The shop bell rang as he pushed open the door. Mister Shah put down his cup and smiled across the counter.
“Usual bets Charlie?”
“Give us a fiver’s worth, I feel lucky!”
This had become a custom on pay day and gave a bright spot to the end of the week. What If? Like every other punter, Charlie Spence shared the dream to win a piece of the jackpot. It didn’t matter that he had tried for the last three years and won sod all–it was the dream.
Tucking the slips into his back pocket, he went out into the grey evening light, heading for the Cross Keys. He spent half an hour in the pub sipping a pint and watching the bar maid; she was gorgeous and she called him by his name as if she was a girlfriend. He liked that. He’s never had a real girlfriend in all his twenty-eight years, but sometimes he visited the ‘house’ in Palmer Street.
Back home, his Mam bustled at the kitchen stove and laid his dinner on the table. Charlie chewed through the meal, half his mind on Dorothy the barmaid and half on the prospect of another dull week-end. Then he subsided into his usual state and turned on the telly.
The man on the screen was young and tanned and his smile got on Charlie’s wick but when he began to deal with the National Lottery results, Charlie straightened up and pulled the slips out of his pocket and added them to the pile on the sideboard. This was the weekly ritual and he felt for the pencil they kept next to the slips. He wrote down the numbers as they tumbled out of the canister. The smiling face of the star loomed large as he approached the screen and wished everyone good luck. He announced the total of prize money with a wide gesture as if taken by surprise. The tv audience screamed with simulated joy; then the commercials came on and Charlie switched off.
He took up the note of the numbers and began to check the top slip. He checked again. Yes, there were seven out of eight numbers right!
“Bloody Hell!” He sat still for a moment, and checked again–still seven numbers.
Like a greyhound, he was off to the corner shop.
“Look Ali! I got seven numbers!” Within a half hour the Lottery confirmed it and Charlie knew he was a winner. Shocked and unsure of himself, he sat in a corner of the pub and pondered what to do. Nothing seemed real, the win, the voices of the Lottery Team as they burbled on, the unspecified amount of his prize.
He looked at Dorothy, and wondered about her. She looked unreachable. She smiled as she pulled pints; her eyelashes fluttered, her breasts strained against her blouse and her glossy black hair swept to and fro He shook the image from his mind; she was too hot for him. He got up and went home. The wind blasted him along the dim street and into the house.
Next morning was Saturday and he slept in. The wonderful news cossetted him in a warm glow. It was his secret which he longed to keep hidden while he absorbed the news. How much was it? When did he get paid? How would he handle it? Gradually these thoughts began to whirl inside his head and he got up and dressed.
The morning air was keen and he walked briskly up to the papershop. Missus Ali was filling the paper racks.
“Quick! See how much you’ve won!”
She handed him The Sun and his hand trembled as he turned the pages. There had been eleven tickets with seven winning numbers and the payout was £120.000. His first reaction was disappointment. His imagination had fixed on millions not thousands and the figure seemed puny against his expectation.
When he went home, he said nothing to his mother. His secret was so special that he wanted to keep it to himself as long as possible. He felt that once his parents found out, everything would be different.
The phone rang and he jumped to it.
“Is that Mister Spence?” said a posh London voice, “Mister Charles Spence?”
“We’ve arranged a presentation at the London Hilton for the winners.” And he gave a date.
“Will I get my money then and there?” Charlie’s voice rose a little as he spoke.
“Yes indeed!” Said the suave voice, “you can be sure of that. Of course, bring the ticket with you!” Charlie didn’t like the tone of the laugh at the other end of the line. He put the phone down.
The date was early next week, the Tuesday, and his mind whirled with what to do. For the first time, he had to make choices. Should he take someone with him? What should he wear? Would he have to stay down there? Life had been simple and orderly up to now as he had no need to make decisions, even if life flowed on disagreeably.
At Sunday lunchtime, his father came in from the Legion with a look on his face. He stabbed a finger at Charlie.
“What’s all this about the Lottery?” Veins stood out on his neck and he looked flushed.
