silent. He simply nodded for Ivy to go on.
“Gordo dropped me off and I went in to check on Marketta. She’d been feeling poorly, ever since her mother died but maybe because she won that hundred grand a year later. I hate to think of the devil in her.”
Like so many in Rock Bay, Jack was socially liberal and fiscally conservative. He once said gambling never figured into his way of thinking as fate was not one to be tested by betting on the future. Jack had puzzled out later that it had more to do with his concept of time than of money. He did recall, though, the story of Marketta paying to replace the warped hardwood floors after Hurricane Bob flooded the Methodist sanctuary in ’91. It was only just now that Jack realized Marketta’s donation to the church must have come from her winnings. Nobody had any business complaining about how Marketta got the money, time being what it was, a wave of its own, a wind catching people off-guard, the unsteadiness being enough to keep them busy.
“Marketta and I checked the numbers last night on the TV,” Ivy said. “And they came in. They really did. They came in!” He laughed and hugged his knees in the crook of his elbows, and rocked slightly back and forth.
Jack couldn’t hold back any longer. “How fucking great is that!” he exclaimed in a hoarse voice. Henry stood up and shook off Jack’s hold as if he, too, were in disbelief and awe.
Then Jack became serious. “But you said you almost won. You won, man! You did!” His coarse laughter was all profound delight. He had never known anyone to have won the lottery and now he knew two winners—Ivy and Marketta. He had known them all along without ever suspecting they were harboring Marketta’s secret. Maybe their humility was the reason Ivy had won. Or maybe time was showing itself to be better company for such otherwise unlucky people.
It was Ivy’s turn to get serious. He said, “Marketta fainted. Slumped right in her chair. At first I thought it was a heart attack, but I went to revive her with vinegar. Couldn’t get the lid off the bottle so I smashed the neck of it against the sink. By the time I got back to the living room, she was rousing herself. She pushed my arms away. ‘I’m fine, Ivy,” she said. ‘I can smell it from here. Sit down.’
“She sat upright and said—and you’re not going to believe this, Jack—she said, ‘Ivy, we’ve suffered since my numbers came in on the anniversary of my mother’s death. Maybe it was because I couldn’t be there for her when she went. Maybe it’s because I played the numbers and won. But I know right after I did, you and Gordo got the bite. I can’t take anymore loss, Ivy. If we take this money now, what’s left for us to lose but our own lives?’
“I never thought she’d say something like that. Her nervous condition seemed so minor but right then I knew she had suffered as much or maybe more loss than I had. The years of her taking care of me, the burden that must be. I looked her in the eye and said very firmly, ‘Marketta, we don’t have to take this money. Winning isn’t everything. It’s the time we have together that matters. All these years I’ve thought I’d get you a better house, better food, vacations where it’s warm, away from this frigid coast. But I can’t stand to see you upset like this.’
“I was angling for her to tell me I could take it all, but if you lived the way I do, can’t hold a damn thing between my own two whatever I’m left with, barely being able to gently brush my own wife’s hair from her face when she’s had enough, what my limp hand must feel like to her when I touch her. All these years, her blaming herself for what happened to me. I couldn’t abide by that. I couldn’t see her hurting and when I saw her last night, I had to tell her, ‘Marketta, we don’t need this money.’”
When Ivy finished, Jack had tears in his eyes and they weren’t from the wind as that had hushed to a breeze. To think about giving up so much. To think about the love of your life never complaining about how a single life event could change you so drastically from one glorious morning to a doomed and devilish evening and her thinking it was her own fault just because she’d been so lucky.
Jack studied the ground ahead of him. He thought of Ivy who, crippled, made the only gesture a lottery winner could make to prove his love for Marketta. Jack wondered what man could ever be released after finding himself in love with such a courageous and beautiful woman. What man could survive after loving a woman who was not only courageous and beautiful but who also took his need for consolation and made it worse by loving him so much? After all that, what man could ever hope to be loved by someone else? Ivy treasured Marketta. Even for Jack, the thought of losing her dropped a stone of grief into the center of his being.
