Secrets of the Lottery Winner

Secrets of the Lottery Winner

CHAPTER 14: MAN OF INSPIRATION

Gari rose from bed early after a restless night. Loretta had slept peacefully and soundly and woke briefly to inquire where he was off to so early. He replied to the 7-Eleven for coffee and pastries for their breakfast.

He did buy two coffees, light for her with sugar and black for himself, and several pastries, cheese-filled for her and cherry for himself. He adored cherries, a worship he attributed to his Midwest upbringing and proximity to Michigan. She’d asked him about it after their third dinner date, as at each he’d ordered a cherry desert—Cherries Jubilee, cherry pie, and cherry ice cream. When he explained where he believed he’d acquired his love of cherries, she scoffed she was a Midwesterner too and had no affinity whatsoever to cherries. The difference, he’d pointed out to her, was she was from the south. Michigan could have been on the far side of the moon for all a Southerner knew. She’d laughed as she thought he was joking, not disparaging.

He paid a clerk not unlike the Chicago fellow who’d sold him the winning lottery ticket, except this distant skinny and denser copy sported a healthy tan. He bought a lottery ticket and secured it in the secret compartment of his wallet. With his coffees and bag of pastries cradled in his arm, he asked the clerk if he’d like to make an easy fifty.

“Who do I have to kill?” quipped the clerk, who like many in this town aspiring to stardom credited themselves wits.

Gari placated the clerk with a sly smile. “Write this number down. Go on, write it.”

The clerk searched for a pen and finding the stub of a pencil under the side of the register scribbled Loretta’s phone number on a 7-Eleven napkin. Gary handed him two tens and a five.

“Call that number in exactly thirty minutes and I’ll be back fifteen minutes later with the rest. Say, ‘Is Gari there? This is his office.’  Write it down.” He repeated it slowly for the clerk. “Now say it.”

The clerk balked.

“Christ,” Gari said. “It’s like reading a script, like acting.”

“Yeah, you think I can act?”

“You’re a natural.”

The clerk glowed like a dusty bulb as he read the lines.

“Cut,” Gari said. “Print.”

“What’s it about, anyway?” asked the clerk.

“Life and death,” Gari said. “My death, if you don’t call in thirty minutes.”

Back at the apartment, Gari made an elaborate show of breakfast. He set the table, microwaved the 7-Eleven coffee until it steamed, placed the pastries on a platter, and summoned Loretta to the table with a deep kiss, helping her with her wrap, guiding her to her chair, pulling it out for her, and settling her in it. He told her it was a beautiful fall day, perfect for an afternoon picnic in Griffith Park. He suggested they tour the Griffith Observatory and for kicks rent “Rebel Without a Cause” and say to each other, “Hey, I’ve been there,” as if they were in a theater in Danville trying to impress the silhouettes surrounding them. She giggled delightedly, declared she loved the idea, remarked how thoughtful and inventive he was, and that these were yet more reasons she loved him and was happy to be having their child, as if she developed amnesia about the made up consequences of his imaginary war years. It was then the telephone rang.

She answered it.

“It’s for you,” she said, “your office.”

Brightly, he said into the receiver, “Hello!”

Then his sparkling demeanor degraded to worried and displeased. “Of course. Yes, yes, of course,” he said, “no, no I’m not upset. No, not with you. It’s just … well never mind. I’ll be there.”

The clerk must have thought him a nut, for all he could say was, “Huh? Huh?” and “Don’t forget my twenty-five.”

Slowly, as if the phone was as weighty and ungainly as an albatross, he set it back on the hook. He sat, obviously agitated.

“What is it, Gari? Not bad news.”

“Very bad.” He embraced her tightly. “It was from my office. Our shoe guys want a full-blown sales campaign by Monday morning, nine a.m. And the office can’t find the creative director. He took the family to Arrowhead for the weekend. He didn’t tell anyone where he’s staying. I can’t blame him. He’s been at it hard everyday. Nights too. He deserves the time. So, I’m afraid it’s up to me.”

