The Winner – short story

First published in Island Magazine Summer 2009 no. 119

Winning the lotto? I’ll give you winning the lotto, mate.

Remember Bruce? Short, stocky bloke in the pressing section. Sandy hair and glasses. You know the one. The buttons over his belly in his overalls were always popped open. Yeah, that’s right. Bruce his name was. Just stood there. All day every day at the press, watching it open and close and occasionally tossing out a faulty one. Regular as, mate. A proper piece of the machinery.

Yeah, well Bruce- he won the lotto. Won it big time, in fact. A couple of million. He’d been buying his ticket for every Saturday for as long as he’d worked here. Same numbers he chose on his first pay just after he left school, he told me once. Easily thirty years. Guess it was just a matter of time before his numbers came up and, lucky Bruce, it was in his lifetime.

Didn’t tell anyone about it, though, did he. Just kept coming in and doing his job, day in, day out. But news got round. It would do. Once Beth at the newsagent knew, he wasn’t likely to be the only one to be told. You know what Beth’s like.

So the first time in his life, Bruce starts to get noticed. People noticed he didn’t buy a new car, or a new boat, or do anything to his old weatherboard house down in the valley. Nothing. Not even a new pair of shoes. So of course everyone was talking about it. Not to his face, of course. But everyone knew.

Eventually it even got around to old topknot up there in the office. Obviously got bored cutting his fingernails, so he calls Bruce up to him.

“Heard you won the big one,” he says.

Bruce would have nodded at that, just slightly. Not exactly one for words, our Bruce.

“You going to retire, or go on a holiday, or what?”

Bruce would have shrugged again.

“Well, the shack could do with a new back door… apart from that…”

See, that was the thing with Bruce. He just wasn’t into stuff. Nothing really he wanted, except a packed cheese sandwich for his lunch, a Saturday in front of the footy and a bite when he went up to the lakes to go fishing. And maybe not even the bites, ‘cos then you’d have to clean it and all and Bruce wasn’t one for unnecessary activity.

So, the boss says, it’s fine if he stays and carries on, but with all this money coming in, chances are one day he’d just pack his bags and leave and then where would that leave this place – no-one to work the press. It’d stuff up the whole production line. We’d be in a right prickle then, wouldn’t we, he says. So just to make sure that wouldn’t happen, topknot goes on, the best thing for everyone is they get a new guy in that Bruce can train up and then if Bruce ever wants to leave, then he wouldn’t have to feel guilty.

That’s when young Tony over there started. He’d been mucking around since he left school but Bruce got him sorted out. Covered up for him after he’d been out on the turps and trained him up with all the tricks of the trade. Soon got him on the straight and narrow.

You should have seen them. The two of them. Standing at the press. Hardly saying a word, but you could tell they could understand each other with just the shrug of a shoulder, or the flicker of a finger, which is probably just as well considering the racket down there. Just standing. Side by side, month after month. Mates.

The Boss could see it too, and one day he calls old Bruce back into his office.

“Bruce,” he says. “We’ve got a bit of a problem. Resources… remaining competitive… strategic alignment… blah blah, crap, crap, crap, and all that stuff and anyway, the problem is, we’ve got two people doing the same job. It’s redundant and we can’t afford it and yadder yadder yadder.” You know how he brambles on, perched up there behind his big wooden desk.

So poor old Bruce was told he wasn’t needed any more. Just like that. After however many years of working here, not a sick day in memory. Just ‘cos he won the lotto, for Chrisake. Tony was pretty sore about it and so were we all. Jeez, all the guy wanted was a new door for his shack, and all he got was the chance to buy us all a round of drinks at the pub to say goodbye. Obviously no point in handing the hat around for a watch or something when you’ve got a couple of million sitting in your savings.

Haven’t seen much of old Bruce since then. Keeps pretty much to himself, though I’ve heard he’s doing a fair bit of fishing up at the lakes. Doesn’t catch much. Poor bugger.

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