“I understand,” Jack said. “I don’t blame you. I’d do the same if I were in your place.”
Ivy spoke. “I told Gordo about it. I offered him the ticket but he wouldn’t take it.”
Jack looked at Ivy with a helpless, quizzical expression.
“Gordo also said it’s bad luck. He’d talked to Marketta over the years and she’d mentioned the hundred grand she’d won and how she thought her good luck had brought me and him the bad. He never mentioned it to me. Marketta had asked him not to. And just now he didn’t want anything to do with winning. He doesn’t need the money anyways. Gordo’s intact. He loves lobstering. Doesn’t want to quit.”
“I see,” Jack said. He understood because he wasn’t a quitter, either.
He wondered why Ivy had told him all of this. Had he really come all that way to tell him a story? The idea occurred to Jack once more that maybe Ivy would give him the ticket.
Yes, just maybe he would. After all, something had pulled Jack away from the cliff and sat him down in that very spot where the two men now looked each other in the eye and smiled.
Yes, Jack knew how to stay. With all his might, he stayed.
As he waited for Ivy to say the ticket was his, he wondered if Ivy would want a cut. That would be okay. His stomach turned with hunger.
The ground was cold, and Henry was restless and needed to be walked and fed.
Jack looked at the darkening clouds that hovered above them. “The weather’s turning,” he said, hoping to speed things along.
Ivy, whose tears were catching in his beard, looked away, but he was smiling.
“It’s a pleasure to know you, Jack.”
Jack nodded, recalling the time they’d first met at Shriver’s Pizza. There had been three of them—Ivy, Gordo, and a man they called Fish—who spotted Jack sitting alone, reading a book. They called him over to join them for a beer.
There was a lot of food and drink and stories that night. Jack learned that Fish was twenty-three, and Ivy had taken him in as an orphan. He was impressed with the way Ivy had taught Fish to trawl the traps, had put him up in his cottage after Fish’s parents passed, each from their own kind of cancer. They spoke of these things so freely, Jack was jealous of their candor.
The trawler Ivy had used was old, but it was still a good one. After the accident that took the use of his hands, Ivy offered the boat to Fish, but Fish refused. That was the only night the four of them were together, Jack’s first night in the village, the night when Fish announced he’d be going off to college to make a better life for himself.
Gordo leaned back sharply at the news, offended, Jack thought. He noticed Ivy’s watery eyes. Ivy just shrugged and said, “It’s what you make of life that matters, boy. If you need to make it elsewhere, I don’t blame you.”
Jack eyed Fish over his fork in mid-air and wondered if Fish was living on a trust fund.
“What’s on your mind, Jack?” Gordo said.
“Just admiring Fish’s resolve,” Jack said, his trance broken. He resumed eating his cod.
“A bookworm like you?” Gordo said. “You ain’t been to college, Jack?”
Jack shook his head slightly and looked away. He didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to say he’d never even finished high school.
“You?” Jack asked, turning to face Gordo again.
Gordo laughed and said, “Started to once. My old man told me to get a real job, take over his ferry business. But you know kids. I wanted something dangerous. Something to make my parents wince with fear at the thought of it.”
Jack hadn’t been sure what to make of his sitting there with the three of them. Their dark hands looked rough and hardened by ropes and water. His own hands were white and thin. He squirmed a bit in the booth where they sat, discomfited by their intimacy.
Jack had secrets, a thorny treasure, a trove of misbehaviors and abandonment.
But he had liked Ivy immediately. Like him, Ivy was quiet. He spoke only when he had something to say. For Ivy it seemed because he had wisdom. But for Jack, in spite of his voracious reading, it was because he was afraid he’d reveal his ignorance.
