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issue 50: October - December 2005 

 | author bio | interview

And the Winner Is
Laura Marney


When the guy tells me how much it is I’m disappointed. It’s a pity it isn’t last Saturday. That was a rollover, 16 million, one winner. I have to share this lacklustre Wednesday jackpot with two others. Probably my only chance at big money and I come in joint third. I feel like telling him to forget it, stick it up his arse, wait for another week when it’s a bigger pot and I won’t have to split it.
      The guy acts sympathetic, as if he’s giving me bad news, as if the money’s going to be a problem.
      ‘Some people find it difficult, making the lifestyle transition,’ he says. I stare him out when he says this, daring him to make a comment about my scabby furniture, but his bottle goes and he looks away.
      ‘Wilma, I’m here to help,’ he says. ‘We have a team of experts who can offer counselling, advice on investments, a helping hand. I understand that it’ll seem strange to you but you’re not alone. We arrange social events where you’ll have the chance to meet and share experiences with other winners.’
      I’m for sharing nothing. I tell him I just want the dosh. I don’t mention that I want him out my house but I must be quite good at the old non-verbals because he gets the message and hops it.
      I don’t phone in or anything. Maybe it’s because I haven’t phoned, but I’m not getting the same buzz I usually get from dogging my work. After a few days I kind of half expect Healy to turn up at my door but he doesn’t. Probably the union won’t allow it. Just as well, I don’t want him here. Don’t want to see his big false smile and smell his sickening aftershave all through my house. That metallic citric stench is fooling nobody. Underneath that I can still smell him, his warm pits and his groin.
      I have to stay in during the day. There’s no way I can be seen out and about. I ticked no publicity but these things are likely to get out. I’d knit but I’ve run out of 2-ply and I’ve nothing to knit anyway. I’ve a wee ball of that lovely soft lemon wool but it’s only enough for one bootee and that’s no use to anyone except a one-legged baby. Mind you, the way that Sharon McCormack is going, with the drinking and the drugs, her baby’ll be lucky to have one leg.
      I go to the garage every night for milk and sweeties. Usually I go about 3 a.m., sometimes later if there’s something good on the telly. The woman in the garage can’t believe the money I spend on tickets. One night I ask her for fifty lucky dips just to see the look on her face. Actually this is a mistake. I don’t want to draw this much attention to myself. They take ages to print out and customers in the queue are growling at me. Anxious to get home no doubt, probably left the kids unattended. After this I stick to ten lucky dips in amongst a loaf and a couple of Mars bars. Even buying Ferrero Roche every night, there’s only so much cash I can splash in a garage.
      I become a demon with the credit card. On the internet I love dragging stuff down and putting it in my shopping trolley, that’s the best bit. The guys who make the deliveries act all friendly expecting a tip but I never give them one. They stop smiling and after that my parcels arrive damp or squashed, or smell like they’ve farted on them. I sniff the parcels right in front of them to let them know I know.
      I buy a top-of-the-range TV and entertainment centre on wheels and drag it from room to room. At first it’s a novelty but if I’m watching a movie, An Officer and a Gentleman or Braveheart or something and I want to go into another room, unplugging it and lugging it and plugging it is a nightmare. I end up having to buy another three. It’s good fun watching the wee skinny delivery guy humphing them up two flights.
      I open an account with an online clothes shop and buy designer names. The clothes don’t look as good as they do on the website, they don’t hang right. With my childbearing hips it’s never been easy to get clothes to fit. I’ve got what they call in the catalogue a midriff bulge. A girdle of fat like link sausages hangs over my denims. It takes me a while to get used to the sizes. In my pre-lottery clothes I’m still a sixteen. In the designer stuff I’m a fourteen, occasionally even a twelve. These rich women are kidding themselves on. More often than not I have to invoke the twenty-eight day no-quibble money-back guarantee. It’s the same guy who comes to uplifts and, if I can work one up, I fart on the parcel before handing it over.
      Nobody phones. Not even Healy. He’ll have taken the huff that I didn’t finish that Premier Prices anorak order for him. He’ll be dying to lean over me at my machine, stinking up my workspace, telling me how disappointed he is. Payroll doesn’t forward my pay. They probably think I’m lying behind the door, in pain or starving, but they won’t send me the money they owe me.
      Every morning I get the mail and jump back into bed with it. I fill out every coupon. I especially like the ones that try to gather personal information about me. I fill out my name as Torquil Farquarson Mc Fadden, a police officer, an inspector, six-foot three. I like it when they want to know his hobbies. A man like Torquil has many interests: majorette displays, country and western music, light opera. I entertain myself for hours and post them at night when I go out for sweeties.
