a short story by Jerry Zinn
“What do you mean by that, exactly?” the woman asked incredulously.
“The lottery saved my life,” Meyer replied, solidifying his statement with the concrete of repetition.
“Again, what do you mean? I heard what you said,” she took a sip of her martini. The olive rolled around the bottom of the vessel where it settled and would remain untouched.
“It’s a bit of a long story, Ms…?”
“Ms. Nothing I’m not a divorcee. My name’s Ida.”
“That’s an interesting name,” Meyer replied, half truthfully. A change of subject was on his mind.
“Not much more than Meyer.” The bartender approached Ida, but she was done drinking. Ida was interested in hearing how the lottery could, with such dramatic emphasis, “save,” a man’s life. She’d only heard of vast sums of money deposited in accounts overnight ruining people’s lives, driving them mad either with the burden of fortune or the carelessness that is so often served with excess. Meyer had a darkness in his eyes. Ida could sense his was a long story she wanted to hear. It was a tale her readers would be anxious to consume
“Well you’ve got me there. You may want another one of those. It’s that kind of story.”
“Why don’t you just start, you know, at the beginning? That’s what we usually say.”
“In that case, I’ll have one for us. Another rye Manhattan,” Meyer said raising a finger and swirling the remnants. The liquid was mostly clear now, ice the only inhabitant recognizable without chemical testing. “You know you could say a Manhattan is an island drink. Of course, only technically. Are you one for technicalities?”
Ida said nothing, hoping he would delve into his tale of lottery salvation. For a multimillionaire, Meyer dressed simply, business casual, in the way of old Wall Street, before tech vests were the uniform of choice. If she’d sized him up on her own, she’d have guessed commodities trader: intelligent, understated, and private.
“So the beginning…” Meyer sensed the time for stalling expired. “I’m an accountant. Well I was anyhow, for about fifteen years. I got a job right out of school and hated it, but I figured that’s just what being a college-educated adult was all about. Save your self-pity for the birds and all that. There was a clear track for me, promotion wise, compensation wise. I was making enough money not to complain, except over coffee with old friends.” Meyer bent over and took up the cuffs of his chinos another roll. He’d been in between on the appearance three versus four curls presented, and ultimately, as his story was just starting through the dry background, he changed his mind.
“Sorry,” Meyer said, taking a sip of the fresh Manhattan. He gave a look of contemplation, as though the taste of the drink validated his comment on technicality. Maybe the Manhattan is an island drink. “Anyway,” Meyer started again as though much time had passed, as though uncontrollable distractions had put the story on hold long enough for Ida to forget what he had been saying. “Blah blah blah, accounting. Let’s just say the bottom line was, I was content, which is a colorful euphemism for unhappy. I was never a gambling man, not even a betting man save for a few gentlemen’s wagers and the occasional exchange of six packs for football games. I wouldn’t call myself sheepish, but perhaps I am endowed with a certain… reticence.”
“That’s a generous way to call yourself timid. For a numbers man, you have a way with words.” Ida was toying with the charm on her silver necklace, sliding it along the gossamer thin chain links.
“I had an English minor. Just wanted a twist of pretension.”
“Like rye in your island drink?”
Meyer laughed a decidedly sporting laugh. “Touché. Well me being as I’ve described, I was never going to quit, not without something else lined up. And because I was too nervous to pursue other jobs, I wasn’t going to leave. Not in my lifetime. So I did what any rational, statistically proficient, diploma holding individual would do. I went to the grocery store and bought a lottery ticket.”
“Did you pick the numbers or were they random?” It might have seemed a horribly pedestrian question. What after all did it matter? But Ida was interested in anecdotal data. Those tidbits were gobbled up by the readers, the deflating topics of most comment streams.
“They were computer selected,” Meyer replied. Evidently he’d put a lot of thought into the decision. Accounting brought some considerations to the insanity. “I only bought one. I have a fate complex.”
“Oh I think we all do, if we’re honest with ourselves.”
“I guess I put it in a drawer and forgot about it. Truth be told I forced it out of my mind, because as long as I didn’t check to see if I won, there was still a chance I had. Don’t check and you can’t lose, right?”
“I see the logic.”
“The drawing happened, and a few days went by. I genuinely forgot. Accounting has an amazing ability to block out everything in your life with meaning and drown you in tedium. Then I saw a blurb in the news, that the winning ticket had been sold not just in my state, not just in my city, but at the very store I’d purchased mine. Well even over endless excel sheets that’s a hard set of details to ignore.” Meyer paused for a laugh that never came. “So I left work that afternoon a little early, and I sat at my desk with the ticket stored in a drawer, unseen, and so still viable.”
“Then I looked. And that was that. I won. Four hundred and twenty-two million dollars, roughly, after Uncle Sam. I didn’t go in to work the next day. Even with that much money I didn’t have the courage to quit my job, so I let my job come to me. My boss called after three or four days. It was three days, I don’t know why I said that just now. Of course I kept track. I never skipped work. And only then, over the phone no less, I cut the cord. I told him I was done with it all, and don’t mind about the two weeks. I thought fifteen years was enough notice. I expected, well hoped anyway, he would be at least a little mad but I think he was glad my salary and benefits were no longer on his budget. They were just going to replace me for less with a younger model.”
“May I just ask something?” Ida interjected.
“Please,” Meyer replied, welcoming the break.
“Well it’s just, you said the lottery saved your life, but other than being one of the countless victims of complacency, it doesn’t sound like you needed saving? You weren’t terminally ill were you?”
“No, nothing like that. I claimed my winnings. I never bothered to collect my things from my office. I’d just as soon have them throw it all in the garbage or donate it to an accountant charity. That’s what I thought over the weekend anyhow. Come Monday my tendencies returned, and I figured I’d better go in that afternoon and get my stuff, say goodbye to the select few whose company I didn’t detest. I was going to go too, except that I turned on the news, really just to see the weather. I wanted to know if I needed a rain jacket. That was October 19th.”
Ida’s face dropped, the life escaping air from a pinpricked balloon. “You were an accountant…”
Meyer read the young woman’s morbid expression. “I take it you understand now?”
“That whole building… No one survived the attack. Hundreds of people died that day.”
“No one survived that went to work that Monday. And I had perfect attendance in my tenure. It seems no great prosperity comes without cost. Sure, I won the lottery. I lived, and I’ve got more money than I know what to do with. But I will always feel I should have been in that building. It will haunt me forever. As it should. I keep the ticket with me, so the memory never strays. I think what I said earlier, that should be the title of this story when your magazine prints it: The Lottery Saved My Life. It has a dark poetic quality, Edgar Allen Poeish.”