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A Street Without Light This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Barney Gilligan hadn’t driven in fifteen years when he got behind the wheel of his old Cadillac. He ran his wiry fingers over the tough leather. It smelled the same way it had on the day he brought it. He remembered strolling into the dealer, head held high with a young Maggie Sue on his arm. The click on her heals echoed against the cold cement floors. Barney walked straight over to the most expensive car they had in the building and demanded they get him one that cost twice as much. He remembered the closed lip smile that spread across Maggie Sue’s face when he said that. He could see her eyes light up, leaving her breathless. He loved that look she gave him. He couldn’t get it out of his head.

Barney stuck the keys in the ignition and jerked them to the right. A low putter and the sound of a spilling toolbox came from the engine. Then nothing. He twitched off the car. His gnarled hands shook as he jammed the keys back in and tried again. The same sound leaked out. Again, he yanked the keys out. Barney closed his eyes and shoved his hands under his thighs to make them still. The wool of his pants itched his palms.

“Barney. Barney, listen here you old man. No time to mess around. All you got are minutes, Barney. Just minutes,” he spat out at himself. Picturing Maggie Sue’s smile, he got hold of the key and started the car.

At 84 years old, Barney looked about 102. An average sized man, but with shoulders hunched over so far that he was about half the size he was 15 years earlier. Tick trousers clung to his belly and he wore a navy button down with a receipt in the breast pocket from the Inglewood Café. Jerry Inglewood closed it down in 1997. Barney reversed out of the driveway and skidded down the street. He had forgotten the feeling of freedom that his black Cadillac brought to him. Adrenaline controlled the car while his mind went wild.

The bar was only a five-minute drive away, but they were about to announce the numbers when his power went out. He crushed his two tickets between his palm and the wheel. They grew damp from the perspiration on his palm. The Cadillac swung around a corner, ignoring a stop sign and slid into the parking lot in front of Harry’s Pub and Brewery. Barney parked across two parking spots and without taking the keys from the ignition, strained to lift himself from the driver’s seat.

“Sir! Excuse me. You can’t park like that,” the voice of a middle aged, tired looking woman was approaching from behind him. He didn’t both to turn around. He lifted a weak arm and waved her off. “Hey! Old man! You better move your Oldsmobile before I get a cop over here. Can you hear what I’m saying?” Barney could hear her, but gave up on pleasing people a long time ago. Unfazed, he pried open to bar door to see a newswoman on the television announcing the Mega Millions Lottery winning numbers.

Forty-five years ago, Barney was leaving Harry’s Pub with a few buddies from work, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Tony. Nixon is going to save this failing country,” Barney mumbled over in a drunken slur. “He’ll get lazy bums like you off your ass and contributing to whatever kind of economy we still got.”

Barney was a healthy man of 39 and worked at Sam’s Food Mart loading and unloading refrigerated trucks. He worked with Tony Marks, Harold Kane, and Morris Brown who could go drinking with him on Wednesdays and Fridays. The night they fought over Nixon’s policies was the night that Barney never had to go back to work again.

That night, Barney stumbled into Morris’ car who lived just a couple blocks away from his small apartment. He always took him home since Barney was known for getting himself into trouble when he drove drunk. He wasn’t too careful at the wheel, “Damn Morris. Were you listening to those guys tonight? Always babbling on about stuff they no nothing about. Aren’t I right, Morris? God damn, what a couple of know-it-alls. Too bad those are our best buddies, huh, Morris?” He chuckled. Morris gave a weak smile. “I’d give up everything I have for those guys, though. You too Morris,” he went on. “You guys are just about all I have in the world. Aside from my folks who I can hardly stand. It’s like their suffocating me, Morris. You’ve seen it. Always trying to find me a girl, trying to get me a higher paying job. Jesus, I wish they’d just get off my back once in a while. There’s my big sister too, but I haven’t seen her since she left for college. Just right up and left and-,”
“Jesus, Barney, give it a rest!” Morris released both his hands from the wheel and slammed them back down onto the dashboard of his rusted up pickup, “You’re talking my ear off. I can’t hardly concentrate on the road.” Without taking his eyes off the road, Barney could feel Morris rolling his eyes in his direction.

“S***, sorry, man. You know how I get when I’ve had too many.” Barney leaned into the back of his seat and stared up at the passing street lamps. Each starting out as a dim speck and then grew exponentially in size until it blinding his drunk eyes for less than an instant. Then it would go dark again. He started to feel nauseous so he squeezed his eyes shut. Tight enough that he could feel the strain on his brows more that the turning of his stomach. The alcohol from their breath fogged the windows and they drove silently.

“Turn up the radio, will you?” Morris mumbled after a few minutes, “The lotto’s announced tonight. I bought Maggie Sue and I ten whole tickets. I’ve been feeling lucky lately.”

Morris had been lucky lately, because how Morris seemed to get that Maggie Sue in the first place was something that Barney never understood. Morris was a nice guy, but that was just about his best quality. He wasn’t particularly handsome and was on the scrawny side. He walked with a bit of a limp since his left leg was slightly shorter than his right. The growth got stunted when he broke it as a teenager. He was a good guy, Barney knew that, but he always thought Maggie Sue was so far out of his league that its like she single handedly won the World Series and Morris didn’t even get drafted for a team.

