A light snow was falling as Charlie Rearden left the diner and made his way down Madison Street towards his elderly grandmother’s apartment in LaGuardia. He hated his job. He hated having to inspect the kitchens of all the New York eating establishments. It was a rotten job, and he’d been in some rotten kitchens. But not this one. Luckily they had rectified everything on their violation list after his last inspection. Bonus points for him! He hated New York, especially since 9/11. He’d lost several good friends then. He hated the cold as well. What he’d give to move south, but his wife Anna liked the big city.
Charlie shivered and pulled up his coat collar. It was not a good day to be out and about on foot, but it was only a fifteen minute walk to his grandmother’s and it wasn’t really worth waiting for the next bus. There were several eating establishments along Madison Street he could visit either on the way there or on the way back. He liked to take them by surprise, but if he visited one, they would ring the others to warn them before he got there. He decided to do one quick one on the way. McDonalds should be an easy one and they probably wouldn’t bother informing the others. He could do another couple an hour or so later on the way back. He already knew which two scruffy food outlets he was going to pick on this afternoon. Meanwhile, he was looking forward to his grandmother’s lunch.
The snow started to fall more heavily, and Charlie quickened his pace, as much as he dare. It was becoming quite slippery. As he got to the covered area under Manhattan Bridge roadway he paused for a while, and lit a cigarette. He knew he should give up altogether, but this would be the only one he would be able to smoke today. He was not allowed to smoke at home, or at work, and his grandmother had always disapproved of smoking anyway. He decided to call his grandmother to let her know he was actually on his way. He always went to lunch with her on a Wednesday if he was able to, but she would be worrying about whether or not he would actually come in the heavy snow. His grandmother didn’t pick up, but he left a message to say he was stopping off to inspect McDonalds and would be with her within half an hour.
He finished his cigarette, pulled up his collar again and crossed over the road as he headed on along Madison Street. The kids in the school playground were having a whale of a time in the snow. He wished he could join them in their snowball fight, but there were high railings in front of the playground. Anyway, he was too old for all that fun, wasn’t he? Anna was always telling him he should grow up when all he wanted was a bit of fun. He liked to lark about, it brought some light relief to his otherwise mundane city life, but Anna thought he was just being childish. He chuckled to himself as he watched some kid rolling a huge snowball. That would have been him years ago, he’d have rolled the biggest and best and he would have launched it at Jimmy Fisher, the school bully. “Who are you kidding? In your dreams!” his inner voice said. “You wouldn’t have dared in those days.”
Charlie continued along the street until he got to the flower shop on the corner, where he bought a nice bunch of flowers for his grandmother, and a lottery ticket for her at the shop next door. Maybe it would come up this week, and she could afford to get out of that awful apartment block she lived in. Not that she minded being there. She said she had lots of friends there at the Senior Citizens Centre and looked forward to her daily gatherings, but Charlie thought it was a dreadful place for her to be living. He’d been asking her to come and live with him and Anna for years, but his grandmother always said she liked her independence.
As expected, Charlie’s inspection at McDonalds was plain sailing, his visit was just a formality to keep them on their toes, but it had to be seen to be done. He crossed over the road to the Little Flower Playground and walked through it to his grandmother’s apartment block. He was grateful that at least there was this little patch of green for his grandmother to walk through and look out onto. Not that it was very green at the moment, with bare trees and snow everywhere, but it still looked very pretty anyway, especially in the snow. It was like a little oasis in the desert of tall city buildings.
Charlie took the elevator to his grandmother’s fourteenth floor apartment and rang her bell. There was no answer. He fumbled around in his pockets for his set of keys, then opened the door calling to his grandmother, but there was no reply. As he walked into the apartment he felt a sense of apprehension. There was no welcoming smell of cooking, and it was cold inside. This was not like his grandmother at all. There was no sign of her. Where was she? He tentatively opened the door to her bedroom. There she was, lying in her bed, quite obviously dead. Charlie was devastated. He dialled the emergency services and sat on the bed beside his grandmother, his head in his hands, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
A month later, Charlie had organised the funeral, cleared his grandmother’s possessions from her apartment and was back on Madison Street about to call on the two food outlets that he had failed to inspect on the day of his grandmother’s death. As he passed the flower shop on the corner, he remembered the lottery ticket he had bought for his grandmother which was still in his coat pocket. He walked into the shop and checked his ticket. He was stunned to find out it was a winning ticket, a very big winning ticket. He had won the jackpot!
Charlie’s head was reeling. But first there was something he wanted to do. He went into the flower shop and ordered the biggest flower display he could find. He walked through the Little Flower Playground past the statue of Mayor La Guardia, where he paused and looked up at the window to his grandmother’s apartment. He took out his handkerchief and blew his nose, trying to hide his tears. Composing himself again, he took the flower display over to the Senior Citizen Centre and handed it to the caretaker. Still dazed, he walked to the nearest subway. The two inspections he had left to do that day could be forgotten, he was going home.
