“Don’t keep the ticket in your pants,” Carla said, shrugging into her work uniform.
His hand went automatically to the pocket where the ticket was. The pants had multiple pockets in different shapes and sizes. Several of them had loops and Velcro closings.
Since he bought the pants from the hardware store, Greg found himself daydreaming about things that could be stored in the pockets.
The objects that floated into his mind excited him. He sensed that with enough effort he could create a life for himself that included items more interesting than phone, wallet and keys.
He wore the pants constantly, resenting the time they were in the wash.
The hardware store was old-fashioned. Greg had to squeeze along the narrow aisles between the shelves to find the lightbulbs or batteries he was usually looking for. He enjoyed looking at the range of power tools on display, and the rows and rows of small trays holding the nails and the screws, the electrical components and tap washers.
The cramped apartment where he and Carla lived offered little potential for home improvement. But he dreamed of one day being able to buy a fixer-upper with a garage he could turn into a workshop. Like the before and after shots you saw on YouTube. Where did they even find those bargain wrecks in the first place, he wondered.
He found nothing strange in this desire although he had taken journalism in college instead of something useful like electrical installation or plumbing. Dumb, he thought, real dumb. There was no money in journalism — probably never would be again — and the bestseller he planned to write to pay off his student debt was still half-finished. It had been sitting there untouched for more than six months, he realised. Journalism had become a side hustle; the only money he was making was from his job at Marty’s, an OK bar that showed the sports, two blocks over.
The hardware store had become a kind of playground, a refuge for men like him, drifting to thirty, watching their girlfriends start nesting, wanting children, wanting he realised, to keep things moving, to keep the momentum of life moving.
He had no desire for children. He did not want his life to move in that direction, did not have the patience required.
So he started to hang out in the hardware store. Hiding there, Carla would have said if she knew.
The pants were hanging on their own at the side of the counter, when he first saw them. The clerk, a taciturn man related in some way to the owner, was unusually expansive.
They were a late return, he said, they hadn’t stocked those pants for at least a season. But the man who bought them had died before he got the chance to wear them — still had their tags in — and when his widow brought them back, he didn’t have the heart to say no to her.
“I gave her a wrench for them. She was happy. Said her hands weren’t strong enough to undo anything her husband had tightened. Not much I can do with a single pair, though — unless you want them. Ten bucks?”
“Are dead men’s pants the same as dead men’s shoes?” Greg was joking but the clerk’s mouth tightened into a straight line.
“Suit yourself,” said the clerk. “I’ll put them back on the rail.”
Greg looked at the tag, swinging back and forth. The pants were in his size. They had reinforced knees and heavy overstitching. The sort of thing a man would wear in his workshop, if he had one. The price tag said $39.95.
“Ten bucks? Sure,” he said. “Why not?”
Carla showed little interest in his new pants, only commenting that it would take him a long time to check the pockets every time he washed them. She was working long hours in a bid for promotion, having long ago relinquished her own writing dreams.
The pockets fascinated Greg. The variety of items that could potentially fit into them was enormous. He dreamt strange and fascinating dreams, feeling on waking that the perfect answer had just eluded him.
The time he spent at the hardware store was more purposeful now. He spent hours in the aisles, picking and discarding items as he walked. Days passed. One afternoon he’d experimented with putting some loose change in the top right pocket. But that wasn’t the right thing at all. He dumped the coins on the counter of the drugstore next door and bought a lottery ticket, still wondering whether that old-school folding wooden ruler would be better for the long pocket on his left thigh.
When he remembered to check the lottery ticket, he was astonished. The world seemed to tilt slightly on its axis. He had the winning ticket for one of the daily prizes — it was worth five thousand dollars, more than he had earned this year.
He could hardly stand still, shivering with excitement and delight as he told Carla; then regretted it when she started listing all the utilitarian purchases, repairs and repayments they needed to make. That was after she’d checked the ticket three times just to be sure.
Greg hadn’t realised they’d let things slide so far financially. He’d been thinking about a holiday — somewhere warm, relaxing — Florida maybe or even the Bahamas. Now he realised how much of a hole they were in. He’d relied on Carla to take care of all the boring financials. That had obviously been a mistake.
They ended up quarrelling over money. Greg complaining about the their inability to get the balance on their cards down, Carla telling him he had to increase his hours at Marty’s.
He hadn’t told her that he had lost his job after calling in sick one too many times from the hardware store. Hadn’t told her yet.
Just need a little more time to find something else — surely, he could find something more lucrative than bar work.
That night he smiled as he dreamt exactly what he needed for the pockets in his pants.
Buying it all took what he had left from his last pay check plus a bit more. But that was all right. They had the winning ticket.
When Carla looked it up online, it said they had to go to a lottery centre to collect their winnings. There was one in Marquette, Carla said. She was off the day after tomorrow so maybe they could drive up there together, as long as he wasn’t working at Marty’s. Collect the money, find a great place to eat, maybe even stay the night.
“Great idea,” he said.
“Don’t keep the ticket in your pants,” said Carla, shrugging into her uniform. And then, “No. Please.”
As his hand went automatically into the pocket where he kept the ticket, Greg remembered he had washed the pants last night, and put them in the dryer to reduce the amount of time spent without them.
He fished out ruined pieces of paper from the pocket. Bleached white, the colour of bones, and covered in grey fluff. On one of the pieces, he could just make out the place where they had signed the back with a jet-black Sharpie. The barcode was destroyed.
He eyed Carla. Waiting for an I told you so. Waiting for confirmation that she had been right, as usual, while he was wrong. The exchange took place practically on a daily basis. He felt the familiar resentment flare into anger and then rage when he realised what they had lost.
For once, Carla was speechless. After that Please. No. she was silent. Her mouth was actually hanging open. Her eyes flicked between his face and, he realised, his crotch.
He looked down to see what she was staring at, wondering if he had left his pants unzipped. There sure as hell wouldn’t be anything else down there attracting her attention. Not these days.
His hands were moving, seemingly without his volition, so assured and practiced were his movements. It was as though he was watching someone else’s hands load and sight the gun he had bought from the hardware store. He felt smooth and easy, just like the way the ammo fitted in his pockets.