A Public works worker working traffic duty, flogging a flag in whipping wind, slipping on a colossal saucer spun-off street lid, guarding a sewer steaming a portable generator’s coolant spume, was pondering the connection between karma and the lottery while waiting for two hydrologists to surface.
The two day rain combined with its repercussive snow melt could potentially flood the subterranean caverns and cavities carved out under 4th Ave. in the early 1900’s. The lone car that bumped through the coned-off 6th Ave. passage splashed the flagger, soaking his jeans above his rubber boots. Aware of the risk an hour ago when he chose not to wear bibs, the flagger exuberantly waved the orange pennant as well as an open hand, as if he knew the driver or out of gratitude. In the recess of his frontal lobe he felt a headache quake and wished it would detonate into a blinding migraine. Unfortunately he hadn’t had one in seven years.
The karmic construction worker put stock in logically lopsided schemes. The more hardship and pain he could stockpile the better. For upon de-cabling his thoughts chorded to possibility, he found faith in a force that kept tab of such things. Life lent itself to a grand balance, which operated according to each individual’s scale of relativity.
He had no such luck. The fast-quelling head zap proved to be nothing more than a cold headache.
He pictured the number seven (7), the historic numeric luck symbol. Rather than randomizing his nightly State lottery numbers, he decided to fix his quick picks with more sevens, perhaps seven sevens, but then quickly discarded that relatively trite bit of slyness.
He thought about how March, of which there were only two days left, was relatively the seven month of the year, considering that the correctly scaled American calendar started with September (summer ending, going back to school, football Sundays).
Since he believed winning the lottery was not likely, but attainable, and subscribed to the common arguments—‘someone has to win’ and ‘you can’t win if you don’t play’—the flagger decided he should play seven tickets (rather than his usual two) for the last three days of March, the true seventh month. Strings dominated by 7’s and 3’s popped and bounced in his head, but he reasoned the numbers must be random to provide the machine the best probability to pluck correct numbers. He counted on his chance widening according to his dipped emotional balance, or when, in a manner of speaking, his number was up.
Upon tidying up his calculations he saw a newspaper (was it a map?) skate up the iced sidewalk, flutter and float above slush puddles like a magic carpet and wrap around a Stop sign pole where it whapped and flapped a few seconds before the wind flung it free. The newspaper, snapped open and creased at its binding, swooped up ten feet. The flagger unexplainably expected a playful raven to spear it. The black and white printed bait seemed to hover in slow motion as it rode over his head. He had time to not only notice that it was the Funny Page, but read a comic blurb (“Sapping saplings is tapped out, Sparky – you sappy sap”) and decipher (but not nearly decode) a bit of code splashed on the page in iridescent oil. He thought he saw an oozy 4.
As he chased the page he subtracted the three days left in March from seven to get four. Swatting at the newspaper flightcraft made it circle and land breezily on a dry strip of street. It slid a stretch, hopped a puddle obstacle and dipped into the open sewer.
The flabbergasted flagger fled toward the manhole, which two men predictably climbed up through. The plausibly coded paper was not plastered to any part of either person’s person.
“Safe and sound,” one of the hydrologists remarked, “Seal her up.”
The flagger was a man of brutish strength and could swivel the cover onto the hole by himself no problem, but he pretended he couldn’t. He was buying his time, for he had no choice but to chase the mysterious newspaper since he trusted that the spilled oil spelled out a due set of winning lottery numbers.
After the hydrologists had driven off, while the crew truck petered up the road picking up warning cones, the flagger laddered down into the sewer.
A stream of stink flowed south. After seeing the paper fly so effectively it was easy for the man to imagine it folding into a makeshift boat. He pictured it meandering to the labyrinthine corridors under 4th Ave. and settling in a pitch-black alcove. He liked the idea of the oil-slicked newspaper ship submarining and stranding in the subterranean realm of downtown Seward. He decided that that was where the secret should stay, so that it might be haphazardly discovered by a future hydrologist, or better yet, some curious kid fervent to live out some scenario he might’ve read about in a comic book.
As he climbed out of the hole, the flagger was well aware that he had entered into fantastical indulgences, at least when he went underground, probably way before. He recalled the airborne newspaper hovering, banking and diving into the hole. That had definitely happened. He compared it to his previous and post musings, things thought due to his adage that it was more fun to believe in fanciful things than not to. He saw his boss’s boots as his eyes crested to street level.
The fat man cursed and spit. He was having a bad day. He ended up concluding the tirade with “You’re done! See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!”—not because he necessarily wanted to fire the flagger, but since it seemed to aptly cap his anger crescendo.
The next three nights the undaunted flagger played seven random lottery strings. Each night, as the numbered ping-pong balls poofed out the chute, he watched with anxious joviality, all the while culling his total concentration so he might eternally remember the last moments of his pre-wealth life.
After the first two nights he pictured the winning numbers (nowhere near his own) dribbled on the Funnies in iridescent ink. When he didn’t win on the third and fatal night, he sank into the sewer dumps of depression.
He fretted ‘what next?’ He endlessly paced his modest stucco cottage, scrutinizing every inch. He would surely imminently lose his home of seven years if he didn’t find work or win the lottery soon.
“Forget the lottery!” he blubbered. But he meant to just think it. He would still play (‘if you don’t play you can’t win; someone has to win’).
Finding a speck of solace in tomorrow being a new day (he could find work) he laid down on his prickly couch. His heart raced, eyes glued open. Without intending to mine it up, the memory of the oil-encoded newspaper winging into the sewer played in his mind.
He blossomed the notion to write and illustrate a comic set in the underground caverns of Seward’s sewers. The artistic idea dealt him a rush of calm. His heart slowed, his eyes closed. He slept, dreamt he found a cast-off $1000 scratch ticket winner amidst dumpster scraps. No memory of the dream remained upon waking, yet his project’s title was dripping off his chapped lips, which he licked.
“Seward’s Super Sewer Spelunker.”
He bought a sketchpad, visited downtown’s sewer-lidded sites and began sketching street level sights and studying sneaking underground.