I sat completely still on the couch, a statue, my hand holding the winning lottery ticket. The machine had selected seven random numbers and rewarded my indecision with a new life.
My wife Shannon came out of the bedroom and handed me a written-on receipt. “I found this in one of your jackets.”
I read it, but I knew what it was. I put the lottery ticket in my pocket.
What I saw will never leave my mind. The happiness in your face, the complete absorption, the pleasure in your fluttering eyes. I won’t touch you until that image leaves my head. But God how I still want to love you. I love dying with you.
“This was a while back. I wrote it right after seeing you with him.” I crumbled up the receipt and threw it into the trash.
“Then why did you keep it?”
“I don’t remember keeping it. You found it in an old warm-up jacket.”
“But you haven’t worn that jacket in years. I hate that jacket. So you must have put the note in there on purpose. You wanted to keep it.”
“Shannon, where are you going with this?” I double-checked to see if the lottery ticket hadn’t jumped from my pocket. When I touched it and thought about how much it was worth, I instantly felt more confident.
“We have to move through this. It’s killing us.”
“What do you want me to say? You said you never loved me, so what’s the big deal?”
“I didn’t mean that. I said it because you’ve been avoiding me for months. When I read that note I was actually relieved. It was nice to know a little bit of what’s going on in your head.”
“Well good for you,” I said.
“And you haven’t touched me since then.”
“I can’t… I just can’t.”
“What do you want to know?”
“I want to know why!” I punched the side of the couch, my bed for two months, but the money wouldn’t let me truly commit to the pain. I would have loved for the phone to ring, or someone to knock on the door. But nothing could bail me out of this.
“How can I tell you when I don’t even know?” she said.
“That’s bull. He came over here. You must have called him.”
“He came over to see when you were getting home. He wanted to shoot baskets with you. We complained about the dogs in the neighborhood. Do you really want me to go step-by-step?”
“You can stop. I changed my mind.”
Shannon sat on the floor and rolled up into a ball. Her cheeks touched her knees: “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
“Us. I just don’t know.”
I couldn’t believe it. The whole time I was expecting her to fight extra hard for our marriage. That’s what I was waiting for. I was waiting for that extra effort. A downpour of apologies, of tears.
“It’s the guilt, Donny. You make me feel so guilty. And it was before it happened. You make me feel like nothing is ever good enough.”
I touched the lottery ticket again. “Just you being sorry is all I want.”
“But I can’t be more sorry. You understand? I feel awful about it. And if I feel any more awful about it then I’m going to end up hating myself. Then what? I can’t feel this way anymore.”
She started sobbing. The only thing I could do was sit there and watch.
She continued. “My mother said that if you’re not proud of your husband, then you’ll have a hard time believing in his love. And that’s where I’m caught. I used to be so proud of you. Now I don’t know. Are you proud of me?”
I rubbed the ticket, half my mind turning green. “I don’t know. I’ve never thought of it that way.”
Shannon took a deep breath and took a seat next to me on the couch. She took my hand. “A part of me wishes you had been more on your own. An individualist.”
I didn’t understand why she was holding my hand. She was acting so tenderly, yet the words she spoke felt insulting. The feelings she shared made her closer to me, yet at the same time, when I analyzed them, they came out as motives for separation. My friend had told me once that sometimes women just want to share what their feelings are, good or bad. It’s the sharing they care about. Their words could be cutting you, but as long as you let them share, they’ll love you for it. But I disagreed. The fact that she might not be proud of me cut too deeply. Sensitivity has to be important too, I thought. But I was tired of holding her hand.
“So you want space?” I said, taking my hand back.
She nodded and spoke very softly. “Enough so we can figure things out. It’d be for the best.” She sat in the same position, knees up to her chest, staring at something with foggy eyes. That’s when I took the ticket out of my pocket.
“What’s that?” she said.
I stared at it for a while, still numb, paralyzed by the thought that absolutely everything could change, right then. Everything. Should I tell her? Or should I wait? No matter what, each way is poison. The money would change everything. “It’s a lottery ticket. I just won thirty-seven million dollars,” I said blankly, face frozen.
She put her hand on my shoulder and smiled at me like a schoolteacher would when she knew you were struggling, but trying to bounce back. “Hang in there, okay? I just need a little space.” She slid her hand back and forth on my shoulder until I smiled back, without showing teeth, and that was it.
She left in the morning, before the sunrise.
Patrick Parr currently lives with his wife in Japan, but they are hoping to relocate to Bellingham, WA. Previous work has appeared in Byline and The Storyteller, among others.