by WARREN JONES
The voice-over from channel seven said, “The Pick-Four number for Friday night, September 25, 2009, is zero, three, seven, five.”
Ed almost leapt from his sofa. “We’re rich, Mister Brown, we’re rich!” His house mate, a large Chocolate Lab, lifted his head, yawned widely and eyed Ed skeptically. “Okay, not really. But hey—a thousand bucks isn’t exactly chump-change, is it, big guy?” Ed ruffled Mister Brown’s ears and turned back to the television. There she was, Lady Luck, in another ad for the Virginia State Lottery.
Lady Luck, Ed figured, was about thirty-five. She had messy red hair, engaging blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. She wore a long dingy-white gown that fit poorly. Her rhinestone tiara sat akimbo atop her head, as if to punctuate her rumpled, thrown-together appearance. Lady Luck carried a slightly bent magic wand topped with a glittery, misshapen five-point star. Ed thought of her as sort of a working class fairy Godmother, and he figured if she were real, she’d be divorced from a jerky husband, have unruly children and maybe a yappy dog.
Ed had this thing for Lady Luck—she was somehow very sexy in all that get-up and Christ, he’d even dreamed about her twice. Ed had recorded all the Virginia Lottery advertisements where she’d appeared. He’d heard about a Lady Luck fan club, but felt that kind of deal was silly. Never gave more than two or three thoughts to joining.
The next morning Ed checked the Leesburg paper just to be sure. Yep, his number was indeed a winner. He thought about the guys he worked with at Dulles. They’d be all over this. They were always buying lottery tickets—and losing. And his dad, Dudley. Yeah, he’d be the same way. He’d suggested Ed use his birthday numbers for his lottery pick.
It’d also be fun to tell Rosie when she came around. Back in the Spring, when she’d taken over their postal route, they’d had a bunch of good conversations at his front door. Ed liked Rosie. She was easy to talk to, down to earth, and had a ready smile. She seemed caught in that narrow middle ground between pretty and plain, with her still-girlish face, small rimless glasses and profusion of freckles. Although he’d never admit it, beautiful women scared the piss out of Ed. He was most comfortable with women who were “pleasingly plain,” a phrase his mother would use. While Ed didn’t exactly think of Rosie as a girlfriend, they’d recently started going out—twice to a movie and last weekend to a high school football game.
Once Ed told his dad he was dating the mailman, but then added, in response to Dudley’s quizzical don’t-put-me-on stare, that the mailman was actually this likable red-head. “Son,” his dad shot back, “anyone—even the damn mailman—would be better than what’s-her-face.” Ed winced at the thought of Doreen, the woman he’d once lived with briefly, and he assured Dudley that Rosie was different. Absolutely. Rosie was okay.
Before Rosie even got close, she saw Ed waving from his front porch. She’d noticed he was always there on Saturdays when she came by, painting or fixing something. As Rosie climbed the steps, she suspected from Ed’s near-smile that he wanted to tell her something. “Okay, what’s up? I can tell—you’re happy about something.”
Ed got up from the small table where he was eating lunch and told her he’d won a thousand bucks in the lottery.
“That’s awesome.” Rosie slung her mail bag on to the top step. “I’ve never known anyone who’s actually won anything. My ex- played the lottery, but he never won squat.” Rosie pushed her glasses back into place. “He was crazy. Every time they’d announce the numbers, he’d say, ‘Well, hell. I could’ve picked those.’”
Ed grinned and offered her some potato chips.
Rosie waved them off and handed him the mail. She watched Ed examine each letter and advertisement—he might be better than break-even, which, for a guy, was saying something. He was a lean, lanky sort, with thinning brown hair that he wore in a short pony-tail. Since he often nodded when he was concentrating, his ponytail would bob up and down when he was reading or working with his hands. Rosie liked Ed’s hands. They were sun-tanned and muscular, a working man’s hands.
Ed picked up his Pepsi. “Want to join me for lunch?”
“Talked me into it. Be back in a jif.”
Walking to the mail truck to get her lunch, Rosie thought about her uniform, gray and very shapeless—government issue. And the shoes—they were about as sexy as her truck tires. She unlocked the door, hopped in, and checked her hair and lipstick in the side view mirror. As she straightened her glasses, she could still hear her mother, “Now Rosalyn, thinking you’re pretty is more’n half of being pretty.”
Rosie sat down opposite Ed at his small bistro table and arranged her lunch neatly on a plate he’d set out. “You did a nice job painting your porch.”
“Thanks, it was way over-due.”
Rosie opened her strawberry yogurt and asked how long he’d lived there.
“Over thirty-four years. I’ve lived right here all my life, ‘cept for the year when I tried college.” He gestured to his house with his fork. “Course, since my dad retired and moved to the country, it’s been me and Mister Brown here by ourselves.”
“Must be great—having your own house,” Rosie said.