Jack wasn’t orphaned, but he had no one. He had come up the coast just the night before he met Ivy and the others. He’d lost his wife to another man down in Bar Harbor and headed north with just a few belongings. His wife had money and was beguilingly gorgeous. He’d always wondered what she must’ve seen in him.
If Jack’s life had a sound it would be of glass breaking, and once shattered into tiny pieces, the shards would reflect all the light of his dreams. The light would fade ever so gently into darkness as the jagged rain of misfits and misunderstandings fell to the bottom of his inevitable sadness.
“What brings you here?” Gordo asked that first night at Shriver’s, and Jack told them about the divorce.
“You’ve come to the right place, ” Ivy told him. “This place is for loners and family alike. Just be careful of the local women. They’re too smart to put up with any nonsense.”
“I’m not looking,” Jack said. “Just needing to think of where to go from here.”
Now, sitting beside Ivy on the chilling ground of the bluff, he could go anywhere, be anybody, if only he had Ivy’s winnings. Staying in the silence, Jack felt rooted into the brown, grassy slope. He wondered as he sat close to the man who had seen through him to his loneliness. And there they were, sitting not so far from the sea, on a hillside as dusk approached, with Henry, a winning lottery ticket, and five years of devotion between them.
Ivy finally spoke as the breeze played with loose strands of his greying brown hair.
“Too much has happened because of Marketta’s big win. Gordo is right, it’s just plain bad luck. I can’t take any more damage. Me or Marketta. Both of us could die if I take this win.”
“What are you going to do?” Jack asked, unable to hold his curiosity any longer.
“I’m having a hard time letting it go, Jack. What if it were to bring bad luck to whoever cashes it in?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Jack lied. He always thought of the possibilities that could bring him bad luck of his own.
“My friends are too important. I can’t put them in danger.”
Jack didn’t believe luck made people do the things they did. People did either bad things or good things according to their own self interests. His ex-wife had proved it when she moved from Bar Harbor to New Mexico when she remarried, taking his daughter with them. That wasn’t bad luck but wretched, selfish cruelty. And Ivy didn’t cause himself and Gordo to get the bite. Sharks in northern waters were a fateful, contemporary consequence.
“I don’t know what to do,” Ivy continued. “You’re a smart guy, Jack. I thought you might put me on to another way of thinking.”
Jack wasn’t at all sure about the random machinations of numbers and drawings, whether it was unbiased luck or what. Gambling wasn’t for a man like him whose proclivity to drink a little too much, a little too fast, had given him the caution he needed to stay sober and solvent. His wages at Salty’s Diner were barely enough to keep his one-room let on Macomb Street.
“I don’t know, Ivy. It’s a tough one.” Jack wanted to do the question justice, to honor Ivy as he had the past five years, but he was conflicted. He could use the cash but he had a deep respect for Ivy who had always been kind to him like a father to a wayward child.
“Maybe you could see it as not being lucky exactly. I mean, luck doesn’t really have anything to do with personality or character, right?”
Jack tried another tack. “There’s only one way to find out, right?” He hoped that hadn’t sounded glib though he was beginning to work for the ticket, the way he had always worked so hard to earn someone’s love and failed.
“Do you really think Marketta’s win brought on the accident?” Jack asked.
Ivy was quiet for a while as the sea breeze grew stronger and the light began to fade. Jack took the silence to mean Ivy saw no way around the coincidence of the bite and the date. “There’s something else I need to tell you,” he said.
Jack waited.
Ivy took a deep breath and said, “When you first told me that your wife moved from Bar Harbor to New Mexico, I became suspicious.” He paused with his eyelids heavy as if waking from a dream. “When you told me her name, I knew.” He paused and took in another deep breath. He continued, looking ahead, out to sea, anywhere but at Jack. He said, “Her new husband is my nephew, Marketta’s brother’s son.”
“What?” Jack laughed.
