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An Addiction MAG
He always has to have that number. It's not a greatnumber, either, his 3-1-4, but he always plays it. Straight and boxed for adollar, seven days a week.
Many other customers play numbers too, fillingout a Super 6 or a Cash 5 slip near the newspapers in the small store. Everyoneasks for a pen, though there is one hanging from the counter. But Bill doesn'tplay those, only the three-digit Daily Number game.
He'll come in withthat goofy grin, and I'll know he's going to ask about school. He keeps me fromhelping others who are waiting to buy tickets or purchase a book down at theother end of the counter. Even when he sees the line is past the candy andreaching for the door, he just keeps talking and asking questions. Sometimeshe'll get "mad," not because something bad happened but because Iwasn't working the last time he was in. Bill never fails to buy that same number,3-1-4. He is just like the others - it's an addiction, the lottery, and a wasteof money.
Poor Bill, you know he doesn't have much to spare. His dirtypants hang low and his army-green jacket is buttoned to keep out the cold. Idon't know how it keeps him warm, with all the mouse holes in the sleeves andalong the back. You never see old Bill with keys; he walks everywhere. Hisflustered cheeks give that away, and it makes you think it would be nice for himto get a hat and maybe a scarf, but that wouldn't be Bill. It's just too bad. Theaddiction, that is.
"Hey there, cutie, don't you look nice,"Bill said, with that silly grin. It was just a plain black skirt, but he alwayscomments on my appearance - I always look "nice."
It would bereally great if he could get a shave, a new pair of khaki pants and a bluebutton-down shirt; then Bill would look "nice"too.
"Thanks, Bill. What can I get for you?" He rambled off abunch of numbers, starting with the famous 3-1-4 straight and boxed. Then heasked for one of those scratch-off lottery tickets, you know, an instant onewhere you get the results right away rather than waiting for the 6:59 drawing onChannel 6. Bill had never done that before; he didn't like instanttickets.
"They never win, it's a trick, always just one away,"Bill would comment. Customer after customer leans on the ice cream freezerscratching away at them, but few win. The fact that he gets to pick the numbersis what keeps Bill believing in the drawn lottery.
"Bill! You reallywant an instant ticket?" I only asked because it was Bill Holland who alwaysmade me smile, and I wanted to let him know I noticed. He just scratched hissilver matted hair and grinned.
"I need a change in my routine, alittle risk. When I choose my own numbers I'm choosing my luck, but with thesetickets I leave it up to fate. I need some chance once in a while,smiley."
"Oh, I see." I wanted to ask Bill why he ... buthe doesn't like to be bothered with questions; he just likes telling stories thatcome up. "No need to force things," he once told me. How could I getBill to tell about that number he plays religiously?
A buzz sounded. Justignore it, I thought. Someone else will get it. I wanted to pay attention toBill.
"What is it, cutie? What do you want to ask?" He gave me alook that made me feel like he wanted to talk, that he was choosing me out of somany to open up to. "Come on, dear, spit it out," Bill demanded with achuckle.
"Well, Bill, I was wondering about your number, 3-1-4. Whydo you always play it?" The words came out quickly, and a lump formed in mythroat. At first I wasn't sure he had heard me.
"Come here, dear, noneed for everyone in the store to know my business." He rested his elbows onthe counter next to the lottery machine. I pulled the stool close to sit nearhim. The silence at the end of a Phish CD made it easy to listen. "It'sgoing to be our little secret, just for you andme."
"Okay," I replied with a little-girl smile, as mycheeks turned red. Bill was like a grandfather, with lots of big smiles and awarm greeting whenever he came in the store.
"It all has to do withmy wife, God bless her soul. Everything that happened with us revolved aroundthose numbers, three, one and four." Bill lowered his head and peered up atme.
"Like what? Your wedding anniversary?" I sat back on thestool, eyes bright, waiting for his answer.
"Oh, yes, that, and herbirthday and mine, even the day of ... her death. March 14, April 3 and,"pausing, he took a breath still cold from the outside, "January 31st. Ouranniversary is April 13th. It's been a while since I celebrated thatone."
"When did you realize this? Like the wedding date - didyou always feel lucky with those numbers, or did it just happen?" I asked.
Bill slowly sat on the stool near the rickety magazine rack. His handsbegan to shake, and for a minute I thought he was going to cry. But he raised hishead and cracked the corner of his lips with a shake of thehead.
"No, smiley, we didn't plan it. April 13th was just aconvenient day for us. We didn't realize the connection about those numbers untilthe day we decided to start playing the lottery."
"She, yourwife, played the lottery, too? You must have been playing this number for yearsthen." I could feel the excitement build in me. Bill's story wouldn't seeminteresting to most, but it was part of Bill which made it special. He was happytalking about his wife, not pained like most people who talk about lost lovedones.
"Yes, ten or so years now, I suppose. We were figuring out thenumbers in our birthdays and anniversary when my wife looked at me with asurprised smile. 'They are all the same," she said. 'Three, one and four allappear in those days.'
"We played those numbers until she died and,well, now I keep playing them. I really only think it is to keep her alive, withme." The love this man felt for a woman could be seen in his blue eyes andbright smile, all the way to the magazines at the back of the store. "I willplay the number until I win and then ... I'll know it is time for me to stop andmove on."
I wasn't sure what to say, except "Thanks." Billnodded and stepped aside for other customers. Even with the quick ching of thecash register and coins being passed, I kept looking up to see him and hishappiness. He silently slipped out the back door and I felt a cold breeze as thedoor swung shut.