      I fill in forms online whenever I find them. I put on the New You cosmetic clinic form that I have an unsightly mole on my cheek shaped like a swastika which inhibits my career in the force. The next day New You emails me back offering a free online consultation. How can I refuse? So begins a correspondence which lasts days before they give up on me.
      After a month I get a letter. Human Resources want to know if I’m sick and under the doctor. I am required to produce a valid sick line for the period of absence. I am reminded that absence without permission is a disciplinary matter. It’s signed Bernard Healy. Bernard. Wouldn’t want to be calling a kiddie after him with a wanky name like that. They still don’t send my pay.
      After the carry on with the lucky dip tickets I’m more careful at the garage. Over a period of six nights I buy twenty seven half pound boxes of Milk Tray. I take ages wrapping them all up in posh paper with ribbons and rosettes and everything. When I’m finished I’m really pleased with them. All the coloured boxes make my couch look like a shop display.
      I’m sorted clotheswise with a long dress and a fur coat. I think long and hard before I buy the coat which costs a packet and is not even real fur. Even though I’m loaded, I’m not a scattercash just for the sake of it. The fake fur feels lovely, I snuggle under it when I’m watching telly and stroke the fur, it’s pure quality.
      On the internet I find a local pipe band. Emails to and fro but we can’t sort anything out. All but four of the band have jobs and can only do weekends. The Pipe Major is looking for a lot of money, payable in advance. Eventually I settle for the four so long as they have the full kit. The Pipe Major guy assures me they have and, after my cheque has cleared, he phones me to confirm the time.
      They look amazing, like tribal warriors. They’ve got kilts and big furry hats and the Pipe Major has a leopard skin over his shoulder. I meet them outside the gents where they’ve changed. He arranges for them to leave their street clothes with the old woman who caretakes the toilets.
      We go round the corner to a quiet car park while they tune up. Up close the bagpipes are shockingly loud and make a noise like a ship being crushed by an iceberg. After a few minutes it comes together and begins to sound like a tune. As the Pipe Major straps the massive drum on his belly we discuss what I want.
      ‘I’m with you,’ he nods, ‘something upbeat and dignified.’
      We wait outside for the half twelve hooter and then go in. My card is still by the clock so I punch in for old times’ sake. We march up the middle of shop floor, me at the front, sweeping up oose and threads with my fur coat dragging the ground. The Major is right behind me with his big drum and behind him come the three pipers. We fill every inch of the factory with noise. From the manky skylights to down beneath machines where lassies hide their squiggly seams, me and my warriors command the space. Someone has been using my machine, I notice; there’s thread all over the place and an untidy bundle of pink sleeves lie like severed arms across my workspace.
      Right away all the lassies start clapping and heuching. We head for the canteen and everybody follows us, some of them attempting a Highland fling and making a total arse of it. The Pipe Major’s timing is perfect and we arrive in the canteen just at the end of the tune. They love it, they’re going mental clapping, heuching, stamping their feet; this is better than the best hen party the factory’s ever had, even better than Anne Marie McStay’s. Still no sign of Healy so the band starts another one.
      I’m handing out boxes. After all the time I took to wrap them they rip them open in seconds. The floor is covered in wrapping paper and ribbons; it’s like Christmas. Some of them are finding cheques and squealing and jumping up and down. The band is still playing; it’s a mad house.
      ‘What is going on here?’ shouts Healy.
      He’s wearing a white shirt and his blue Daffy Duck tie. He must have a meeting this afternoon at head office, probably to explain why the anorak order wasn’t ready on time. I give the signal and, without hurrying, the Pipe Major finishes the tune.
      ‘I’ve come to tender my resignation,’ I say. ‘I’ve brought you a gift Mr Healy.’
      He stands with his mouth open as I hand him his box.
      Not everybody gets a cheque. The ones who pretended they were nice, who smiled and acted kind when I came into the canteen, all they get is the Milk Tray. The ones who ignored me or sniggered get a cheque, nothing over the top, anywhere between two and ten grand. Some of them whisper or ask each other outright how much they got. The turbulence is beginning.
      Healy gets thirty grand. He’s laughing and his hands are shaking.
      ‘Wilma, this is incredibly generous!’ he shouts.
      He grabs me and squeezes. It’s sore, as if he’s trying to get my shoulders to meet in the middle. He squashes his lips against the side of my face, a big loud smacker. I can see hairs on the back of his neck, curly, coming in grey. He needs a haircut. I’m scared but they whistle and cheer.
      ‘What’s going on? Have you won the lottery?’ he asks with the kid-on smile ripping his face in half.
      I’m waiting for this question. He’s still got a hold of me and when I speak I’m breathing in his aftershave.
      ‘No, I haven’t won the lottery. I wasn’t in the syndicate; I wasn’t invited. I got the money through hard slog and determination. In fact I’ve invented an… invention.
      ‘An invention?’ he asks in a way that sounds like he doesn’t believe it. He moves away from me but the smell stays in my nose.
