Call Him Lucky, by Walter Giersbach
Once upon a time there was an eight-year-old boy named Lucky. If you asked him why he was called Lucky he would tell you he didn’t know. If you asked his father, Ross, who wore a suit and tie when he went off to work in New York City, he’d tell you, “It’s just a nickname.” If you asked his mother, Jennifer, she’d laugh and say, “He’s lucky he’s an only child and we can indulge him.”
Together, the family lived in a very large center hall colonial with five bedrooms. Lucky would sometimes wonder why they had so many rooms for only three people, but his mother always said, “One day we’ll flip the house and move to Easy Street.”
Lucky immediately saw the attraction of moving away from his classmates, who called him Special Ed, and away from school, which was raucous and distracting, and going to some place called Easy Street. But as a matter of daily life, he didn’t take much interest in anything except for his games. He had a PlayStation portable, a GameBoy, an Xbox, used his dad’s notebook to play games, and had received a faster, more intriguing Nintendo Dual Screen Handheld at Christmas. His folks knew games were the only focus of his attention and they brought peace in the household.
His mother explained to her friends that he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was dyslexic and agoraphobic and a bunch of other terms that Lucky looked up at dictionary.com.
He also overheard his psychiatrist say something about pareidolia. Lucky had a hard time finding that word but he finally learned it meant someone whose brain falsely creates meaningful patterns out of random stimuli. This strange ability lay behind many miraculous events in which people saw pictures of Jesus on their screen door or heard voices coming out of radio static.
Lucky was disinterested in the whole diagnosis of his condition. Anything was okay as long as people left him alone. He could spend the entire day on his gaming and often screamed at his mother when she called him for tuna fish sandwiches — the only kind he would eat — at lunch.
His mother usually spent her afternoons seated at the kitchen table, chatting interminably on the telephone. When the mail carrier arrived, she would get up and bring in the mail, then pour another cup of black coffee and carefully go through the marketing solicitations and the circulars and the advertising flyers. She even scrutinized the blow-in cards that fell out of her magazines. She would admit without embarrassment that she was addicted to junk mail and black coffee.
“Look, Lucky,” she would interrupt him when there was an especially good mortgage offer in the mail. “We can borrow forty-eight thousand dollars at a quarter point below prime.” Or, “This Visa offer has zero percent interest — initially.” She was happiest when the magazine sweepstakes came from Publishers Clearing House. “Imagine one of those guys knocking on our front door and giving us a check for a million dollars. Then we’ll move to Easy Street.”
None of this interested Lucky enough to do more than ask “Would a million dollars get us to Easy Street?”
“A million would pay the damn bills!” she’d snort in disgust. “Your father doesn’t have enough chutzpah to ask for a raise and we’re in hock up to our eyeballs. Now, let me think of some numbers,” her mind already turning to a more pressing subject. “The Mega Million lottery is worth three hundred and sixty million.”
At night, Lucky could hear his parents discussing money. Very loudly. Their conversation was so intense that it floated upstairs, through closed doors, and all the way down the very long hallway.
“The kid’s going to Princeton and you don’t have a dime saved,” Jennifer shouted.
“You keep pissing away everything I earn,” Ross brayed.
“I think you’ve got a bimbo on the side, or you’re hitting those two-martini lunches again,” she volleyed back.
Lucky felt their pain even if he didn’t understand it. His parents were like two kids playing hide and seek in a dark house. He said as much to Bert, the young man who lived next door. Bert was, to Lucky, an adult hero — probably twenty or so — who drove a Camaro and wore jeans that flopped around his shoes. Bert was always scratching off shiny lottery tickets that had the appearance of games but were mathematically rigged to pay off less than twenty percent of the time.
Bert looked at him and curled his lip. “How’s a little kid know it’s twenty percent? Maybe it’s, like, thirty or forty percent. My friend has a friend who almost won five hundred bucks last month.”
“I know ’cause I did the math,” Lucky said. “I know every time you lose and every time you win and I know what the tickets cost. It’s easy to figure out.”
“Smart kid,” Bert said. “So what’re the winning numbers on the Jersey Pick Six, wise guy?”
Lucky touched a few buttons on his Nintendo DS and then looked dreamily through his thick glasses. “11, 14, 27, 8, 44, 6.”
Bert scoffed, but a day later he sought out Lucky where he was playing under the trees the landscapers had just planted. “Kiddo, you were right. I don’t how the hell you did it, but it paid off.” He handed Lucky a five dollar bill. “That’s for helping me. You know what the numbers are for tomorrow’s game?”
Jennifer found the five dollar bill in Lucky’s pants that night when she hung up his clothes. “Where did you get this, young man?”
“Bert,” he said. “He gave it to me for winning the lottery.”
