The Lottery Man

There is a liquor store in South Boston on Dorchester Avenue I’m sure still exists because liquor stores make money. It’s where I’d buy my cigarettes and liquor and toilet paper and cans of soup, and whatever I was poor. Some time after I moved in to my townhouse apartment down the avenue, the liquor store was renovated with a lounge for lotto customers. No matter what time of day, people of all kinds sat around a television mounted high on a wall watching Keno drawings talking about their numbers and themselves and where they came from and why. “I always use the numbers 9, 18, 47, and 71…my old hockey jersey number was 9, my daughter is 18, and I was born at 4771 Vinton street, down the road, born and raised, my Dad was from….”

It was a hell of a show at night – a constant parade of people joining and leaving circles and smoking cigarettes outside during commercials between numbers and begging change from innocent drunks, the few winners around the back with their paper bags of cheap vodka or whiskey or peppermint schnapps, the arguments and fights, the capable Chaldean family behind the counter pushing tickets as fast as possible – a petri dish of the down. There were no love stories at the liquor store. No friends.

I worried about the quiet one in a corner whose name was stitched to his navy blue coveralls, and what was on the line when each ball dropped….whose gold wedding ring was missing one day, and whose shoes took on water when it rained. He rolled his cigarettes and his blue eyes flashed when a new set of numbers began and hung his head and walked out to smoke after he lost. Always next time. Always tomorrow. Secretly praying before bed knowing not if, but when he wins it won’t be luck, but God’s grace.

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