Part One: Ernie’s Slip
The Ticket is a work of short fiction written by former Three Rivers resident and local author Charles Thomas. The story has been split into seven parts, all of which will be published on Watershed Voice in the coming days/months.
Ernie Marvin loved living in Three Rivers so much he’d never lived anywhere else in his entire 79 years.
Granted, there was a time in the ‘60s when it looked like Uncle Sam was going to forcefully relocate Ernie to South Vietnam, but fortunately that didn’t end up happening. Ernie had the famous Marvin feet to thank for that. While he’d always thought the bursitis that engulfed both his feet was a curse, when his draft deferment came in, he gained a new perspective on that particular ailment.
Ernie loved many things about living in Three Rivers, but probably what he loved more than anything else was he had so many friends and family in town. Having pretty much everyone he knew living in a tight five-mile radius around him was one of the great joys of his life.
At least most of the time.
As Ernie stood in line at the Triple Ripple Café that morning, he thought to himself that sometimes knowing so many people made life difficult. Ester Harrison had caught him before he even got through the door and had been talking non-stop about her gladiolus.
“Now the blue ones,” Esther explained, as Ernie tried mightily to maintain the appearance of interest, “the blue ones are my favorites. They grow so well under that big, old tree that my father planted when we were in grammar school. Do you remember that tree, Ernie?”
“Yes. I remember that tree, Esther,” Ernie replied as a whirling espresso machine whipped up a drink.
“Well, Daddy always said that red maples are the best shade trees there are,” she carefully explained. “I loved Daddy, but I am of the opinion that ash trees are better shade trees. What do you think, Ernie?”
Ernie didn’t have an opinion one way or the other. He was never much of a green thumb and had completely stopped caring about flowers after his wife died three years ago. After Alice was gone, it was hard to see any beauty in the flowers they had planted together in the front yard.
“Don’t know if I have strong feelings either way,” Ernie told Esther as it occurred to him this must be what flirting looked like on the far side of 70.
“Well, you should Ernie. You should. These things are important.”
But Ernie didn’t care about trees or gladiolus or even Esther for that matter. He just wanted to get his coffee and get over to the Three Rivers Food Site where he was volunteering that morning.
Because God was good, before Ernie had to listen to one more word, the man at the counter called him forward.
“Can I help you, sir?” the tall and scruffy man asked Ernie.
“Sorry, Esther. Time to place my order.” Ernie turned his face from her before she could offer her invitation. There was always an invitation with women like Esther, usually a lunch or a dinner. He’d been offered many in the past three years and had never accepted a single one.
“I’d just like the large black coffee,” he told the younger man.
“Big brewed,” the man yelled back to two women furiously working behind the counter. The younger lady looked somewhat familiar but because Ernie had left his glasses in the car, he couldn’t be sure. Maybe that was a blessing, he thought. The last thing he wanted right now was another long drawn out conversation.
“Two dollars,” the lanky man said. The barista had longish, dirty blond hair and even though he couldn’t have been a day over thirty, his eyes were those of a man who had already led a very hard life.
Ernie reached into his wallet to grab two $1 bills, but as he did, a particularly strong tremor jolted through his hand causing the entire contents of his wallet to fly into the air like confetti at a party.
The scruffy barista, who wore a name tag that said Daryl, didn’t say a word. He just stared down apathetically at the mess of paper and bills that landed on the counter in front of him.
“So sorry,” Ernie apologized as he picked up the bills that had fallen out of his wallet along with a number of Michigan Millionaire Tickets.
“Big jackpot we got this week,” Ernie commented to Daryl to help him forget that tremors like this were happening more and more frequently lately. “Bought a few extra tickets this week,” he said with a laugh. “You ought to get some, too!”
“How can I help you, ma’am?” Daryl called back to Ester.
Ernie stuffed everything back into his wallet as quickly as he could and walked with his head down to the other end of the counter, full of embarrassment.
When he left the Triple Ripple that day, Ernie thought he’d gotten everything back into his wallet. But he hadn’t. One of the lottery tickets remained behind when Ernie left that day. That small slip of paper had floated into the tip jar when Ernie’s wallet exploded, and Ernie never saw it when he packed everything up.
While neither he nor Daryl knew it at the time, that lottery ticket would change the lives of everyone who lived in Three Rivers.
Charles D. Thomas is a writer and psychotherapist who made Three Rivers his home for over a decade. Feedback is welcome at Charles@charlesdthomas.com.