Cash Prize

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“St. Louis?” he remarked as he read my aunt’s baggage tag, “I heard about you. You’re the winner of the radio contest. You sure know your Michigan Avenue trivia.” The bellhop finished transferring our suitcases from the trunk of the taxi to the sidewalk while my sister, Natalie, paid the cab driver, who then inched his way from along the sidewalk back out into traffic, disappearing into the sea of cars and busses.

My aunt picked up her pink suitcase, brushing the dirt off the bottom of it, set it on the luggage trolley, and snapped, “Yes, I’m the winner. Now, enough small talk. Just show me where to check in so I can get all the details about my shopping spree.”

“We’ll stop by the front desk as soon as we get inside,” the bellhop said with a new edge in his voice that I suspected was because of my aunt’s attitude. My aunt strutted toward the revolving glass doors of the hotel, her blonde hair blowing behind her in the afternoon breeze, still flat on the right side of her head from sleeping on the Amtrak. Natalie and I followed suit, minus the flip of our hair, which was identical to our aunt’s and each other’s. We walked through the doors of the Plaza Hotel, the bellhop behind us, to see Aunt Molly already talking to the man behind the check-in counter.

The sand-colored tile floors and the high gold-colored ceilings failed to impress Aunt Molly, who was leaning on the counter, listening to the man tell her about something. She had the same gleam in her eyes that she always gets when she has the chance to spend money on herself. Natalie, walking beside me towards the check-in desk, noticed it too. She turned to me and asked,

“How much money do you think they are going to give her to use on her shopping trip?”

“She was supposed to get ten dollars per store. You do the math.”

“I still can’t believe she named thirty stores along Michigan Avenue for that stupid radio contest!” Natalie looked in awe over her shoulder at the counter and Aunt Molly, who we were now standing a few feet behind.

“I can’t believe she talked us into coming with her. She only invited us because she figured we wouldn’t care about the shopping so she could have all the money to herself.”

“Lauren, I thought you didn’t care about that part of our trip. The whole way here, all you could talk about is how you just want to relax at the hotel.”

“That was when all I cared about was getting off of the Amtrak so I wouldn’t have to listen to her talk about the contest or her prize anymore.”

I walked up to the counter as the man was talking to Aunt Molly about us.
“Twins, huh? You must be busy with those two.”
“Oh, they’re not mine. They’re my nieces. I’m just borrowing them for the weekend.”
“Oh, I see,” he said, handing over our room keys. I heard him tell Aunt Molly, “Enjoy your all-expense-paid weekend in Chicago. Here are the keys to your suite. Room 237. Third floor, down the hallway to your left. See you tomorrow for your shopping spree.”

As soon as the golden doors slid open, Aunt Molly, Natalie, the bellboy, and I crowded into the elevator with our luggage next to the check-in counter. The bellboy pushed the button marked “3,” and within seconds we found ourselves walking down the hall to our room. After the bellboy unloaded our bags and left with the luggage trolley, Natalie and I were still taking in the atmosphere of the room. Decorated in the same gold palate that was used in the lobby, our room looked like it was fit for royalty.

This was convenient for Aunt Molly, since she decided to take every opportunity to be treated like royalty. She picked up a card that was on our nightstand and read,

“Your prize package includes: a free stay at the Plaza Hotel, dinner at Plaza Lounge, and a $300 cash prize to use on your complementary Michigan Avenue shopping spree.”

“Girls, while you unpack your things, I think I will go grab a bite to eat at Plaza Lounge. I’ll be back in an hour,” Aunt Molly promised, “you can wait awhile longer to eat, right?”

“Of course we can wait; you go ahead and eat,” Natalie said, after elbowing me in the stomach so I couldn’t tell Aunt Molly how hungry I was.

Forty minutes later, Natalie and I were done unpacking for ourselves and for our aunt. We were walking down the third-floor hallway to go to Plaza Lounge until we spotted Aunt Molly emerging from the elevator, a pained expression on her face, shuffling up the hallway towards us.

“Girls, don’t eat there. I think I got food poisoning. I’m going to go lie down I our room.”

