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Short Story: Left to Chance

Short Story: Left to Chance

A stroke of luck gives Lucy the opportunity to reassess a life that is slowly chugging towards frugal semi-retirement ... and to make a decision about what she really wants.

Short Story: Left to Chance

Lucy and Emmett had agreed that they would both stick to a budget, cutting back on unnecessary coffees out. After all, they owned a perfectly good Nespresso machine. Lunches and dinners out would be celebrations only. They were capable cooks, and could swing some of the costs through their small business account as ‘office supplies’ or ‘staff amenities’.  At Christmas, those gifts from friends who considered you ‘hard to buy for’ and gave you speciality teas would be much more appreciated. 

These had been her genuine and considered thoughts, as recently as last Wednesday. She had finished her regular cross- training class, accompanied the girls from the gym for coffee (thinking, “This doesn’t count!”) and dropped by the newsagent. 

The couple had decided, now that they were semi-retired, they would do their best to ensure the onset of dementia avoided them both. They dedicated themselves to a six-month plan, buying puzzle and crossword books and entering all the competitions. They justified the spend by the brain-stimulating nature of the projects. Surely they would win something if they plugged away long enough! 

And, if they didn’t, they enjoyed the togetherness of the activity and each gained a renewed respect for the other’s intellect. Living together and sharing an import business for the past 40-odd years, did understandably mean that any new, positive and stimulating task that they could share was certainly a blessing. 

Little did she know that a visit to her newsagent would, literally, be life-changing. It was quite unplanned. She was at the counter, about to pay for her puzzle book, when she found herself asking about the big-draw lottery. She bought a $40 entry, somewhat dazed, drawn by a feeling she could not identify, even less explain, to herself. Walking out of the shop, she felt waves of guilt and incredulity at her actions; fancy spending $40 after their agreement! What would Emmett say …. if he knew?

She had only entered Lotto a handful of times in her entire life, and won nothing. So, Lucy started to justify her outlay, and vowed to cut back on protein and eat more veggies; make satisfying and healthy soups; fill them both up with starches. Yes, she would get out her old breadmaker and buy baker’s flour. There would be no end to the money they would save. She would soon recoup the $40. The thrill of the unexpected feelings in the transaction probably had made it worth it. She put it to the back of her mind, satisfied, settled.

The day the Lotto numbers were pulled out, Lucy was upstairs in her office. Emmett was watching TV, and his programme was interrupted for the results. She heard the intro music and decided to sit, pen in hand and her coupon on her lap, and listen from the top of the stairs. She couldn’t believe it was real; questioned whether she had misheard; trembled all over. But she had checked off all the numbers, and the supplementary, and she had a perfect match!

She stood, on wobbly knees, and unsteadily went back to her desktop. She googled ‘Lotto results’. There, on the screen, were HER numbers. She stared, rubbed her eyes, replaced her glasses…SHE HAD WON! $26 million was her prize. OMG came to mind.

Her stomach tightened, her mouth was dry. She felt nauseous and actually threw up in her ensuite. She downed some cold water from the tap, and washed her face. She came up to the mirror, patting her face with a white towel. She stared at her reflection for a moment and, before long, a huge smile developed and she knew she could not tell Emmett. Not for a while. She wanted to share her winnings, she owed him that much, of course she did. But what she wanted right now was to relish the secret, to think at length about what the money meant and what her priorities were now.

She heard Emmett coming upstairs, and made an effort to rearrange her features, still behind the bathroom door. She looked flushed and rather strange. “Little wonder!” she thought. 

“Want a cuppa, love?” he asked from the landing. 

“Just a bottle of water, darling, thank you. I’m feeling a bit tired. If you don’t mind I’m going to turn in early. My tummy is a bit upset. Nothing a good night’s rest won’t fix.”

“Okay, Lucy. Sorry to hear that. Sure I can’t get you anything else?”

“Positive, thanks. I’ll be out in a minute and head for the hay. I’ll be fine.”

By the time Emmett delivered her water, Lucy could feign sleep and he slipped away downstairs. As she lay in the darkness, she dealt with a tsunami of thoughts. Okay. Time to list (in her head):

  1. House. Sell this, move to a new apartment, a penthouse, with a view of the ocean. Location TBA. But still Sydney. Northern Beaches?
  2. Invest in a holiday place? Overseas?
  3. Kids. How much to give them. Pay off their HECS debts; cars for both of them; deposit on a place (each). Attach rules about how near us they should settle – conditions? Controlling? Fair/unfair?
  4. Jessie. Loyal companion to Mum when she was in failing health interstate. How much?
  5. Donate to medical research. Tom’s awful trials with asthma. $$$?
  6. Lizzie (daughter): IVF costs? Adopt from overseas? Would they accept our help?
  7. Holiday. Cruise? Take friends?
  8. Invest some!!
  9. See financial advisor. Who was it that Maeve recommended?
  10. Sleep…sleep…sleep…

Emmett headed off at 7am, driving to Berrima, on to Canberra, and then to Cooma and the mountains. They had exchanged a quick peck in the hallway with a promise that he would text his expected arrival time home four days hence. He needed to see suppliers at this time of year, before the orders came in for the skiing season. He worried about cashflow, what it would take to meet the up-front costs in ordering from Austria, France and Italy. Every year he had the same angst. The bank would not extend more credit and, unbeknown to Lucy, his current loan was being repaid ‘interest only’. He had been forced to raise a loan with an associate of his accountant – a relatively eye-watering sum. He felt a knot tighten in his stomach as he drove the unchanging freeway heading south, out of Sydney. 

