Lady Luck

“Whoa, young fellow,” said Rufus Robinson, whose midsection had just been pummeled by the appropriately-sized head of a lad no more than ten-years-old.

The youngster, out of breath, red-faced, wide-eyed, and clearly wound up about something, backed up a step and ran a hand across his short, wiry, blond hair. “I’m sure sorry, mister,” he said. But I just won three whole dollars from that old game in the drug store.” He pointed at the entrance to Jones’ Rx and Lunch Emporium. “I gotta go give my mama the money so she can buy medicine for my brother. He needs it real bad.”

Without another word the boy sprinted away, clutching a small paper sack, leaving Robinson, the head teller at the downtown branch of the Fidelity Savings Bank, watching him run at full gallup until he was nothing more than a dot on the horizon.

The next day, at precisely ten o’clock, his usual mid-morning break time, Rufus Robinson set out on his customary ten-minute walk. Along the way he passed Frank’s Florist, Guy’s Grocery, Paul’s Pawn, and Connie’s Candles.

The sun was warm on his face, and the absolutely delicious scents of jasmine and honeysuckle hung heavy in the humid morning air. He turned the corner and saw, predictably, the widow Wanda Williams pinning her plus-size unmentionables to the clothes line in the back yard of the duplex she owned and shared with her tenant, Willie Wilkins.

The widow Williams saw Robinson and wiggled a knot of stubby fingers at him. Robinson shouted a “Morning, Ms. Williams” in her direction and, without missing a step, he crossed the street and headed due west. He began to whistle an old Cole Porter tune, “Cherry Pies Ought To Be You,” a song that had been stuck in his head since hearing it on his AM radio well over a week ago.

With five minutes left on his break, Rufus Robinson was about to pass by the last business on his route, Jones’ Rx and Lunch Emporium, when suddenly he heard a clatter and bang of commotion and then the two front doors flew open. And, just as it happened a day earlier, the boy, whose head felt as hard as a lump of granite when it slammed into the banker’s soft belly, burst from the drug store and out into the street. He clutched a small paper bag clutched tightly in his hand and excitement beaming on his dirt-smudged face. Robinson once again watched the boy run until he was nothing more than a memory.

lady luck

The bank teller decided to see for himself, without delay, the so-called “lucky” machine that had twice bestowed much-needed riches on the young man and his family. He pulled open one of the two front doors and was met by cool, conditioned air. Looking around the place, first to the foot powders and then to the lunch counter, he didn’t see the gambling machine, so he asked an elderly clerk where it could be found.

The counter attendant, an elderly man with a tussled mane of thick white hair and a long and heavily-waxed handlebar mustache, raised his eyebrows, a gesture that formed deep wrinkles into his forehead, much like grooves carved into wet beach sand. “You must be thinking about Lady Luck,” he said.

“They gave her the name because she was built and painted up to look like a dance hall queen. But that dang thing, a slot machine, was anything but lucky, and it hasn’t been here for … I’d say forty years, or more.”

The man used a somewhat soiled towel to wipe the surface of the bar top, concentrating his effort on a particularly stubborn dried glob of chocolate syrup. He set the cloth aside and continued to talk while using a fingernail to pick and scrape at the spilled, pesky fountain flavoring. “My father,” he said, “ran the business back then and decided have Lady Luck taken out the day a little boy won three dollars and was so excited he ran right out the front door and into the street where the east-west trolley hit and killed him graveyard dead. They say nickels were scattered everywhere and bystanders were more concerned with grabbing them than helping the kid. Anyway, come to find out, the boy had a sick baby brother at home and he was in a hurry to get there so he could give his mother the money to buy medicine. Hell, my old man would’ve given them what they needed, for free. A real shame is what it was.”

The druggist picked up a duster and swiped the feathers across the tops of a grouping of upside-down soda glasses. “By the way, mister, what made you ask about that old slot machine?”

Rufus Robinson, not hearing the question, turned and walked to the front door where he paused for a second, watching the commotion in the street. A small crowd of looky-loos circled the body of a young boy while several ruffians pushed and shoved one another, fighting over what Robinson knew to be three dollars … all nickels.

“Lady Luck, my ass,” thought Rufus Robinson.