“I don’t know where to go with this,” I whispered. “If it were somebody else I’d tell them to suck it up and just get on with it. Let the man in, send Jacob to school, cash the ticket, and go about their life. But I just can’t do that. I don’t understand it. The ticket is proof that the extraordinary isn’t out of my reach. I don’t want to think that, but I do. There’s no other explanation. But why? Why did it happen to me?”
I remained kneeling, waiting for a response. Waiting for anything at all. I stayed perfectly still and listened to the quiet apartment. Jacob was picking at something and I could hear the fork twinkling against the plate. Other than that, complete silence. And then I felt it. It started as a slight tingle between my hands. The ring was growing warm. Not hot. Not enough to make me drop it but enough that I noticed the curved edges pressing against my palms. And then, without words, I understood.
It was my wife. She was the reason I won the lottery. I couldn’t articulate it if I had a thousand years to try, but I knew it was her. It wasn’t luck. It wasn’t chance. It was a gift. And this gift had no circumstances surrounding it that could be extrapolated to apply to the odds of a car accident or the chances of random violence. The anxiety that had filled me since first hearing the winning numbers melted away and I knew what I had to do.
I put the ring back in the drawer and grabbed the lottery ticket. With a straight back I walked to the door and swung it open. Damon Ball was on the phone but he quickly returned it to his pocket when he saw me standing in the doorway.
“You want an explanation of why my son hasn’t been to school? Here you go.” I showed him the ticket.
“I don’t understand.”
“Have you seen the news stories about the winner of the lottery? How he hasn’t come forward?”
“You’re looking at him.”
He was quiet for a moment. He stared into my eyes, waiting.
“We’re moving. That’s why I’ve been keeping him home. We’re getting ready to go and I wanted to ease him into it. That’s also why I haven’t gone to work. I haven’t claimed it yet because I don’t want to make a big deal before I’m sure Jacob is ready.”
He stayed quiet for another moment before nodding. “Okay, Mr. Thorn. I’m not going to close this quite yet but once I see you claim that ticket, I’ll have no choice.” He glanced inside the apartment at Jacob, sitting happily at the table. “You two have a good night.”
The rest of the night fast-forwarded itself until Jacob had gone to bed. My melted anxiety gave me the energy of a week-long nap. Beyond that, I felt my wife for the first time in years. She was there with me in the bedroom. She had crossed over and once I was alone, I was sure I could get her to come back. This thought excited me far more than the millions I had sitting in the desk drawer.
I stepped outside. It felt as if the world had been gifted back to me after the last two weeks of hiding from it. No cars would be jumping the curb. No earthquakes would drag me into the soil. I breathed deep and felt my clear chest releasing the air, and then I walked inside to speak to my wife. I grabbed her ring from the desk drawer and knelt beside the bed.
I focused on the ring, waiting for it to regain the heat I had felt earlier in the night. But after what felt like a few minutes, the ring remained cold.
Another ten confused minutes passed and nothing happened. I stood up and sat on the bed. I stared at the ring in my open palm. Had I imagined the whole thing? Maybe in my excitement and nervousness I misinterpreted the pressure as heat.
Just then, I heard the faint engine of a plane above me. I started thinking about the possibility of it not only crashing, but crashing through the ceiling directly above me. My hands started shaking and my heart rate jumped. The anxiety in my chest started to grow and I felt like I needed to go for a run to release the energy but the thought of being on the sidewalk only made it worse.
No. I told myself to stop. I focused on the ring and the warmth I felt before. I didn’t care if it was real or imagined. It brought a sense of calm that I needed if I were to go about my days in a normal manner. If I could just make myself believe it, then it would be true enough. The total validity of the situation was pointless. The only thing that mattered was the way I looked at it, and that was a decision. I chose to believe my wife helped me. She made the numbers match, not me, and that’s why I didn’t need to be afraid of my luck. There was none to speak of.
Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and has since had stories published in The Feathertale Review and Roadside Fiction. He lives in Los Angeles where he’s trying to eat his weight in burritos.