Leah was at her desk when Jacob left the house that morning for the liquor store where he would buy a one-dollar quick-pic lottery ticket and a six pack of beer as he'd done every Saturday since the lottery began in the eighties. The odds were the same, but it annoyed him when the lottery got big, because lottery fever always made the lines longer. Besides that, though he played to win, he never won anything, not ever.
Leah was but a year younger than Jacob though she had all the moving parts of a woman twenty years younger. Her blood pressure was a steady 115/70 and her vitals were all good. She hadn’t been admitted to a hospital since the birth of their third child.
Jacob’s health was another story. He was afflicted with all the age-related health problems of a man that didn’t take very good care of himself.
Forty years ago, a less fortunate GI tripped the wire to a claymore mine in Vietnam, and, though shrapnel took out half a butt-cheek, Jacob thought of himself as the luckiest man in the world because he met Leah. Tripler Army Hospital wards were full. The odds were a hundred to one against him. A hundred young men to one or two young female nurses on the ward. It’s not like the movies: the hero catches the eye of the nurse, they fall in love, and live happily ever after. He thought, “Wars aren’t anything like the movies.”
And, neither is life.
She’d been changing his dressing, like she had been doing all morning for dozens of others in the ward. She commented, “it’s going to take a while to heal from this.”
He didn’t know why he said what he did, but he did say, “Well, you gotta play to win.”
She said, “That’s how it goes.”
Leah was married when she met Jacob. Her husband was a handsome US Navy jet jockey. There was nothing wrong with the man. He never abused, neglected, nor disrespected her in any way. But, when she met Jacob, she loved him enough to leave a perfectly good marriage.
Jacob wasn’t a lady’s man either. He was short, thin, and freckled. He never understood why a woman of Leah’s beauty would feign to look his way, but look his way she did and, when she looked his way, she knew she’d met her man. As simple as that.
Jacob returned home that afternoon to spend an average Saturday with Leah and said what he always said, “Dear, I bought us a lottery ticket.”
Leah was at her desk where she’d been paying bills. She didn’t answer.
He laid the ticket next to a note under her hand and pecked her cheek.
Her cheek was cold on his lips. The note said, “That’s how it goes.”
A man on the TV was saying, “You have to play to win.”
The numbers on their ticket blurred.