Excerpt from The Splendid Ticket:
Angie checked the lottery numbers one more time.
She took a deep breath, then prepared herself to tell Dean Lee, who would be her husband for only a few more months. The divorce proceedings had been civil so far, and would be final on the twenty-third of July. Angie pictured Dean Lee sitting in the front yard, watching the sparse traffic, his blued .357 revolver oily in its shoulder holster, all the world with its dead and living things bearing down upon him.
Angie stood. In the kitchen of their little house on Fawn Street, she peered out of the valance curtains over the sink, and spied Dean Lee sitting with a can of Pearl beer in an old lawn chair, the collapsible sort whose seat and back are made of broad strips of synthetic material loosely woven together and riveted to an aluminum frame—the everlasting kind found folded up and leaning against garage walls all across the country, waiting for the Fourth or Labor Day to be hauled out and scattered on driveways and patios, ready to be stretched open like mouths and fed the asses of the day’s celebrants. Or remain outside year after year, like Dean Lee’s chair—colors bleached out, nylon embrittled, metal corroded with the whitish frost of aluminum oxide—daring its owner to outlive it. Dean Lee’s back was to her. It seemed to be his regular disposition—it seemed she only ever saw the double-arced piping of his western shirts, the warm, shiny, honey-brown sash of his shoulder holster, his muddy black ducktail, the wrinkled sunburn on his neck beneath it. She could not recall the last time she had looked her husband in the face. She was not entirely sure what he looked like, even though she had once known his face like the blind know the counting numbers in Braille.
Angie let the valance fall. She stared down into the dirty dishwater. She took the lottery ticket out of her pocket and held it over the sink. She loosened her grip so that mere friction kept it from fluttering into the tepid water. Outside, Dean Lee sneezed, then again. The man suffered from terrific cedar fever, the scourge of Central Texas. Angie found a couple pseudoephedrine tablets and a fresh can of Pearl and went outside.
“Here, Dean Lee,” she said, coming up behind him.
“All right,” said Dean Lee, reaching for the pills and the beer. It was one of the minor human kindnesses that blossomed like a tiny fern in the cracks of the concrete.
“Got your phone on you?” said Angie, hands on her hips.
Dean Lee looked up at her.
Angie studied the face staring up at her, remembering now its angles and subtle asymmetry around the eyes and roughneck squint, wondering exactly what had happened to the man she married, where he had gone. He looked more or less the same, a cross between Scott Glenn and a sunbaked brick, but something had been subtracted from him, or maybe something had been added, some smothering agent. It was not something that kept her up at night, but it nagged at her when she pulled the tabs on his beers or peeled the foil back on his allergy tablets or poured ice cubes into the baby pool. Of course she knew what it was. He would never, ever talk about it. Had he mentioned Sophie’s name, even once, in the last six years?
“I want you to look something up for me,” said Angie.
“March 29th MegaMillions.”
“Just humor me.”
“You win or something?”
“Oh sure, I won the lottery. Just do it, Dean Lee.”
With a great sigh, Dean Lee put both cans of beer down in the dirt and dug his phone out of the pocket of his coveralls. With some difficulty, he found the number and showed it to her.
Angie took her lottery ticket out of her pocket and handed it to Dean Lee without a word.
He studied it for two solid minutes. Angie tried to crack her knuckles, but they’d been recently cracked, so instead she counted the teeth in her head that she was going to get fixed when the money came rolling in.
“This a xerox or something?”
“What do you think?”
He studied the ticket some more. He turned it over and over in his big, callused hands, held it up to the setting sun, blew on it, read every word thereon out loud, checked the numbers a dozen times against those on his phone.
“God almighty, Angie, I think this is a fuckin’ winner, you know that? I think this is the real deal.”
“I know it’s the real deal.”
She plucked the ticket out of his hand like a mother taking matches away from a toddler.
“Here’s what’ll happen,” she said. “The divorce is eleven weeks away from being final. Right? So we’re going to cash this ticket, take the lump sum, split it right down the middle, and not contest a penny in the divorce. You heard me? Then we’re going to move on, in new and separate paths. We will not meet again. You will take your burdens, stand on your platform, and wait for your train to take you away from here. And Nadine and I will stand on ours, going in the opposite direction. And there you have it. The end.”
They were still married, so it was technically their money, not hers. But the ticket, at least, was in her possession, so she called the shots for now. Nine-tenths and all that. Angie did not see redemption in this ticket. She would eat it in an instant if she felt like that would be the easiest way to handle the complications. Angie liked the taste of paper, always had. She had chewed on Post-it Notes as a child, marveling at the possibilities of a cure for world hunger. Paper was everywhere!
Dean Lee regarded his wife.
“How long have you known about this? Without telling me?”
“Oh, Dean Lee.”
Angie slumped. She wanted to sit down in the front-yard dirt and comb her hair over her face and disappear. How many times had she felt like this over the past six years? Was it this feeling she was trying to escape in divorcing this man? No. It was Sophie. That was all, that was everything, that was the only thing.
“You’ve been hiding it,” said Dean Lee, looking around in the dirt for his beer. He picked them both up, tested relative coldness by touching one, and the other, to the apples of his cheeks.
“I wanted to be sure of it, for it to be a surprise, for—”
“Be happy, for chrissake. You’re rich, Dean Lee. This is your way out.”
She waved the ticket under his nose like smelling salts. He grabbed at it, once, but Angie was far too quick—she snatched the ticket away, folded it in thirds again, and tucked it into the watch pocket of her jeans.