Ed pushed his chair back. “You guys have got a nice place.”
“Thanks, but we only rent it.” Rosie looked up at Ed, trying to remember. “You’ve met Bernice, right?”
“Yeah, I talked to her a little, that one time I was over. You guys seem pretty different.”
“We’re only half-sisters, and besides she’s twelve years younger than me.”
“Bernice works around here?”
“No—not to speak of. She’s taking two courses at George Mason and volunteers some afternoons at the library.” Rosie leaned in. “You have to understand, Bernice’s main interests are eating and losing weight.”
“You’ve seen her. She’s right hefty, and she eats all the time.” Rosie pushed her sandwich aside. “But man, she can go on and on, and I mean constantly, about losing weight and being unattractive. And that gets extremely old. Hard to live with, day in—day out.”
The dog nuzzled against Ed’s outstretched hand. “I’m lucky. Mister Brown here’s easy to live with. Hardly ever makes a peep and that’s good. Down side, of course, is I’ve always got to hustle home after work to take him out. And that gets old.”
Rosie looked up, eyes brightening, “Wanna swap?” Ed stared back blankly. “I’ll take Mister Brown and you can take Bernice?”
Laughing, Ed banged the table, startling Mister Brown. “She had all her shots?”
“Absolutely. And she’s house-broken. I might even be willing to go dead-even.”
“Yeah, but there’s this one teeny-tiny problem—I really like Mister Brown. He’s my main man.”
“I like Bernice too. Sort of. Besides, my mom and stepfather pay all our rent. And for that kind of help I can listen to a shit-load of diet talk.”
Rosie stood up. As they walked down the steps, Ed asked if she’d like to go with him to a Halloween party.
“Sure, I’d love to. Is this like with costumes and all?”
“Exactly. That’s why I’m asking so early. Last year, one guy came as Darth Vader.”
Rosie thanked him for sharing lunch and walked to the street. Approaching her truck, she could feel Ed watching her. She unlocked the truck and climbed in. As she pulled her seat belt into place, she stopped, feeling both pleased and a little unsure—it might work.
Three weeks later, Ed took a Friday off work and drove to a Richmond hotel for a reception held quarterly by the Virginia State Lottery Commission to honor the winners. In preparation for the opening ceremony, an earnest young woman lined up the winners on the dais behind the podium. Ed stood at one end near steps that led down to floor level. The young woman quieted the small crowd and introduced the Commission chairman. After a few welcoming comments, he introduced those who’d won half million dollar prizes, and then with some fanfare announced that their checks would be presented by Lady Luck, herself. As the chairman gestured grandly to his left, Ed saw Lady Luck heading straight toward him. When Lady Luck was stepping up to the dais, she stumbled and Ed quickly reached out to help. She steadied herself and smiled at him before relinquishing his hand. Ed blushed and felt her gown brush against his shin and over his shoe as she passed. A perfumed, middle-aged woman standing nearby whispered, “She’s really the only reason I came to this deal.” Ed nodded, thinking, she’s great, real or not.
Later, each winner was invited to have a complementary photograph taken with Lady Luck in front of a huge poster advertising the Lottery. As Ed approached, Lady Luck extended her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“I’m Ed Walton.” He summoned his best posture. “I helped you over there awhile ago. On the steps.”
“Lucky you were there.” She put her hand to her mouth, “I could’ve fallen on my ass, you know.” She rolled her eyes theatrically, shifted back into character and quickly sized Ed up. “Mister Walton, your tie’s a bit crooked. Do you mind?” She handed him her magic wand, then reached up and straightened his tie. “You’re a tall drink of water.” In finishing, she patted his tie, as if to admire her handiwork. “I like paisley.” Ed felt his pulse quicken. “Okay, now, you look like a real winner.”
Ed examined the magic wand, wondering what the slide switch and settings near the base were for. “I hear this thing’s tricky to use.”
Lady Luck winked. “That’s right, but once you get the hang of it, it can work wonders.”
After the photographer finished, Ed thought seriously about asking for her autograph, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Grown guys didn’t do such things.
During his trip back to Leesburg, a flat tire, a cold steady rain and a stubborn lug nut conspired to leave Ed soaked, chilly and quite clammy. At home, after changing into dry clothes, Ed sent Mister Brown outside, urging him to take care of business quickly before he too got soaked. When Mister Brown returned, Ed dried him with a scrappy green towel and invited the dog to join him on the sofa to watch the TV movie, “Hello Dolly.” It wasn’t long, however, before Ed leaned over on a throw pillow and fell asleep.
It certainly seemed real—the sound of rain, the insistent rapping at his front door. It certainly seemed real enough when Lady Luck spoke, “Aren’t you going to let me in?”
In the glare of the porch light, Ed could tell she was soaked. He could see the tiny freckles of water glistening on the end of her nose and on her rimless glasses. It all seemed so vivid, so real.
