2013 Third Place Winner

“Mysterious Ways”

By Monica Ziezulewicz

Mary stared at the lottery ticket in front of her, and then stared even harder at the newspaper on the table.  She carefully checked each of the numbers…one-by-one.

At 35, she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous.  Many people wouldn’t even consider her pretty.  In fact, Mary herself would laugh at the very notion.  Except…. that is exactly when it would happen.  Her crystal-blue eyes would sparkle, and her dimples would dance across her face.  Her laughter became contagious, and her smile more mysterious than the Mona Lisa’s.  At those moments, she was more attractive than any model or actress, but she never knew it, and never would believe it even if anyone ever told her so. No one ever did.  They didn’t think they needed to.

Now, if you asked Mary, she would tell you two things without hesitation.  She wasn’t pretty, and most of all, she wasn’t lucky.

“It’s not exactly that I have a black cloud hovering over me”, she would say with a grin.  “It’s more like I can see the rainbow off in the distance, but it’s raining over me.”  Things just always seemed to happen to Mary.   Not really bad things, although they seemed so at the time. Things that she could tell people about later with that magical laugh of hers, and make it seem more fun than it really was.

There was the time she was stuck in the bathroom, for instance.  It was after midnight, and she was getting ready for bed.  The door was closed, but it wasn’t locked.  However, when she turned the knob, it wouldn’t open!  She called and called and knocked on the wall trying to wake her sister up.  Finally, she managed to get her attention.  The two of them pushed and pulled on the door, but it wasn’t any use.  Her sister woke their dad who tried it too, without any luck.  He finally had to go outside, climb through the bushes, and hand her a pair of pliers and a screwdriver through the window.  All this was accomplished while he was still wearing his pajamas.  She managed to pull the pins out of the hinges, and they were able to lift the door out.  Upon further inspection, they found that somehow the doorknob’s mechanism had sheared off in the door.

Then, there was the winter that she decided to skip the layover in Chicago (everyone knows how much snow they get!), and opted instead for a connection in Dallas on her way to California.  Flying over Chicago, she noticed how sunny and clear it was, and thought that maybe a connection there wouldn’t have been so bad.  She was sure of it as she landed in Dallas in the worst snowstorm they ever had—over a foot of snow!  The airport was paralyzed.  She spent the night freezing, sleeping on a cot in the terminal, listening to a continuous loop of Kenny G. on the P.A. system.

Or, there was the time she had the big, no, the huge meeting at work with a new potential client.  She stayed up most of the night preparing for her presentation.  As she walked over to meet him in the lobby, he looked a bit puzzled.  It was only afterwards that she realized that she was wearing one brown shoe, and one red.

Things like that were always happening to her.  No matter where she’d place her coffee cup, someone would manage to spill it.  It was so bad at work, that any errant coffee stain was blamed on her, whether it was true or not.

She didn’t have good luck with new cars, either. She bought her first when she started a full time job straight out of college.  It was beautiful, and the car she had always dreamed of.  She only had it a month, when there was a hailstorm with hail the size of golf balls.  Her new car looked as though some deranged person had attacked it with a hammer.  The insurance agent called it an act of God and Mary recalled that Busia always said, “The Lord acts in mysterious ways”.  Well, this act of God was certainly mysterious to her!

Years later, she bought a beautiful new red sports car.  It was a car that she had always wanted, and now it was hers!  Early one morning as she was driving to work, she climbed a hill only to find three raccoons in the middle of the road on the downhill side.  She swerved managing to avoid all three, but then the largest decided to run right back out in front of her!  Hitting him was unavoidable, and her front grill was beyond repair.

At the body shop, the desk man didn’t even lift his head up as he wrote down the answers.  Make? Model? Year? Mileage?  Mary answered “Twelve hundred”.  Still looking at his paper, he grunted, “You mean twelve thousand?”  She again repeated, “No, twelve hundred”. He glanced up then, and their eyes met, and he said “Damn no good raccoons”, looked back down, shook his head, and continued writing.

Maybe she just didn’t have good luck with vehicles in general.

