Rumpus Exclusive: “Did You Play?”

By

Chastain 

“Those jackasses won the fucking lottery?” Chastain says. She says it out loud and then looks around but there is nobody in the hallway, nobody in the office yet. They are all either celebrating in the conference room or gossiping in the kitchen, the hallways, in the entrances to their cubicles. She checks the clock. Craver will almost certainly be late. She realizes she is looking forward to telling him, to commiserating, sneaking down the back steps and smoking a Parliament Light and talking about what assholes they all are, how ridiculous everything is, whether they should start drinking at lunch or wait until happy hour.

Good god those assholes won the lottery. She is not sure whether she is going to burst out laughing or throw up right here on her keyboard. She stares at the computer. She checks her phone again.

She owes twenty-nine thousand five hundred and sixty dollars on her student loans. Two thousand six hundred and twenty-three on the Visa. Three thousand four hundred on the Mastercard. She is not sure if the Exxon or the Kohl’s or the Macy’s cards still exist but she imagines there to be at least five hundred or so on each of them. She remembers seeing the Macy’s logo and the number eight hundred something or other. The lottery. Those assholes.

She stands up and sits down. Garner waddles by, talking into his cell phone. He has a folder in his hands and a little bounce in his step. She always thought it was so typical, these idiots tithing themselves to the state in the most stupid possible way—two dollars here, a dollar there, a hundred bucks a year that could go somewhere else.

Would she have missed a hundred dollars a year? She puts the thought out of her head. Those assholes. The lottery. Jesus they really are the worst of the entire company, almost every old or middle-aged man who skeeves her out, checks her ass as she walks by, stares in meetings, watches as she bends down to pick up a Post-it off the floor, almost all of them are in the lottery group.

She plays through them in her head: Mowery, Cowens, Pappas, Czuba, Fitzgerald. A thought hits her and she actually sits up straight and puts a hand on her chest. Craver. Did Craver play?

 

 

Craver

Craver pauses at the door and checks the time on his phone. He’s not too late, hopefully can slip through without Lawson, or worse, Sarah noticing anything. His checks his phone. Twitter notification, two Facebook messages, a few emails. He pushes the door open slowly and nods to Chastain.

“You hear yet?” she says.

“What?” He is still breathing heavy from the stairs. A line of sweat runs down his side. Chastain has her hair curly today. She’ll tell him later that she didn’t have time to dry it, that she looks like a crazy person. She’ll tap at her cigarette and shake her head and tell him she is going to stop smoking, apply to graduate school, look into CrossFit or Orangetheory or the Y. He will nod and swallow the compliment welling up in every part of him—you look great, you always look great—and offer her another cigarette, anything to spend another ten minutes listening to her complain about her friends and the office and the ridiculous things the Bachelor or the Bachelorette has done now.

She stands and gestures to the hall. “You’re not going to fucking believe this,” she says, a pang of real emotion—sadness, jealousy?—creeping into her voice. It is unfamiliar and he wonders if somebody died. “Wait,” she says. “Did you play last week? With those dumbasses?”

“Play?” He notices for the first time a strange sound in the office. Laughter, shouting, music, party sounds coming from another part of the floor.

“The lottery. The fucking lottery…”

“I think?” he says. The lottery. Did he play the lottery? He is a part-timer with the lottery. Sometimes he plays and sometimes he doesn’t and it depends mostly on whether he happens to have a dollar, or two dollars, in his wallet at the exact time when Garner sends the email. Or if he has a meeting in that part of the building. Or if…

“You think? You think? Those assholes won. Eight point eight million dollars. Per asshole. So you better figure out if you played. Jesus Christ you might be a fucking millionaire, you asshole. I need a cigarette.”

Craver watches her walking back to the desk, opening the drawer, tapping the pack. Did he play the lottery? He remembers the email, wondering whether he had any actual money on him (Garner setting a standard of only paper money, no coins, no IOUs, no PayPal or Venmo… Garner being super organized around this one thing). He is sure he got the original email. Garner always includes him even though he doesn’t always play. Did he get the confirmation email? Did he get Garner’s scan of the tickets and the standard rundown about how “when we win, we will take the cash payout and not release our names?” Jesus, did he play the fucking lottery last week or not?

“There he is!”

Craver jumps. “Fuck, another one,” Chastain says.