“You mean you have to leave? When?”

“Now. We’ve only got until Monday morning. The staff’s too young and green to pull it together without him … well now without me.”

“No Griffith Park?”

He squeezed her hard. “God, I wish, Loretta. I don’t look forward to this, not a bit. To tell you the truth, it makes me a little nervous, too. The reason is I haven’t done creative work in a couple of years. I don’t even know if I have it anymore.”

“Sure you do, Gari.”

“Positive?” he said.

“Oh yes, positive.”

He kissed her. “Good. It means a lot coming from you.”

“But I don’t know anything about advertising, except what I see on TV.”

He patted her stomach. “But you know everything about creation.”

She slumped in his arms and wept, and he knew it was from joy.

When she calmed, he stood. “I’ll phone you later, let you know our progress. Who knows, with luck …” He allowed the words to drift over her and anesthetize her with hope.

An hour later he was returning the Ford to Enterprise and riding the bus to the terminal. He’d used his time productively, phoning ahead on his cell to exchange his Sunday flight for an early Saturday afternoon departure. In the waiting area, he called Emily and told her he’d pushed his team hard and he’d be home a day early and in time for dinner with the boys and her. She was pleased and effusive. She said she had a big surprise for him. He pressed her, but she told him he’d have to wait. It was something he had to see to appreciate fully.

He was pleasant with her on the phone. However, the instant he hung up worry started gnawing at him. Could she have learned about his lottery win? Had she called the office and discovered his subterfuge? Maybe she’d spoken with Larry, protesting about how hard he was working poor Gari; she wasn’t happy about his hours and his travel, he knew that. But her tone seemed to disaffirm these possibilities; she was happy, which had become a more common emotional state for her since he announced his first promotion and the increase in their income. No, he steadied himself; she hadn’t discovered his ruse. If she had, at best she would have been quiet. It was something else. During the flight, he had an extra drink to quell his nerves, jangled badly by Loretta and now Emily. Good or bad, Emily’s secret was troubling. Gari didn’t care much for secrets, unless they were his own.

He arrived home before seven and expected Emily to clobber him with her news as his foot crossed the threshold. Instead, he discovered dinner warming on the stove, the boys playing in the basement, and she humming around the house, almost singing hosannas at his return. She served veggie chili and beer, prepared a bowl for herself with a glass of red wine. The beer and wine were extraordinary. Perhaps not the beer, as she’d loosened her restrictions on his drinking at home, not that he was much of a drinker in the house. She, however, never drank at home and rarely in restaurants, not that they’d gone to many before their new life. She claimed drinking at home with children was dangerous.

It must be something—this preoccupied him as he impatiently watched her sip her wine. He counted the sips, two, and then the spoonfuls of the chili, three. She went on so long in this manner he felt his skin ratcheting tighter and tighter until drawing a breath was labored and painful and he wanted to jump up and shake himself loose. But he held fast and picked at his food.

“You don’t like it?” she asked, punctuating with her spoon.

“Oh no, I love it. It’s just; well, I’m curious about your surprise.”

“You want me to tell you now? I was waiting ’till we finished and I’d put Teddy and Sammy to bed. That way you can focus on it.”

More waiting—bad omen.

Gari countered now was the best time, when the boys charged up the stairs yelping their joy he was home and demanding the plunder he brought them from California. Peregrinating L.A. with Loretta, he let his guilt over the potential detriment of his actions on the boys, his fear of how they would judge him if Emily discovered his affair and distorted him into the incarnation of the devil himself, guide him in buying token gifts for them. Upon his return from his second trip laden with Mickey Mouse caps and T’s for the boys, Emily kidded he was spoiling them, and besides he shouldn’t feel guilty about his absence. After all, he was providing for them, and it wasn’t as if he was traipsing over Southern California for the fun of it. It had taken him aback, but just a bit; it was the surprise of juxtaposing fantasy and truth, and how thoroughly Emily had accepted his story as real. He was convinced it was his promotion and the newfound money and the security accompanying it. He’d told her she and the boys were constantly on his mind while away and these small gifts made him happy and assuaged his sorrow over depriving the boys of two parents by his absence (and over the Chivas fiasco, unsaid). And this had pleased her; she’d said, “You’re too sensitive, Gari. We’re doing fine.”

