Purple-painted fingernails plush against 40-year old black skin out of the corner of my eye tapping the back of the Metro-North seat. But what's really interesting is her white and blue scarf with Hebrew lettering on the back, the kind only worn indoors at religious functions to signify maturity and knowledge.
It's stylish and creative. Where did the idea come from to wear that out and about? It's not a warm scarf, just cotton and a little gilding. Didn't even match her gray and black coat. Maybe that's all she had. Maybe she thought it was funny. Maybe she's a rabbi.
A scene flies through my imagination. Where did that come from?
Mary, call her Mary, she won the lotto one day. This was the happiest day in Mary's life. Never had she felt so upbeat and bouncy, right as the theory of relativity. As she's walking home from the Ralph's Corner Deli where she bought her winning ticket, she passes a synagogue. It's getting close to the winter winds, that dead cold that feels like you're being smushed between bookcases in Sasquatch's Saskatchewan library.
Ducking in, she asks a rabbi, "Is it ok to rest here a second? It's been a hell of a day."
Rabbi Pinsker, a man who grew his beard more for warmth than ecclesiastical iconage, "of course, madam." With a strained smile.
"I bet you get many people coming in here just for this."
The Rabbi picked up a chalice to polish. "Some do. But you look like you really needed it.”
“I haven’t told anyone yet, but I just won the lotto. The number is so large. I check it every week, make sure I get there early when the jackpot is so large. Didn’t want to lose my ticket in the wind.”
“I have a feeling you couldn’t lose your ticket, no matter the weather.”
Mary gripped the Mega Millions lotto ticket in her coat pocket. Felt its crease, fingered its edges. She was reminded of how for every week for 20 years after she would submit her numbers, she’d dream of the new house, car, Vegas weekend, all the luxury, fine evening outings she would be able to afford with the jackpot. Now all she wanted was to be to choose to stay or go. All she wanted was to sit in her La-Z-Boy in her living room and take a nap. Then she’d call her closest friends and relatives.
So Mary said thank you to the Rabbi and left, went home and did we she wanted. People she thought she knew started to ask her for money over time, promising something in return, even something as basic as love. Still a young woman, she couldn’t find the bitterness in her about it, but it was annoying. Every so often she would pop back into that synagogue to talk with Rabbi Pinsker. Often, it was just about the news or a trip she went on. The Rabbi always listened and always gave her his full attention.
Over the course of eight years, Mary’s money began to dwindle. She was very generous with anyone who asked or needed anything, and her investments never panned out. Each day her smile grew a little bit weaker. She had to sell her 3rd house in Malibu, then her Manhattan penthouse, and had to sell her tract of land in Connecticut. The recession came and she lost the last her savings and moved in with her sister Joyce. It was a short run and Mary felt cheated. She felt ancient, abused by time, cracked over the jaw by people she thought she knew.
It was winter again, and Mary, on the way back from the Corner Deli with another lotto ticket, this time outcome unknown, stops by to see the Rabbi.
“Rabbi Pinsker, I’ve been coming to you for years. Do you have any advice for me?”
“I suppose. What do you need it on?”
She reached into her coat pocket, pulled out her freshly bought ticket. “Should I keep buying these? After eight years, I’m back to buying these. I could have owned an NFL franchise, but instead the world cheated me.”
“There were people that cheated you. The world has no such power. The world only provides. Besides, the chances of winning the first time were absurd, so it would be absurd not to keep playing a second time with equally absurd chances.”
“Rabbi, in that time, I’ve traveled the world and indulged in the finest things. I’ve eaten Kobe beef in an old Portuguese monastery south of Tokyo. I’ve schmoozed with royalty at the Monaco Grand Prix. I’ve owned a piece of Graceland. And now all I want back is a working heater in my sister’s apartment.” Her purple-painted nails caressing the lottery ticket’s sad face.
The Rabbi lead her to the back wall of the synagogue and opened an unadorned box. “You’ve been through a lot, Mary. For Jews, wearing this signifies maturity, adulthood, success through strife, as all people must learn. It will keep you warm as long as you remember to keep buying lotto tickets. As long as you keep remembering you used to dream of all the things you would do with a lotto ticket. And that now your dreams are different.”
Rabbi Pinsker tied the scarf around her neck. They hugged each other. On the walk home, she remembered that she didn’t know how much the jackpot was worth this time around.