208 Sundays

Michael Morrison awoke just before the sun rose. He looked at the alarm clock centered on his nightstand, even though he knew it would read 7:00 a.m. He grasped the glasses on the nightstand between his index finger and thumb, so as not to risk bending their delicate wire frame.His room was an infusion of blues and burgundy, but it looked gray just then. An

oak chest of drawers and the maple desk squatted in the corners. The moon still rode low on the backdrop of the sky.
Michael went into the bathroom and squinted from the retinal shock when he switched on the light. He took a steaming hot shower that lasted half an hour, scrubbing his entire body with vigor. When he turned off the water, his skin was pink, and in the walls the pipes cried.
When he went back into his room, he dropped down and did 44 push-ups. His mind was still clawing its way out of the web of sleep as he unconsciously reviewed his plans for the day. Sunday. Get dressed. Pick up newspaper. Check lottery results. Mow the lawn.
After he finished the push-ups, he stayed on the floor for another ten minutes stretching. He tried to concentrate only on breathing, but he couldn’t stop enjoying the myriad of familiar sounds around him. His house, ever so slightly moaning. A few local birds, optimistic and shrill. And somewhere a few houses away, floating to him on an errant wind, a piano tinkling on the high notes. The music reminded him of stained glass.
He got up and made the bed. When everything but the mattress cover was un-tucked, he began to pull one layer at a time, nice and tight. He made hospital corners at perfect 45-degree angles, fluffed the pillows. He walked out of his bedroom a few minutes later in green Duck head slacks and a white Polo shirt. The Polo emblem was burgundy, as were his penny loafers. His belt was a nest of baby leather snakes braided around his waist. His hair was parted in a straight pink line across his scalp on the left. Always on the left.
When he entered the kitchen, the telephone rang.
“Hello,” Michael said.
“Hello, sir. I’m calling from the Tribune. Are you interested in having this great paper delivered to your doorstep each morning?”
“No. Thank you. I don’t read the paper,” Michael said.
“Okay sir. Well, there is a lot of useful information in it. Would you like to try a month free?”
“No. Really, that’s fine. I don’t need it. Thanks for calling,” he said.
“Ok sir. If you change your mind you can go to our website and register for your free month there. The offer is good until July. Thanks for your time, and have a great day.”
Michael said, “Do you realize it’s before 8:00 am on a Sunday morning?”
“Yes sir. I apologize.”
“Okay then. Goodbye,” Michael said as he hung up the phone. He looked at the receiver for a moment.
He didn’t get any coffee yet, but instead walked towards the door, waiting to savor the fresh cup with his newspaper. Don’t think about it, he thought.
He pulled the door shut and locked the dead bolt. As the door closed behind him, the air ruffled the pages of a day planner on the kitchen table. The week was filled with small, concise handwriting. Next to that particular Sunday was a many-layered star scribbled in soft greasy lead.
He squinted up into the rising sun as he turned on the sidewalk. Its rays were flashing scepters through the wizened trees that lined his street. The light cast long warm shafts, prescient, filled with dusty colliding ecosystems. There were newspapers covered with dew on almost every lawn he passed. He didn’t even give one a look.
It was his four year anniversary this morning. He thought that four was such a beautiful number, with its angle and line, so balanced. For 208 Sundays now, he had walked the six
blocks to 7-11 to buy the newspaper. Four years.
He never walked quite the same way. Not only did he take a different route to the
store each week, but he also employed other measures to ensure purity, like making a 90¬
degree turn on a particular crack in the sidewalk that he’d never noticed before. A few times he had stopped halfway down a block, turned around, and taken another side street. On the walk home, the same rules applied. Everything had to be done in a way that would not corrupt his system.