“Sure.” Ed said. “Please, come in. It’s pouring out there.” His head and hands shook nervously. Lady Luck was so pretty. “I uhh—I wasn’t expecting you.”
Lady Luck looked at Ed as if her needs should be obvious. “Can you please help me get out of this wet gown? I’m soaked to the bone.”
Ed whimpered quietly as he stood behind her and lowered the long zipper. She stepped clumsily out of the limp gown and turned to face him wearing only her underwear. “Okay, don’t just stand there. Get me a towel, I’m freezing my ass off.” Ed hurried back to his bathroom and returned with a scrappy green towel.
Approaching Lady Luck, Ed realized he was totally nude and reflexively yanked the towel to cover himself.
Lady Luck did a double take and said, “Hey, Dude! This could be rad! But please. Give me the damn towel. I’m wet and getting cold.” Ed threw her the towel and grabbed a throw pillow from the sofa. She dried herself leisurely, wrapped the large towel around herself and discreetly removed her wet panties and bra.
She picked up her magic wand. “Okay, this thing can do wonders. Would you please remove the pillow.”
Ed blushed profoundly, squeezed his eyes shut and managed to lower the pillow.
“Hey, Dude. Relax. We’re grown-ups, you know.” While Ed stood there anxious and confused, Lady Luck fiddled nonchalantly with her magic wand and mumbled to no one in particular. “I think you’re not supposed to get this damn thing wet. Hope it still works.” She looked up and smiled, as if pleased with the adjustments she’d made. She waved the wand at Ed’s mid-section, and he felt a vaguely erotic electric tingle sweep across his groin.
Lady Luck tittered as she stared at Ed. “Yow! That’s not what I had in mind.”
Ed looked down at himself and gasped. His penis was paisley—distinctively paisley.
“What the hell?” He raised the throw pillow. “Fix it, now.”
“I’ll try. Believe me, I’ll try. Sometimes, when this thing gets damp, the polarity of the solenoid reverses and crazy things start happening.” She tapped the magic wand against a chair and waved it grandly again at Ed.
He looked down and was immediately relieved. The paisley curly-cues had vanished. But now he heard from below the definite sounds of singing:
“Well, Hello—Dolly. Well, Hello—Dolly. It’s so nice—to have you back—where you belong…”
Ed looked at the ceiling and wailed, “Oh, God! Now, it’s singing!”
Lady Luck pulled the towel closer around her and shrugged as if slightly annoyed. “Please! I can only do so much with this damned thing. What’s it with you—you don’t like show tunes? Besides, there are only two other choices, ‘Oldies but Goldies’ and—let’s see—Methodist hymns. Those any better?”
Hunching over, Ed pressed the pillow into his groin, but the singing, now muffled, continued. He was wishing intently he could be somewhere else—anywhere else—when Lady Luck stepped over and extended the towel around his shoulders.
“Look, my sweet Binky.” She reached over, touching his face softly with her fingers. “I know what’ll put an end to all this misery and frowning. Surely, you have a bedroom.”
Ed was busy washing the windows that flanked his front door when Rosie arrived with the Saturday mail. “So, how was your trip? I’m dying to know every little thing—did you actually get to see Lady Luck?”
“Yeah, I even got to meet her. We had our picture taken together.”
“No way!” Rosie handed Ed his mail. “What’s she like, up close?”
He set the bundle aside and picked up his Windex. He thought of the reception and the dream as he sprayed two more panes and took a few swipes with an old cloth.
“She was great, actually. She looks about like she does on the TV.” He felt a little out of breath. “Sort of spunky, a little hassled. Shorter maybe, prettier’n I thought.” He turned back to face Rosie, beaming. “She liked my tie.” Images of his paisley tie and his paisley penis zipped through his head. Ed lowered the Windex bottle and cloth casually to cover the stirring in his jeans.
“You get her autograph?”
Ed looked off toward the street at nothing. “Thought about it, but just didn’t, somehow.”
“I have an idea,” Rosie said. “Why don’t you come over to my place this evening and I’ll make supper for us. Bernice is at a church thing this evening, and I’d love some company.”
Ed brightened and agreed immediately. This was such a good sign, and they’d be alone together. Ed watched Rosie walk all the way to her mail truck—maybe he’d wear his paisley tie to Rosie’s. Maybe he’d wear only his paisley tie. Ed almost laughed out loud—Christ, that’s so stupid.
Rosie was pleased. She could tell Ed liked her cheeseburgers and the French fries she’d made from scratch. By the end of the meal, he had even become talkative. After Ed and Rosie cleared the dishes, they made some decaf and settled onto the living room sofa.
Ed said, “The lottery folks told me yesterday that the Pick-Four checks are in the mail.”
“You won a thousand, right?”
“That’s before taxes. I was talking to my mother the other day and she said I’d have to pay taxes just like it was wages. She’s knows everything about finances and accounting.”