Once, when her dad was away, she thought that she’d surprise him, and mow the lawn. She was so pleased with herself when she managed to get the tractor started and backed out of the shed.  She drove the entire acre, knocking the heads off of the dandelions, but without the grass looking much shorter.  It was only when her dad came home, that she found out she needed to lower the blades to cut the grass.  (The neighbors probably enjoyed that one!)

Mary looked at the lottery ticket again, and checked the date, and the year.  She checked the type of game, and the date on the newspaper, too.

It’s not that she’s a klutz.  No, not really.  She isn’t stupid, either.  She graduated the top of her high school and college classes.  Things just seemed to happen to her.  Take the time that she went on a cruise.  Her friend booked it for the two of them.  …A time for some sun, fun, and maybe a little romance?  When they arrived at the port in Acapulco, there was a huge banner on the gangway that read “Welcome AARP Members!”  Well, at least there was some sun, and those AARP folks sure played a mean game of bingo!

She almost wound up in the ocean on that cruise, too.  She was boarding the launch from the ship to go to shore when a rogue wave came up.  There she was with one leg on the ship, and the other on the launch, and the two boats were bobbing up and down!  Fortunately, one of the AARP guys was quick enough to grab her.  Situations like that make here think that she should really learn how to swim someday.

Now, Mary is one of those people who believe that everything happens for a reason.  Try as she might though, she usually can’t figure out what that reason is.  For example, she received an overdrawn notice from the bank the other day.  Mary always pays her bills on time, and couldn’t figure this one out at all.  That is, until she started looking at the cancelled checks. It seems that she sent the check for the gas bill to the electric company, and the electric company’s to the gas company.  To make matters worse, she wrote the balance of her checking account on the check to the credit card company instead of the two hundred dollars that she owed them.  Of course, they all cashed them.  She’s usually not that careless, but then again, there was the time that she mailed out all her Christmas cards without putting any stamps on them.

Ever since she was a little girl, Mary’s Busia always told her that “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window somewhere”.  Mary never told her Busia (who she loved and respected), but she thought that all those open windows just let a lot of pesky mosquitos in.

Her company had a policy of giving employees ten dollars for each year that you were with the company on your fifth, tenth, fifteenth, etc. anniversary.  That is, it was a policy until it was Mary’s turn.  The week before her fifteenth anniversary, they announced that they were stopping the gift. No hundred fifty dollars for her.

Speaking of work, she always had glowing reviews, but due to the economy, all raises were held, and she never reached the top pay for her classification. However, it became necessary to fill a vacancy, and they had to offer the current market salaries.  The end result was that she was suddenly training a new grad with no experience that was making more money than she was.  Everyone at HR agreed with her that it wasn’t right, but told her that there was nothing that they could do, because “their hands were tied.”

Mary’s Busia always told her that “The Lord never gives you any more than you can handle.” But, then again, she also told her “you should wear your underwear inside out for protection from the “evil eye”. If it were only that simple…

Mary’s mom had severe dementia, and lived in an Alzheimer’s home.  It was a very nice place as far as those places go, but Mary never knew what to expect when she’d go for a visit.  There was the time she was sitting at the table watching her mom shred a box of tissue (a favorite past time of hers), listening to her say that she didn’t have any children. Patiently, Mary tried to explain for the hundredth time that she was her daughter, at which point, another resident insisted that she was sure that Mary was her daughter.  Just to make matters more interesting, a third woman came up behind Mary, and started braiding her hair, and wouldn’t let go.  The four of them sat there for over an hour until one of the aides came by, and managed to free Mary.

Another evening, Mary sat and watched the residents plotting a break-out while the aides were taking care of an emergency.  They almost made it out the door before a worker realized what was going on.  Mary was almost sorry they didn’t make it.  They were having so much fun trying.

When her mom died, she went there one last time, to pick up her mom’s belongings. As she was boxing all the things up, her mom’s roommate asked, “Isn’t she coming back?”  Mary wasn’t sure how to answer her at first, but finally, simply told her as gently as she could, “No, I’m sorry, my mom’s passed away.”  The old woman thought for a moment, and then said, “I wonder if I could get her bed…It’s by the window.”

