1 Tracy Kushman 1110 Tindall Ln 727-2130 EHJ83@aol.
Confessions of a Compulsive Gambler
Mac placed his old 1934 quarter on the silver scratch off surface and began running the ridged edge of the coin back and forth against it. One pear. Two pears. Come one! One more pear…an old boot. Damn. He placed five more dollars into the machine and pushed the “play all one kind” button and then pushed the button for his favorite scratch off game “Fruit Basket”. The machine spit out ten fresh cards waiting for him to reveal their destiny. Mac began scratching. On the forth card he won. Ten dollars. On the sixth card he won again. Fifty cents. That was it in the hand. Delighted, Mac walked up to the front counter of the Food Lion to claim his winnings. Behind the counter was a young girl. Much younger than Mac, but that wasn’t saying much. He couldn’t remember her name, even though it was pinned to her blouse. His eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. He’d admit that. But at least he could see his cards. “Back again Mac?” The young girl asked warmly. Mac could hear snickering behind him. “Of course.” He replied with a cheerful smile. He handed the young girl his two winning cards. She took them, looked at them and then went to her computer to put in
2 the information. Within a moment the drawer to her cash register opened and she took out ten dollars and fifty cents. Mac took it with a smile. A huge smile. A smile that said (if you didn’t know any better, that is) that he had never won a single thing in his life. He walked back to the machine, placed the ten dollar bill into the slot and again pressed the “play all one kind” button. He began scratching again.
Later that night, around eleven (about the same time the Food Lion was closing for the night) Mac sat back in his Lay-Z-Boy recliner and attempted to read the paper. The recliner was old and tearing at the seams. Much like Mac himself. He held the paper up almost to his nose. He refused to wear the glasses that his doctor had prescribed for him, unless, of course, he was driving. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Back in ’94, when Mac was in his 70s, there had been an accident. A terrible one that Mac never fully recovered from. He hadn’t been hurt—physically, but it was in that accident that his only child had died. Granted she was at the time in her 40s, but Mac still considered her his little princess. His daughter, Grace, had never married. She had never been into boys as far as Mac could tell, and when he pushed the issue she just waved it off with a flick of her wrist and said, “There’s more to life than marriage and kids Daddy.” Mac’s wife, Gloria, had died only two years before the accident in the bathtub. One morning while Mac and Grace were out doing who knows what, she had slipped in the tub while taking a shower and drowned in the pooling water, which was the result of
3 the clogged drain Mac had been meaning to fix. Her skin had turned blue and she lay haphazardly in the tub as the shower water pounded on her lifeless body. For the first tow weeks after Gloria’s death Mac didn’t leave his bedroom. He had loved Gloria in a way a drunk loves his alcohol. His quench for her was inconsolable: he couldn’t get enough. He loved only one person more, and that was Grace. She was, in fact, what finally got him out of his room. And she suddenly became his life. Unconsciously Mac began seeing Gloria in Grace’s face. Then it got worse; he saw Gloria in everything Grace did and said. He could smell Gloria in Grace’s hair and feel her lips when he kissed her. And he kissed her often. It started out innocent enough (Mac had never meant it to go as far as it did): a kiss goodnight, a kiss good morning. But then one day he decided, semi-consciously, to push it just a bit farther. Mac desperately missed Gloria’s lips on his. Even as old as they were when she died they had never lost the passion in their marriage. Sex may have been nonexistent, but the tenderness and romance was still there. He cried himself to sleep every night as he cuddled his pillow as if it was Gloria’s thin, frail body. He would stroke the back of the pillow as though he was stroking her hair as he so often did as she slept. The day things changed between himself and Grace was on his first birthday after Gloria’s accident. Grace gave her father his birthday present, a new chain for his pocket watch (his old one was falling apart just as fast as Mac’s self control) and a few
4 scratch-off cards from the local lottery. She leaned in and whispered into the old man’s ear, “I love you Daddy, and Mama does too,” and softly kissed him on the lips. She soon felt her father’s tongue try and enter her mouth. It pushed against her closed lips and she obediently opened her mouth (only very slightly) to allow her father entrance. Grace lay in bed that night thinking about what had happened, but she didn’t cry. She knew what had happened had been wrong, but she considered it to be a one time thing. Something that happened because her father missed his wife. She knew her father wasn’t a monster, just a grieving old man who was lonely. That was why she had moved back in in the first place. Besides, what harm was there in a father kissing his daughter. But she knew that that was more than just a father-daughter kiss. And as she turned to go to sleep that night she vowed to never allow it to happen again.
The next morning, bright and early at noon, Mac walked into the Food Lion to continue his unhealthy gambling habit. In all honesty Mac didn’t realize that he played those scratch off games as much as he did. He didn’t realize that he would spend hours in the store with his lucky ’34 quarter between his fingers. He heard the laughter and the chuckles from behind him, but he just figured it was just the kids that worked there having a good time. He never realized that they were laughing at him. The kids that worked there all loved Mac. Loved to make fun of him that is. They would often ask each other what they thought he did when he went home. One kid, a sixteen-year-old named Kevin quipped “I bet he jerks off to the commercials for the
5 lottery!” They all laughed, except for Monica, the older woman who often worked the “teenage shift”. She felt sorry for Mac and wondered if there was anything she could do for him. She too wondered what he did when he was home. Did he have family to go home to? Did he have any hobbies to past the time? Or was gambling his only activity? Monica had had an uncle with an alcohol problem and she wondered if gambling was anything like alcohol. Could it be addictive too? She didn’t know. She just watched the old man scratch those cards day after day, hour after hour and wondered what was going on in his mind. She watched as Mac stood at the machine and soon he stuck his lucky quarter in his pocket and walked over to the front counter. He and the girl behind the counter did there daily routine of exchanging cards for cash and coins and then Mac went to the front to grab a shopping cart. He was short on bread and milk and other various items one would find at the super market. As he walked up and down the aisles a tear slid down his face as his mind began to drift back to the day his daughter died.