He gave each a plastic yellow kazoo emblazoned with the advertising motto in red: “Hollywood’s a Whooping Goodtime.” Teddy and Sammy intuited the purpose of the toys and began blowing. A headache blossomed at the base of his skull and migrated slowly up and forward. He pinched his brows with thumb and index finger and found Emily’s hand on his forehead, her voice soothing, “You don’t have a fever, but you never know what’s floating in the air on an airplane.” Certainly true, but of more concern was what was floating in the air of the Garibaldi house.

She fetched him a couple of aspirins and water. He swallowed them and settled into a chair in the family room. He watched two programs, the type where people tape themselves, their loved ones, and their pets engaging in stupid and often dangerous behavior in the effort to win fame and piddling fortune. Normally, he enjoyed watching people endanger themselves and those around them for the sake of rising above the mundane, even if it meant proving to the nation you were halfway to the loony bin. This night the shows were shadows and not as much as a chuckle rang in the family room.

Finally the boys wore down and Emily put them to bed. He came in when they were under their covers and kissed each goodnight.

Undressing in their room, she said, “Now for the surprise.”

Gari suppressed a groan. Before the lottery, before Mid-Con, before his promotion, before his trips to L.A., sex always occupied his mind, intruding on whatever thought he might be having every few seconds, even without the aid of a sashaying female ass on the horizon. But not anymore, or at least not for now under the weight of sexual consequence.

Emily donned a nightgown, sat on the bed, and he sought shelter in the bathroom doorjamb. She signaled she desired him beside her by patting the bed. He moved reluctantly. There was the possibility she did have sex on her mind; she was wearing a diaphanous nightgown, not her usual opaque cotton wrap.

He sat, and she took his hand. “I’ve decided to work,” she said.

Work? Well, what with his lottery annuity and his promotion, what they’d always lacked they now possessed in abundance. Work? If she had announced this five years ago, two years ago, even this past March, he could have understood and would have been elated. But now, when it wasn’t necessary and also might be disruptive for him, and yes, for the boys too—her declaration was senseless. This tumult of thought came out as, “Why?”

“Because of you, Gari. Don’t look so surprised.”

“I can’t help it,” he said. “Why?”

“You inspired me.”

“I did?” croaking with startle.

“Yes. You know, Gari, for the longest time I had my doubts about you. You just didn’t have the oomph to be successful. You seemed happy showing up at work and not doing much of anything, getting nowhere.”

“Hey now,” he protested, stung by her demeaning.

“Then, suddenly, you proved my concerns about you wrong. You turned into the Gari I thought I was marrying, the fellow determined to amount to something.”

“Thank you.” He was meek about it, but it wasn’t modesty, false or otherwise, accounting for his humble timbre.

“No, thank you, Gari.”

There were moments in his life when he’d experienced discomfort, when he couldn’t stand still, or sit without squirming or jiggling his legs; when he broke into profuse sweating; and these were reactions usually to a pointed question from Larry, or the result of an extravagance he attempted to hide from Emily; or when younger, from fear he had disappointed his mother in school, church, or just generally in the neighborhood engaging in foolish mischief now lost in time. This was worse than all those instances combined, and yet he couldn’t fidget, or for that matter budge a digit on either hand. Emily’s simple thank you transformed him into a hunk of ice, like the cryonic posture he assumed as a kid playing freeze, except now truly cold of heart and mind.

In this state, he managed to move his lips to ask, “Inspire you to do what?”

