by Beverly Lucey
Burma feels lucky, compared to the recently widowed Ida Mintz, who doesn’t feel much of anything. They’d both won this cruise, against whatever the odds were. Burma says, “Isn’t this terrific? All my life in Arkansas. Now I’m going on the ocean heading all over. And there you were, in line. I never met anyone from Boston before. Here we turn up alone yesterday, and look how nice. They offer an upgrade if we share instead of a single way down below.”
“Yah, yah,” says Ida. “Now what?”
“Now anything. We can go eat, walk around the boat, take pictures, listen to music, check the casino, see what show’s on tonight. Seven days. We can do anything.” Burma plops on her bed, giddy with possibilities.
“So what. I can do all that back home. Except gamble. My son made me take this trip. Said it would do me good. I don’t know, though.”
Burma looks over at Ida’s side of the room. Two suitcases and a satchel fill one corner. The thin Filipino cabin boy had almost fallen over when he’d lifted the small bag. “How about you decide what we do together. Whatever you want, I’ll go with you. You want time alone? I’ll get lost.” Handing over the activity sheet slipped under the door, Burma says, “See what interests you while I unpack.” As Ida reads the sheet, Burma begins to hum.
“What’re you singing over there?”
“I made a list on the plane. Every song I knew with luck: I Feel Lucky, Luck Be a Lady, Theme from Mr. Lucky.”
“You’re a happy woman?” Ida observes.
“Sure. I guess. Good things happen when you least expect it, right?”
“Good things, not so much. Bad things? All the time. Maybe you got the good luck and I got the bad luck.”
Three days later Burma is glowing. She’s gotten massaged, tried sushi, and learned The Electric Slide. She knew many passengers’ life stories. She won third prize in a trivia contest.
Ida read three books and only left the cabin for meals.
Burma enters, smiling wide, revealing her missing eye tooth. “OK, Ida. I’m checking in. Is today when you’re gonna try something new?”
Ida shrugs. “I’m comfortable.”
“That’s not enough.”
“It’s enough for me. You have enough fun for both of us.”
“But I want us both to have fun.”
“Nah, you’re good at it. You must have had yourself a fun life, with all your friends and your dancing and I don’t know what else.”
“Ida. Life is wonderful, but it’s short. I worked my whole life. Night shifts at a hospital. You see things that aren’t so pretty. Sometimes I can help, but mostly I just clean up messes.”
“That’s what they offered. Forty years.”
“You got kids?”
“Nope. Never even met a man who wanted to marry me. You were lucky. Don’t you see?”
“See? See what?”
“Anyway, I have a confession.”
“Uh, oh. Maybe I don’t want to hear.”
“Tough. Usually I give to the church every week and buy for the schools. It’s a poor neighborhood. Kids don’t have much for supplies. Then I won this trip. I held back fifty dollars. Isn’t that selfish?”
“Keeping it when I didn’t need it.”
Mrs. Mintz did not understand how this Burma could ever feel like a selfish person. Her son was selfish. She knew from selfish.
“OK. I’ll bite. What’s it for, your big fifty dollars?”
“Gambling. I’m gonna try the casino tonight. Just the machines. Want to come?”
“Nah. You go.” Burma looks deflated.
Ida says, “Wait. Tell you what.” Ida heads from her chair to the heavy satchel, ignored since the first day. Reaching in, she pulls out five red rolls of quarters. “Here’s fifty also. You play for me. Make me some good luck. And if you lose, OK. I don’t care.”
“You have to. Go. Leave me alone.” Ida phones for room service and goes back to her reading.
At nine Burma comes bouncing through the door, her face red. Look!” She is waving a hundred dollar bill. “I doubled my money and quit. Then I played for you. Two thousand dollars. Isn’t that wonderful? Come with me tomorrow?”
For the next two days Burma uses her same fifty dollars and stops when she makes a hundred. Ida stands behind her handing her rolls of quarters from the satchel watching Burma win, win, lose, win, win. Crowds form. People cheer, touching Burma’s coin cup, asking to rub her lucky arm.
Last night she quit after getting light-headed looking at the five thousand dollars she’d won for Ida. Tonight she gets to eight thousand before she feels faint. Ida never smiles, never says, “I’ll pull my own handle.” She just watches. Then she suggests the poker table, so the money will disappear.
By day seven the satchel’s empty, folded away. The two women are packing. Burma has three hundred dollars and her original fifty. Ida has fifteen thousand.
“Ida, I’ll never forget this trip. I had the best time. Look. Three hundred more dollars than when I started. I’m gonna get parkas for this family down the hall. They’ll be so happy. Plus, I learned poker. I didn’t know how quarters could grow. I didn’t know I had a poker face. What’re you gonna do with yours?”
“Who knows. I brought those stupid quarter rolls I saved all the years I was married. Figured I’d throw it way in a casino and that would be that.”
“Well. Good luck, whatever you decide,” Burma says later, as they line up for separate airline shuttles. “I’ll never forget you. Isn’t it lucky we got to meet each other?” She waves and turns away. Ida watches Burma find a seat, start a conversation. As the van pulled away, spewing a little too much smoke in a person’s face, she thinks through the fumes, “Some people have all the luck.”