Author, Poet, Cool.

California Lottery
short fiction by Benjamin Barrett


  Emily pulls a baseball cap over her long light brown hair pulled tight into bun on her head, leans over and grabs the cardboard box marked “kitchen stuff” from the passenger seat, pushes the car door open with her left foot and steps out into the rain.  She slams the door shut with her hip and runs the twenty or so steps to her new front porch.  She notices the porch light, barely visible, was left on again and smiles at how predictable he is.  Pinning the box between her knee and the door jam, she fits the key into the lock with her right hand, turns it hard once and kicks open the heavy wooden door, being careful not to drop her dishes.  She wipes her flat-soled shoes on the welcome mat, breathes heavy and takes two steps into the dim townhouse setting the box on the hardwood floor.
     Turning, she closes the door and pulls the drapes on either side open to make up for the lost light.  She stands, looking at all the boxes stacked around the room and whimpers lightly at all the work to be done.  Emily remembers enjoying the Asian décor the first time she came here, just after their fourth date almost two years ago.  She thinks of how impressed she was with his stories of adventures and travels and his perfect smile.  She couldn’t help but fall for him, in spite of the fact he is ten years older.  Now, two years later and with the cutest little diamond on her finger, the triumphant Emily returns again with more than just his ass in her nervous hands.
     She takes off her gray wool coat and decides to start in the bedroom.  Clearing space for her hanging things is no problem; she had been slowly doing that for almost two years now.  Mark should be surprised he has any room left for his clothes at all.  The problem is going to lie in finding room for her shoes.  The bottom of his closet is absolutely packed with junk from God knows where.  Emily takes one of the boxes she had emptied earlier and begins to fill it with whatever she isn’t afraid to touch.  She comes across a plastic fish lying inside a large Mexican sombrero, some collection of broken sandals, and a little red bong that is cracked down one side.  She grins a little and wonders what else she doesn’t know about.
           Toward the bottom of the closet she finds a red topped Macys’ box which she pulls out and sets on the bed.  Out of curiosity she slides the top off the box, turns the halogen lamp in the corner on low and begins to glance through the contents.  In the box Emily sees an old photo of Mark and two other guys holding up a string of fish in front of some small river.  His sideburns were huge.  She finds several letters addressed to Mark from girls she doesn’t know, a videotape and his high school yearbook.  She laughs out loud when she finds his senior picture.   She puts the lid back on the box and finishes cleaning out the closet. 
     Once she has all of her shoes situated nicely she decides to find room in the closet for as much of Mark’s things as she can.  She hangs the sombrero on a hook in the back and puts as much on the top shelf as will fit neatly.  She lifts the red box of sentiments to the very top, but it won’t balance and falls straight back on her head knocking her backwards and spilling open, dropping the contents of the box all over her perfectly placed shoes.  The videotape lands squarely in her lap.  She quickly sits up and looks around to make sure no one had crept into the rental to witness her folly, then puts everything neatly back into the box, everything except the videotape.  That, she rationalizes, is some type of omen so she turns on the ancient TV in the bedroom and slides the tape into the attached VCR.  She shakes the bun out of her hair and pulls it in a ponytail.   As the television screen warms up she begins to recognize Mark’s deftly dancing shape, but he looks different.  Part of the difference is certainly his age, it must have been made at least twenty years ago and his short-on-top-long-in-back hockey haircut is proof.  The other part is most definitely his clothes.  He is wearing a small pair of black leather briefs, a large black hat with a feather in the band and an eye-patch.  Without warning, Emily begins to giggle.  Soon she is laughing so hard she can feel her eyes tearing and isn’t sure if she is laughing from the scene or from the shock. 
     Then, a second person enters the video screen.  From the side of the camera comes a narrow hipped blonde woman dressed in black high heels, a garter belt, and a spiked dog collar complete with leash.  Emily’s jaw drops low.  Her eyes open wide at first, and then she feels her temples begin to pound, all the while trying to control her giggling and occasionally aware of a peculiar fear that she knows the woman on the tape.  She sits and stares at the TV, wanting to rip the tape out of the VCR and smash it, but feeling like she almost has to watch it all.  Somewhere in the background she hears the front door open.