Maggie Sue came from Virginia. Her father owned a fairly large slaughter house for commercial meat production and packaging. He was very well off and that family ate a lot of meat.

Maggie Sue was a looker. Any man would pick her out from a mile away. She was petite and busty with a look in her eyes that made a guy want to melt. Barney wanted her the first time he saw her, but then again so did every other fella she met. She had a sweet, innocence about her, but that girl liked her meat rare and bloody.
Barney turned up the radio and a deep voiced announcer was building up the suspense until the winning tickets were announced. Barney had bought two tickets that morning on a whim. He usually didn’t play into that kind of game so much. He thought it was for guys who were too lazy to create luck of their own, but everywhere he seemed to go, he saw advertisements for the millions they were giving away, so he fell into the trap and got a couple for himself.
“And now, the winning ticket numbers for the 1969 Mega Millions New Jersey Lottery-,” the voice buzzed and crackled, “46, 23, 38, 04, 02, 23. Again, that is 46, 23, 38, 04, 02, 23”.

The car swerved a little as Morris looked down at his tickets. A look of prepared disappointment spread across his face and he tossed the receipts to the floor, “Well s***, should have seen that coming,” he laughed it off and focused back on the road.

Barney couldn’t speak. He only ran his thick fingers under each number on his second ticket. Each street lamp gave him a flash of light to see the numbers and then they went black again. Winning numbers. Each time the burst of light past it wasn’t real. He had the same, expected future ahead of him in those few seconds of darkness. Then the light came for an instant and he saw his new life. A life of wealth and happiness. Perfection and prosperity. Until the flash was over.

They continued driving in silence. Morris creaked to a stop in front of Barney’s apartment and he mechanically got out, “See you tomorrow, Barney. Take some aspirin, it’ll be a rough morning for you. I can already tell.”

Clutching the tickets, Barney forced a weak smile and watched as the pickup turned the corner and the headlights disappeared. There weren’t any street lamps on his block. It was a protected historical area and they’d have to tear up some sidewalk to put them in. Probably the only street in town to not be lit up at night.

Suddenly, Barney healed over and puked on the pavement. He heaved while he supported himself on his knees.

Within a month, Barney became a changed person. As soon as it came out that he had won, friends and family rushed to cash in old IOU’s and to ask for whatever financial favors they could think of. That’s when Barney stopped trusting. He didn’t know when others’ concern for him was genuine or a ploy. Paranoia consumed him. The only person he trusted was his Maggie Sue. Not a week after Barney won, Morris and her broke up. She said it was because he never took her out anymore. Morris said it she did it because he wasn’t a big meat eater. Within two more weeks, Barney and Maggie Sue were seeing each other and blinded by his happiness, Maggie Sue was the only person Barney trusted.
Three months after he won, the channel 9 news interviewed him.

“Tell us Mr. Gilligan, how does a man who has suddenly come into this much money keep himself grounded?” asked the wide mouthed reporter, “Heck, if it was me I’d probably be buying an island by now.”

“Well, for me its been that one person that stays true to me that really matters. Who doesn’t love me any differently because of the money I got. That person keeps me from wasting my luck on what I don’t need.”

Love for Maggie Sue is what landed Barney broke and alone. The more she got, the more she wanted. Soon, Barney was sitting in a deep pile of depth and shame. No girl like her was going to stick around to see a man crumble like that. As suddenly as she had appeared at Barney’s doorstep asking to come in for a drink, she was packing up silk dresses and diamonds and heading back home. From a slaughtered home to the slaughterhouse.

Every year since then, Barney bought two tickets for the Mega Millions Lottery. With each chime of the register at the gas station was the tickets were purchased, the fantasy of a happy life with Maggie Sue came back to him. Each time he believed more than anything that that was the year it would come true.

As Barney closed the door to the bar behind him, a few heads turned to look at him. Each gave a quick double take and then elbowed their companions to see the infamous hermit who was quickly becoming a legend among school children.

“Again, the winning numbers are 56, 12, 76, 11, 09, 22,” the newswoman’s voice came from a television hung on the wall. The floorboards under Barney’s feet creaked and a splinter from the door stung his ring finger.

“Mr. Gilligan? Come sit down and have a drink will you? On the house,” the bartender projected across the room and patted the counter like it was a dog. “Come on, now. What is your poison, huh?”

Barney felt weak in the knees, struggling to envision his life with Maggie Sue. He could no longer picture their quiet life out in the country with two children and a small farm. Each detail used to be planned to perfection, but was now lost deep inside a broken man’s mind.

Slowly he crept up to the bar and rested closed fists on the polished counter. Opening one hand he removed the second ticket and spread it out, smoothing out the folds. His eyes rose to meet the bartender’s, “There is one thing I want you to always remember,” Barney spoke to another person for the first time in several years. “It brings you into the light for a little while, but the dark is what you have to live in. Learn to love the dark and then the rest can’t mess you up. Don’t forget it, you hear? That’s where you’ll find your peace”.

Barney walked home, finding his way in the dark. He could see just fine. Back at the bar, the winning ticket lay on the counter.



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