“What did you eat?” Natalie asked, confused. “You shouldn’t be able to get food poisoning from a five-star hotel.”

“I ate the Seafood Special: crab, scallops, and shrimp,” she groaned, holding her stomach, “and the only thing special about it was that the seafood was too old to be used in any other dish.”

“Lauren and I will stay with you in the suite until you feel better,” Natalie promised.

“More like until she stops bluffing to get attention,” I thought, but I didn’t want to insult my over-emotional aunt, so I kept this to myself. When Aunt Molly shuffled across the carpet and laid down on the gold bedspread, I said to Natalie,

“You don’t actually believe that she’s sick, do you?” Natalie, naive as usual to my aunt’s ways, said,

“Of course I do. Why would she lie about something like this?”

“She probably just ate too much, trying to take advantage of her free meal,” I said out of the corner of my mouth as we approached Aunt Molly’s bed, “I wouldn’t worry too much about her.”

I heard a retching sound as Aunt Molly dove across the bed to lean over the edge, soaking the sand-colored carpet with vomit. My nose started to sting from the smell, and I immediately backed away and let Natalie take care of her. Natalie had the bedside manner of a nurse, but I can’t stand being around sick people.

“I’ll go down to the front desk and see if they have any medicine that could help you,” I offered.

“Great,” Aunt Molly grunted, “If they don’t have any, you can just drive to the nearest Walgreen’s and buy me some Pepto Bismol. You have your driver’s license, right?”

On my way out the door, I heard Natalie explaining, “We have our licenses, but we don’t have a car right now. We’ll just have to take what they can give us at the front desk.”

“Do you have any medicine you can give my aunt?” I asked, running up to the same man who had given us our room keys, “She has an upset stomach.”

“The radio contest winner? Let me check our policy on guests who stay for free,” he mumbled as he retreated to a room somewhere behind the counter. After a couple minutes, he returned, holding a large book out of which he read in a monotonous voice, “Guests staying at the Plaza Hotel free of charge are under no circumstances to be given the medical benefits that are meant for our paying guests,” he looked up at me, “Sorry, we can’t give her any medicine.”

“Are you sure?” I pleaded, “She’s really sick. If she doesn’t get some kind of medicine, I’m not sure your carpet will survive our stay.”

“Maybe I better come up to the room and have a look,” he said nervously.

He followed me up to our room. Neither of us spoke the whole way there, but as soon as we entered the room, the man looked from my aunt, who was throwing up on the floor again, to Natalie, who was offering her water from a crystal glass provided in the hotel bathroom, to me and said, “She’s not going to be able to take her shopping spree tomorrow.”

“No,” I said, “definitely not.”

“Well, the radio sweepstakes needs to be completed within 48 hours of it having been started. We are going to have to call the radio station and tell them to contact the runner-up.”

“What about my aunt?” I knew she would be upset to the point of trashing the hotel room if she found out she wasn’t going to get her shopping spree. He walked over to her in the most sympathetic voice he could muster as he watched his carpet deteriorate before his eyes,

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but it looks as though you will have to forfeit your grand prize to someone who is healthy enough to go on the shopping spree.” Aunt Molly glared up at him from her prone position on the bed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not. Don’t worry, though, I do have good news!”

“Well, are you going to tell me what it is, or are you waiting for me to throw up again first?”

“Alright, alright. The good news is that you are still entitled to keep your cash prize, of course I will have to deduct about $200 for a professional carpet cleaning, but you still get $100 dollars.”

“Gee, thanks. That sure makes up for the food poisoning,” Aunt Molly muttered.

“Well, my work here is done. I will send up the bellhop in ten minutes to collect your luggage and bring it to the lobby for you.” Natalie, the last to catch on to what was happening, asked me what he was talking about.

“Well, in lamest terms, we are being evicted.”

Ten minutes later, the bellhop showed up outside our door, as promised, and escorted us to the lobby. Within minutes, we found ourselves in a taxi on our way to Union Station to catch the Amtrak, speechless from disbelief that our trip to Chicago was to end like this, the silence only interrupted periodically when Aunt Molly would stick her head out the window, throwing up on the side of the taxi.





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