Numbers

January 25, 2009
By
It is a cold winter night. Strong winds slice through the dry December air, as clouds form, threatening to release a fury of snow. Two homeless men huddle inside a small tunnel in a park. They have started a slight fire, and they reach their hands towards the flames; hungry for any extra warmth they can get. They are both bundled up in layers of raggedy clothes. Large holes cover their gloves, exposing their hands to the harsh, cold wind. Nearby are two shopping carts. Each filled with miscellaneous belongings.

JOE: We got anything we can add to this fire, Smith?

Smith gets up and starts looking through his cart for something to burn. He finds a small piece of cardboard and throws it into the fire before sitting back down.

SMITH: We’ve basically burned through all our paper already. I tried looking for some dry wood in the park but everything’s wet from the snow and rain.

JOE: I guess we’re just going to have to tough this night out then.

SMITH: Yeah. But, God, it’s so cold. So cold that I swear it froze people’s heart. I sat at the corner of 6th and 13th today. Actually danced is more like it. I was ‘fraid my body’d freeze over if I sat ‘round too long. I spent the whole day hopping from foot to foot just to keep my blood flowin. No one even looked my way though. Everyone just pulled their fancy scarves tighter around their neck and walked faster. They were so concerned with getting out of the cold that they didn’t even notice me.

JOE: Was the same way in front of River Street. All those people ran from store to store. Doin’ their holiday shopping, you know? They were so focused on getting to the next store that it seemed like they couldn’t see anything else.

SMITH: Even the usual business men who are always giving seemed numbed by the cold today. You know Larry? They guy who always brings a cup of coffee from his office building on 6th? He walked right by me today. He was so focused on getting in the warm building that he didn’t even see me. I really coulda used some hot coffee today.

JOE: You don’t say? Larry didn’t even stop? It’s funny how a little cold weather can affect people. It drives the body mad when you’re not used to being outside. It can’t handle being out in the cold. Those people can’t focus on nothing else but getting back into their heated homes and offices.

SMITH: Man, those people standing outside with their bells though. Everyone stopped for them. Not even just change. They were getting bills! It was like everyone was attracted to sound.

JOE: We need to get one of them bells.

The two men sit silently. Each pondering the power of bells and thinking over their day.

SMITH: (remembers something and pulls out a slip of paper from his pocket) This little girl came up to me though. Must’ve been around ten. She gave me the strangest thing.

JOE: (curiously trying to see the paper in Smith’s hand) What’s that?

SMITH: A lottery ticket. Don’t even know where the little girl got it. I’m guessin’ she nicked it from her parents. Just appeared in fronta me though and shoved it in my hands. Then she ran back down the street before I even knew what she gave me.

JOE: A lottery ticket? What’s a lottery ticket gunna get you?

SMITH: On the way here I saw a newspaper on the ground. Apparently the money you could win is record high right now. Four hundred million!

JOE: No way!

SMITH: The chance of winning is almost impossible. Everyone’s buying lottery tickets like crazy. Got me thinking though, you know?

JOE: Don’t even know what I’d do if someone just handed me that kinda dough.

SMITH: I think I’d order a pizza first. I can’t remember the last time I ordered my own pizza. Nothin’ fancy. Extra cheese. Pepperoni. Mushrooms. Maybe even a few olives. I’d have them deliver it right to the place where they handed me my money. Eat the whole thing myself.

JOE: Strange as it sounds, I think I’d get myself a pineapple. I used to love pineapples when I was a kid. Haven’t had one in years though. Can’t really buy fruits when you’re livin’ in a tunnel.

SMITH: A pineapple huh? Didn’t even think about that. Well tell you what. If I win, I’ll get you a whole pineapple farm.

Joe and Smith laugh

SMITH: After I left the bank, I’d walk into one of those fancy hotels. You know? The ones that have the guys in suits that open the doors for you? Just check myself in. And on the walk there, I’d give a thousand bucks to every homeless guy I see on the street.