The venture capitalist who had shown interest initially had gone cold; his brother was pushing now for his $25,000 loan to be repaid (it had been ‘short-term’ after all) and he had not paid his last car payment, or the past two months’ mortgage. Keeping the secret, he felt disloyal, incompetent and, frankly, desperate. It was starting to look as if he could face bankruptcy, not helped by his gambling addiction. He had only managed to dig them in deeper. Lucy must not know. 

Lucy was outside her local newsagent in the village before 8am, the time they opened. Once in front of the counter, she handed over her coupon, the machine did its checking and her big win was confirmed. The young girl behind the counter was shocked and beamed genuinely at Lucy, a moment shared with nobody else around. No figure was mentioned, but she was given instructions to “call Lotto, with a win that size”. 

With her body tingling, her blood rushing, she managed to call from the bench outside. Yes, she had won; yes, $26 million. Life would never be the same again. It was her secret. She had ticked the box claiming an ‘undisclosed win’. She had last felt so excited when the best-looking boy in her class had invited her to the Year 10 formal. She felt 16 again, as if her whole life were ahead of her, instead of (likely) more than half over.

After a week of keeping the secret from Emmett – three days of that with him back home – she met her best friend, Jude, for lunch. After divulging her incredible story, detailing the events and emotional roller-coaster of the past seven days, she felt a weight lift.

She could trust Jude. Never jealous, loyal and supportive these past 25 years since they’d had their babies together and grew close, Jude was a rock. Ecstatic didn’t cut it. Jude was speechless, amazed and incredulous. She kept asking if Lucy was sure!

After making a big dent in the second bottle of pinot noir, and this on top of champagne cocktails, they hatched an incredible plan. Jude and Lucy were both ‘over’ their marriages and could only see boredom stretching before them, despite money troubles being a thing of the past. They could even (with Lucy’s win) afford plastic surgery, glamorous makeovers and a lifestyle to make anyone envious. They would have each other and both were positive, outgoing, ‘glass half full’ ladies. The win could not have landed with anyone better suited to enjoy it than themselves!

When Emmett took off again, this time for five nights, heading north, the girls went into action. With the money safely landed in her personal bank account, Lucy enjoyed a new excitement, without the previous doubts that this could not be real. 

Surreptitious, clandestine Google searches had uncovered a beautiful luxury yacht that would be their new home – Jude and Lucy together. Naming her simply ‘Goddess’, she was cruising luxury. Sun bounced off her sleek glass and metal surfaces and, aptly, champagne-coloured paintwork. She was a 40-footer, with elegant lines and beautiful, gleaming teak decks. Soft, caressing, cream-leather interiors and marble bench tops oozed luxury from all of her crevices. She was a beauty, and all Lucy’s. 

They hired a crew of three, set off with a new outfit each and some fabulous jewellery (not so much as to raise suspicions from their respective husbands – the rest would be bought on their travels round the world!). They waved goodbye to Sydney as they pulled away from the dock in Hunters Hill towards New Zealand. Bolly bubbles in hand, the girls could only pinch themselves at their good fortune and clink their glasses together.

It was 10 days later, at dusk, that the bubble burst. Goddess’s captain, Steve, hit a reef off the Bay of Islands and put a huge hole in her hull. Evacuation procedures were followed quite calmly, all things considered. The tender was efficiently launched, and all were safely landed at Paihia. The shock of seeing Goddess take on water and slowly slide down and disappear almost entirely from view, rendered them all speechless. They were all too stunned to be angry; the accusations came later.

It took until about 9pm for Lucy to feel a new wave of dread climb up her body. Her head throbbed as her thoughts crystallised. She had no memory of lodging the insurance papers for Goddess. In all the excitement, she simply hadn’t done it. She had literally sunk $16 million!

She didn’t really think about the next step, but breaking out in a sweat, heart racing, she found she had dialled Emmett’s number, her fingers trembling. She had decided to switch her mobile to ‘No Caller ID’. After five rings, he answered. Lucy had a picture of him sitting in their lounge room, back in Sydney, beer bottle before him, watching the news. 

“It’s me …. How are you? I wouldn’t ask, but I’ve run out of options. This is the biggest favour I have ever asked anyone, and I am asking you. Len, your insurance broker friend, can you call him for me? It’s a matter of life or death, and I’m not exaggerating. Please, Emmett!” 

There was a guttural sound, maybe a muffled laugh – it happened so fast she wasn’t sure. But that was all that came down the line, before the click from being disconnected. Silence was all she heard. It said more than any conversation they had shared in the past five years. It said it all. 

AUTHOR SUE MATTHEWS

Sue has been studying for a writing diploma and particularly enjoys creative-writing subjects and poetry. She calls herself ‘Best Aussie Ambassador’, having fallen in love with Australia in 1981 after emigrating from England.  A recruiter and business owner, Sue is hoping to transition to becoming a writer of both prose and poetry. Her husband is her best supporter and her son keeps her up-to-date with trends and technology.

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