The Winner

Although winning the lottery had always been a dream of Marta’s she actually felt, even during her dreams that it would more likely be like the joke about the guy who prays every day to win the lottery. In the end God hits the guy with a lightening bolt and knocks him out of the boat saying “Meet me half way….buy a ticket!” Now she sat at her computer in her tiny grey cubicle looking at the scrap of paper in her hand. This was it. How was she going to handle all that money?

She started buying tickets when Illinois first started the games back in the 70’s and would hold her dollar close to her lips, kissing it for good luck before passing it over to the bored convenience store clerk. Thoughts of thousands of dollars floated through her head, as did pictures of sports cars and fabulous vacation getaways. She was younger then of course and the idea of a shiny red convertible could almost bring her to ecstasy. Two tickets for the ‘Big One’ on Saturday and maybe a scratch off on Wednesday. Oh, the thrill! What she could do with that money! The tension built as she sat in front of the TV waiting for the polished white ping pong balls to be sucked up the tube with a tiny ‘foop’. Then the cocktail-attired local model would grasp the orb by her perfectly manicured two-inch red nails and turn it ever so slowly so that the magic number would appear. 27! Sigh, not a winner, but with four numbers to go there was still a chance for a nice chunk of cash. 14! Yes! Almost there, close to winning at least a new car. 35! Yes! Closer, closer, come on, come on, you can do it Lady! Pick the right one! 12! Twelve? Why twelve? Why not 15? Still Ok., maybe not a new car, but a used one or maybe even a down payment. Down payment on what, a tricycle? Calm, calm, think positive, be positive. Positive, hell, I’m positive I’m not going to win! And she didn’t. She never had, until…

She always felt it was a personal defeat when her numbers went un-chosen, kind of like when you called someone on the phone and the line was busy. What were they doing? Didn’t they know who it was? Get off the phone. Or worse yet, now that there was Call Waiting and Caller ID and they still didn’t pick up. Did they just not want to talk to her? Lottery balls were like that too. Somehow knowing which numbers you held and teasing you ever so slightly, allowing one number to ‘foop’ up the tube, maybe even two before holding back and letting the unusual, silly numbers like 23 jump up to claim victory over your own sad, lazy, unmotivated, useless pieces of plastic…

It was all about how you picked the numbers, or so she had been told. Her friend Tim had a book that detailed the strategies for winning ‘the Big One’. A series of complicated equations to chose the perfect combination. Just $19.95 for a two-page booklet that promised results if you only purchase 100 tickets per day, every day for the rest of your life! Such a bargain! The only person winning off of this plan was the guy who sold the books! Still…. it was worth a try. Think of the rewards! The possibilities! Find some numbers and stick with them. What were the odds? They had to hit sometime. Right?

But then there were all those random occasions when people hit with a ‘Quick-Pick’. “Let the computer chose for you”, the ads screamed. And there were commercials now. Radio, TV, even giant billboards showing heaven on earth, or at least in Peoria, heaven that is, not winners. But there was always a first, wasn’t there? If 57 church ladies from the parish of St. Michael’s of the Hollowed Suburbs could win, why not her? Of course they probably met God half way. They may have even read the damn book and bought the 100 tickets. Who knows? One million dollars divided by 57 minus $100.00 + $19.95, still a bargain. But back then it was only a million.

Who ever thought someone could say ONLY a million and mean it? The pot last week was 13.5 mil., but this week, this day, this ticket – $45 million dollars. It was enough to make her catch her breath and stare at the piece of paper in her hand. It seemed to grow bigger as she looked at it.

She hadn’t always bought the tickets. There were those rebel years when she hadn’t bought a ticket at all. Declaring herself free of all that nonsense she had watched her friends gather funds and run out on their lunch hours and speed to the store after work, anxious to make the deadline for the cutoff. “Marta, did you get your ticket? It’s up to 2 million! How many tickets are you buying”? “None”, she would nonchalantly answer. “I don’t believe in that stuff. It’s all rigged and only people from Chicago win anyway. I’m not throwing my money away,” she would answer indignantly. But only she knew that it was not her money she was saving, but her pride. Too many nights of sitting in front of her decrepit TV praying to the Lottery gods begging for that one big win, that ticket to salvation. Riches beyond her wildest dreams, and she had plenty of those.