Charlie didn’t go straight home. He left the subway near Central Park. He wanted a walk in the clear open air. His head was still reeling. He still could not believe that he had a winning lottery ticket, let alone that he had won such a big prize. He wondered what Anna would say to that. She might start to respect him for once. Anna always had criticised his every action, and publicly too. This would show her!
As he walked across Central Park he started making plans. They would move south, as he had always wanted, California or Florida. Maybe they would raise a couple of kids. Anna had always resisted any ideas he had of making babies, and they couldn’t afford kids anyway. But now things were different. He had money. Bags of it. He could do anything he wanted. Perhaps have another home in Europe somewhere, he’d always wanted to go to Europe, and he could find his long lost Irish relatives his father had told him about.
What a life-changing afternoon! He had started the day in a couple of sleazy dives which were in danger of being closed down if they didn’t comply with hygiene regulations. He’d grabbed a Big Mac from McDonalds after taking the flowers to cheer up the old folk in LaGuardia, and now he was a multi-millionaire! It was all too much to take in. He wondered what his grandmother would have done with the money. She’d have probably given most of it to charity, he thought. She had always had very modest expectations in life, not like Anna, who was never content, and who was always pushing him on to try and get a promotion. Ah well, he wouldn’t need a promotion now, would he!
Charlie sneezed yet again. He had been sneezing all afternoon. He had probably caught the latest flu bug from one of his visits to the sleazy dives he’d been inspecting this morning. Did one catch flu that quickly? Well it could have been caught from one he did yesterday, or the day before even. He stuffed his handkerchief back in his coat pocket and carried on walking. He could see some kids having a snowball fight. He was itching to join in and have a go. He rolled up a huge snowball and pitched it at the nearest kid. That was a mistake. They all turned on him and immediately started pelting him with a barrage of snowballs. He tried to get his own back, but he was outnumbered. He was soon plastered in snow from head to foot, but he’d had some fun. More fun than he’d had in years, since his best mate Jack was killed on 9/11. He waved goodbye to the kids, taking off his coat to shake it free of the loose snow, before continuing on his way. Life was getting better by the minute, he thought.
Charlie returned to the subway and continued his journey home. Walking home from the subway, Charlie decided he would surprise Anna by cooking her a nice romantic meal for when she arrived home from work, and he would break his good news to her over the candlelit meal he planned. He stopped off at the grocery store around the corner to get the provisions he needed: steak, vegetables and a couple of bottles of wine. Even he could manage to cook that sort of meal.
As he was paying for his goods he thought he would transfer his lottery ticket from his coat pocket to his wallet. But which pocket had he put it in? He thought it was in his right pocket, but was surprised to discover there was only his handkerchief in that one. He tried his left pocket, but that contained only his keys, and a couple of subway tickets. He started to panic, as he tried pocket after pocket. His suit jacket produced nothing, nor did his trousers’ pockets. Sweat pouring from his brow he started looking frantically through his wallet. Maybe he had already put it in there.
“Are you all right, buddy?” asked the grocery store assistant. “You’ve gone very pale.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” said Charlie. “I’ve just lost something I thought I had earlier. But never mind, it wasn’t very important.”
What an understatement! What had he done? How could he have been so stupid? When did he lose it? Was it when he was fetching his handkerchief out to blow his nose? He’d been doing that all afternoon. Or was it when he shook the snow off his coat in Central Park? He would never know. His dreams were over. All he knew was that he definitely wasn’t going to tell Anna anything about it.
Charlie took the next day off work pleading the beginnings of flu, although he had since stopped sneezing. He decided to retrace his steps of the previous day in the hope that the missing lottery ticket would still be in Central Park, or even somewhere on the route to the subway station from LaGuardia. There had been no fresh snow overnight, so with a bit of luck he might find it. He spent most of the day searching, but to no avail. That ticket was long gone. He returned dejectedly home, resigned to the fact that his new found wealth was not to be. He was stuck with his humdrum city life inspecting kitchens.
On Sunday morning Anna took a leisurely breakfast whilst reading the paper. Charlie went for a walk. On his return Anna greeted him by saying “Hey guess what? It says in the paper that some old dear, over in LaGuardia where your gran lived, has won the lottery jackpot from a month ago. She said she found the ticket in the gardens outside her block of apartments the other day. She’s got no relatives, so she’s gonna share the winnings with all the residents in her block. Too bad your gran had to die when she did, if she’d still been alive now, we could have had her share after she died!”
Charlie smiled to himself. That was exactly what his grandmother would have wanted, wasn’t it?
Creative Writing first line prompt from thefirstline.com competition for Aug 1st 300-3000 words