The last year of my mother’s life, I played her numbers every single day. After she died, I still played them, not the daily numbers—she changed those all the time—but the big jackpots: Megabucks, Megamillions, Mass Cash, Cash Winfall. “One of these is going to hit. It’s gonna hit big,” she promised. My brother Ronan described the lottery as “a state tax for the mathematically impaired.” (Yeah, I’d seen that bumper sticker too.) I looked upon the twenty bucks I shelled out each week as suicide insurance. If one of those numbers hit and I wasn’t on it, I would borrow Ronan’s gun, stick the nozzle in my mouth and boom!
Tonight, I was playing my mother’s Megamillions numbers: 2-11-14-41-42 with a bonus ball 11. The 2 and 11 represented Ronan, born February 11, 1974. I came along November 14th the same year. (We were Irish twins, and I was premature.) My mother had been ٤١ when she had Ronan, ٤٢ when she had me. Because the ١١ was common to both Ronan and my birthdates, she picked that as her bonus ball. “It’s also a lucky number in dice,” but she never approved of that sort of gambling.
Before my mother passed away, Megamillions had been called The Big Game, which I still preferred as a title. The lottery machines had not accepted her Big Game slip since the changeover, but I refused to fill out a new one. Most clerks hated taking bets orally, but the old guy running the lottery machine didn’t mind. There was no line behind me. There were no other customers anywhere in the entire store. I had checked and doublechecked. Plus, the old guy had been drinking. From the other side of the counter, I could smell the gin on his breath.
A rabbit’s foot hung from the side of the lottery machine, the fur gray and white like the old guy’s hair but not curly. Before he handed me my ticket, he patted the rabbit’s foot against it.
“Do you do that for all your customers?” I asked.
“If I did,” he laughed, “that would use up all the luck.”
Ronan was half-sitting on the hood of my Volvo. Although we were Irish twins, people used to mistake us for the real thing, partly because our mother had held Ronan back so that he and I could go to school together. Now he looked a good ten years older than me, and it wasn’t just that his hair was thinning. He had spent six of his thirty-eight years behind bars.
“He’s all alone.” I should have added, Go easy, he’s a nice guy.
Ronan pulled a handgun out of the ski mask he was holding, then pulled the ski mask over his face.
No sooner had I slid into the driver’s seat, I heard the pop. It had come from inside the store. In the neighborhood where Ronan and I now lived, you heard that pop more than once a week. Up here in the enchanted forests of the North Shore, you might never hear it. If you did, you would probably mistake the sound for thunder or your neighbor’s SUV backfiring, maybe a firecracker left over from the Fourth of July.
Ronan came running out, his gun in one hand, a bottle in the other.
In one ear-piercing squeal, my car arced backwards into the unlit road. We were nearing eighty miles an hour when Ronan ordered me to slow down and turn on the headlights. Too many of the inmates he’d met had been caught while pulled over for stupidity like speeding and failing to signal. The first time Ronan himself had been arrested, the police had tracked him down through a parking ticket, “four quarters I should have shoved into the friggin’ meter.”
We stopped at the bridge, for me to piss and Ronan to toss his gun into the river. He didn’t care if it washed up on the shore; he didn’t care if it washed up on the steps of the police station. It could not be traced back to him.
“What happened back there?” I finally asked.
The old guy had thrown a bottle at Ronan. When Ronan ordered him to open the register, he grabbed a bottle of brandy from the shelf behind him and flung it at Ronan’s head. “It damn near hit me too. How stupid do you have to be?” he asked. “Gun versus bottle. Who would you bet on?”
Gun, obviously, “but I think he was kinda drunk.”
Roman thanked me “for the heads up.” He did not know where he had shot the guy, only that the guy had dropped immediately down, at which point Ronan grabbed a bottle and ran.