Her dreams changed over the years and her co-workers used to tease her about them asking if she was still planning on the red convertible. Marta just smiled and flipped her hair and told them that the make of the vehicle wasn’t important as long as the chauffeur liked it. Her speech to the newspaper guys would be witty and humble (she had practiced it often enough!). “Yes, I am so surprised! I never imagined it could happen to me! Plans? Why no, not really, not yet. Well, except for paying off my bills and getting my car fixed and maybe taking a trip and of course tithing to my church. In thanksgiving to God and the great state of Illinois and especially the ball turner lady with the ruby red fingernails. Marta could afford to be generous. After all, she was a millionaire! But it didn’t happen, at least not that time. But, this time…

As the years had gone by so had the prize amounts increased. When she won now the amount would be staggering. And the interviewer would say, “Marta, now that you’ve won the lottery what are you going to do?” She would smile and say, “Why, Ed, I’m going to Disneyland!” like everyone who was anyone was bribed to say. “Hell, I think I’ll BUY Disneyland”, she would laugh as she smiled and flirted with the cameras, waving that little half wave Princess gesture to the envious adoring masses. Marta often hated the people who did win and said silly things like “Of course I will still work and my life won’t change at all!” But her crowd would not be like that. Oh no, they would love her and know that she truly deserved this gift because of her hard work and dedication. Hadn’t she actually bought the Lotto book and visited a psychic, twice? Who deserved it more than she? Bowlers from across the state line that only came over on Friday nights to drink beer, bowl ten games and buy one stinking ticket? Those people shouldn’t have won. You couldn’t even call them winners. They were just lucky.

Some said it was all about luck. Some were lucky and some weren’t. A little extra luck couldn’t hurt, could it? There was the horseshoe over her door, the one that had cost her a thumbnail in the installation and almost took out the mailman last winter when it slipped off its hook and landed within inches of his left foot. But then, he never was a very lucky guy really. She had found kissing the dollar bill did nothing but send her germ-a-phobic mother into conniption fits. “Do you have any idea where that dollar has been”? her mother would shriek. Marta felt it was probably not a good idea to tell her about the purification rites that the local witch doctor had used on all of her special lottery money. It hadn’t made any difference in her financial status, but at least now she could say she possessed ‘laundered’ money. Not very much cleaner, but it did add a certain mystic to her otherwise mundane life. Hopping on one foot into the store before buying a ticket hadn’t helped, nor had not looking at the numbers till the next day. In fact she hadn’t looked at this one right away either. That was a change for her for sure.

Speaking of changes, after this her life would never be the same. Why the sheer magnitude of this prize would be astounding. She could hardly think about what to do first.

Probably the primo thing to do would be to hire an accountant or lawyer type guy, a good looking, sexy….No, intelligent, honest man to figure out all the legal mumbo jumbo. But who? The intelligent part left out half the men she knew and the honest part left out her cousin Vinny, the one lawyer she did know. She could just see him lazing on a beach in Tahiti sipping away her winnings from little umbrella topped coconut drinks.

This was not a task that could be left to amateurs. She would have to carefully consider her options and devise a plan. The person she chose would have to be brilliant, yet compassionate and fully comprehend the Lotto laws concerning acquisition and taxes. Taxes? Shoot! She had forgotten that. What had she read once, that taxes take almost two thirds of a lottery pot? That some people almost went broke after paying up to Uncle Sam. She supposed that there was some way to check. She tip tapped into her computer to ‘Google’ up some stats on lottery tax laws but stalled out when the sheer number of zeros in 45 mil. overwhelmed her. How could she bear to part with so much so fast? There had to be a way around it. What was it called? Tax Breaks? Or deductions? She had never had many opportunities to use either to great advantage so far in her life, but that was B.L. (before lottery) for sure. She needed a plan and a cause.

