Friday 10 March 2023

Fortune’s Bitch - Short Story by Marie C Lecrivain

 





Fortune’s Bitch
Short Story
by Marie C Lecrivain 



We made an emergency landing in Reno. The smoking rear left engine hangs from the plane by a few metal threads. We could’ve blown up in the air, or crash-landed in the desert. Instead, the hand of Lady Luck is upon us.

The airport medics gave each of us a once-over, our own airline sickness bags,and then told us it would be at least three hours before another plane could fly us to New York. As most of the passengers head for the airport lounge to toast their maker. I'm standing next to the jet bridge with my fist closed around the charm in my right front jeans pocket: a Washington bicentennial quarter I’d found a year ago today.

My sales job requires a lot of travel. I’d flown from L.A. to New York to meet with a new vendor. I stepped out of JFK into the late autumn sunshine to wait for my Uber. As I glanced down at the gutter, I spied a quarter. I bent down to pick it up, and a shaft of sunlight bounced off a scar that bisected the drummer’s face on the obverse side of the coin. Startled, I stepped back, and as I did so, a BMW careened into the space I had occupied and crashed through the front doors of the terminal.

As I stood watching firemen extricate the unconscious driver from the wreckage, I was filled with a sense of wonder. This quarter was a gift from the gods. I held onto the coin as a reminder of how fragile life can be.

The last year of my life has been marked by a series of near misses: skin-of-the-teeth car wrecks, almost lightning strikes, and an upright piano that fell ten stories seconds after I passed under its shaky shadow. I kept the quarter with me at all times, but now, I don't want to do it anymore. I was in debt to the universe.

In front of me are a row of slot machines. Without a second thought, I pull the quarter from my pocket. It's time to get rid of this little metal albatross. What better way to rid myself of this unfortunate talisman than lose it to a one-armed bandit?

I pop my quarter into the slot of the first machine and pull the lever. I watch the reels spin and whirl, and then, they stop; three black sevens. I hear the thunk thunk thunk of quarters as they spill into the tray below. I sweep the change into my hand, and on top of the pile is the bicentennial.

I pop the quarter in the slot and pull the lever again. Numbers spin, twirl and then stop… three gold sevens. More quarters spill in the tray. I pull the coins out. Again, the bicentennial is on top.

I move over to the next machine, and win again: $50. With bulging pockets, I go over to the third machine - and win $200.

I open my barf bag and dump my winnings. I move over to the fourth machine, pop in the cursed quarter, and pull down the lever. The drums spin forward, then backward, and then independently... 7 ... 7... a lemon... no payout!

Relieved, I lift up the barf bag with both hands, but the weight of 1,000 quarters is too much. I hear the bag tear open. Quarters spill out and roll down the aisle. I bend to pick one up... and it’s the damned bicentennial!

I hobble back to the slot machines. An elderly woman stands in front of the first machine, and is rooting around in her purse.

“Here, ma’am,” I say, “It’s on me.”

I hand her the quarter.

“Thank you,” she says. She reaches up to put the quarter in the slot, and then pulls the lever.

I walk away. It’s her problem now.

By now, I'm hungry, so I take what’s left of my winnings to the currency exchange, trade them in for paper money, and then park myself in the airport lounge. Three whiskeys and one steak later, the knot in my gut is gone. I feel better than I have in months. I pick up my whiskey glass and silently toast my former albatross. It’s been a good run.

I hear the sounds of cheering. There’s a commotion at the bar. A crowd has gathered, laughing and demanding drinks. The bartenders are pouring shots as fast as they can.

A waitress walks by. I flag her down.

“Excuse me, I ask. “What’s going on?”

She grins.

“Drinks are free for the next hour,” she says as she waves her hand in the direction of the bar. “It’s all thanks to a lucky old lady who won 60 grand. She gave me a $100 tip!”

“Good for her,” I say. Good for her. I down my whiskey, pay my bill and grab my carryon. I have a plane to catch.

“Oh, young man! Young man!”

I turn my head. It’s the little old lady from the slot machines. She totters up to me, smiling, her whole face lit up with happiness.

“I won! I won! Thanks to you!” She grabs my hand. “I can pay for my grandson’s operation, all thanks to you!”

“You’re welcome,” I say. I try to pull my hand away, but she won’t let me go.

“Wait!” She protests. “I have something for you.”

She turns my hand over, palm up. “You gave me exactly what I needed. I want to give it back to you.”

She places a coin in my hand. It was the bicentennial.

“I can’t take this,” I protest, as I grab her hand and try to give it back to her.

“It’s yours.”

She shakes her head.

“No, it’s yours. Fortune favors the few.”

Firmly, she gives me back the cursed quarter and then walks back toward her new friends at the bar.

The scar across the drummer’s face winks at me under the lounge lights. I put the quarter in my pocket and left the lounge. The knot in my gut has returned. I feel queasy. It's not fair. I’m still Fortune’s bitch.

The rest of my flight to New York is uneventful. I spend hours rubbing the bicentennial between my thumb and forefinger, frustrated and embarrassed. As much as I appreciate my incredible run of good luck, I also resent my charmed life. I’m a slave to superstition.

As I walk out of the doors of JFK, I realize I’m near the place where I’d found my cursed coin. I walk over to the spot. A new fire hydrant has been installed where I stood last. I pull the bicentennial from my pocket. I look deep into the drummer’s scarred face.

What would happen if….

I drop the quarter into the gutter.

I stand there, waiting…waiting…waiting… Cars drive by. People swirl around me, flagging down cabs and wrestling with luggage.

Elation fills me. I exhale, turn around and begin to walk away.

I’m free!

Free!

I stop, turn, and run back to the gutter. I reach down to pick up the quarter. Sunlight bounces off the scarred drummer’s face. I hear the screech of brakes.

My hand closes over the quarter.

I jump back,

A cab rushes right into the space I just vacated and crashes into the fire hydrant!

And this is how it ends, and begins again.




"Act passionately; think rationally; be Thyself." - Liber Librae

The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter -- often an unconscious, but still a truthful interpreter -- in the eye. - Charlotte Bronte



Marie C Lecrivain is a poet, publisher, and ordained priestess in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, the ecclesiastical arm of Ordo Templi Orientis. She currently curates two literary blogs: Dashboard Horus: A Bird’s Eye of the Universe (travel themed poetry and art), and Al-Khemia Poetica: A Women’s Art and Literary Journal. Her work has been published in California Quarterly, Chiron Review, Gargoyle, Nonbinary Review, Orbis, Pirene's Fountain, and many other journals. She's the author of several books of poetry and fiction, and editor of Ashes to Stardust: A David Bowie Tribute Anthology (2023 Sybaritic Press, www.sybpress.com).


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