“I know that’s a sudden shock to you, Jack. I’m sorry to have to tell you. You’ve been so quiet. It was only last month that I actually made the connection. You’d never mentioned her by name until last month. Then I knew it was true.”
Jack adored Ivy. Strong feelings for Marketta were easy just because she was Ivy’s wife. How could he hate them for something that wasn’t their fault?
“Why tell me now?” Jack asked. His voice was strained.
Ivy closed his eyes and leaned on his elbows against the hard ground.
“Ivy, what is it?” Jack asked.
Finally, Ivy spoke though his eyes remained closed. “What I’ve been trying to say, Jack, is that I want you to have it. The ticket. I want you to have a good life. I’m torn, I am. You’ve got to promise me, at the first sign of trouble you’ve got to get rid of it. I don’t care how you do it. Give it away, bury it, burn it. I don’t care. Just watch yourself.”
When Ivy was silent, Jack felt Ivy’s hand, the one with the constellations of scars, and realized his own life had been like that, a pattern of constant yearning. But it was also so terribly beautiful because he and Gordo and Ivy had survived.
Jack felt Ivy’s face, his palm over his nose. In the cold night air, Ivy’s breath was reassuringly warm.
“Ivy, come on. Let’s go. The air, it isn’t good for you. And Marketta must be wondering where you are.”
Ivy’s eyes opened. “Marketta,” he said. “Jack, look in my right pocket. There you’ll find the ticket. It’s yours. But you haven’t yet promised.”
“I promise,” Jack said, though he wasn’t sure.
Jack put his arm under Ivy’s and lifted him to standing. He was weak and Jack had no idea why. Ivy wasn’t so old, maybe sixty? With his weathered skin and the paunch of his belly from drinking with the other men, his age was difficult to tell. Sixty-five at the most? He shouldn’t be dying. The strain of winning, his fear of losing Marketta, could that have made him ill? Maybe the winning was already working its curse.
Jack said, “It’s okay, we’ll make it down this hill. We’ll make it. Hold on.”
Henry rose also and followed them down the hill.
“My right pocket, Jack. Take it.”
“When we get you home.”
The two of them walked slowly. Jack’s slight build made lifting Ivy uneasy but they made it to the house where they found Marketta on the phone, trying to find him.
“Never mind,” she said when they walked through the door. “He’s here.” She folded her phone to disconnect.
“Jack, what is this? Is he drunk again?”
“No, I think he’s ill.”
“It’s that ticket. The damn winning! Sit him down here.” She brushed the open magazine from the chair onto the floor and Jack lowered Ivy as gently as he could but the weight was too much. Ivy’s body fell heavily into the chair. It must have startled Ivy as his eyes opened quickly, again as if he were coming out of a deep sleep and trying to remember a meaningful dream.
“Thank you, Jack,” he said.
Jack held his own back with both hands, rubbing the soreness.
“I’ll get you both some water,” Marketta said.
Jack sat on the sofa and looked at Ivy then his gaze dropped to Ivy’s right pocket.
Marketta set the glasses of water on top of magazines spread over the coffee table. “Here you go.” She held Ivy’s good hand. “I just phoned for Linda to come over, make sure you’re okay. Now, tell me. What happened?”
“I don’t know. He seemed faint. I think it’s the ticket. He was trying to give it to me when he passed out.”
“Take the damn thing,” she said. “I want no more to do with it. It’ll kill us both.”
“Would you like me to stay?” Jack asked.
“Yes, if you please,” she said. “Where’s the ticket?”
“Ivy said his right pocket.”
“Gordo must’ve put it there.” She reached out her hand toward the jacket pocket but stopped herself. “I can’t. I can’t touch it. You get it.”
Jack hesitated, unsure of the consequences of having it. What if it wasn’t all just a coincidence? What if it really did bring bad luck? He put his hand in the depth of the pocket but didn’t find anything there.
“It’s not here,” he said.
There was a knock at the door then it opened and Linda, a nurse, came in. “Marketta,” she said, “how is he?”