“She must’ve been excited about you winning.”
“You’d think—but no. Miss Patsy thinks it’s all a giant waste, to play the Lottery. She’ll tell you that flat out. She thinks the Lottery is evil and I oughtn’t be playing.”
Rosie eyed Ed. “Wait. You call your mother Miss Patsy?”
“Yeah, Patricia’s her real name, of course.”
“Right, but you said Miss Patsy?”
“The Miss part began back when our family came apart. Sure you wanna hear about all that mess?”
“Can’t be any messier than mine.”
“The Miss Patsy business started when I was fifteen, when my mother left us. Like, out of the blue, she ran off with the preacher at the Methodist Church where she worked.” Ed leaned forward, setting his cup aside. “They were having an affair and one day the choir director caught them, so they basically had to get out of Dodge pronto.”
“So much for holier than thou.”
“At first my dad told me she’d only gone down to Roanoke to help with her sister who was sick. But later he leveled with me, told me what’d happened and said she wasn’t ever coming back and we’d just have to make do. My dad was really bummed—embarrassed, big time. He felt betrayed. Me too. Anyhow, that’s when he started calling her Miss Patsy, and after a while I started calling her that, too.”
“What a story.”
“I felt abandoned, straight and simple. Of course, me and my dad got a lot closer and started doing more stuff together. That’s when we got into the model trains I was telling you about last week. Also, he quit working so hard. Tried to replace my mom, in a way.”
“Where’d she end up?”
“They moved to Roanoke and stayed together a while but split up after a year. She’s still down there, living with her sister. Works part time for a small church, handles their office stuff.”
“You guys see each other much?”
“Every so often, like at Christmas, or one time I went down for a Virginia Tech football game and saw her afterwards. We talk a lot. I call her every month. The first Saturday, just to catch up.”
Rosie watched Ed as he spoke, noticing his pony tail bobbing. “Jeez, man—she bailed on you guys. I don’t think I’d ever forgive someone for that.”
“Thing is, she’s still my mother. She likes to hear about what I’m doing. Cuts out articles from the paper she thinks I’ll like, mails them to me. The other day she sent me three recipes she used to make when I was little.”
“That’s sweet.” She frowned. “But all that’d never make up for bailing. If it were me I’d never trust her for a second.”
“That was a long time ago, and I’d rather think about what she is now, which is good, and Christ, good people can screw up too. What she did was awful, but it wasn’t all her fault. My dad wasn’t ever at home. He was always working and wasn’t paying much attention to us.”
Rosie heard a knock. “Hang on, that’s probably Bernice.” Rosie stepped to the front door and let her sister in. After they chatted a moment in whispers, Rosie turned to Ed.
“Bernice’s group at church made jack-o-lanterns and she’s got hers in the car and was wondering if you’d go get it for her.” Rosie smiled. “She says it’s ginormous.”
While Ed was out, Bernice looked at Rosie knowingly and said, “Hope I didn’t interrupt something exciting.”
“You kidding?” Rosie rolled her eyes. “Ed takes his time. With a lot of things.”
“Well, at least with you it’s possible.”
Ed scuffled through the door, and placed Bernice’s jack-o-lantern on the dining table. She thanked him and left for her room.
Before Ed could sit down, Rosie snuggled against his chest. “You’re good,” she whispered. He kissed her, then eased back.
“Maybe I ought to get myself home, before –” Ed gestured toward Bernice’s room— “before we disturb your sister.” As he began zipping his jacket, Rosie again hugged him. “Are we still on for the Halloween gig,” he asked.
“Sure. Looking forward to it.” She opened the door for him. “I’ve got to get cracking on my costume.” They kissed quickly and Rosie pushed the door to. She returned to the sofa, sat down and looked briefly into her empty coffee cup. He’d really opened up; she’d never heard all that stuff about his mother—it was sad, the woman had bolted on him.
Around 7:30 on Halloween night Ed knocked on Rosie’s door. From inside, he heard his name as Bernice called back to Rosie. Maybe they were excited, too. The muffled sounds of the television went silent and the door eased open.
“Hey, I like your hat!” As Bernice spoke she tugged at the band of her sweat shirt with both hands. “Rosie’s still getting ready.” Ed smiled and bowed slightly. “Please, come on in.”
He removed his Uncle Sam hat. “Your jack-o-lantern is all lit up. Turned out great.”
“It seems more sad than scary, but whatever.” They stepped into the living room and she gestured toward a chair. “Please, have a seat and I’ll go tell Rosie you’re here.”
Bernice returned and sat down opposite Ed. “Rosie told me you won the lottery.”
“That’s right, but it was only a Pick Four winner.”
“Still, nothing good like that’s ever happened to me.”
Ed had never talked to Bernice up close. She was every bit as big as Rosie had said. She had a receding chin, puffy lips and squinty dark eyes that seemed to be hiding. Her short brown hair was ordinary as pocket change.
