You are sat on the one spot on the couch that does not hurt your back, the television is on but you barely register it. The flashing images, the sounds, soothing you after a long day.
Carla was being a bitch again. Sneering about your request for more time off, passively aggressively pointing out that it would be unpaid and did you know that?
Yes, and as you came home, counted the pennies in the jar in the kitchen, hoping that there would be enough to cover the light bill, you were acutely aware that the time off was unpaid. You’ve worked through all sorts of illnesses, tossing the perpetual heavy cold between those of you in the office.
Carla smiled, looking at your chipped nails and you swallow the urge to tell her what her husband offered to do to you at the Christmas Party. Despite everything, you’ve tried not to lash out at other people. You’re not capital R religious, though you’ve been happy for the Church to help out. The pitying looks aren’t so bad when your kid smiles and asks for a second helping of mac and cheese, and you can ladle it onto his plate without too much anxiety about it.
You make good sales, the fact that you are interested in people, that you’ve got a son at home, and a house motivates you in ways that garners you respect from the guys in the warehouse. You’re not the only single mother, but with your kid being sick, it makes a difference. Even then, you still catch the odd glance which held that question, ‘why aren’t you at home?’
Because you can’t do anything for him without money.
You would spend every fucking moment with him in your arms if you thought it would heal him, the forest of wires that would hang from his arms when he had an attack would drape you both like the beaded curtains in your mother’s doorway. You make sure you’re there for the treatments, and the work insurance is pretty good. Co-pay always stung, but it didn’t kill you.
People don’t ask where his father is. You don’t offer details. You see Gavin about town, wife and chubby kids marched like ants into a people carrier with three payments left on it. He looks at you but he can never hold your gaze for long.
You needed milk and bread, and found a few more dollars in your purse than you remembered. Normally you’re exacting to the last cent, but you’re distracted when you’re tired. It’s a small blessing in it’s own way. Most things in your life are small, the good things anyway. The disasters are dark planets that orbit your sun, sucking the life from you slowly. You buy yourself a lotto ticket. A Payday bar. Small pleasures.
The clerk raises a pudgy hand and gives you a thumbs up, smiling baby teeth in an adult face. He tells you it’s a big prize, science fiction numbers, so large that it’s ridiculous. You know that the tax on it would eat up more than half. Still, it would be a quality problem to struggle with.
Behind the wheel, you feel a burst of sadness, a weariness that you acknowledge in private. People pretend to like vulnerability, that you weep for your situation, but it becomes something that gets used to stab you in the neck.
You think of Carla. It dries your eyes like a sandstorm and you drive home.
You watch the news. The cable was the first thing to go, so you can’t talk about the shows that the others watch regularly. They talk about them as though they were real. They show the numbers and your purse sits on the cushion next to you.
You check, already telling yourself this is a fool’s errand. The world is unkind to people like you. You didn’t become a single mother by choice. You would lay with him, listen to him tell you about the life ahead of you and you believed so hard.
It’s the Carlas and the Gavins who get everything. And get away with everything.
You unfold it carefully, the way you’d nudge a butterfly to move without disturbing it’s wings.
As your eyes dart from screen to ticket, you freeze with the blind panic of possibility. A savage, contrary impulse almost makes you want to tear up the ticket. Carry on, keep going as you are.
It’s not about you, though.
Each number a step into a new world, and you lean forward, beginning to cry again.
This time, not from sadness. A new feeling.