Money meant different things to different people. To Jillian, it meant she could pay her bills. She didn’t have a lot of bills, but then she didn’t have a lot of money either. Each month she breathed a sigh of relief if she paid all her bills and had seventy-five to a hundred dollars left over…for the rest of the month. Lack of money restricted what she could do. But Jillian Cunningham managed to survive with dignity and optimism, and, with her background, that was a major accomplishment.
“Where you headed?” Marge lived next door.
Jillian had managed to get a one bedroom apartment in a new low rent housing project. Marge lived on one side, and Thomas and Jenny Bean lived on the other. They all had jobs, but none were considered ‘full time employees’.
“I just paid my bills,” she answered as she dragged her feet along the sidewalk. Marge fell in step along side.
“You look like you just lost your last dollar.” She was joking, but Jillian knew better.
“Actually, I’m about to give my last dollar to the Texas Lottery.” Jillian tried to grin, but a tear gave away her real state of mind.
Marge slipped her arm through Jillian’s and let her finish her brief cry in dignity without any chatter. When she wiped away the last tear they had arrived at the parking spot where Jillian’s rusted car sat.
“Better?” Marge was big boned, tall and looked like an ad for those plus size women who are stunningly gorgeous. Her heart was just as beautiful. She ran her thumb over Jillian’s cheek and removed the last tear stain.
“Yeah.” She heaved a sigh worthy of a Hollywood star. “My insurance payment went up this month. After I paid the bills, I have twenty-five dollars left for the entire month. That’s not enough to even buy food.” Her voice threatened to break, and she fought to hold her composure.
“Ah, Jillian, I’m so sorry.”
Marge knew exactly how she felt. She’d been in the same position. At the moment with a better job than she had when they first met, Marge was faring okay.
Jillian pulled a single dollar out of the pocket of her jeans. “I’m gonna drown my sorrows in the Lottery. At least part of this goes for public education. Who knows! I might even win.”
Folding the newspaper in half and tucking it under her arm, she left the air conditioned office, entered the furnace outside known as a typical Texas summer heat wave and drove home, her future lying on the seat beneath her purse.
* * * *
“I won!” Jillian sat in stunned silence after that outburst, a hand clamped over her mouth. “No way!” She stood but sat back down immediately, her legs too weak to hold her up. Spots danced before her eyes, and her head spun. “I have to make sure.”
Carefully so she didn’t land on the floor in an unconscious heap, she held on to the sofa then a chair and finally the kitchen counter where she’d laid her purse. Inside was a wallet and keys. Not much to deal with, but she managed to drop the purse then the wallet and finally the keys before she found the ticket. Her fingers simply had no more grasp of the possibility than her mind.
Rather than look at the numbers in the kitchen, she tucked the ticket carefully in the same pocket that had warmed the dollar bill used to buy it. She managed to make her way back to the sofa without too much delay. Fear made her heart pound. Fear that she’d won. Fear that she’d misread the numbers and lost.
The open paper lay on the sofa. Jillian pulled out the ticket then eased down on the cushion. Slowly she closed her eyes and prayed as hard as she did every night for the health of herself and her car. A desperately reverent prayer of hope.
Just as slowly she opened her eyes and held the ticket in both hands—they shook too much to trust them to one—while she leaned over and compared the numbers.
“Oh. My. God.” was all she could whisper when she finished checking the tenth time. “I really won.”
In the blink of an eye, she drew breath to yell her good fortune to the world and just as quickly let it go and hunkered down as if someone had just sent a bullet through her front window.