Mowery is standing right there, wearing jeans and a Toby Keith tee shirt. He is holding a beer and an envelope. “There he is!” he says again. He holds his envelope up to Craver. “Better go get one of these,” he says, then holds the beer up, “and one of these, too.” He comes closer, holds a palm up for a high five.

Chastain taps a cigarette out of the pack and puts it in her mouth. “I might have to smoke this right here in this goddamn office today.”

Mowery laughs. “Don’t think anybody would care too much today,” he says. He turns to Craver, pushes the hand further up toward his face. “Don’t leave me hangin’ buddy,” he says. Craver taps his hand, his mind still turning. Mowery pushes his hand to the sky and makes an explosion sound. Craver almost pauses to explain to him that this isn’t how high fives work but decides against anything that might prolong the interaction. “Well come on, man,” Mowery says. “We’re all over in the conference room.”

“I have to…” Craver says. Did he get the confirmation email?

“You don’t have to do jack shit, man. Not anymore,” Mowery says. “None of us do. Well, sorry Jenny.”

Chastain gives him the finger and takes out her lighter.

Mowery laughs. Craver doesn’t really like the way he is looking at Chastain, like he is considering something, like he is actively pondering what might be hiding beneath her gray sweater and black skirt.

“Fuck this,” Chastain says. She lights the cigarette and exhales.

Craver reaches out and she hands it to him. He takes a deep draw, feels the cool scrape in his lungs. “Okay let’s go,” he says.

“I’m going,” Chastain nods toward the stairs.

“See you in the usual,” Craver says. “After I…”

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, and he worries briefly that she is annoyed and then Mowery punches him in the shoulder and starts out toward the hallway.

His feet feel funny, his head is fuzzy. Did he play? Did he get the confirmation email?

The music and the shouting get louder as he gets closer to the conference room. He feels like he is floating, like he is a balloon attached to Mowery, following him through the door, holding up his hand for high fives, feeling the slaps on his back. Somebody hands him a beer and he puts it back down. He checks his phone. It is 9:18 on Monday morning and he is a thirty-year-old Marketing Associate and maybe his life has just completely changed.

Garner is in the corner, handing an envelope to Miller, who Craver didn’t even think worked here anymore. He looks at Craver and nods, then takes another look at the papers in front of him and turns quickly. Too quickly. Garner stands. He is walking toward Craver.

“Hey man, I’m sorry,” Garner says. He places a hand on Craver’s shoulder. Craver notices the spots on his glasses, the mole on the side of his neck. He holds up a piece of paper and all Craver sees is a list of names, handwritten in Garner’s teenagery bubble handwriting. “You didn’t play last week,” he says.

 

Robertson 

Robertson takes another sip from his beer and watches the room. They are all so old and he wonders if this is how he will end up. He wonders if it would be worth it, put in thirty years at some ridiculous job and then hit the lottery with a bunch of people you can barely tolerate? Could he just save his money and wind up in the same place anyway?

Jessie would not even believe the scene laid out in front of him, a bunch of beer-bellied middle-aged people listening to Biggie Smalls and drinking Bud Light Orange first thing in the morning. Jessie lives in a different world. Robertson lives in this one.

Robertson is twenty-four and has been working at Keystone Special Marketing Solutions for fourteen months. Robertson cannot imagine a situation in which he would start playing the lottery. It all just seems so sad. Even knowing that they won, that they are all millionaires, eight point eight each, to be specific, even with all of that, it still just seems so corny.

It just all feels impossible. Pappas, who steals tape from the supply room, entire rolls of toilet paper from the bathroom closet, pens and microwave popcorn and Microsoft Word, standing here in his Dockers and Gap sweater, a millionaire? Cowens, who Robertson had to personally tell to stop saving porn to their cloud-based file storage? Mowery, with his weird Central Pennsylvania accent and his eBay store where he sells the motherboards they are supposed to be recycling, is worth eight point eight million dollars?

Mowery weaves toward him. Jesus, the guy is wearing a tee shirt with some country asshole on it, jeans that look like they have never been worn, with cowboy boots and that red MAGA baseball hat. A terrible grin is plastered on his face. It looks all wrong, more a grimace than a smile, more out of place than the cowboy boots or that ridiculous hat. He is sipping from one red cup and spitting into another, his lip swollen with what Robertson assumes is tobacco.

