Dido and the Lottery

Aunt Adelaide was tied with rope to a chair. She was gagged, and her wrists were twisted behind her and chafing under a knot. Her apartment on Casanova Drive in San Leandro was ransacked, pinking shears on the burnt-orange carpet, drawers gaping, flour and sugar bins and knives dashed onto the kitchen floor, the credenza broken, everything opened and upended. Aunt Adelaide was staring like someone watching a nuclear blast.

Dido couldn’t fathom why her parents thought a sixteen-year-old should accompany them to the scene of a crime, but even more remarkable was that it did not occur to them to wait for the police before they touched anything. Manuela was there—Adelaide’s twenty-six-year-old niece—having stumbled across this after Adelaide failed to make her Sunday phone call, and Manuela had summoned Dido’s father, presumably because he was a physician but also because he owned a handsaw. Only when he started cutting through the rope did Manuela ring the authorities.

Dido was instructed by her mother to go hide any “unmentionables.”

Would the police really be disgusted to discover that her maiden great-aunt clothed her private parts? Worried about getting fingerprints on the evidence, Dido entered the bedroom, where the framed picture of Jesus praying in the garden lay on the floor amid broken glass, and the plastic flowers were scattered, and clothing was flung everywhere, and—ghastly indeed—instead of gigantic white mommy pants as suited Adelaide, there was a littering of sexy undies and tap pants, and bras with teensy bows, lacy and racy.

Terse splats of words in the living room. Adelaide hoarse. Stringy-haired Manuela with her pleading noises. It dawned on Dido—a better reason for her doctor father to be present—that the subject of rape was being broached. Dido stuffed the underwear into the top dresser drawer. Adelaide’s purse was overturned near the shards from Jesus in the Garden, and righting it revealed an untouched strip of scratch-off lottery tickets; her great-aunt bought seven every Friday. The intruder had ignored them but lifted the wallet.

Dido slipped the lottery tickets into her bag with its cloth print of cherries, still hanging from her shoulder.

While the police officers asked Adelaide for details—had the robber “hurt” her—Dido felt aflame from the sensation of her bag with the scratchers brushing the elbow of one of the cops. It was a better-than-boys feeling, a joy that fixed the suffering of Martin pretending not to know her in school after helping her jettison her virginity.

Adelaide had wet herself, and her shame vibrated to the extreme of almost silencing her. Usually she was an annoying chatterbox, but she refused to say if the man with the ski mask and gloves had done more than gag her and tie her to the chair. There was a group march to the mattress, and Manuela lifted it, and the police officers shook their heads when Adelaide sobbed. San Leandro was over half Portuguese, and it was known that the old ladies hid money in their beds. Thousands of dollars gone.

Dido’s dad needed to spell his name three times for the report: Gonçalo Teixeira. Dido’s mom went by Daisy, the translation of Margarida, and Adelaide Torres was her aunt. Manuela Torres was the eldest child in Daisy’s brother’s immense brood.

The long arm of the law did not exactly pull a dragnet through the Bay Area, and the robber would never be caught. Aunt Adelaide would swiftly move to Wichita, because Kansas meant Oz and cheaper living, and a friend from her gambling club had blazed a trail there to go live with a son. Adelaide had once thrown out her back working Vegas slot machines. She had a savings account in a proper bank, and the complete disappearance of Adelaide Torres was the work of only two weeks.

Dido lay on her chenille bedspread after returning home from the robbery—her mother was making the casserole with canned mushroom soup, hamburger, peas, and Chinese fried noodles—and used her Liberty Walking half-dollar on the lottery tickets. She sat up with the third one, swept aside the silver scum, and squinted. She’d won $250. To double-check, she carried the ticket to her lamp shaped like a flamingo.

She’d made a mistake.

The prize was $250,000. Trembling made her knock over the empty orange juice concentrate can she used to set a huge curl of mahogany hair over her crown.

She scratched off the remaining tickets, because why not. Zero.

After her father headed to his medical office the next morning, and her mother set out to buy light bulbs, Dido maneuvered her stiff legs to a phone booth on Bancroft Avenue, where a voice at the lottery office in Sacramento declared that any amount over $599 required her to fill out a claim form and mail the ticket to their office for payout. Simple! Since she was under eighteen, a parent or legal guardian should cosign. The process might take six to eight weeks. Congratulations!

Her parents were, praise the Lord, lax about collecting the mail from the box at the end of the driveway. Forging her father’s signature on the claim form was easy, thanks to his habit of leaving his prescription pad at home. She stapled her ticket to the form as instructed and delivered it into the mail, a worry compounded by her signature attesting, under penalty of law if she lied, that the ticket was her own. She pretended to have the flu at the six-week point, an unnecessary precaution given the fresh distractions of her father losing his job when his passion for morphine derivatives emerged from concealment. Her mother was reduced to laboring as a grocery clerk. Instead of vaulting as planned from their pleasant but middling home on Emerald Avenue in Assumption Parish over the MacArthur Freeway into Bay-o-Vista, the Teixeiras would be whispered about until the wind itself felt gashed.

The check arrived from Sacramento when her parents were at drug counseling and Dido was getting nervous about faking the flu. The astonishing numbers were made by Braille-looking dots. She opened a checking account—she knew nothing about shrewd or even basic ways of increasing her money—and refused the bank’s wish to assign her a “personal financial adviser,” and she treasured her golden egg of a prize as if it lived in her belly, in no rush to be hatched. When she walked past her father on the chintz sofa, his mind as if packed in lint, she felt giddy, and at Bishop O’Dowd High in Oakland, a thrill of queasiness dampened her pores. The taxes were $80,000, already subtracted by the lottery office, leaving her with $170,000, but that was still infinity with the contours of an escape fund.

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