Before Ed could respond, Rosie walked in. She was dressed as Lady Luck. He stood up, wide-eyed, swept his hands over his hair, and toyed with his pony tail. “God, that’s perfect.” He held his breath as a deep tingling swept through his body. “You’re, uhh—you’re gorgeous!”
She waved her magic wand at Ed. “I figured you’d like it. It’s my old wedding dress that I rearranged some.”
“Wow, I can’t believe this. You got the tiara thing and the magic wand and star and the glitter. You look flat-out awesome!”
Rosie curtsied, walked over and pecked at his cheek. “You’re a sweetie. Umm, you smell great. Let me guess—Old Spice?” Ed nodded. “Love the stuff.” She handed him her magic wand. “Here, hold this, while I run to the kitchen. Say, your hat’s great. Does Uncle Sam like Bud-Lite?”
Ed examined the magic wand and almost blushed.
After they finished their beer, Rosie called back to tell Bernice they were leaving. She told Ed that Bernice often dressed early for bed.
Ed whispered, “She staying in tonight?” Rosie nodded.
Bernice padded out wearing slippers and a pink floor length robe, which reminded Ed of his parents’ bed spread when he was a kid. “Y’all have a good time.”
“I’m sure we will.” Rosie said. “There’s extra Snickers and Kisses near the fridge if you get lots more trick-or-treaters.”
Bernice followed Rosie and Ed to the door. When they turned to say goodbye, she folded her arms across her breast. “Y’all are so, so lucky.”
Rosie managed an empty smile before hugging Bernice. “Be sure to lock up, sweetie, when you turn in. But, please don’t throw the dead bolt. I gotta get in.”
After leaving her parking lot, Ed glanced over at Rosie. “You really do look exactly like Lady Luck.” He squeezed her forearm. “I’m probably the only guy in the world who’s got a date with Lady Luck.” Rosie brightened and tapped Ed on the shoulder with her magic wand. Yeah, Ed thought, this is great.
When Ed pulled up at a stoplight, Rosie said, “You sure I can’t swap you Bernice for Mister Brown. I’m sorry about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“You heard Bernice when we left. She gets that way all the time, one giant pity party. Why should I put up with that? I don’t want to spend the rest of my damn life being expected to feel sorry for someone 24/7.”
“That’d get old fast. I guess she’s hung up about her weight?”
“Sure, and she can’t find a job and –” Rosie shifted in her seat. Ed could tell she had more to say. “I’m not sure she’s ever had a date. She told me the other night she’d never been kissed—you know, by a guy. I think she feels totally left out, and she’s right. So, I do feel awful for her.”
Ed turned off the radio. “Do you guys have to live together?”
“She can’t afford anything else, and me—when Ratface left me, I didn’t want to live alone.” Rosie pressed her tiara firmly into her hair.
Ed grinned. “Ratface?”
“Yes, Ratface—my ex-.”
“Figured as much.” Ed’s smile spread unchecked, filling his head. “So’s that one word or two?”
“One word—no space, no hyphen, no apostrophes. Just Ratface.”
“Love it, love it.” At the next stoplight Ed again glanced over at Rosie, his ponytail bobbing in triple time.
As Ed pulled to the curb and cut his engine, Rosie watched a small knot of trick-or-treaters scramble across the street in front of her.
“We’re here. This is Corky’s.” Ed sounded excited.
Rosie looked out at a small two story house, outlined in dark orange lights. “How do you know these guys, anyhow?”
“Lots of us work together over at Dulles. Corky’s like the ringleader. He’s a little older, but lots of fun. He’s worked at United forever—taught me all I know about electronics.” Ed reached into the back seat for his Uncle Sam hat. “Corky’s a party animal. Loves this stuff. He usually has the best get-up for these parties. He’s the one I was telling you that came as Darth Vader last year.”
Rosie said, “I’m the same way. I love to dress up for Halloween.”
Captain Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” greeted them at the door with a boisterous “Arrrrgh! Maties.” Captain Jack ushered them in and, pointing to the food and drinks, said everybody had to do their share.
Rosie said, “Let me guess, that was Corky.” Ed nodded. “And he’ll probably do more than his share?” Again Ed nodded.
Well into the evening, Corky asked Rosie if Ed could take a photo of Captain Jack and Lady Luck together. When Ed returned the camera, Corky said as much to Rosie as Ed, “First you win the friggin’ lottery, then you manage a date with Lady Luck. Damnation, dude! You’re really on a roll.” Later, Ed had to take three other pictures of Lady Luck, first with Spiderman, then a short witch, and finally with Count Dracula.
Around midnight, when people began drifting away, Rosie whispered to Ed that perhaps it was time to go. Once in the car, Ed asked Rosie if she’d like to run by his house for a little while. When she agreed he said, “I’ve got something special to show you.” He smacked the steering wheel. “I think you’re gonna like this.”