“High five!” Mowery says. He puts his cups down on the table, holds his hand up, the angle just wrong enough to indicate that he may never have had occasion to high five somebody. Robertson would ordinarily catalogue this under the man’s ever-growing list of sad failings but today he feels like he needs to start another list. He holds his hand up and Mowery slaps it with his hand, popping his arm upward like a cheerleader.

“Have you ever high fived anybody?” Robertson says.

“I didn’t know you played,” Mowery says.

“Played?” Robertson is thinking about basketball, about the many times he’s had the occasion to high five a teammate, how he needs to get out and start playing again before he winds up like the rest of these people with their beer guts and second chins, their decades-old Dockers trapped in place with a twenty-year-old belt.

“Don’t know who they’re going to get to finish those virtual machines or the PHP upgrade,” Mowery says.

“You mean played the lottery? All this?” Robertson says.

“Of course,” Mowery says. “Or maybe you’ll be one of those I’m going to work anyway people, huh? Like Garner. Dumb motherfucker thinks he’s going to keep on working here.”

“I didn’t,” Robertson says.

“I didn’t quit yet, either,” Mowery says. He sips from his cup. “They’re all down in HR right now, trying to figure out what the fuck to do when all of us quit. They have charts and red Sharpies. I heard some of these poor motherfuckers might actually get raises today but a raise isn’t eight point eight million fucking big ones, is it?”

Jesus, this guy. Robertson may not be a millionaire but at least he won’t have Mowery bossing him around, whispering under his breath, thinking his probably racist thoughts, playing his country music too loud on his machine and fucking up the servers every time he gets his hands on them anymore. “I didn’t play,” Robertson says. He finishes his beer and fishes another out of the cooler. “I never play the lottery because playing the lottery is…”

Mowery picks up his red cups, takes a gulp from one and then spits into the other. He turns to Rachel from Marketing and gives her the same awkward high five. He is getting no better at it. “Because playing the lottery is stupid,” Robertson says, under his breath.

 

Russell

Russell sees the flashers and the first thing he thinks is that this is going to make being late even harder to hide. He can walk up the back stairs but now everybody will be talking about whatever this is all about, gathered into the coffee room or over by Chastain’s office, already grouped together and gossiping, speculating, starting rumors. He can hear Chastain, “Where’s Russell? Late again?” That hint of sarcasm, of condescension she can’t keep out of her voice. The goddamn receptionist. Administrative Assistant? He realizes he has no idea what Chastain’s title is, but probably it’s something like Junior Organizational Associate.

Receptionist.

One, two, three, four ambulances. He wonders what happened. It is too many for a fire alarm. If he turns into the parking lot, he will have to sit there while whatever is going to happen plays out. Or he could take the stairs, but his plantar fasciitis has been flaring lately and he really hates how walking up even these four stories makes him breathe heavy, sweat through his button-up. He needs to go to the doctor. The dentist. The dermatologist. He is a year late for another colonoscopy and every time he thinks about it, he blushes, pushes the thought out of his mind. If they told him he had cancer, at least he wouldn’t have to make the rest of these appointments.

He drives past the parking lot. EMTs and cops and firemen are standing off to the side, behind the dumpsters, the place where people who don’t want everybody to know they smoke go to smoke. He checks his phone. No messages. He could still call in sick. Email in sick, perhaps the only improvement that technology has brought to this world.

The building is in his rearview, the flashers flashing ever smaller and then they are not there at all. He pulls over on the side of the road. He could go to Target and walk around. He could go to the diner. Starbucks. He wonders what was happening back at the office. Probably some kind of drill—fire or earthquake or active shooter. There is a poster up on the break room refrigerator for a new program called “Run, Hide, Fight.” When somebody comes in the door shooting an AK-47, they are to run, then hide, then fight. Russell knows he will never attend this training. If they want him to do it bad enough they will make it a webinar and then he will read the transcripts of the videos, fill out their ridiculous questions. Run, Hide, Fight. He will go to Starbucks.

***

Rumpus original art by Lauren Kaelin.

***

Excerpted from The Other Ones: A Novel by Dave Housley. Copyright © 2022 by Dave Housley. Reprinted by permission, courtesy of Alan Squire Publishing.


The Other Ones is Dave Housley’s third novel. His work has appeared in Booth, Hobart, Quarterly West, Ridivider, and some other places. He’s one of the founding editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. He is the Director of Web Strategy at Penn State Outreach and Online Education. He tweets at @housleydave. More from this author →