Chances

The scene was warm and homely with the family gathered around the TV.  Like millions of other families in Britain they were relaxing after a hard day at work and school.  In front of them they each had lap trays with a plate of fish fingers and chips.

Nicola wandered in from the kitchen with a bottle of ketchup and handed it to her father.

“What time does Dancing on Ice start love?” he asked his wife Gloria.

“Half eight.  But the lottery results are on first,” she said, looking at her wrist watch.

They always watched the lottery results on a Saturday night whether they’d remembered to buy tickets or not.  Gloria was a psychic in her spare time, although not a very successful one.  Seven years ago whilst pregnant with her third child she had a dream that she would one day win the lottery using a particular set of numbers.

The numbers were not of any special significance to her.  They were not birth dates or the ages of her children or anything like that.  They were just a set of random numbers that had appeared to her in a dream repeatedly, for the first five months of pregnancy.

Ever since then she was convinced that she would win using those numbers at some point in the future.  But as of yet nothing had happened.  She had not even won a single pound.

At first her family had faith in her prediction.  But after seven years of waiting it had eventually become a bit of a joke amongst the Hobson household.

“Did you buy a ticket this week mum?” Freddy asked.

She shovelled a fork full of peas into her mouth and mumbled something unintelligible.

“We’re never going to win anyway,” grumbled Nicola.  She was sitting on the floor, pushing her food aimlessly around her plate.

Nicola was Gloria and Eric’s eldest.  At fourteen years of age she was moody and always sullen.  Vicky, the youngest poked her tongue out at her.

“Well, I still believe you mummy,” she said resting her head on her mother’s leg.

“Suck up,” growled Nicola, lashing out with her foot.

“Hey!  Enough!” bellowed Eric.  His mouth was half full of food and when he shouted bits of fish fingers and chips flew everywhere. 

“Ewww!  Gross!” Nicola cried, screwing up her face in disgust.

“Quiet now.  It’s starting,” Gloria said, shushing them.

No one was really paying that much attention, they were just there to relax and chill out while they ate their food in the comfort of their living room.  It was an age old routine they’d fallen into.

Music blared into their living room as the fanfare of the national lottery began.  After a few moments of mindless banter, the presenter with the pneumatic cleavage and the dazzling smile initiated the first draw.  The balls began to drop one by one, to the sound of a steady drum roll rumbling away in the back ground.

Gloria leaned forward, her dinner forgotten as the first two numbers were revealed.

“Those are your numbers mummy!” squeaked Vicky.

“Shhh!” everyone said at once.

Another ball dropped and Gloria unconsciously gripped the armrests of her chair.  No one said a word as the next two balls rolled out.

All eyes were on the screen.

“Oh.  MY.  God!” exclaimed Gloria.

She must have been trembling with excitement as her chandelier earrings were swaying back and forth.

“BLOODY HELL!” shouted Eric leaping up.  His dinner landed with a crash on the floor.

“And now for the final number,” grinned the presenter flashing her perfectly aligned teeth.

Everyone in the room sat dead still.  Even Gloria.

“The final number is…”

Then the screen went black and all the lights went out.  Everyone roared in disapproval.  

“Well what rubbish timing!  Did you forget to pay the electric again?” cried Gloria, feeling around for a box of matches in the dark.  She always kept a box on the shelf for lighting candles and her menthol flavoured cigarettes.

“No,” replied Eric.  “I sent the cheque last week.  It must be a blown fuse.”

He hurried off to check the circuit board.

Gloria began to shake in the darkness.  Her youngest, Vicky sought out her hand for reassurance.  Like many children her age, she didn’t like the dark.

“Do you really think we won Mum?” asked Nicola in wonderment.

Her mum was strangely quiet.

“How can you be so calm at a time like this?” demanded Nicola.

Her mother stayed silent.  Suddenly all the lights came back on and the television blared into life again.  The end credits were now rolling but the numbers were there at the bottom of the screen, as large as life.

“We won!!!  We won!!!” shouted the children shrieking with elation.  They jumped up and down throwing cushions round the room.  Eric burst through the door and saw the numbers on the screen.

“Christ!” he said in disbelief.  He turned to look at Gloria still seated in her fireside draylon chair.

“Daddy, why won’t mummy wake up?” said Vicky in a small voice.  She was still holding her mother’s hand only now she was gently tugging on it.

Eric leaned over her and tried to rouse her.

“Gloria?  Gloria?” he said shaking her shoulders.  There was no response.

“Quiet!” he bellowed at the other two.  The kids stopped what they were doing, their smiles disappearing.

“Something’s wrong with your mother.  Call an ambulance – quick!” he said, looking pale.

Nicola the eldest didn’t need to be asked twice.  As she dialled the numbers her hands shook as though she had malaria.  Everyone waited anxiously for the ambulance to arrive.

“It’ll be here soon,” their father said.  It was more for his self that he said this than anything.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Freddy remarked, twelve hours later.  “How can mum have had a heart attack?  She’s not fat or anything.”