Rosie tapped the wand on her knee and toyed with her necklace, wondering what Ed was really up to. He’d never asked her into his house.
Inside Ed’s house, they walked holding hands back to his kitchen. Rosie watched Ed greet his dog and attach his leash. Rosie liked how Ed was so playful and affectionate with Mister Brown.
“I need to take this guy out for a quick walk.”
Rosie said, “I could use a bathroom break myself.”
When she returned to the kitchen, Rosie looked at the items on Ed’s refrigerator door. There was the color photograph, an eight by eleven, of Ed and Lady Luck. He had his arm around her shoulder and appeared quite proud of himself. Rosie also saw, further down, the three recipes, handwritten, his mom had sent: Lebanese Chicken, Grandma Grace’s Rolls and Banana Pudding. In the corner of each recipe, in red ink, were written the words ‘Binky likes.’ Rosie smiled—she called him Binky. Binky!
When Ed and Mister Brown returned, he said, “We’re headed down to the basement, so watch your dress.” Rosie lifted up her gown as Ed led her down some narrow steps. They passed through a small fusty laundry area into a sprawling, brightly lit room. Other than a few feet at the perimeter, the entire space was filled with an elaborate set of electric trains, laid out on a platform covered with model villages, highways, lakes, bridges and mountains.
Rosie squealed and clapped her hands. “Ed, this is awesome! I’ve never seen anything remotely like this.”
“Me and my dad, we built the whole thing. We kept adding on to it and building this and buying that, and we finally had to move everything down here.”
Rosie had never seen Ed so animated.
“I still add things to it now and then—I added the post office just last month.” Ed tossed his Uncle Sam hat aside. “Want me to start the trains?”
“I’d love it.”
Ed walked to the far end of the layout. Rosie bent over to watch as Ed crawled beneath the platform to the middle where he emerged through a wide oval hole lined with black boxes, wires and switches. “Here goes!” Ed reached under the platform and with a click, five small Lionel locomotives clattered into motion, each pulling a handful of finely-detailed model rail cars. Ed switched a passenger train onto a different track where it headed off to one end of the layout and disappeared into a tunnel.
“Would you like to join me?”
“Sure. Do I just crawl in like you?” After scrambling to reach the center of the platform, she stood up and pushed her tiara back into place. “Man, this is amazing.” A freight train entered one of the model villages, where it stopped briefly to unload miniature logs into a tiny hopper. “You’ve got the whole world right here. There’s a McDonald’s, and there’s your post office.” She pointed at them with her magic wand. “Hey, you’ve even got a postman!”
“Yeah, right there, except it’s—it’s a post-woman.” He picked up the small figure and gestured to its chest. “See, she’s got tiny boobs.”
Rosie smiled and eyed Ed, “Yeah, I know the feeling.”
Ed looked away grinning, then reached beneath the table and dimmed the lights. He pulled Rosie to him and kissed her on the forehead. She elevated to her tip-toes. They kissed and pressed into each other. She snuggled against him as they caught their breath.
Drawing back a bit, he said, “God, I’m lucky.”
When he began fidgeting with her tiara, Rosie pressed her breasts into Ed and kissed him deeply. He whispered, “Can you stay?”
“Uhh, this is a little sudden.” She reached up, touching his face with her fingers. “Ed, part of me wants to, badly. But I’m just not there yet. Maybe, later, but—but, not right now. We need some time still, don’t you think?”
He rubbed her back and held her head tightly against his chest. Pulling back a little, she tried to read his eyes. Was he disappointed? Sure; she could tell. Would he wait? Absolutely.
“Okay. But later, right?” He stepped back, then leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Okay. Ought to get you home.”
At Rosie’s door, Ed held her magic wand while she searched for her keys. “Looks like someone smashed Bernice’s pumpkin,” Ed said.
Rosie tapped her lips with her index finger, and then kissed Ed quickly. “I had a great time.” She pushed the door open. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
In the parking lot, Ed realized he was still holding Lady Luck’s magic wand. He puzzled a moment, but then unlocked his car and laid it on the seat—he’d return it later.
Inside, Rosie plopped into a chair across from Bernice, who lay on the couch clutching her robe to her throat. Rosie exhaled and said, “Wow! Big night.”
Bernice looked up as if she’d been disturbed. “Yeah. Tell me about it.”
“Well, Ed loved my Lady Luck outfit. And it was a huge hit at the party, which was great. They’re a crazy bunch, Ed’s friends. And me and Ed went over to his house afterwards.” Rosie peered over her glasses. “The guy came alive.” She flashed her eyes at Bernice in a tease and wagged her finger, implying ‘Sorry, no details.’
“Maybe, the guy’s just got the hots for Lady Luck.”
“Don’t be silly.” Rosie grimaced and kicked off her shoes, thinking I’m not some kind of stand-in. Damn, that hadn’t occurred to her—where does Bernice get shit like that? Rosie moved to the edge of the couch next to Bernice. Why does she look so down?
