Saturday, March 31, 2012


Miss McConnaught taught English at what used to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt Junior High before it became  Hollis Unified Middle School in a town that could only be considered small and appropriately quaint, such as New Hampshire towns tend to be. She had seen generations with familiar family names pass through her classrooms, the children of the children she had taught decades before and their children, too. Some family names simply disappeared, those offspring likely finding their way to a less rural life far away from the green hills surrounding their valley town.

She had been retired now for almost twenty years. She had never married and her dead sister's children rarely called or wrote, likely as they too were busy getting old or occupied with being elderly.. Most of her friends and colleagues had passed away very long or not too long ago. And so, she was mostly forgotten except for the vague notion that there was or might have been an Aunt or Great Aunt that lived or may still be alive far north at the fringe of recognition.

Ms. McConnaught was still able-bodied, vibrant, really, for a woman closer to ninety than eighty. She credited her longevity to routine and structure in her life and in her thinking. Each day in better weather she woke early, had herself a nice toast and strong black coffee. Afterward, she took a walk through the neighborhood just to see what there was to see, which was often nothing except for the occasional landscaper and empty driveways, at least during the week, the owners of the missing cars no doubt off to work in Nashua. There seemed to be few children about, even during the summer months and she had seen no very young children anywhere. Every third or fourth day, she would walk the mile to and back from the main street where she would buy a newspaper and a lottery ticket.

In her time, teachers where well taken care of by the taxpayers and she wanted for nothing. Her pension was more than enough for her to live in frugal comfort and her health needs were covered by the Teacher's Union's generous medical benefits. The lottery ticket represented a bit of spice, a chance, a gamble. She had played since New Hampshire started the lottery in 1964 and had never, not once, won a single penny. This reinforced her sense that the game was just that - a lark, a bit of fun. She had mused from time to time how she might spend a jackpot of a million dollars and could not come up with anything more than an indulgent trip to New York. She had been to Boston many times, but always wanted to visit the Big Apple, yet had somehow never made it. She imagined a stay at a fully-appointed Plaza suite, a visit to Tiffany's and to see the New York Public Library as Capote had painted it and how Hepburn had blazed against it.

The day was bright, a bit chill and not unusually breezy for the end of March. It felt right for a walk to town. Last she had heard at what used to be Fleckler's Convenience and what was now a 7-Eleven was that the lottery had risen to an unprecedented and truly ridiculous level, over a half a billion dollars. The clerk kept repeating his amazement to each serial customer that it was "a billion, with a B." Ms. Connaught thought that his figuratively open-mouthed awe of the scale of the prize was amusing and boyish. She bought what she also bought - a one dollar bet, dated for that night's drawing, fitting as it was the last day of March with many, she felt sure, ready to play the ultimate April Fool's over breakfast the next morning.

On the trip back, the sky had become fully clothed in white and grey and it felt much colder than it may have been. She turned up the collar of her thin spring jacket and sped her pace as best she could, her frame seemingly shrinking in the sudden spring turn. She said out loud, " What was I thinking? Can't rush spring."

She climbed the three steps to her front door and once inside, stood in the foyer, shivering. It wasn't that cold, surely? She thought. There was nothing for it but another hot coffee, the sooner the better. Ms. Connaught still clutched the ticket in her right pocket, hands like ice. She did not manage to make it to the stove.

All the media lead with the incredible story the following day of the single winner of the largest lottery  jackpot in history - over $640 million - anticipating who in the suburb of Nashua where the winning ticket was known to have been sold was the lucky winner. Anyone who had even been near the area busily checked their tickets only to find that they had not been graced by good fortune, most flooded with the dread of returning to the ordinary work-a-day from what could have been a house, no, a palace by the sea.

Time passed, as it is wont to do, and no one came forward to claim their wealth. As it turns out, some lottery winners are too afraid to come forward, denying in secret that their life and the lives of everyone who knew them had been utterly and irrevocably changed. Winning tickets are sometimes lost or destroyed. Some tickets are simply never checked, left to fade in a sock drawer or suit jacket. But there was still hope as a lottery ticket is still valid for redemption for one calendar year after the drawing.

It bothered Mrs. Bahindra that she no longer saw her neighbor's lights on at night. If she had died, why had the house not been sold? The family was probably fighting over the estate. Some things in this country were still not entirely clear, but money was universal. What was her name? Mrs. Connely? Connors? She truy could not remember having met Ms. Connaught only once when Mr. Bahindra had brought her to the new house after the closing. She chided herself for not being a good neighbor, but she and her husband were busy professionals and left before all the others on the block and came home after they have long since returned. Still, that house was oddly dark at night, but there was no car in the driveway, either. Had there ever been? She couldn't remember that, either.

Mrs. Bahindra resolved to pay her neighbor a visit the following morning, just to say hello, if her neighbor was, in fact, still in residence there. It couldn't hurt, she thought. So, since she had this rare Saturday off, she walked the hundred or so feet to Miss McConnaught's gate, up the concrete path to the three steps that elevated her to the front door and knocked. The door pivoted on the hinges with the third rap.

The police were called, relatives were sought but none could be found and there seemed to be no one to speak for Ms. McConnaught's pitifully mummified remains. Apparently she had collapsed on the kitchen floor some time ago. Possibly a year ago. It was hard for the police or for the coroner to say except for the rumpled ticket found in her coat pocket that had been purchased right on Main Street in Hollis a year ago. Or, to be precise, one year . . . and one day.