The family were sitting in a corridor waiting for her to come out surgery.

“It’s not like that son.  You can have a heart attack even if you’re not over weight.  Your mam’s arteries were blocked.  That’s what the doctors are doing in there – trying to fix them,” his dad replied.

“Like drains you mean?” asked Freddy.

“Something like that.”

Vicky was sitting in his lap and the other two were leaning into his padded jacket.  He was trying his best not to show the worry he felt, but it was hard.  The thought that she might not pull through was painful to say the least.  He tried his best not to think about it.

Instead he tried to imagine what they would do once she’d recovered.  They were millionaires now.  With twenty three million just waiting to be deposited into their bank account they’d never have to worry about money again.  Perhaps they would go on one of those world cruises or buy themselves a yacht and go island hopping.  He thought of Gloria sunbathing on the deck, martini in hand and smiled.

Then an unsettling thought brought him up short.  Where was the ticket?

Oh no!  It must be at home!  He’d gone and left twenty three million in the house unattended!   But what could he do?  He couldn’t very well leave now.  Gloria was far more important…but then again that was a heck of a lot of money!

“Well any news?” said a voice interrupting his panicked thought process.

Eric looked up and found his brother Tom standing there looking all sympathetic.  All the tension he felt suddenly showed in the expression on his face.  He looked close to breaking down.  Taking a seat beside him, Tom patted his shoulder lifting his youngest niece onto his lap.

“Guess what Uncle Tom bought?” he said lifting the carrier bag he’d placed under his chair.

“What is it?” Vicky asked with a wan smile.

“Take a look,” he told her.  

“Ooo…lollies!” she said delightedly.  The other two lifted their heads now, obviously wondering if there was one for them too.

“One each,” Tom nodded.

“Thanks,” Eric said gratefully.  He watched the children squabble briefly over who got the Magnum and who got the cornetto.  A pronounced quiet descended that was only punctuated by the loud crack of chocolate and splintering of crispy wafer. 

“So how is she?” ventured Tom.

“The surgeon came out about two hours ago.  Said it seemed to be going well and that barring complications they’d be finished in an hour.”

“Oh.”

No one said anything for a while.  Then suddenly the operating room doors flew open and a surgeon emerged wiping away sweat from his brow.  He smiled encouragingly and took of his mask.  He beckoned Eric to one side and spoke quietly.

“Mr Hobson…we’ve just finished closing up the operation site.  Apart from a bout of uncontrolled bleeding that we’ve now managed to halt, she’s doing very well.  We’re sending her up to the recovery unit in the intensive care ward and once she’s settled you’ll be able to go up and see her briefly.”

Eric sighed and bowed his head with relief.

“Thank you doctor.  Will I be able to bring the children up?”

“Not today.  But I would hope that they can see her tomorrow sometime for a short time.”

Eric nodded and returned to his seat.

“She’s ok,” he told the children.  “They’re taking her upstairs now to get some rest.  He said that you could maybe see her tomorrow.”

“But I want to see her now!” Vicky said starting to pout.

“I know you do,” Eric said patiently.  “But your mum needs her rest.  I’m just going up to check that she has everything she needs then even I have to leave.”

“So where are we supposed to go?” Freddy complained.

“Uncle Tom’s taking you home.  That ok Tom?”

“Sure.  No problem,” he nodded.  He felt happy to be doing something useful.

Eric took Tom to one side for a moment.

“Listen Tom…I know the timings a bit off and that, but I kind of have another favour to ask.”

“Sure.  What is it?”

“Well…just before all this happened we were watching the lottery results.  You know how we’ve always done that.  It’s a funny habit of ours.  Gloria always believed she’d win using those numbers I told you about,” Eric explained.  “Thing is Tom, we did win.  Not millions or anything, you understand.  Just a few thousand I think.  Enough to get us out of trouble at least.  Problem is, I don’t know where the ticket is, but I’ve a pretty good idea.  Gloria usually puts it in the zip up in her handbag or else in the kitchen draw nearest the stove.  Could you take a look, and if you find it bring it on over?”

“No problem,” said Tom.  “Take it easy and I’ll see you when you get home.”

 Eric’s eyes stung when he saw Gloria surrounded by tubes and wires.  The monitor beeped steadily beside her and the drip feed meds soundlessly into her veins.

There was a chair placed conveniently by her bed and he sank down thankfully into it.  Tired as he was he fell asleep and never even woke when the nurses came in to check her stats. 

Meanwhile, back at home Tom had the children safely tucked up in bed and a bottle of wine open on the counter.  He poured himself a few glugs and settled down in front of the telly.

He looked around the living room and smiled at the faces of his nephew and nieces looking down on him from the photo frames on the mantle.  Eric had a nice little family.  He really hoped that Gloria could pull through because she was the nucleus that held everything together.

