It *was* going to be a hot day. It was still early enough that there was a light dew, but it seemed to sizzle away by the moment as the sun climbed
higher, beaming down through anorexic high sierra pines.
I arrived at the 7-11. My feet crunched on road grit and broken bottleglass as I crossed the parking lot to the front entrance. As I reached out to
open the door, a *California Lottery Lucky Retailer* decal in the window caught my eye. A bell rang as I crossed the threshold.
The clerk was a short, balding, well-fed man of indistinct Asian descent. He wore glasses with Cokebottle lenses and his eyes looked buggy through
them as he looked up to greet me. He resumed tapping red-and-white cans of soup with a cheap pen, jotting final tallies on a sheet on his clipboard,
and I located toiletries and sundries hanging on pegs and sitting in dusty shelf bins in a small section on the rear wall of the store.
Didn't need Trojan.
Didn't need Vicks.
Vaseline, Chapstick, Selsun Blue. No, no, no.
Didn't need Preparation H at that particular moment.
Eureka! Banana Boat. I picked up a tube and turned for the cash register. I felt a pang of thirst as I passed by the cooler with colorful bottles of
cold Gatorade and pop. So close, yet so far away.
The clerk was behind the counter by the time I arrived. "Hi," I said, setting the tube of sunscreen on the counter, which had one of those windows
through which scratch-off lottery tickets are displayed.
The clerk lifted the sunscreen close to his eyes to examine it. "Aaaaah. Solah prohtection. Belee, belee smaht," he said. I faked a conciliatory smile
as he proceeded scanning the barcode, then averted my gaze back down to the scratcher tickets: bingo scratchers, blackjack scratchers, even slot
My family's financial need was fresh on my mind. Perhaps I fell prey to the marketing of the "Lucky Retailer" decal on the front door and a streak of
plain old wishful thinking got the best of me.
There I was. South Lake Tahoe, California.
There I was. Spitting distance from the Nevada stateline at Stateline, Nevada.
There I was - at the doorstep of the land of slot machines, poker tables, roulette wheels - with the sudden itch to play the scratchers?
The rest of the world seemed to darken away, and suddenly I was behind the wheel speeding down a narrow and twisting road through the blackest hour of
night, fleeing from a monster that dines only on the headlamp-light of the damned, a monster closing in…closing in, but wait just within the horizon
of my headlamp light: scratchers. Scratchers growing near, nearer, full of promise. Beautiful scratchers, reflecting the light of my headlamps with
their glittery print. I'm getting closer…closer…closer…
I pointed into the ticket case. "I'll take six Crossword Prospectors." They were twenty dollar tickets.
The clerk cocked an eyebrow. "A man who know when to pray safe…" he said, first gesturing to the sunscreen, then to the lottery display "…and when
to just pray. Behhhhhlee guud." He tore the tickets from the stack and totaled the transaction. I thrusted nearly the remainder of the cash across the
counter. The change was an odd mix of bills and coins; I pocketed all of it except for a penny, collected the tube of sunscreen and lottery tickets,
and left the store.
I sat down on the curb, which was starting to feel warm itself. I had the strange sensation I was being watched, and turned to look toward the end of
the building. Indeed, there was someone looking at me, and even through his crooked Ray-Ban aviators I could see that his eyes were squinted almost
completely shut. Only his head protuded around the corner of the building; he wore a brown fedora crammed over browner hair, and had a bushy but
vaguely odd-looking beard.
As soon as I noticed him, he smiled an odd, embarrassing smile - like a kindergartener faking a big smile for class pictures.
It was like watching myself smile.
His eyes then opened as wide as possible and his head jerked out of view. I watched, waiting for him to reemerge, for several moments.
Satisfied that the stranger was gone, and with penny still in hand, I began the ticket scratching, making sure to remove *completely, thoroughly,
remove* the scratch-off ticket coating to each corner and edge because nobody, nothing, not even this wax-like filth, will obscure my fortune,
obfuscate, agitate, agitate, agitating - yes, like the voice - nevermind that now nevermind that now nevermind that now the voice is gone first
revealing my letters, then matching them up with words on the grid the voice isn't coming back ever not ever again until finally I had scratched all
my letters off the grids on all six tickets and left each one completely clean; I composed myself.
A(n identical) list in the margin of the tickets showed the number of revealed words corresponding to its cash prize.
I counted up the number of revealed words, referring to the list in the margin. The first ticket was a loser. The second ticket paid for itself. The
third and fourth were losers. The fifth ticket was a thousand dollar winner.
The fifth ticket was a thousand dollar winner.
edit on 15/9/2019 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)