    “Sweetie, are you here?” comes Mark’s voice from the living room. 
     She sits still imagining his routine.  First he’d take off his raincoat, a Christmas gift from his sister, and hang it in the closet, then he’d come into the bedroom loosening his tie and…  Just as she starts to make a move for the tape Mark strolls into the bedroom, brushes his dark, wet bangs from his eyes and turns the light up a little brighter.
     “I thought I’d end class early so I could help you unpack,” he says not yet seeing what’s on the TV, or Emily frozen solid in her tracks.  His eyes drift to the screen.  “What’s that you’re…What the Hell?”
     “I might ask you the same thing,” Emily snaps back.  She stands as straight as possible and folds her arms.
     “Where in God’s name did you find that?”
     “I was just cleaning out your closet and it fell in my lap.  Why?”  She says.  “Why do you still have it, Mark?”  She could feel the heat in her cheeks and knew that tears would be following soon.
     “I haven’t seen it in years.  I thought I’d lost it.”
     “You don’t have any secrets from me do you?  Not me.  How many of these little tapes do you have lying around, huh?”
     “Do you see any other tapes?” Mark always answered questions with questions when they argued.  Emily hated that.
     “How many Misses Whatever-her-names are there, huh?”
     “Give me a break. That was at least… well… a long time ago!  I couldn’t have been more than twenty-five.  I didn’t even know you then.  I mean, I was still in grad school for God’s sake, look at my hair.”
     “I’m beginning to think I don’t know you now.  Does she still do it for you or something?  You still hung-up on her?”
     “Have you watched the tape?” Mark asks yet another irritating question.
     “What they hell do you think I was doing when you…”
     “Have you watched the tape?”  Mark’s says again, this time excruciatingly slowly through tightly clenched teeth.  Emily turns with a huff and looks at the screen.  The two on the screen are engaged doggy style, grinning straight into the camera, the leash gripped tightly in Mark’s white teeth.  Then, with a sudden jolt of nausea she recognizes the woman smiling at her from the TV screen.
     “Oh, my god.  Oh….My…God!  Is that her?”
     “You know god damn well who.  Is it her?”
     “Yes.  It’s her.”
     “Holy shit!”  Emily couldn’t believe her eyes.  “Holy shit!”  She sits down on the edge of the bed.  “I feel a little...”  Mark has backed into the doorway of the bathroom.  The harsh florescent lights and blue tile give Mark a sickly, almost distorted look.
     “I honestly thought I’d lost it,” Mark says quietly.  Emily doesn’t respond. “It was a long time ago,” he continues.
     “That's one description.”  Emily stands up, feels a little queazy and sits back down again. 
     “She was into roll play.” explains Mark. Emily tilts her head sideways and tries to figure out the logistics of the next position.
     “How could you do that with her?”
     “I wasn’t always a liberal, you know.”
     “No, I mean, how can you do that... with her?”  Emily shifts her head to the other side like a confused puppy.
     “Oh…  cheerleading.”
     “You were a Cheerleader?”
     “She was.”
     “Thank god.  I almost lost a lot of respect for you.”  Mark chuckles, not sure if that was a joke.  “Holy crap.  I can’t believe I shook her hand.”  Emily cringes slightly.
     “So what do we do now?” asks Mark.
     “Vote democrat."
     “No, I mean with the tape?  What do we do with the tape?”
     “You get rid of it.  What do you think, you idiot,” says Emily. 
     “I just thought…”
     “You just thought what, that I’d like to sit around and watch you screw other women?”
     “I just thought you might be interested in how much money someone would pay us for that tape!  It probably worth… God knows, maybe a million... maybe more....  Don’t tell me calling the Enquirer never crossed your mind.”
     “Are you insane?”
     “How else are we gonna get rich?  It’s not like I can rap or play basketball.”
     “You can’t really be thinking of selling it.” Emily stares directly at Mark.