      ‘I’m not supposed to talk about it but I’ve invented a thing to save babies' lives. That’s why I’ve got to resign. I have to help the government with… other stuff.’
      Everybody claps and Healy joins in, with a cheque for thirty grand in his hand he isn’t going to diss anything I say. I look at the pipe band to see what they make of this but they’re staring straight ahead in military fashion. Healy gets on top of a table with his back to the serving hatch. The food is ready and steaming away but nobody bothers with it. It smells brilliant, I could just go a plate of lentil soup right now.
      ‘Ladies and eh, gentlemen,’ Healy says nodding to the band. The lassies squeal, a few hands try to lift kilts but they can’t get through the protective semicircle the band have formed against the wall. I’m wondering myself if they’ve gone commando.
      ‘I’d like to say a few words of thanks,’ Healy says sticking his chest out, acting the big man. ‘Your generosity is overwhelming. This will certainly go a long way towards that conservatory my wife’s been on at me about!’
      The lassies laugh because it’s only usually at Christmas that he even lets on he has a wife. And now he’s admitted that she rules him. They scream with laughter, ridiculing him. It’s all getting a bit hysterical.
      ‘I can only say Wilma that you will be missed.’ He’s accepting my resignation. ‘I’m sure there are one or two who would say that you’re not the most forthcoming or friendly person but, och well, you’re not the worst, and over the years I think we’ve all come to understand that you prefer your own company and most of us respect that.’
      He hasn’t understood my gesture and I have to interrupt him: 'Mr Healy, Bernard. I’m rich. We can be rich together. We can make a nice home,’ I blurt out and then hang my head.
      Everybody shuts up and turns to look at me. They fall quiet except for a wee surprised hoot that escapes one of the bagpipes. Then I add quietly, ‘for a family.’
      They’re all dying to whistle and bang the tables but there’s not a peep out of them.
      ‘Wilma, I don’t know what to say.’
      ‘I’m sorry, Mr Healy, I shouldn’t have…’
      ‘No! No Wilma, don’t be sorry. It’s always been there between us, we both know it. And now there’s no reason to fight it anymore. We can do what we want.’
      ‘Mr Healy…’
      He’s going too fast for me and right here in front of them all.
      ‘Wilma, marry me.’
      There is a slight vacuum in the canteen caused by every one of them sucking in a lungful of air.
      ‘Bernard, I …’
      But he cuts me off and says, ‘I love you, I’ve always loved you.’
      Is that not what Mel Gibson says? I think so but I don’t care.
      ‘Marry me and we’ll leave this place and make a home and a family.’ And then he jumps off the table and gets down on one knee. His eyes are shining, my eyes are shining, the whole place is glittering with shining eyes.
      ‘Wilma, if you love me, and I think you do, then please just say yes.' I try to think about it but they’re all still holding their breath so I have to say, ‘yes.’
      No, I don’t. Because none of that actually happens. Nothing is going to happen. He’ll go home to his wife, the barren, hectoring bitch, with my thirty-grand cheque.
      ‘None of us will forget the money you contributed to sheets when our girls left to start their families. And don’t think for a moment Wilma that it went unnoticed when you knitted the things, what d’you call them? Yes, the lovely wee matinee jackets and bootees you knitted for each and every baby that was born to this factory. Sadly, your leaving will mean an end to that tradition.’
      They’re all looking at me and smiling, their eyes aglitter; some of the older ones are actually greeting. I’ve resigned. I’ll not have the whiff of him in my nostrils again, ever.
      I need to get out. While Healy is still boffing on I give the signal and the band strikes up. I march so fast the Pipe Major is having a job keeping up with me. The whole place, even Healy, marches out into the street with us and waves us off. I don’t look.
      The phone rings plenty after that, but I don’t answer it. My bank manager pops round to see me, just a social call. He’s a bit perturbed that the cheques were from my old account, the account with no money in it. He says that’s illegal. But it’s okay, he appreciates I’m new to handling such large funds and on this occasion they’ll cancel the cheques. I reissue only one cheque, a large one, to the factory social fund, to be spent on good quality matinee jackets and bootees.

Laura Marney

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author bio

Laura Marney is the author of two novels: No Wonder I Take a Drink and Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby. She also writes short stories, and reviews and articles for magazines and radio. She works at Glasgow University on the mPhil writing course, and is currently working on her third novel, due out in 2006.

See also an
interview with Laura Marney in this issue.

navigation:

issue 50: October - December 2005 

fiction

    Donald Hays: Why He Did It
    Beth Ann Bauman:
True
    Robert Lopez:
Shall We Run for Our Lives
    Paul Mandelbaum:
Adriane and the Court-Appointed Psychiatrist
    Laura Marney:
And the Winner Is


     picks from back issues
    Jesse Shepard:
First Day She’d Never See
    Cheryl Alu:
Whoever You Want Me To Be

interview

    Scottish writer Laura Marney

quiz

    Harry Potter
    answers to last issue’s quiz, Marys in Literature

book reviews

    Blinding Light by Paul Theroux

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