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Unprompted: The Lottery Ticket 

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The police officer leaned against the drink machine, holding his lottery ticket in his left hand. He took a deep breath and began to slowly scratch the ticket.

Outside the convenience store a pickup truck pulled up to pump No. 6. The driver came inside, laid down a 20-dollar bill and returned to pump No. 6 and began taking 20 dollars worth of regular.

The clerk watched out the window, then returned to her task of reading a book. A farmer pulled up outside, left his truck running and came in to purchase a cup of coffee. The police officer stepped away from the drink machine and spoke to the farmer.

Good morning. How are things? Good. All quiet in town? Yep, not much happening. That’s good.

When the farmer left, the officer once again looked at his ticket and finished scratching it. He looked at it for a few moments, perhaps hoping it would change. Then he dropped it in a trash can. He took another deep breath and started to leave, then changed his mind and took his place leaning against the drink machine again.

There was nowhere to go.

He had a semiautomatic pistol holstered on his hip and a two-way radio clipped to his shirt. There was always a chance he might need the gun, but the radio not so much. He was the only officer on duty and there was no one to talk to on the other end of the radio. But he always had it with him, just in case. It was a benefit of Homeland Security, as were the several high-powered weapons in trunk of his patrol car. He was well prepared with a dream of something happening. But it never did.

In this town he knew everybody and everything. He knew every street, alley and sidewalk. He knew every house, every garage, everything you could know about a small place that he’d seen since he was a child. There were not so nice things that he knew about, but none of them were illegal, or required his attention.

Now in his early 40s, he was where he had always been — the local cop, with no real purpose except to be there, just in case. It was a paycheck, not much of one, but the best he could do.

Moments passed before the officer reached in his pocket and pulled out two dollars. He approached the clerk. He’d decided to buy one more lottery ticket. The next ticket could be the one he was looking for. You never know.

He returned to his perch beside the drink machine. For a long time he stood there, clutching the ticket in his left hand. He wanted to know if it was a winner, but he didn’t want to know just yet. He dreamed. He stood there, imagining he held in his had the million dollars he had always wanted, enough money to get out of the small town and be somebody.

He looked over at the clerk. She was reading a book on nursing. She attended community college part time, studying nursing. She too hoped to get a ticket out of town, to somewhere better.

Another customer entered the store and she pushed the book aside to provide the customer a pack of Marlboros. The police officer took another deep breath, and then slowly began to scratch the lottery ticket.

I stopped at this convenience store on many occasions, it being located along a route often taken by us to visit family. The store was owned by a distant relative of my wife. Most everyone in town was kin. Some of them had married each other, with mixed results.

Within another few months I passed through the little town again, and stopped to get gas. I used my credit card for the gas but went inside to speak to the woman behind the counter. But she was gone, replaced by another young woman who had no book to read. I asked her about the town cop, the one who hung out there, the one who was there last year. What happened to him?

Oh nothing, she said. He’ll probably be back in a little while.

He’s just making his rounds. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor, who retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.

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