Linda’s Ticket

Fiction
Tawny McDonald


George Russell sat hunched over his desk, sorting through a stack of bills and punching numbers into his calculator. A thin bead of perspiration worked its way across his forehead as he gnawed his thumbnail. Things were not looking good, not good at all. Every time he hit the equal sign their debt grew bigger. He took his thumb out of his mouth and reached for a new bill and that was when he first heard it. It wasn’t a loud noise, and he probably wouldn’t have heard it at all if the house hadn’t been so quiet. But there it was, a very distinct, familiar noise.

Scratch-scratch-scratch.

He looked up and saw Linda, sitting on the sofa across the room. She was bent over the coffee table, her long auburn hair falling against her face. From where he sat it looked as though she might be scratching at the table. Linda looked up and the elated smile on her face told George that it wasn’t the table she was scratching at. It was a Bingo ticket—one of those three-dollar lotto gimmicks that coyly suggested you could scratch your way to $50,000. She lowered her head and the scratching resumed.

Linda was hooked, despite the fact that she never won anything other than free tickets and the occasional five dollars. Once, he remembered, she won twenty dollars. Poor odds and enough to deter most people but not Linda. She insisted at the beginning of every new card that this could be the one, or that one day, she’d get the $50,000 ticket.

Normally he didn’t mind her habit even though she could scratch at those cards for hours if given the opportunity. It cost money but she was good in other ways—she didn’t smoke, nor did she drink and her tastes were simple. Her only jewelry consisted of her gold wedding band, her tiny diamond engagement ring and a pair of small gold hoop earrings, which she always wore. She’d always been a competitive shopper at both grocery and clothing stores and if she found something that was a true bargain—at least fifty percent off—she bought a dozen. For the most part, Linda saved him money so he turned his head the other way when she came home clutching her Bingo tickets.

Scratch-scratch-scratch.

Today though, for some reason, was different. Today, the sound of the scratching was driving him crazy and though he tried to ignore it he couldn’t. Perhaps it was because there were too many bills and they couldn’t afford to be frivolous. Or maybe it was because the house was so quiet that it magnified the sound of the scratching. Either way, he couldn’t concentrate. He stared at her, tapping his pen against his desk. She ignored him and kept on scratching and her indifference only added to his frustration.

“Will you stop?” He asked.

She didn’t acknowledge him, didn’t even look at him, just kept on scratching. He sighed and went back to his work. Let her scratch. She’d run out of cards soon enough and then he’d reclaim his silence.

He picked up yet another bill and frowned. The debts were accumulating and the bill collectors were calling—he’d hung up on two already today. If he didn’t find a way out of this mess, they’d risk losing not only the store but the house as well.

“Oh Linda,” he said out loud, “What are we going to do?”

Scratch-scratch-scratch, came Linda’s reply.

“This is useless,” George muttered and began gathering the bills into a neat pile. “It just keeps getting worse and worse.” He slid his calculator into his desk drawer and stood up. He went out to the kitchen and decided he should probably eat. He rummaged through the freezer until he found a frozen dinner and stuck it in the microwave. He didn’t ask Linda what she wanted; he knew it’d be futile. She hadn’t eaten anything in days and he didn’t feel like arguing with her. She sat at the small kitchen table with him though and while he ate, she scratched.

He washed the few dishes he had dirtied and placed them on the dish rack to dry. He thought about what to do next. He didn’t enjoy the television very much and he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on a book with Linda and her persistent scratching. He decided to go to bed and climbed the stairs to the bedroom.

Linda followed him and it seemed that she would be merciful and let him sleep. He basked in the silence as he turned out the lights and crawled under the covers. His concern over the bills began to subside as he took deep, even breaths. He was drifting on the edge of sleep when he heard it.

Scratch-scratch-scratch.

“Jesus!” He roared, sitting upright in bed. “Will you stop the scratching?”

There was silence from Linda’s side of the bed until George lay back down. Then it began again.

George couldn’t be sure but he thought that Linda scratched all night. The George that greeted him in the mirror seemed to support that thought. His eyes were tired and there was a shadow of a beard on his jaw. He reached for the razor but then changed his mind. He didn’t want to shave so he wouldn’t, simple as that. He’d just grab some breakfast and get to the store.

While he ate, Linda scratched at what was looking to be an endless supply of Bingo tickets. He rinsed the dishes and left the house. George hoped that Linda would stay home today but she decided to accompany him to the store. The short drive seemed so much longer with Linda scratching in the backseat.

He opened up the gourmet kitchen shop—what had once been his pride and joy but was now a hindrance—and turned on the lights. Linda perched on a stool in the corner and started a new card. A few customers came and went that morning but didn’t seem to mind Linda sitting there, scratching away. In fact, they didn’t even appear to notice her.

Scratch-scratch-scratch.

Lunchtime came and George’s exhaustion set in. Locking Linda inside the shop, he ran across the street to deposit the store’s weekly sales. The bank’s silence engulfed him; a welcome reprieve from Linda’s scratching. George wanted the line to last forever.

When it was his turn, George approached the teller who greeted him warmly and with recognition. He tried to smile but couldn’t—life was not so good these days and he couldn’t be bothered to pretend otherwise.

“Are you okay, George?” The teller asked as he counted twenties. “You don’t look so well.” He initialed the deposit book and handed it back to George.

“It’s Linda,” he sighed, and the teller nodded sympathetically. George continued. “I just can’t handle anymore of her damn scratching.” He waved his book in farewell and walked off, not registering the startled look on the teller’s face.

When he got back to the store the lack of customers and his weariness convinced him to call it a day. Linda trailed him out of the store and waited beside the car as he locked up.

“I want to go home and have a nap,” he told her as he opened her door for her. “Do you understand?”

Scratch-scratch-scratch.

 

The house was quiet for about three seconds when he opened the front door. Three seconds before Linda brushed past him and then, scratch-scratch-scratch. He headed straight up the stairs and into the bedroom. Linda followed him but he must have been utterly exhausted because as soon as he shut his eyes, he slept.

When he woke it was evening—the house had grown dark while he had been asleep. Dark and quiet, so quiet that it took him a moment to realize that Linda was no longer scratching.

He got out of bed and turned on the lights as he looked for her. He checked the bathroom and then the guest room. He even opened the linen closet, in case she was playing with him.

 

“Linda?” he called, thumping down the stairs. He went through the rooms on the lower floor and even lifted the curtain on the back door so he could peer into the backyard. She was no where to be found in the house, yet the car was in the garage and her keys were on the hook by the door.

“Linda?” he asked, but there was no answer, not a single scratch. He went into his office and looked around again. Linda wasn’t there but she had been. He saw that she had moved the papers around on his desk and as he drew closer he saw his stack of bills on top. He sat down in his chair and begin to sort them, wondering what Linda would have wanted.

It was then that he found it, tucked in between the bill for Linda’s casket and the bill for the florist. A Bingo ticket, scratched neatly just as Linda had always done. He peered at the scratched card, wondering what it was about this ticket that Linda wanted him to see. He examined it carefully and discovered its appeal. This was the ticket that Linda had sought, the $50, 000 ticket, and it was in his hands.

“Linda?” He asked, his voice echoing in the room. “Linda, are you here?”

There was no answer, only silence and George knew that he was alone. He put his head down on his desk, on top of the ticket, and began to weep.

pencil

“Linda’s Ticket” was originally published at No Noun-Sense. Tawny can be reached at butcher[at]toasted-cheese.com.