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The Big Deal

by Brian Francis Slattery

The boy was standing by the front gate of the small red house with vinyl siding, too close. Not as most people would stand by a gate. It seemed there was something off with him, though it was too subtle to say what. He was wearing headphones and smiling, not unfriendly, but not personable. His mother and aunt sat on the steps talking, in pink print shorts and tank tops. At the side of the house, the boy’s uncle stood in a navy blue T-shirt and sweat pants, in the shade of a scraggly pine, drinking from the hose. The last days of spring, the first days of summer.

The car pulled up, a 1998 powder-blue Cadillac Deville. The boy’s father got out, stiff, ruddy-faced, eyes wide, unable to speak.

“What?” the boy’s mother said.

“…”

Lord, he’s having his second heart attack, the boy’s aunt thought. He’d had his first one four years before, and the doctor had said the second one could happen any time. The fuse is lit, the doctor had said. It’s just a question of how long it is. He thought he was being helpful with that metaphor.

“What?” the boy’s mother said.

It was not a heart attack. It turned out that the boy’s father had won $17 million in the lottery, after taxes.

“What?” the boy’s mother said.

“17 million big ones,” the boy’s uncle said.

The boy’s aunt shook her head. “Lord have mercy,” she said.

“17 million kahunas,” the boy’s uncle said.

Eleven years later, the boy’s father had his second heart attack and did not survive it. By then he was worth $24,397.37, after estate taxes. He’d split the lottery money fifty-fifty with his brother, the boy’s uncle, because that was the deal they’d made when the uncle gave the father a dollar toward the two-dollar ticket. It had all been so casual. The dollar handed over without even making eye contact. The boy’s father was not prepared to honor the agreement, but he couldn’t find a way out of it. He resented his brother for holding him to it. Resented himself for suddenly feeling like $8.5 million was not enough. If only he had just bought the ticket and won $8.5 million all by himself, he told his wife, he would have been over the moon. He might have given his brother half for everything he’d done, for the house, for the boy. The boy in particular, with his condition and all. But that was not the way it had played out.

The boy’s uncle quit work the next day, moved himself and his wife out of the red house. They bought a small place a few blocks over, to stay in touch, he said. Took up serious gardening, got into cooking, furniture building. Sold some pieces at the county fair. Volunteered at the community center, ran an intramural sports league. Vacationed on the Gulf Coast, sometimes Florida, sometimes Alabama. It was a good deal. My cup runneth over, he would say, and runneth, and runneth. He would try to say it again, and runneth, but could not keep from laughing.

The boy’s father quit his job too, spent the next week unsure what he was supposed to be doing. Got flown out to Vegas. A casino had called him. They’d seen him in the paper, said the expenses were paid on account of his eight-digit net worth. You’re a big man now, they told him, a big shot. He didn’t tell them about the deal he’d made with his brother. Lost just over a percentage point of his actual net worth in three days. It was not a lot of money, he thought to himself, not a lot of his money. But he didn’t know how to not be upset about it. It was a lot of money. He moved the boy and the boy’s mother out of the neighborhood, into a bigger house, without vinyl siding. Then an even bigger house.

This thing of being rich. He did not know how to do it. His wife left him when the boy was seventeen.

“You going to bleed me dry now?” the boy’s father said. “Alimony? Child support?”

“Bleed you dry?” the boy’s mother said. Spat, actually spat, on the living room carpet. “Keep your money. Keep every last goddamn cent.”

The boy went with his mother. Heard from his friends’ parents that his dad was living huge. Adding four more rooms to the house, getting a long, wide car. One girlfriend after another. He was having a good time as long as nobody mentioned the boy’s uncle. The last time they talked was fifteen months before the second heart attack.

“I’m worried about you,” the boy’s uncle said. “You’re living like you got the full seventeen mill.” The boy’s uncle never did understand about the deal, what it had done to them. He thought they were still brothers. The boy’s father made a sound, a yowl pinched off into a soft, high whine, walked out. They never spoke again. And eight months after the funeral, the boy, an accountant by then, still a bit off but so subtly that nobody noticed any more, having straightened out the tangle of his father’s assets and debts, the taxes he owed, looked at the check from the estate’s account for $24,397.37. Could not decide if maybe that second heart attack should have come the minute his father won, before he remembered the deal he had made with his brother. When it was as though he had become a giant, rising above the Cadillac and the red vinyl house with the garden hose, and he could reach down and fit his family in one hand, carry them all as far as any of them could ever want.

Brian Francis Slattery lives in Hamden, Connecticut.  He is the author of two novels, The Spacemen Blues and Liberation, both published by Tor Books.  His first published story won Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction award in 2002. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Brain Harvest, and will be appearing in a forthcoming anthology by Small Beer Press.

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