There was nothing much of interest on the TV.  He turned to his phone instead and perused the latest headlines.  Elections were a top news item, as were the unprecedented floods in Germany.  He checked the sports results and then scrolled on down to the lottery results. 

He almost fell off his chair!  Gloria’s numbers had scooped the twenty three million jackpot not a few thousand!  He leapt up like he’d being stung as he remembered Eric’s request that he search for the ticket.  Maybe he should give Eric a call – tell him the news.  But wait – surely he must already know?

Feeling puzzled he rifled through Gloria’s handbag but found nothing.  He’d forgotten all about late night TV now.  With a glass of Chardonnay to keep him company he rummaged through every single kitchen draw, but found nothing.

He searched into the small hours, even hunting through the glove compartment of Gloria’s car.  Eventually he gave up and flopped onto the sofa with a sleeping bag and only his disquieting thoughts for company.

He awoke the next day, to find that Eric had come home and was in the process of getting everyone ready for school.

“Daddy!  Where’s my lunch?” called Vicky.  She had her hair in pigtails and was pouring a bowl of coco pops to the point of overflow.

“Damn!” said Eric.  He’d forgotten to make it.

“Here!  I’ll do it,” said Tom sitting up.

The children laughed at his dishevelled appearance and sticky up hair.  He pulled a face at them and then stepped into his jeans.

“Did you find the ticket?” Eric asked him hopefully.  Something in his eyes confirmed that he knew full well the real amount they’d won.  Tom decided to confront him with it.

“Oh, yeah – you mean the one for twenty three million?”

The children shot sidelong glances at both men.  Obviously they were in on it too.

“Look, I didn’t want to tell you Tom because I simply wasn’t sure what the situation was.  And then there’s this thing with Gloria.  I’ve been worried sick – you know that.”

“I think we both know what you weren’t sure about Eric.”

Tom pushed a sandwich box into Vicky’s hands then lifted his jacket.

“And no, I didn’t find your precious ticket but if there’s anything else you need help with that doesn’t require your trust be sure to let me know.  You’ve got my number,” he said closing the door behind him.

Eric sighed.

“Come on.  Get your coats on,” he told the kids.  “We’re late as it is.”

“Uncle Tom doesn’t seem very happy with you,” commented Vicky.

“No, and that’s exactly why we should keep this to ourselves – for now at least.  Promise?” he said looking at each child in turn.

“God Dad!  We’re not five!” exclaimed Nicola.

He scowled and they all knew he was deadly serious.

“Ok,” they murmured.

“Good.  Now everyone in the car,” he cried shooing them out.

An hour later he was at Gloria’s bedside and glad to find her awake.  She still seemed a bit groggy but was managing to ask him about the kids.  He assured her that they were fine and that they were very keen to see her.  She closed her eyes and smiled.

“Gloria, I hate to bring this up,” he said pulling his chair even closer.  “But I’ve been turning the house upside down for that damn ticket.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him closely.

“Oh no,” she whispered, looking upset.

“What?  What is it?” he asked grasping her hand reassuringly.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, her eyes filling up with tears.  “But I never bought a ticket last week.  I forgot.”

It was a crushing blow, but Eric fought hard to hide his acute disappointment for her sake.

“We don’t need it when we’ve got you,” he said huskily.  He kissed her hand gently and stroked her hair till she dosed off.

She had no awareness of anything for quite some time, till something landed on her bed with a thump.  Little arms clung to her neck and a soft cheek brushed hers.  She knew even before she opened her eyes it was Vicky.

“Eric!” she cried sitting up in surprise.  Instead of waking up in her hospital bed as she had expected, she found that she was now in her own bed at home, with her husband Eric bundled up beside her.

“What is it?” he groused grumpily.  He was not and never had been a morning person.

Gloria’s hand ran across her chest trying to find the site of her angioplasty operation.  But there was none.  She realised in that instant what must have happened – it had all been a premonition.  The whole thing was a warning and one that she must heed – just in case.

Turning to the bedside locker she grabbed the phone and started to dial.  Vicky stared up at her curiously – she was glad her mummy wasn’t like other mummies.  No one could ever predict what her mum was going to say or do.

“Hello, this is Gloria Hobson from nineteen Heathcote Avenue.   Yes.  I need an emergency appointment.  I’ve been having chest pain off and on for the last couple of weeks.”  There was a pause.  “Ok, I’ll be there within the hour,” she said ending the call.

“What was that all about?  How come you never told me you’ve been having chest pains?” complained Eric.

Gloria was out of bed now and hurriedly searching for something to wear.

“I didn’t want to worry you.  But I’ve decided I need to go and get it checked.”

“You had one of your dreams again didn’t you?”

Gloria nodded.

“Right!  I’m coming with you,” he announced pulling back the duvet.  “Probably ought to ring Tom – see if he can mind the kids.”

“Ok.  But we need to hurry because I have to stop off at the garage first.”

“Whatever for?”

“A lottery ticket of course,” she said with an enigmatic smile.

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