“Are you okay?” Rosie asked. “You look like you’ve been crying.”
Bernice sniffled softly. “Oh, it’s the usual. We had a few trick-or-treaters and they were so cute. This one couple was hovering around this little princess or fairy or something.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “And they seemed so incredibly caught up in the whole thing.”
Rosie was about to pat her cheek when Bernice shouted, “I can’t stand this any longer!” She shoved Rosie off the couch and into the coffee table.
“I’ll never have any of that!” Bernice pulled herself up and clomped off to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Rosie struggled to her feet. She rubbed her ribs and cheekbone, where she’d struck the table—nothing was bleeding or broken. She picked up her tiara and headed to her room.
When Rosie got up the next morning, she found a note taped to the bathroom mirror. Bernice apologized for the night before and said she was off to Sunday school and church and then to the mall. Rosie crumpled the note, and tossed it away. During the night, she’d decided she couldn’t live with Bernice any longer, and she was liking more and more what she saw in Ed. He was a dependable sort, kind and hard-working, basically a good guy—and he wasn’t a big zero about sex like she’d first thought. And besides, he’d talk to you.
She made herself some eggs and toast for breakfast. She showered and dressed, first trying on all her pants. She found her tight low-cut jeans—the ones she’d not worn in a while, the ones Ratface loved to unzip. They still fit.
Around two, Rosie called Ed—it was time to push things along. Dialing, she remembered how her mother insisted that young women weren’t supposed to call guys. When he answered, Rosie could tell Ed was glad she’d called.
Ed said he had to turn the TV down, but he returned quickly. “The Ravens and Broncos are playing.”
“Thought you’re a Redskins fan.”
“I am, but they’re awful this year. Besides, it’s their bye week.”
Rosie pressed the phone to her ear. “They buy weak?”
“Well, when’s the game over?” Rosie said.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe four or so.”
“I was thinking, maybe we could go out and get supper together. You know, pizza or something.”
“Sure, that’d be fun. But me and Mister Brown have pizza here every Sunday night. It’s like a regular thing. So, why don’t you come over to my place. We can have a pizza, maybe watch a movie. I got a new Netflix in yesterday.”
“Talked me into it. And look, I’ll drive over myself. This isn’t exactly a date.”
“Nonsense. I’ll be glad to pick you up. Besides I’ve got to get the pizza.”
“No, I insist. This was my idea and I certainly know how to pick up a pizza.”
“Well, okay. But can you go to Luigi’s? We always get pizza on Sundays from Luigi’s.”
“Sounds like we got a plan,” Rosie said. “Seven okay?”
“Yeah, seven’s fine. Do you like pepperoni and mushrooms?”
“Ed, I love pepperoni and mushrooms.”
“Do you want me to call ahead to order?”
She figured he knew their number by heart. “Sure, that’d be great.” She figured that Ed knew what he liked—and maybe, if she worked at it, she could adjust to a Sunday night pizza routine. And for tonight, she could just push the damn mushrooms aside.
Right after dark Ed called Rosie—another good sign she thought. “Okay, you have to guess. I’ve got something of yours. Three guesses, what it is.”
She wrinkled her lips, puzzling. Ratface would say things like that, but it usually had to do with something like wayward panties from the night before. “Haven’t got a clue.”
“Your magic wand.” She heard the excitement in his voice but recoiled, thinking—Man, couldn’t we maybe move on to panties.
“Jeez, I hadn’t even missed it.”
“Well, you can pick it up when you’re over tonight.”
“Oh, please. Just toss it. It was looking totally ratty, anyhow.”
“No, no! Can’t do that. We need to keep it. It’s very special.”
She thought for a second Ed might even be serious—but, whatever.
Bernice looked up from the television when Rosie entered. “You don’t exactly look like you’re going to Sunday school.” Rosie rubbed her hands over the bottom of her sweater and the top of her jeans.
“You don’t think these are too tight, do you?”
“Not at all. You can wear that kind of thing. You look great, absolutely great.”
“Thanks, I’m off to do pizza and a movie at Ed’s. Be back maybe ten thirty or so. Gotta work tomorrow.”
Rosie hurried across the parking lot, folded her umbrella, and got into her car, tossing her purse onto the passenger seat. Though already late, she made a quick stop at the CVS. She’d always bought condoms for Ratface, and didn’t know if Ed would be any better.
At Luigi’s, while another customer finished paying, Rosie sized up the attendant—he was maybe nineteen, bored, basically a slacker. His name tag read Dwight. Rosie stepped to the register. “I’d like to pick up a pizza for Rosie O’Neil.” Dwight checked his boxes, returned, saying there was nothing for a Rosie. “Do you have an extra-large with pepperoni and mushrooms?”
