09 August 2013

"Money for Nothing"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Don't know why you're wasting your time with the lottery," Rutina says, watching me twirl the ticket between my fingers.

It's because I know something you don't, Ruti. And I can't tell you my secret. It's too dangerous.

I don't know if this will work. It's a long shot, but even if it doesn't pan out, I'm only out a few bucks. And, you know, a third of the money goes toward public education. Hopefully including basic math skills.

The TV announcer shouts something—I'm only half listening, focusing my attention on the Lotto ticket, the object I want to push. Out of the corner of my eye, I see white balls spinning inside a metal cage.

"Maybe turn it down a bit," I say. "We just got Wally to sleep." A crying baby will definitely affect my concentration.

"Tevs." Ruti lowers the volume.

I have no idea what I'm doing. If I do win the lottery, how much luck does that count for? What's the price? Because I don't make the luck I push onto things—I steal it from somewhere else. And I'm always hoping it comes from someone I don't care about.

Ruti punches me in the arm.

"Ow!" I glare at her.

"Did you win or not, weirdo?"

I look up. I read the numbers on the TV screen, then compare them to my ticket. I read them again. And again.

"Well?" Ruti says.

"I did it," I say. "I won."


"Hey, Ollie! You're on TV!"

I rush out from the kitchen where I'm helping Ruti's mom with the dishes. Ruti's bouncing excitedly on the couch. Of course the news chose the worst possible photo of me, the one with my hair in those stupid curls, but the big number floating beside my dopey face softens the blow.

Six zeros. Two commas. More money than I've ever imagined.

And sure, a lump sum payout will be only half that amount, and income taxes will eat half of that, but that still leaves eight figures. Over a hundred thousand dollars, tax-free, every year for the rest of my life.

As soon as I finish doing the math, I'm reminded it's all too good to be true.

When I regain my senses, I'm kneeling on the floor, crying. Ruti is next to me, holding me upright.

"Ollie, what's wrong?" she asks. I point at the TV. "Who is that?"

"Dead," I sob. "He's—supposed—to be—dead."

Ruti's mom crouches down and puts a hand on my shoulder. "It's okay, Olivia. We'll figure this out."

"Mom?" Ruti says. "Do you know what she's talking about?"

Mrs. Alwen nods. "I haven't seen him in years, but that looks like Olivia's birth father."

So this is the price. This is what I have to live through to win the lottery.

Jesus, we're all going to be at the award ceremony, all four of us together. I don't know if I can do it. Mom sure can't. And I don't know how we're going to keep Steven from killing him.


Image: Fred Meyer Rewards Rebate mailer, August, 2013