She needed a charity she could share the wealth with. And of course that whole promising God stuff and all. Yes, she had always wanted to do great things, help her fellow man, establish a center for something or other. Feed the hungry, ‘A chicken in every pot’, or at least Happy Meals for orphans. Maybe even donuts for her unit at work (even if they didn’t deserve it). And, and, ‘Peace on Earth’, ‘Good will towards men’, ‘God bless them everyone’! Oh, damn, she had forgotten about church. What had she said about giving back to God? Something about Tithing? Thank goodness the Catholics didn’t really do that. A nice check in the collection basket would work. Well, not a check. If she gave a check they would know who she was and that she had money and they would want her to fund something or support something. They might even expect her to give every week in her pre-printed envelope or something. They might sell her name to some charity place, which would send people to her door with pictures of sad big eyed children in need of wheelchairs or food or designer jeans or something.

What she needed was a cause, her own cause, which, now that she thought of it actually was pretty easy – Herself! After all didn’t they always say, ‘Charity begins at home’? And boy did she need help! She could use a new place to live since her little apartment was filled with good luck charms and ‘How to win the Lottery’ type books.

Personally she could use some major renovations herself. Her hair definitely could benefit from some attention. Heck, with that kind of money she could skip her monthly visit with Tammy Lee at the ‘Cheap Cuts Cupboard’ and go to one of those foo-foo places that dress you in leopard print dressing gowns and press tiny cups of espresso or cappa, capachia, hell, she couldn’t say the word let alone spell it. Anyway, she would sit in a velvet stylists chair while a great looking long haired slightly effeminate man with an accent played with her hair while she sipped Diet Coke from a bottle. “Your hair, Madam, it is horrid! First ve need to chop thees and color thees, and thees is s-o-o-oo bad and…”

No, no, Marta thought this scenario is no good. Besides the ambiance of the ‘Cheap Cut’ wasn’t just the raucous country western crooner in the background, but the scintillating gossip in the foreground. Maybe she would just visit Tammy Lee twice a month instead of once. She could afford to after all. She could tip her now even.

After the hair makeover she could concentrate on other areas of personal development. Her body would be perfect of course because of the home gym that would be designed for her mansion which she would have to buy, perhaps one of J Lo’s old ones. Her personal trainer/chef (a la Oprah) would live in private quarters in the west wing, forcing Marta to starve and sweat and sweat and starve. Or rather, she could hire a great scientist who could invent a delightfully tasting pill that would magically melt away the pounds and tone her body to athletic proportions in a beguiling size 5 package. Then she could sell the discovery to millions of women who could benefit and would sing her praises forever. People around the world would become thin and trim without working at it. People like Susan in accounting would lay down good money and wake up slim and gorgeous. H-m-m-m, maybe not Susan. In fact maybe she would keep it a secret and let people wonder. She wouldn’t really need any more money if she handled it right to begin with.

Marta still needed to decide what to do with the rest of her millions. If she couldn’t trust Vinny with her finances perhaps she should learn to do it herself. Yes! She would go back to school. She had thought about it often enough. The local junior college had classes in almost everything. The catalog was even here at work.

Thumbing through the creased pages of the scheduled classes she was disappointed to not find a specific class on ‘How to protect your millions- For Dummies’. The cooking classes looked interesting though and a few others caught her eye. Why now that she wouldn’t have to work she could go to school full time! She could buy one of those cute backpacks like the college girls wore and when she arrived at school in her limousine and the chauffeur drove up on the sidewalk, straight up to the doors, the other students would stop and gasp and…

“Marta? Earth to Marta! It’s Friday, are you in?” the young man with a handful of cash and a clipboard asked. “It’s up to 45 million”.

“What? Oh yeah, sure, I’m in” she smiled as she pulled a crumpled five from her purse and signed the clipboard.

“So, what’s that?” he asked pointing to the card clutched in her hand.

“This, oh nothing” she replied.

“No, really, what? Marta are you thinking of taking another class?” he asked snatching it away from her. “Creative Writing? Sounds good.”

“Oh, not really”, she said crumpling the card and tossing it into the can. “I have no imagination at all”, she sighed turning back to her desk and her tiny grey cubicle, “Maybe next time.”

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