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February 9, 2016 | Fiction

Luck Come Undone

Jason Thayer

Luck Come Undone photo

Hector was lucky and he knew it. And everyone else knew it too.

“Hector, the big money man. The big lucky man,” said Godwin, a small Nigerian with a gap between his front teeth. He had waited an hour after his shift for Hector in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel, reclined on a wooden bench in the employee locker room. The locker room smelled like all locker rooms: like wet newspaper, like wet dog, like soil, like sweat. Godwin rubbed Hector’s arm. “I need some of your luck today, okay? Let me have just a little.”        

One of the waiters, a lanky alcoholic with a penchant for Italian-made shoes, hadn’t shown up for his shift and Godwin, normally charged with the task of pouring water and re-setting tables, had been called upon to wait his section. All morning, he’d ran around refilling coffee and juice and asking businessmen and women how they liked their eggs and if they preferred milk or yogurt with their granola. Godwin had made $180 in tips, a mint in just six hours. “Jeffery will be fired after today. It is his third strike,” Godwin said. “Not even the union can save him.” Godwin had learned English from a British missionary and retained the accent and precise diction, despite 7 years living in Chicago. “The front server position is open and it is going to be mine because of you.” He kept rubbing Hector’s arm. “I will bring my wife and my son to Chicago and we will buy a house on the north side. We will have another baby and we will name him Hector. Little Hector.”

“Okay, my friend. Have the luck but don’t take it all.” He brushed Godwin’s hand away. “Hector needs luck too.” They both laughed.

Luck had settled on Hector’s shoulders last year and he knew why. The law of averages said everything evened out, and so, when his wife died at 62, not of ovarian cancer or heart attack or brain aneurism the way that older women usually die, but by freak accident—the wheel on a Darigold truck coming loose, barreling down Western Ave, ricocheting off an Astrovan and into Guillermina, knocking his precious pepita to the sidewalk, delivering a lethal head injury, Hector knew that only good luck could follow such colossal bad.

Hector had taken up the lottery to test his theory. He played a couple of cards a day. He filled them out at the McDonalds while he ate his dinner. He used his pin number, his wedding anniversary, his mother’s birthday, numbers in license plates he saw coming to work.

The first time Hector won big, six figures, the other employees at the hotel rubbed his head for good luck. “Big money Hector,” they hollered at him as he swabbed the employee showers. When he won again, the sommelier shouted across the employee cafeteria to him. “Did you find a mamacita to help you spend all of that money yet, Hector?” The sommelier’s pudgy neck strained against his collar and he smelled his hands compulsively, a nervous tick. Hector did not like this man.

After the second win, Hector put a down payment on a three-story Brownstone in Hyde Park, packed up his house in Evanston, and paid a moving company to transport what he and Guillermina had accumulated over the course of 30 years. He dialed HR and arranged to use all 21 of his vacation days to settle into the new home and to properly grieve his wife.

But during that time off, Hector couldn’t sleep. He went to see his friend and primary care physician, Dr. Raul Lopez. “You need to stay busy,” Raul told Hector. “Keep your body moving. Go back to work. Tire yourself out.” So Hector called HR again and arranged to return to the Fairmont next week. He began walking the Lakefront Trail everyday before his afternoon shift. Even in winter, when the breakers on Lake Michigan had frozen in chunks on the shore, he walked.

The third time Hector won the Illinois state lottery, this time a more modest 90 grand, a chorus of co-workers called out to him in the halls of the basement. Waiters, people in laundry, bellmen, stewards, concierges all asked him when he was going to quit and if they were invited to the retirement party? How much money did he need? Tell the boss to kiss your ass, they said. Enjoy life, they said. Travel, they said.

But Hector could not retire. He dreaded his days off in that big house. Even with the heat cranked, the place felt cold. He didn’t like the hardwood floors. A draft filtered through the big empty hallways and Hector, not usually a superstitious man, felt it might be Guillermina’s ghost, upset that he had abandoned the home they shared for so many years. And so, Hector went to see Raul again, this time adamant that the doctor prescribe him something so his mind and body could rest.

“The solution is simple,” Raul told him. “Sell the house, and find a one bedroom to rent. All that extra space will drive anyone crazy.” Raul put his hand on Hector’s shoulder. “And my friend,” he said. “Holding onto all of Guillermina’s belongings isn’t healthy. No wonder you feel like you’re living with a ghost.”

So, Hector packed up and moved again, this time into a studio in Lincoln Square. What wouldn’t fit in his new apartment, he left to be sold by three woman who specialized in estate sales, these items comprised mostly of Guillermina’s things: hats adorned with fake flowers, kitchen items whose uses he did not understand.

The fourth time Hector won the lottery, this time well over a million, people began to hate him. It was insulting that he worked when he didn’t need to and they worked because they had to. Quit, they demanded. “My son can’t find a job in this city and you’re down here scrubbing floors for the hell of it,” said Wesley, a large man from Louisiana who worked the custodial shift with Hector.

The fifth time he won they started calling him Hector the idiot. Hector the ass. Hector the greedy man. Won’t give up his job to someone who needs it. Hector the old miser. The stubborn fool who won’t retire until he dies.

The sixth time he won they stopped speaking to him entirely. Hector began to blend into the tile walls he scrubbed. He continued filling out lottery tickets everyday at lunch, wondering if it would be the seventh or eighth or ninth win that would turn his luck back around. How many wins would it take until he slipped on the slick linoleum floor he mopped and joined his wife? And when he did, would they still remember him as a lucky man? 

image: Tara Wray


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