“Thanks for coming, Linda. He seems to be sleeping. I’m worried sick.”
Marketta moved aside so Linda could check his vitals. “What happened? Was there a shock of some kind?”
Jack caught Marketta’s eye.
“What’s going on?” Linda asked again. She put her stethoscope away and pulled a small piece of paper from her coat pocket. “I found this just outside the door. It was blown against a bush on the side of the house. Is this it? A curse? Another curse?”
Jack and Marketta both stared at Linda. Jack’s disbelief palpably raced his beating heart.
The nurse held the ticket out to Marketta.
“Give it to Jack. We don’t want it,” she said.
Jack stood, his legs still weak from the walk and feeling weaker still with possibility.
Linda frowned as she held out the ticket. “You sure?” she asked. “It’s going to be bad luck, you know.”
Jack’s delicate hand trembled as he reached for the ticket. “Yes, I’m sure.” With disbelief and gratitude, he held the ticket.
Ivy grunted just then and his eyes opened and grew larger, the whiteness of them alarming.
“There, Jack, you see?” Marketta said. “As soon as he let the ticket go, Ivy’s suddenly better.
Ivy threw his hand in the air, pointing a finger at the ticket in Jack’s hand. He gasped a little, and Marketta said, “Don’t upset yourself. Jack’s taking that burden off of us.” She pressed his shoulders to the back of the chair.
“You need to stay calm,” Linda said.
Jack laughed, not a real laugh, but one that let out the tension that had been pulling at him since being on the bluff just an hour ago. His laughter came out in tones as tight little huffs with a lilt, a musicality that enriched the air, the glassy shards of his hope ringing out of him. Everyone in unison took a deep breath and then they, too, began to laugh.
“But should I?” Jack asked. The laughter abruptly ended and they all stared at him.
“Oh, okay,” he said. “Of course, I should.”
Ivy said, “You don’t have to take it. Give it away. Create a world of good. You can do anything you like.”
Marketta nodded, and Linda said, “We could use it to bring back the ambulance service, maybe widen the road out to the meadows.”
“I could do so many things,” Jack said. “A world of good.” He wasn’t quite sure how to feel because he had never experienced so many emotions at once. The angst of his loneliness was lost for the moment. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.
“Positive,” Marketta said abruptly. She hadn’t hesitated, and Jack thought she spoke for Ivy too quickly. But he also knew they had discussed it and it was true, really true, that Jack now held a ticket that could be worth millions.
“If anything happens to you, Jack, I’ll never forgive myself,” Ivy said.
“It wouldn’t be your fault, and I’m willing to take that chance.”
“Chance!” Ivy guffed. “What does anyone know about that. Life’s a chance and we only get the one ticket for that. We have to play it for all it’s worth.”
Linda said, “Now that I see Ivy’s all right, I’m going to leave and let you all sort this out. Good luck, Jack.”
“Thanks. Good to meet you,” Jack said.
When she opened the door, Henry barked.
Marketta said, “Jack, sit. You can stay for dinner.”
“I don’t want to impose and Henry needs to eat.” He didn’t want to say “hours ago” because he was glad to have helped Ivy. And he was more than glad to have been given a winning ticket. Ivy’s slump in the grass on the knoll, what was it? A feigned attempt at passing out? Maybe Ivy wanted him to feel that he would really be doing Ivy a favor to take the ticket, or maybe to say that the bad luck might really be all that bad.
“Thank you for bringing Ivy home, Jack.”
“It wasn’t a bother. I should be going.” He put the ticket in his wallet and placed it in the breast pocket of his jacket and sharply zipped the pocket closed.
Before Jack was out the door, Marketta gave him a dishtowel with warm bread wrapped inside. “Take this at least.”
Jack smiled then took Henry by his leash, and the two of them walked away.
By the time they got home, a dark sky had crept over Rock Bay. Jack immediately turned to the newspaper of two days ago to find out the cash value of the ticket. Four million dollars.