     “I don’t know what I’m thinking.  I don’t know anything.” says Mark.  “All I know is there’s a lot of people who would pay a lot of money for something like that, and damn it, I’m just so tired of working every day.  I mean, I’m over forty, and you’ll be… and where are we?  I’ve been busting my ass teaching kids for twenty years, ten, twelve hours a day, then grading papers at night an on weekends, summer school, and we can barely afford the rent on this damn matchbook of a condo.”
     “We do OK for most people.”
     “Why do we have do get by with OK when we’re the ones doing all the damn work.  Why should some asshole who couldn't cook a burger at McDonalds, who sits in an office and makes a bunch of bad decisions get to make millions while everyone who lifts a hammer or drives a bus can’t pay they’re rent.  The way things are stacked these days... Well, maybe it’s time we get on the other side of the fence.”
     Emliy looks at Marks like he's lost his mind.
     “Maybe I should just give her a call... see if she wants the tape, you know, for posterity and all.  I’m sure there is some petty cash in her campaign fund she wouldn’t mind parting with.” Emily fills her face with as much evil as possible as she turns toward Mark with her arms folded, her eyes constantly darting back toward the screen in order to make sure she wasn’t imaging what she was seeing.
     “Are you serious?  These people’s entire life concept is about not sharing.  You think they’re going to just pay up without a fight?  You just don’t mess with these people.  They’re ruthless.  How do you think they got rich in the first place? That's a single car accident on a empty highway just waiting to happen.”  Emily takes the pony- tail band out of her hair and puts it on her wrist.  Her hair falls over her shoulders.  She sees Mark watching her as she stands and moves toward the VCR.  She leans down and pushes the Stop button and hears a click.  She turns and looks hard at Mark.
“Maybe there’s another way.” Say Mark, the snow from the television reflecting in his eyes give him a devilish look.  Emily remains silent.  “Maybe we could secretly post it on Youtube.  They can’t come after me if I’m already in the spotlight.  Then we do a bunch of talk shows, maybe get a book deal or movie rights or something.”  Emily presses eject, takes the tape out of the VCR and extends it out for Mark.
     “I am not going to be the girl who married the pirate in the eye patch video.” 
     “I know… Damn it, I know.”  Mark takes the tape from Emily’s hand.  “At least you could’ve let me dream for a while.  I mean, it’s kind of like we’re throwing away a winning lottery ticket.”  Mark walks with it in both hands into the kitchen, like a ring bearer’s pillow.  Emily sees him look up to make sure she had followed and then step on the lever for the trash compactor.  He holds the tape over the remnants of the previous night’s dinner and stares at Emily.
     “On one condition… how about if you help me make a new tape to replace this one?” says Mark.
     Emily feels a grin on the corners of her lips.  She looks at Mark’s pale blue eyes and oddly complex smile.  She sees the tape held over the trash and feels the heat on her cheeks again.
     “You’re on.” she says.  The tape drops into the trash.  With his left hand Mark pushes the compactor door closed and turns the little knob.  The hum of the compactor engine startles Emily.  She hears plastic cracking. 
     Before she has a chance to take off her earrings Mark has their new digital camcorder, a Christmas gift, out of the closet and onto the tripod and is placing it in the corner of the bedroom.  Emily begins to take off here jeans as she watches Mark hop around the room plugging in this and that, the whole time trying to remove his socks and shoes without sitting down.  Finally he seems ready and Emily watches him stop and look hard at her almost naked body.  She adjusts her new green Victoria Secret Wonder bra and matching panties with the little pink bow and leans back alluringly on her elbows.  She sees Mark, down to only his plaid flannel boxers, turn the light switch to high, check the camera lens one more time and step over to the closet door.  Emily watches as he reaches into the closet, pulls out the large sombrero and places it his head with a slight tilt.  Then, twirling the knotted strap just under his chin he grins, presses a button on the camera and says,
     “Are you ready my little Senorita?”  Emily tries not to laugh.  She reaches into the nightstand by the bed and finds a red silk scarf, folds it over her head and ties a bow under her chin and musters her best Spanish accent.
     “Come on, Papi.”  She smiles, bats her eyelashes and wonders how to repair a crushed videotape.