“Happens I won some cash on the Lottery. What’s it to you?” Charlie could hear his voice as if someone else was talking yet he could not help it; years of frustration were bubbling up inside his head and he was incapable of stifling it.
Monday morning he stayed home. The tyre-fitters could manage without him. Instead, he walked to the Cross Keys as soon as it opened. Dorothy was there.
“My My!” she said, “tell us all about it? What you goin’ to do?”
He looked down and away for a moment, unable to meet her gaze.
“Got to go down to London tomorrow to find out.”
He didn’t want to tell her how much because she might be disappointed.
“That’s nice. Fancy a trip myself!”
He looked up to see if she was teasing him but her blue eyes gazed at him with interest. She leant forward across the bar and he had to look up into her face to avoid gazing at her bosom. It was difficult and she knew it.
There was no one else in the bar and he bit his lip.
“Do you want to come with me?” His words were out of his mouth before he realized it.
“What to London?” her eyes sparkled and she tilted her head back, “What would your Mam say?”
“What’s that got to do with it?” He felt a surge of defiance rising inside.
“Just asking! If you want me to, I’ll come.”
He could hardly believe it. Dorothy! Who never chatted to him. Dorothy! Who every bloke in the pub fancied!
“What you got to do then?” Her eyes grew serious and she looked at him in a different way.
“Well, they give out the prizes in a fancy hotel, so I suppose they want photos and things.”
“Listen!” She gripped his arm, “You got to spruce up. I’ll sort it out, shall I?”
“We’ll get you a new suit and shoes —the works.”
His confidence began to grow; things he had not considered were being dealt with
and the prospect of the London trip seemed less daunting.
That afternoon, they bought the new suit and a pair of smart trainers. He felt taller and took sidelong glances at Dorothy as they left the shop. She tucked her arm in his as they walked along.
Next day, they met up at the station and arrived in London at mid day. She found the way to the big Hotel and he was grateful; the bustle and excitement was almost too much to take. She looked ace, with her hair done up and the high heel shoes. He knew people were looking at them and felt like a new man. When they arrived, they were put into a group of other winners and herded into a large plush room.
A plump man in a dinner jacket stood on a platform and held up his hand.
“Welcome ladies and Gentlemen and congratulations to everybody! When your name is called, please come up to the platform and show us your slip and we’ll take it from there.”
A steady line of people formed. Nobody wanted to push forward, so it took several minutes for Charlie and Dorothy to reach the stage. The beaming man leant down and held out his hand for the slip. Charlie passed it over. Dorothy smiled at him and smoothed her glossy locks languidly.
A puzzzled smile passed over the gentleman’s face and he looked again at Charlie’s slip.
“This is no good,” he said, pointing to the slip. “Do you know what this is?”
Charlie looked up at the little man. Was he trying to take the piss?
“What d’you mean?” Dorothy frowned and moved forward.
“This is last week’s ticket. You’ve got no prize with this!”
He waved the piece of paper in Charlie’s face.
It couldn’t be true! It was on the top of the pile in the kitchen where they were always kept!
“See? Look at the date!” The horrible man pushed the scrap under his nose.
Dorothy grabbed it and peered at the date, then she turned and slapped Charlie so hard that the people at the back thought the stage had collapsed. He hardly felt the sting. His mind was numb and he stepped back from the crowd and sat on one of the little gilded chair which stood against the wall.
His new suit was tight under the arms and he felt sick and hot. The show went on as he sat there, mouth agape till a hand touched his shoulder and he looked up. It was Dorothy.
“You daft Pillock!” She said, “I should have guessed you’d fuck it up somehow!”
She looked down at him and a corner of her mouth lifted. “Come on we better get out of here.” She hoisted him to his feet and they left. No one noticed them.
Outside, the bright lights of Piccadilly glowed in a friendly way. He rubbed his eyes and looked sideways at her.
“If I say sorry, does it make a difference?”
She grinned: “No, you’re still a noggin, but we’re in this together aren’t we? Till we get home, I want to enjoy myself–let’s get a room!”
That night Charlie lived the dream.