“My god!” he exclaimed. “Henry, we’re rich, filthy rich!” He pressed his hand to his forehead, his mouth open.
“What are we gonna do with all that dough?” he finally said. He spoke more words into the air, carefully articulating a list of places he and Henry could go, almost as if in prayer but there was no god, he believed, to hear him, because what god would bring on such tragic events? He stayed up all night, waiting until he could find a ride to wherever he needed to go.
The sun broke the morning chill. Its beam of bright light woke Jack who hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep. Skipping breakfast was no big deal, he hardly ever ate these days anyway, and he was too excited. This was the big one, and he wasn’t going to let it get away. Where was it? On the refrigerator door. He carefully lifted the magnet depicting a lobster and the name Salty’s Diner and took the ticket into his trembling fingers. It really was true. His head ached from excitement. Henry looked on, eagerly waiting his usual meal of kibbles.
Jack watched Henry eat, and as he sat on the kitchen stool watching, Jack realized he had no idea what to do. He didn’t know which store the ticket had been bought, but he did know stores didn’t cash the big ones. He looked at the ticket for the umpteenth time, looked at the back of it to see its faint red lettering. There was a place for his signature, so he found a red pen and scribbled his name at a slant. Like the arc of justice, he thought. This made up for all the loss. All the love he’d given away. All the emptiness that had absorbed the pieces of his broken heart.
He took out his phone and called for information for the state lottery office. He was already late for his shift at the diner, but he would be quitting his job any day anyhow. He almost didn’t mind being put on hold. Waiting gave him a sense of power and a self-directed promise of things to come. He was confident. His heart beat quickly, but he felt composed. This was the way one was supposed to feel in life—excited but with poise.
The person who finally answered told him where to cash in his ticket and to bring the name and contact information for his attorney. Jack didn’t have an attorney. In fact, he loathed attorneys ever since getting divorce papers from his ex-wife.
Ex-wife. How many did he have? Two were too many. But all that didn’t matter now. He was scribbling down the address and hours of operation, the where and when of his newly acquired wealth. He would ask Ivy for the name of an attorney, no better ask Gordo, keep Ivy out of it as much as possible. Jack didn’t want to disturb him with details.
His hands were shaking. The notepad fell toward the floor. Startled, Henry jumped to the side. When Jack lifted the notepad, he could see the lottery ticket floating in the dog’s water bowl, face down with the red ink of his signature becoming a blurry mess.
A sudden blindness of disbelief engulfed him until a moment later when his attention was roused by heavy thudding against the thin wall of his room. “Stop all that cursing!” the neighbor yelled. Jack hadn’t realized he’d been yelling obscenities.
By then Jack was holding the ticket between two fingers and watching water drip from its dangling corner. Now he’d have to wait until it dried before going to the state office. How long would that take? He ruled out nuking it, ruled out the oven, better to let it air dry. He placed the ticket gently on several layers of paper towels, numbers side up. Should he use paper towels to blot the front? No, that might blot the numbers off. He blew on the ticket until he was breathless and simply sat back down on the kitchen stool, without breath to make even a sigh.
He was losing his one big chance. Twenty-four hours hadn’t passed. He rested his chin in the palm of his hand, his elbow on the counter, waiting. The numbers. They had turned gray, the paper was rippled. He thought back to the previous night, the whole thing about bad luck. So it was true, he thought. He had been given the winning ticket and now the bad luck was making him lose it. But Jack was good at staying, and so he waited, rooted as he watched, with the hope that this time his luck would turn.

C. Jenise Williamson is a fiction writer who founded the Creative Writing Program at Bowie State University after receiving her MFA from the University of Maryland. Her stories have appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Satire, The Fiction Week Literary Review, 50-Word Stories among other small presses, and anthologized in Enhanced Gravity: More Fiction by Washington Area Women.