By Alicia Ruskin
Had it fallen out of his wallet as he was fumbling to pay the taxi? Blown by the wind out of his pants as he groped for his house keys? Floated down to the street from the pocket in the ruffled shirt he wore to the club as he bent over the grass to puke? I rolled my bike carefully back, peeled the paper off the cement and smoothed it out over my jeans. The waffle pattern from my tire had just missed the numbers, blue under the morning light. Always the same, six in a row, a sequence of one and two digits and then the final number, the one that mattered, the one that tipped over an ordinary lottery ticket paying out thousands into one that changed a life forever. The Mega.
We knew the numbers by heart, me and Truman, and Dolores who cooked for us and Hector who drove us to school or to the clinic when we broke a bone or the cough went on too long. Pop kept each ticket tacked to a board over his dresser, the numbers fading like photos of long-missing children. “Boys,” he’d say as he combed his thinning hair straight back from his forehead to better show off his still handsome face, “when we hit, first thing I’m gonna do is buy us the biggest house on the best street, and you’ll each have your own room—hell, your own wing so you can play those video games and I won’t have to hear it. Or maybe we’ll just say screw it and buy a yacht—sail around the world for a while, nothing but beautiful women for the crew, you like the sound of that?” Truman is still a kid. He’d sit on the bed, mouth open, taking it all in and riding the dream along with Pop, who would put a final dab of pomade on his head and then disappear for three days.
I looked over my shoulder to the apartment and slipped off my canvas bag, all the papers delivered except for the one I held back. Everyone would still be asleep inside, and I liked that time alone to read the sports or finish homework. It was hard to wake Pop. Once from a deep sleep, he had punched Truman in the face, and I held the ice cubes wrapped in the dish towel to my brother’s cheek while he choked out how he only wanted to show his daddy a picture he drew. I showed Pop nothing but the lottery results in the morning, along with a cup of strong coffee, a pill for the pain, and half the money from my paper route.
I unfolded the paper, glanced at the headlines, and followed one story to an inside page. There, the numbers for today’s lottery were just below the weather and, one by one, as the breath caught in my throat and a rushing noise filled my head, I recognized them. I checked the sequence twice more, naming them in order, first in my head then out loud. My eyes went from the ticket to the paper to the ticket, over and over. It was a dead match to the Mega.
Maybe it was the hangovers, or the sight of his oldest no longer a boy he could impress or just the truth of his bone-deep disappointment with life that made Pop’s morning face so hard. He showed this face to few people. The day he found our mother’s body his face was a different sort of stone, a wall where we were all on the other side. Money was not changing anything about that day. Money would only bury her memory in a gold crypt studded with diamonds and pearls.
I took the ends of the ticket and tore it into two pieces, then again and again until it was confetti in my hand. Houses and yachts and women, all gone. Pop would turn the apartment over looking for the ticket, he would rage and swear, and Truman would hide, and I would be stone. But that wouldn’t happen until I was ready. For now, I tucked the paper behind my back, rolled the bike away from the stoop and, steering with my knees, I rode down the center of the empty street into the sun, trailing the ashes of my father’s dream.