Mac and Grace had been on there way to that very super market after visiting Gloria at Point of View Cemetery. It was snowing, pretty heavily, and Mac, not wearing his glasses (against the constant protests of Grace) was driving. “I know the way like the back of my hand. I don’t need no damn glasses!” The windshield began to fog up and, since the car was old, it didn’t have a working defroster. Something Mac said he’d “get around to fixing…one day.” So he
6 reached his right hand for his handkerchief, ridged with dried snot, and was preparing to take it out of his back pocket to wipe down the windshield. As he struggled with the handkerchief he inadvertently turned the steering wheel slightly to the right. But it was enough for the front right tire to hit the small patch of black ice on the narrow, windy road. Only driving with one had (his other was still lodged in his back pocket) Mac tried to correct the mistake, but the tire slid on the ice and he lost control of the car. The proceeding accident was surprisingly silent. Mac didn’t hear any loud crash. He didn’t hear the tires squeal (although they did). And, thankfully, he didn’t hear Grace scream. The accident was also surprisingly dark even thought it was only early afternoon. For the life of him, Mac couldn’t remember hardly any of the accident. He figured it was God’s way of shielding him from the trauma. He couldn’t see out the windows (they were completely fogged up by that point), but he could feel the accident. He felt the car roll down the hill and land on the passenger side in a pile of large rocks. The one thing he could remember—the most horrible part of the whole ordeal— was seeing the shard of rock lodged into Grace’s stomach. He could remember the blood. He could remember seeing her eyes rolling back in her head. And he could remember the last thing she said to him: “I told you to wear your damn glasses.” And then she was gone. Mac didn’t have a cell phone, (they were pretty new at the time anyway, but beginning to pop up) and there were no houses around where the accident happened. He was hanging from his seatbelt, hovering over the dead body that once was his daughter. He stayed there that way for nearly an hour just staring at her.
7 By the time it had gotten dark, Mac had finally come enough to his senses to realize that he needed to get out of the car and get warm. He put the car in park, and braced his right foot on the arm rest that was located between the two seats and then carefully unclicked his seatbelt. His foot didn’t support him as well as he had hoped and he fell onto his daughter. Mac pushed the experience out of his head immediately. He didn’t have time to think about it. He had to get warm. His fingers and toes were on the verge of numbness, and if he waited much longer to warm them up, they might succumb to frost bite. As the sun went down, so did the temperature. As he unlocked the car door and climbed out he heard bones crunch under his feet, but ignored them. The noises came back to haunt him later. Mac made his way up the snowy slope to the road and waited in the cold for a passing car. When one finally approached he waved his hands franticly and did a dance that would have been funny if the situation had been different. The car, covered in remnants of the snow and the salt the city had (supposedly) put on the roads, screeched to a halt. A teenage girl dressed in a faux fur trimmed coat rolled down her window suspiciously. Then she saw the blood (Grace’s blood, but she didn’t know that) that was quickly staining Mac’s coat. Ohmygod! Are you, like, okay?” she spat out. “My daughter,” Mac began between chattering teeth, “she’s still in the car. I think she’s—” but he couldn’t finish the sentence. I’ve got a cell phone.” The girl offered. Mac nodded, then, as she handed it to him he said, “I don’t know how to work it…could you?”
8 The girl pulled her arm back into her car and dialed 911. As she talked to the dispatcher, Mac stood outside the car shivering. He couldn’t hear what the girl was saying. He was still in a state of shock. Then suddenly her voice jolted him back to where he was, “Oh duh! You want to, like, get in the car? You look totally cold.” Mac responded by opening the back door and getting in. Instinctively he put on his seat belt. Soon an ambulance and a couple police cars arrived and the girl in the snowy car went on her way fresh with a story to tell at school in the morning. Mac couldn’t really remember all that happened after the police got there. He knew they must have asked him questions about the accident, and he knew that he must have answered them. But the one thing he did remember was seeing a stretcher with a black bag being pushed up the side of the hill.
Mac finished his grocery shopping and went to the front counter to pay for his items. He and the girl behind the counter exchanged a few words: “How are you doing today?” “Win much today?” the usual banter. Then Mac took his five dollars in change and went over to the machine. He placed the five dollars in the slot, but instead of playing “Fruit Basket” he opted for a five dollar game called “Morning Glory”. The name reminded him of his wife, and he was feeling a bit sentimental today.
9 The object of the game was to match three flowers in one of the eight lines on the card. The reason it was such an expensive game was that the maximum amount you could win was much higher than on the 50 cent cards. All you had to do was match three Morning Glories. Mac took out his lucky quarter and began scratching. One Morning Glory. Two Morning Glories. Holy shit! THREE Morning Glories. Mac just won 500 dollars. He shuffled over to the front office again, calmer and without a smile this time. He handed the card to the girl and her eyes got as wide as a four lane highway. As it just so happened she had the money in the safe so she was able to give Mac his pay off right then and there. After he filled out a few forms of course. Mac took the money, mostly in twenties and fifties, but he asked for a few tens. He walked back to the machine, placed a ten dollar bill into the slot, and pressed the “play all one kind” button again. Mac began to scratch the silver coating as if nothing unusual had happened.