“Audrey! Get in here!”
Audrey stood in the doorway, eyes popping and mind uncomprehending. The house, which had been pin neat and scrubbed to shining when she left for church two hours ago, was ransacked.
She picked her steps with care as she began to make her way through the clutter. Not a single room had been spared. Kitchen drawers were pulled from their cubbies and dumped on the floor. A pile of coats and clothes, all with pockets turned out, covered the sofa. Even her jewelry box was emptied, with fine jewelry and costume pieces tangled in a heap together on the coffee table.
Audrey opened her mouth to speak, but Bud cut off her query before the first word left her mouth.
“We won! WE WON!” He grabbed her hands and spun her around, not noticing when she stumbled over her own feet. “Our ship has come in! Easy Street — pack your bags, Audie, we’re moving to Easy Street!”
Audrey felt her color blanch, and her vocal cords constrict.
Every Friday for the last forty-six years, no matter the weather, Bud had walked the three blocks down to Mueller’s Corner Store and purchased a ticket for the Saturday Lotto drawing. Week after week, without fail, he filled out the lotto slip with the same six numbers, sliding the his dollar bill across the counter to the store clerk when he finished. Week after week, without fail, he rose on Sunday morning and checked the paper to see if they had become instant millionaires. And week after week, without fail, they remained as poor as ever.
“I give you all the credit, Audie!” Bud squeezed Audrey tight and planted a smooshy kiss on her slack cheek. “The one and only time I let you make the buy — and BAM! We’re rich, baby!”
Audrey’s knees collapsed under her own weight, and she sank onto the sofa, atop the pile of wool coats and yesterdays jeans. Bud danced before her, jerking about like a wrinkled marionette in the hands of a hyper-active two year old.
Still in shock, Audrey’s mind replayed the events of last Friday. Bud, coughing and feverish, his mind obsessed. She, doting and soothing, insisting he stay in bed. She made the promised trip to Mueller’s while he slept, musing on the way — forty-six years at a dollar a ticket was…what? Almost $2500, that’s what. What a waste! Never enough money for a vacation, but always a dollar for this foolishness, isn’t there? She stood, immobile, money in hand, while the clerk waited, his toe tapping as he eyed the line scrolling down the aisle behind her. On the way home, she sucked vigorously on a breath mint — peppermint, her favorite — savoring the cool tingle on her tongue and gums. It was the first time in forty-six years she felt she had received her money’s worth from Mueller’s Corner Store.
Bud stopped dancing, realizing that Audrey had yet to speak to him. He looked at her stricken face, and felt the room spin.
“Audrey — I can’t find the ticket. I’ve looked everywhere.” He gestured to the mess surrounding them.
Audrey stared at Bud, unblinking.
“Audie.” The word was a whisper. A plea. The mantle clock ticked, a metronome drilling a hole in his brain as the moment dragged on and on.
“For the love of heaven, Audie. Say something.”
The air whistled over Audrey’s teeth as she took a heavy breath, in, in, in, until she was dizzy, and then, just when she thought her lungs would explode, she exhaled. She cleared her throat and forced herself to speak.
“Bud, I have something to tell you…but first — can I offer you a mint?”