Michael began playing the lottery shortly after he got the job at the bank. And in the four years he had worked there, he had never made an error on a single transaction. His workspace was a vision of ergonomics. Stapler here. Pen, calculator at this angle. His till was always to the penny, and his co-workers knew that if there was a long line, Michael could dwindle it down in no time. The other bank tellers loved him for it, and of course they hated him for it too.Michael waited for a car to pass, and then he crossed a side street. He walked under a branch spanning the sidewalk and grabbed a leaf. He rubbed it between his fingers, enjoying its brittle-smooth surface, finding the natural woody veins. He began to rip it apart along its spine, into smaller pieces, which he folded on top of one another and then let fall from his hand. It looked casual, but he was actually thinking how easy it was to make sure his route to the store was unique. What was the likelihood of him ever having dropped the same sized leaves in the same numbers, with the same exact lift ratio relative to the wind, on the same exact coordinates on the topographical earth? He felt warmed by the thought, piqued with intrigue and hope.His little method.He saw a woman up ahead, getting out of a red car in front of a coffee shop. She looked familiar, although Michael didn’t know many women. She saw him too and stopped on the sidewalk. He realized who it was and his stomach tightened. She always came through his line at the bank. She owned the coffee shop, which she was prone to tell him every couple of days, and she seemed to have a crush on him. He graciously refused her lunch offers. He decided to just walk past her, looking at a point on the sidewalk a few feet in front of him, as if lost in thought.“Michael? Hey you, what are you doing out this early? I thought you lived at the bank,” she said, and smiled.He tried to act surprised as he dropped the rest of the leaf fragments from his fingers. “Hi Carlie. How’s it going?”“Oh, good, you know. I’m just stopping by to pick up last night’s money. You want to have a cup of coffee with me? It’s on the house,” she said.Michael realized how pretty she was with the sun in her eyes and hair, and that off-centered smile. He liked the way she said his name. He should have a cup of coffee with her, he thought.“Oh, no thanks. I have some stuff I have to get done,” he said, looking up the street towards 7-11.“Come on, Michael. It’s a Sunday morning. The bank is closed. What’s so important that you can’t have a cup of coffee with me, huh?” she said.He was getting annoyed. “I need to uh, get a newspaper, and …” he said quietly.“We have copies inside. You can read it here if you like,” she said.“Look. I’m sorry, but like I said, I have plans. I’ll take a rain check, but I really have to go take care of something now,” he said.“Okay then, see you later” she said.“Thank you for the offer.” He moved past her and didn’t look back once. He didn’t think she had believed him.He purposely walked across a street bright with early summer, noticing the tiny flashes of quartzite reflecting in the asphalt. The pennies in his loafers shined. He didn’t remember jaywalking from this particular corner before. Maybe he could salvage his luck yet.He was very aware that the chance of winning the jackpot on any given Sunday