She smiled broadly. She drew breath in deeply, which had him anticipating a grand announcement, maybe too grand for his taste. She leaned back a bit, and she took his hands in hers. Hers were warm, and he wondered if she’d notice his were like meat fresh from the freezer.

But she didn’t seem to as she broke the exciting news to him: “I’ve decided to become an eBay entrepreneur.”

As if her words were a furnace arch, he transformed to fluid, and as liquid is hard to contain without the proper receptacle so his emotions began spilling here and there until he feared he would laugh over her words and directly in her face.

“But we don’t own a computer,” he said, levelly.

“We do now,” she corrected, rising from the bed and striding to their closet. She opened it. A computer occupied what had been a good portion of his side of the closet. Tower, monitor, and printer were on a wheeled cart. “See. And whenever I want to use it, I just roll it out like this.” She demonstrated by pushing it to the dresser on which sat their bedroom phone. “It plugs in this jack and there you have it.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” she asked, returning to her spot on the bed.

“Why everything—the job, the computer, this thing about eBay?”

“Why, you, of course. I just told you. You’re my inspiration. If you can do it, so can I.”

“But what about the kids?”

“EBay entrepreneur,” she said in the annoying singsong favored by ‘tween girls. “I work from home. I’ll rummage garage sales when the boys are in school. And weekends, you’re here, and when you’re not I’ll take them with me. It’s perfect.”

When Teddy had arrived, he prayed she would decide she needed a job to help support the family. Instead, she’d chosen to stay home and raise Teddy. She argued they could conserve and live well. She conserved, but as for the well part, well … With the arrival of Sammy, she didn’t wait for his suggestion she seek a job. She said with Sammy remaining at home was doubly important. They—she—would conserve more, and they would survive nicely. They’d survived. She’d jabbed him when he’d protested, if he wasn’t happy he could either get a raise or a second job. She knew how to shut him up. Now, when there was no reason whatsoever for her to take a job, she shocked him with a job. Not that eBay entrepreneur was anything like real employment. If she earned anything, it would be pennies. After all, what was junk worth? They’d conducted a couple of garage sales—these were her ideas for raising money to buy Christmas gifts for the boys, her personal Christmas club, she liked to say. The sales brought in a few dollars, but so little the take may as well have been pennies. It was the principle of the thing, he told himself. When they needed money, she wouldn’t earn it. Now that he was doing as she had challenged him to do years ago, she wanted a job. He was inspiring. There was no doubt it was all about success and money. Life with a woman was just that simple.

He switched his hands over hers and rubbed them, mostly to warm his own. “Well, I think it’s great. Sure you don’t have to work, but you want to.” He paused to observe the effect: Her eyes moistened. Then he launched a little dike opener and the tears spilled: “You’ve inspired me, Emily.”

She hugged him. “Gari, I’ve never loved you more than right now.”

The gusher rose in him, and his eyes misted, as she nuzzled his chest. He wanted to be happy knowing Emily loved him, respected him, and was inspired by him. He told himself he deserved this. He had earned a promotion. He did win the higher salary they’d both desired. She had abandoned her affair with rigid frugality. She had warmed to him and satisfied him sexually. He had everything he could have wanted, except the ability to feel happy about his abundance. Because he also had a secret income and a secret lover who had used him and betrayed him and for whom he had affection still and whom he had deserted when she needed him and counted on him most. With Emily in his arms, his eyes did mist, but satisfaction and joy had little to do with his emotion.

Emily pushed softly away from him and slowly slipped the nightgown off her shoulders. He watched, feeling distant, with the urge to run from the room, or at least tell Emily it had been a long, grueling trip in contradiction of his early arrival and profession work had proceeded better than he’d expected. He wanted to say let’s lie close in bed, sleep, and maybe in the morning make love. Instead he kissed her, fondled her breasts, laid her on the bed, and with her observing hungrily—an attitude she’d exhibited on each occasion they had sex since he’d announced his promotion—he undressed.

And he screwed her before they slept.

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