Joe nods his head in agreement. Smith continues.

SMITH: I’d walk right to the room and take a long, hot shower. Man, Joe. When was the last time you took a long hot shower?

JOE: Can’t even tell you, Smith. From the smell of you, though, it’s been a while.

SMITH: Smell of me? You smell and look like you’ve never seen a bar of soap in your entire life.

Joe and Smith laugh once more.

SMITH: After I got outta my shower I’d put on one of them white robes they always have at those fancy hotels. Just bounce onto the bed, turn on the TV, and sleep there for the rest of the day.

JOE: A good bed to sleep in would be nice. It’s been years since I slept in a bed. I mean, every once in awhile I stop in at the shelter but those aren’t real beds. Nothing more than a few mats thrown on a metal frame. If I ever won that kind of money, I’d buy all the shelters in the city new beds. Nice ones too. Big ones with real thick mattresses on them. And some soft cotton sheets. And blankets. Not those thin itchy ones they have now, but some thick ones that actually keep you warm.

SMITH: (nodding his head in agreement) I’d do the same, Joe.

JOE: I’d buy a house too. Nothing fancy. Just a small one somewhere in the city. I’d buy the whole thing in cash too. So I won’t have any mortgages to pay. I just want a place of my own where I can always go and be guaranteed a roof over my head and a warm bed.

SMITH: If I had four hundred million dollars, I could do a lot of things with it. I could travel around the world. Go to all those fancy places. Paris. Spain. Mexico. I could hire people to follow my every command. Have butlers to clean up after me, chauffeurs to drive me around in my nice cars, cooks to feed me whatever I craved. But I think all that money’d drive someone mad. All I’d really want is a house. A place I can go back to every night. It doesn’t even have to be that big or fancy. Just a nice little house where there’ll always be a promise of comfort. I’d probably give the rest away. I’ve been living almost my whole life on the streets. Always depending on others’ money to keep me alive.. Think of all those people who’ve put money in our cups, Joe. Where would we be if they hadn’t done that for us. If I won that money, I’d try to pay the world back. Set things right.

JOE: It’s funny how our lives could change. We wouldn’t be living on the streets anymore. We’d have a home. Who knows? We might even meet someone. Start a family. We’re not that old yet Smith. We’d still have some time left. Hold onto that ticket Smith. Who knows? Luck could be on your side.

Smith stares down at the ticket, rubbing this thumb over the numbers.

The fire has died down considerably by this time. It is now nothing more than a few embers glowing red against the darkness of the tunnel. The wind is now blowing stronger, making a whistling noise as it whips by the two men. Snow has also started to fall. The two men shift uncomfortably on the hard, frozen concrete. The scene fades as the Joe and Smith fall asleep. The light go up once more on the stage. Two police officers stand over the bodies of Joe and Smith. The officers both have on heavy boots, gloves, thick coats, and hats.

OFFICER 1: They were found this way by a man taking a walk through the park this morning. Hypothermia by the looks of it.

OFFICER 2: Poor guys. It fell to record low temperatures last night. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for them to be out here all night with nowhere to go.

OFFICER 1: (bends down a picks up a piece of paper from the ground) What’s this?

OFFICER 2: (takes the paper and examines it) It’s a lottery ticket. I can’t make out the numbers though. It’s too worn out. They guy must have been holding and rubbing it all day. Well fill out the papers and have someone clean this up. It doesn’t seem like there’s much more to see here.

Officer 2 begins to walk away. Officer 1 jots down a few things in a notebook, calls some orders to have the bodies taken away, and runs to catch up with Officer 2.

OFFICER 1: So did you hear? They announced the winning lottery numbers this morning and apparently a winning ticket’s been sold. No one’s come forward yet though.

OFFICER 2: You know I don’t care about that stuff. No one deserving ever wins anyway.

As the officers walk off stage, the scene dims.





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