was hovering somewhere right around 1 in 80,089,128. It was so unattainable that it gave him a sense of the vastness of things, the panoramic realm of possibility that floated around everything like hands over an Ouija board. And he was very aware that it was his four year anniversary. That fact had been taunting him since he woke up.
He finally left the scrubbed sunlight through the mirror-fronted 7-11. He took the final steps from light to shade, and pushed the door open. It chirped. He immediately picked up the smells of over-cooked hot dogs, burned coffee, bleach. He followed the large gum and candy rack around to the checkout area, where a young clerk was sitting on a stool, basking in fluorescence. He reached for the little cubbyhole where the papers always were, but found emptiness. He bent down and peered inside, as if that could change it. This had never happened before.
He looked up and made eye contact with the clerk, who said, “Yeah, this guy came in earlier and bought every copy. It was for some convention or something. You can get the paper on-line now I think.”
“Oh” Michael replied, “Okay.” He turned and walked out of the store.
He must have done something wrong. The phone call and then Carlie had jinxed him. He started heading back in the direction he had come. Halfway across the parking lot he remembered that he had the ticket with him, and stopped. He kept it in a little compartment in his wallet, near at hand, a talisman.
He entered the store again walked around to the checkout counter, and then he hesitated. He looked at the clerk – a young man wearing a black t-shirt with the number 420 on it, whose name-tag said Hi, I’m Brian. He didn’t want to reveal the fact that he cared so much about the ticket he was digging out of his wallet. He didn’t want him to see this in his eyes for fear of embarrassment, but more so because of the obvious negative effects such a disclosure could do to his chances. This could undoubtedly upset that subtle manipulation of natural energies, his little alchemy. Stop hesitating Michael. Speak, he willed himself.
He finally got the ticket out, looking around him like a man in a dressing room with no
doors. His hands were shaking. To his own disbelief, he casually asked, “Can you check
this for me?”
Then, with no small amount of effort, he held the ticket out and almost pulled it
back as the clerk’s small pale hand touched it. Michael felt guilty seeing his lucky numbers in another’s hand. Surely the ticket was now tainted.
“I just figured I’d get them checked.” He moved his mouth as if he meant to say more but only breath escaped. His eyes felt bloated in their sockets. The clerk moved left a little bit, towards a blue lottery machine.
Michael was staring at him hard, a picture of concentration. The only sounds were
a coffee machine, his own breathing, and the tap-tap-tap of a kamikaze fly bouncing its body off the window over and over, trying to defy physics.
Michael didn’t like the way the clerk off-handedly grabbed his ticket. He didn’t want the
obvious lack of respect for the synchronicity and beauty of the lottery to foul things up. Just as the clerk was about to insert the ticket into the machine to check it,
Michael changed his mind.
“Wait!” he said sharply, desperately, on a high note. As the clerk hesitated, the
ticket lingering over the machine, Michael said, “Can’t you just print me the winning numbers?”
The clerk shrugged and said “You really don’t have to yell.” He pressed a couple of buttons, generating another ticket. Michael took both slips, folded them over twice, and returned them to the compartment where he kept his ticket. He was careful not to look at them, or the stare he could feel the clerk giving him. Everything was falling apart.
He left the store for the second time. When he exited through the door back into the sunshine, he almost lost everything. He almost stepped down off the curb onto his right foot. He pulled it back as if from fire, and slumped to the ground before he lost his balance. He got up awkwardly and turned to see the clerk look away at the last second. He gritted his teeth and stepped down into the parking lot, left foot first.
Although the tickets in his wallet made him want to sprint home, hurdling fences
and dogs alike, he didn’t even allow himself the luxury of consciously acknowledging the fact that they were there. He chose a bolder tack than usual with his route. Instead of attending to every detail, every step, he simply took the shortest way he could think of, walking directly to his house. When he got to the far end of his own block, he turned the wrong way, and circled it eight times. Each time he passed his own house, his walking profile was reflected in the kitchen windows: hands in pockets, head and eyes forward. No way he had done this before.
When he finally entered his house, he went straight over to the coffee machine and
made himself a cup. He still used sugar cubes because he liked their symmetrical quality. He dropped four into the steaming cup and then got the milk out of the refrigerator.
He poured it in and watched it swirl and dance for a moment before stirring it with a spoon.
He walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. His heart was a percussion instrument. Why, he thought, was he so nervous? Was it simply because today felt so perfect, even with the mistakes, and would be so right and meaningful, a wonderful retribution if he won? What was the nagging feeling that had been growing in his gut all day?
He took out his wallet and placed it in the center of the kitchen table. The light
dodged through the trees in his yard and made brilliant little spheres on the table’s surface. He took a long breath, and opened his wallet. He calmly dug the folded tickets out and separated them, still not gazing upon the one with the winning numbers.
He crossed his legs, took a sip of coffee.
A cloud passed over the sun, and the spheres on the table vanished.
He inhaled deeply again, and slid his own ticket a little to the side because he didn’t need it just then. He already knew his lucky numbers by heart.
It was just another Sunday morning, just another stupid game of lottery.
He looked down and scanned the numbers from left to right. They were strangers to him, unfamiliar, cold. Not even divisible by four. He began to fold his ticket, working the creases, as he gazed absently at the table, his eyes going out of focus. After quite some time, he made one last fold, worked the crease, and he was done.
He put it down on the table, a perfect little sparrow. Then he folded the ticket
with the winning numbers on it in half, and put it beside the bird.
Michael sat back and looked out at his yard. He visualized the pattern he would use with the mower to keep the grass off the sidewalk. Sweeping could be minimized.
He finally stood up and threw away the ticket the clerk had printed. There was a large round fish bowl on the counter beside the coffee machine, filled with wasted origami. His lucky numbers could be seen on the wings of birds, the brims of little paper hats, and other symmetrical shapes, pressing up against the glass sides.
He stared at the bowl for a moment, and then dropped in the two hundred and eighth one.
He moved over to the coffee machine to refill his cup, but he stopped. He exhaled deeply. He placed the cup on the counter and walked out of his house again, not even bothering to lock the door behind him.
Maybe Carlie would still buy him that cup of coffee.

208 Sundays

wordsmith16

Joined January 2008

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

A bank teller in his thirties is obsessed with winning the lottery. He knows deep down that he has a growing problem, but it takes a chain of events, and a woman, to start waking him from the over-bearing precision that is taking over his life.

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