She sat on the edge of his bed and let the pants fall to the floor. “Why would Bert, who I don’t approve of, give you money?”
“‘Cause I gave him the winning numbers.”
Lucky could hear Jennifer suck in her breath. Very quietly, she said goodnight and turned out the light. There was no shouting down the hallway that night, and the next day Jennifer poured her coffee but didn’t look at the advertising mail. She waited for Lucky to come home from school and then led him into the kitchen where a tunafish sandwich and glass of chocolate milk sat at his place at table.
“Lucky, darling,” she said, “do you know today’s numbers in the Pick Six?”
Lucky’s expression didn’t change. He picked up his Nintendo handheld and a moment later he said “14, 7, 9, 24, 49, 36.”
Jennifer said, “I’ll be right back, Lucky. I’m going to run to the store for something I forgot . I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”
Lucky ate the sandwich and concentrated on his game.
The next night, Lucky heard his parents talking distantly, as if from a happy dream. Jennifer said, “Jesus, Ross, I’m telling you he did it. Lucky did it. Twice in a row. He’s living up to his nickname — a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Her voice carried up the back stairs. He pictured them sitting in the family room under the cathedral ceiling and in front of the 48-inch plasma screen TV.
“Well, now we can pay off the bills — and maybe you’ll ask my forgiveness for the things you said,” Ross answered.
“You just better hire a good accountant, Mister. We’re going to make some money now out of this Cinderella story.”
Together, they laughed like little children and Lucky fell asleep contentedly.
In the coming weeks, Lucky noticed that the television had been replaced by a 60-inch rear-projection home entertainment center and his father was driving a new BMW M5. His mother seemed different, too. She was wearing a ring that sparkled with white fire, something she called five carats, but what carrots had to do with rings he didn’t know. Both of his parents smiled and joked more than before. At odd moments, Jennifer would interrupt his game to kiss him wetly and say, “I love you so much.”
Lucky didn’t reject the hugs and kisses, but he was waiting for something else, perhaps going to a better place with fewer demands.
“I don’t think Lucky needs to see his shrink anymore,” Ross said one night. “I think his problems are over.” He smiled appreciatively at his wife, at the family room that had been given the attentions of an interior decorator, at his son concentrating on a new game. Their success story would end with them living happily ever after.
“What do they know anyway?” Jennifer responded. “In fact, we shouldn’t have him seeing Dr. Goldberg. Oh, and I forgot to tell you, our broker called. It seems your inside tip didn’t pan out.”
“I had it on good authority!” Ross exclaimed. “It was a sure thing.”
“You traded on margin, buying a stock because of something you heard in the elevator. I don’t believe it. Anyway, you better come up with eighty-seven thousand this week or your ass is in a sling.”
“Lucky,” his father said, getting up and crossing the room to his son. He tried prying the Nintendo DS away from the boy’s claw-like hands. “Lucky, your mother and I really need to know what the Mega Million numbers are. The drawing is in two days and we’re kind of desperate.”
Lucky felt the rage return. More demands, in spite of his trying and trying to make things easier. He looked up and screamed, “You told me we were going to live on Easy Street!”
“Well, we will be as soon as you give us the Mega Million numbers.” Jennifer cooed.
“Mommy, you promised! I hate school! I hate people!”
“Lucky,” she said, with a note of desperation. “We really, really need you to concentrate. Now, goddammit!”
“You promised and I’m not going to do what you say until…”
“Lucky, I am going to take your damn game — all your games — and throw them in the trash compactor if you don’t give us the numbers!”
Lucky began bouncing up and down on the sofa and his head swiveled violently from side to side as he began shrieking in a high-pitched voice they had never heard. “No, no, NO!” The TV suddenly began blaring an automobile commercial with cars racing madly around corners and flashing lights set to thumping rock music. The telephone began ringing insistently.
“You ungrateful little…little…,” Jennifer screamed.
Lucky’s body began shaking in the spasm of a brain aneurism. He fell back onto the burgundy-colored leather sofa with nail studs, one of a matched pair from Bloomingdales.
Ross and Jennifer were frozen in a tableau. He stood with hands outstretched and clutching air; she kneeled in supplication. They both noticed Lucky had stopped breathing and then slowly fell over, motionless.
Together, Ross and Jennifer grabbed at the handheld game. The screens slowly went blank, indicating the lithium ion battery had died along with their son.
Ross and Jennifer sold the house after the funeral. He found an apartment in Chelsea near his work. She moved back to Cincinnati for an extended visit with her parents.
Their lawyers arranging the marriage separation got together for a drink months later and sadly recalled the episode as a rather grim fairy tale.
Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, spec fic to romance. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and a couple of Asian countries. He now hangs out near the Jersey shore sampling beers and boardwalks. His two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.
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Tags: death, dysfunctional, family, Walter Giersbach