Mary looked at the mega ball number in the paper, and then looked at the ticket again.  She turned it over, and read the instructions on the back.  She read them five times…slowly.  Then, she turned the television on for the evening news.  She waited for the lottery announcements.  “There is only one winner!” said the announcer, “This is the biggest jackpot paid in the history of our state lottery”. The ticket was sold at the convenience store on the corner where she had bought hers.  They showed the numbers on the screen, and she carefully checked them against her ticket.

She smoothed her skirt down on her lap, and noticed a small tear in the fabric.  Hmm, she wondered about it for a moment, until she remembered that it was where she had caught it in the front door when she had locked it.  She only had a key for the side door.  Everyone in the house did.  The front door’s key was lost years ago, and everyone left through it, but came back in through the side.  No one was home, so there she was, trapped in the front door!  She could either try to take her skirt off (looking like she was doing some yoga on the front porch), and run for the side door hoping no one would see her, or yank on it, and hope for the best.  She pulled, and she yanked, and finally was free, but the skirt would never be the same.

Gracie, her dog, came and planted a big nose print on the tear.  Now, Gracie, she’s another story.  Mary loved her to pieces, but the dog had a mind of her own.  The last snowstorm, Mary was ready to leave for work, and was taking Gracie out to her pen to feed her just like she did every day.  Normally, Gracie walks to the gate, flips the latch open with her nose, and sits down to wait for her dish of food.  Mary didn’t know if it was the new-fallen snow, the brisk cold air, the full moon, or just the fact that she hadn’t bother to grab her coat and boots, but Gracie looked over her shoulder at Mary, and took off.  Mary stood there for a moment shivering, then she started off after the dog, food dish in hand, trying very hard not to fall on the ice in her high heels.  The dog wasn’t running. She was just trotting along down the middle of the road, stopping every so often to look over her shoulder to see if Mary was coming. Then she would keep on going.  Mary finally cornered her at the end of the street against a driveway gate.  She grabbed the dog’s collar (lest she get any other funny ideas), and walked and slid all the way back still carrying the dish of dog food. She could only imagine the neighbors in their warm houses chuckling.

With a sudden impulse, Mary grabbed the ticket, and rubbed it on the large dog’s head.  Busia had always said, “Rub a red-headed child on the head for good luck”.  The Irish setter was as close to a child as she had at the moment.

Taking her wallet from her purse, she placed the ticket carefully in the zippered compartment. She checked that she had closed the zipper—twice. Then, she placed the wallet in the zippered pocket of her jacket, and checked that several times, too. She put it on, and checked to make sure she had her keys.  Not like last week, when she left them on the counter, and had to crawl in the dog house in her new suit to retrieve a spare set.  She snagged her skirt, and Gracie didn’t like being woken up, either.

Mary stopped at her favorite Tim Horton’s, and ordered an extra-large coffee with skim milk to go.  As she pulled her Tim Card out of her wallet, it cracked in two.  The teenager behind the register stared at it with confusion, so she put the pieces back into her wallet, and pulled out two rumpled dollar bills, checking as she did so, that the zipper was still securely closed on the lottery ticket.  She carefully placed the wallet back in her pocket, zipped it shut, and checked it twice.

She sat down at a corner table, and opened up her lap top.  Calmly, she pulled up the lottery’s web site, and double checked the address and the business hours.  Her mouth was dry.  She took a sip of her coffee.  Triple cream, and double sugar—Her Busia always told her “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” She hated restaurants, especially fast food ones, and preferred to cook all her own meals.  Maybe that’s why she lived to be 100, and still cooking her own meals right until the end.

Looking up, Mary glanced at the counter.  There were five people waiting there rather impatiently.  Glancing one last time at the website, she closed the laptop, and put it away.  Then, she walked to the back of the line to exchange the triple double for some skim milk no sugar.

Slowly and carefully, she drove to the lottery office, and went inside.  As she walked up to the information desk, her blue eyes sparkled, her dimples flashed, and she was the most dazzling woman anyone ever saw.  Mary could hear her Busia, her Busia Mary whose name they shared, saying “The Lord works in mysterious ways!”