Dwight teased at the metallic stud which stuck from his earlobe and turned back to the stack. He grabbed the second box and laid it on the counter. “Bingo. This is a pep and shrooms, only it’s for Lady Luck.” His voice took on the contrived excitement of a game-show host as he completed his sentence.
Rosie threw her hands up and groaned. “Well, I’m not Lady Luck!”
Dwight offered a rather ‘whatever’ grin and said, “You do kinda look like her though.”
“Well, I’m not.” She glared at him, hands on her hips. “I’m just plain Rosie.”
Dwight stepped back from the cash register and scratched at his temples with both hands. “Look, lady, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean nothing. I just write down what people tell me.”
Handing Dwight a twenty, Rosie smiled and nodded apologetically. “Hey, I’m sorry. Really. That Lady Luck junk was supposed to be funny—but it wasn’t your fault.”
“That’s okay. I’m cool. Enjoy your pizza.”
Rosie added her change to the cup marked ‘Tips.’ At the door, Rosie paused and lifted the box to eye level. It was there alright, in big black letters, “Lady Luck.” She stared at the words, but they wouldn’t go away.
When she arrived at his house, Rosie saw Ed on his porch, smiling and waving at her with Lady Luck’s magic wand. She squeezed her eyes shut—oh, shit. Give it a fuckin’ break, man. He hustled down the steps through the rain and took the pizza as she left the car. Ed pressed the magic wand into her hand and led her to the shelter of his porch.
“Glad you could come over. I made us some of my mom’s banana pudding for dessert.” He pushed at the front door, with no effect. “Damn, I let the door lock when I came out.” As Ed fumbled with his keys, Rosie could hear Mister Brown pawing at the base of the door. “Mister Brown loves Sunday night pizza.” When Ed finally got the door unlocked, he stepped back to let Rosie enter. Mister Brown sniffed quickly at Rosie’s feet before zeroing in on the pizza Ed carried. “I’ll go re-heat this.”
“No, wait, Ed. There’s something –” Rosie clasped her hands under her chin, “It’s just—I can’t stay.” She rubbed her temples. “I’m getting one of my migraines and I got to go home, like quickly, and get in bed before the roof caves in, if you know what I mean. I can already tell its going to be a full-on banger-roo.”
Ed’s shoulders sagged and he set the pizza aside. “What a bummer. I’m really sorry. Let me get you an aspirin or something.”
She shook her head. “No, no. I need to run. Sorry.”
“Don’t you want to take some pizza?” He started toward the kitchen. “I’ll grab a few pieces for me and Mister…”
“No, Ed. That’s very kind, but really. I’ve got to go.” Before Ed could answer, Rosie bolted down the steps and scampered into her car. As she pulled away, she saw Ed out on his lawn, in the rain, bending over to pick up the magic wand she’d tossed aside.
Once on the road, Rosie realized she dreaded going back to her condo, and she certainly didn’t want to drive around or go to the movies alone. That was the pits. But she wasn’t going back to Ed’s. No way. She looped back through that whole scene. The whole Lady Luck thing’s gotten out of hand. It’s too bad, but you can’t just un-crazy things. She turned on her radio, but quickly switched it off. And what’s this thing with his fuckin’ mother? Rosie smiled through her tears for a moment—‘full-on banger-roo.’ Where’d I get that? Man, I hate to lie, but what else could I do? I had to leave, just had to.
That week Ed thought about Rosie constantly. He tried calling early Monday to see if her migraine had cleared up but he missed her. Bernice answered—said Rosie had already left. He tried calling again on Wednesday and Friday, but got no answer.
On Saturday Ed took Mister Brown for a long morning walk to kill some time before Rosie arrived with the mail. When they returned, Ed grabbed a quick shower, shaved and put on his jeans and the blue pull-over Rosie seemed to like. The morning was dragging by—it was still only ten thirty, and Rosie wouldn’t show for another two hours. The latest she’d ever been was twelve forty and that was when it was raining. Rosie was dependable, that way.
After tidying up the kitchen, Ed phoned his mother. It was, to be sure, the first Saturday of the month. But this call would be different, truly different: the earth had shifted a bit on its axis, leaving the sky bluer, the sun brighter. Ed told Miss Patsy right away he had some good news. Things had really picked up with Rosie. He always enjoyed being around her, and they’d had an especially good time at Corky’s Halloween party. Rosie had dressed up like Lady Luck and looked, for all the world, just like her. Ed said Rosie and him might drive down to see her sometime soon, perhaps even Thanksgiving. Miss Patsy was thrilled and volunteered immediately to do the usual turkey dinner. Ed offered their help and added that he really hoped she’d make her banana pudding for them.
Warren Jones worked for the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD) for thirty-two years before retiring in 2012. Since then, he has read a lot of excellent, short fiction, played a great deal of ragged tennis, and traveled extensively with his wife, Beverly. They live in Washington, DC. An earlier story of his appeared in The Potomac Review.