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She Won: An S.B. Middlebrook Short Story

By the end of the day the shoes had her toes feeling mushed and her tired ankles burning, begging for mercy.

By the end of the day the shoes had her toes feeling mushed and her tired ankles burning, begging for mercy.

She Got Home.

It was July 7th, another hot day of the usual. That morning Mary went to work, and now she was home. Same-old, same-old. Inside her apartment, she realized she was drenched with sweat after climbing two flights of stairs in heels and a business suit. Clothes damply clinging to her body, she closed the door, leaned back against it, and sighed.

Without thinking, she dropped her red patent leather purse on the floor next to the couch and headed straight to her bedroom. Kicking off her sky-high red heels she felt instant relief once her feet were free. By the end of the day the shoes had her toes feeling mushed and her tired ankles burning, begging for mercy.

She peeled out of her best dark navy work suit and then her sleeveless white silk blouse. After shedding her clothes she decided to take a cool shower. Feeling as though her body was thanking her for cooling it off, she enjoyed being free from clothing for a minute as she looked for and found a pair of black biker shorts and a beige T-shirt. Something light, something breezy. Dressed for comfort and freedom she fell hard upon her neatly made bed while trying hard to let go of another grueling day. After ten minutes of lying on her back staring at the ceiling, she took a deep breath. Then she bounced up and headed to the kitchen.

Throwing some spaghetti into a pot to boil, she smiled. She'd had another rough day but wouldn't have to spend a lot of "hot time" in the old kitchen that night. The container of meat sauce she'd taken from the freezer the night before, nicely thawed, was looking a lot more delicious now than when she put it there two weeks ago. Or, maybe she was just hungry.

After dinner she sat a minute too long at her small makeshift dining-room table taking in her surroundings. Her apartment was four small room areas—not even real rooms. There was a kitchen/dining area, a living area, a bedroom/bath area, and a small corner they told her was her "den" area. Who were they kidding? It was all really just one area, some with plaster-thin walls masquerading as another room. It was a very tiny little place. But. It was in a decent blue-collar neighborhood, and, although it was a hovel, she felt safe in it.

After dinner, she sat a minute too long at her small, makeshift dining-room table.

After dinner, she sat a minute too long at her small, makeshift dining-room table.

She Lived and She Learned.

She propped her elbows on the table, rested her head in her hands, and then she sighed. Again. That's when the pictures started appearing in her mind. Again. She stomped her foot because she'd promised herself she would stop doing exactly what she was doing. Again.

For too many evenings, it was a predictable ritual. Sitting for long moments allowing vivid images of the past—instant replays of her regrets, to come to mind. Again. All while dreading her nightly ritual of cleaning her kitchen. Area.

Before long, reels of photographs were sailing by in her head, revealing the best and the worst episodes of her young life. Swissssssssh. There were the pictures of her fairy-tale wedding and the luxurious condo she lived in two years agowhen she was married. Swoooooooosh. There was her ex-husband's handsome but stern face, grinning as she imagined him saying "Na, Na, Na Na, Na! You don't live here anymore!" It didn't matter that he would never say such a thing. He was a much too dignified doctor to do that. Still, he always made her feel like he was mocking her, so that's how the memory photos depicted him. "Na, Na, Na Na, Na" was how he always made her feel.

Swisssssh! In came the pictures of the beautiful and spacious home he bought for them. The one she filled with the best of the best of everything. Picture after picture of three-thousand square feet of everything. And nothing. Swaaaaaaack. There she was. Living life inside splendid, cool, carefree days in her home, decorating their magnificent condo with no regard for the price of things, and with a luscious part of the Atlantic ocean in their back yard. She had it all, style and splendor, but she was only pretending to be happy. She bought and bought and bought, trying to make a home out of what felt like a prison. Interior design perfection and beauty surrounded her as she tried her best to coax happiness from inside, to make it come out of hiding.

Kaaaaaaaaapow! All the pictures changed. Now she was seeing only her ex-husband coming home from work, upset because he couldn't mold her into being the perfect woman, or the perfect wife. These were the shots of what her life was really like. Uncomfortable evenings with a man she couldn't like even though she was pretty sure she loved him. Chilling evenings spent in a tropical paradise, in a fine home filled with everything a young woman could ever dream of havingeverything except happiness.

Baaaaaam! The scene changed again. The Mary she saw was truly happy, once again. That Mary was a woman with a made up mind. She was sure, because she had finally summoned the courage she needed to leave. There she was, standing in the doorway on her way out. Then she turned around and threw at him two of the most beautiful and expensive things she had ever owned. Her wedding band and her engagement ring. The image was the one that always brought her back to reality, and the best thing about her reality was that she'd learned a lot from the life she'd lived so far.

Wiping sweat from her brow, still sitting at her rickety little dining area table, she wasn't miserable. Her home was a tiny, hot, cramped little space (the whole apartment would fit into the living room of the condo where her ex still lived), but still she wasn't miserable. Her home was a dump for sure, but it was her dump. It was cheap, it was on the bus route (for those days when her old car crapped out), and it was on the second floor of an apartment building in a decent, safe, blue-collar neighborhood. But the best thing was, her home was too small for misery and unhappiness to live in it with her. There was simply no place to put it.

She Scrimped and She Saved.

She stared at all the meat sauce still left in the pot. Savoring the pungent spicy aroma, she scraped it into a freezer container. There was enough left for several future meals. She cooked too much during her last cooking spree: a holdover from her days of eating for comfort. No more. Now she only cooked too much because she bought in bulk to save money, and cooking in bulk helped her save on her utility bill. She reminded herself to purchase more containers. One day. When she could afford them.

Using a glass, she filled a large pitcher with cold, filtered water from the refrigerator door. Once the pitcher was full, she added one packet of sugar-free powdered lemonade, squeezed in the juice of two lemons, then stirred in six packs of stevia. Adding several cubes of ice to the pitcher, she started thinking about how life forced her to learn how to survive while spending the past year taking back her independence. By taking care of herself. By using only money she earned so that she finally believed she could survive on her own. Buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, storing food, using lights only when absolutely needed. Shopping at thrift stores. Staying home more, because going out usually meant spending money. Surviving on her own was now her way of life. It was what paid for her freedom.

She learned how to get up early Saturday and Sunday mornings so she could cook in the cool morning hours. That way she didn't heat up the apartment in the afternoons and evenings when it was warmest inside and out. Miami weather was warm most months of the year, but using fans and cooking in the early morning hours, on weekends and sometimes before work on weekdays, meant she never had to run the air conditioner. At least not until the heat became too much to bear.

These days, sweating was just part of coping. And it wasn't all bad. Sweating helped her lose weight and losing weight had helped reduce her body temperature. A lower body temperature meant she could live in her home without needing the air conditioner so much. Now, neither the sweat nor the heat bothered her as much as both did when she was nearly 50 pounds heavier. The next time her mother called and asked, again, about the extra pounds she put on after the divorce, she was ready to stand bravely in front of her laptop camera and Skype in her back-in-my-size-4's body and say, "What extra pounds?"

Eating less hadn't been her choice. At least, not at first. But once she lost ten pounds, she started doing Pilates and housework with the air conditioner turned off. Before long, the weight was just gone. She saw it as another gift she'd given herself: another perk gained from insisting on freedom.

Once the pitcher was full, she added one packet of sugar-free powdered lemonade, squeezed in the juice of two lemons, then stirred in six packs of stevia.

Once the pitcher was full, she added one packet of sugar-free powdered lemonade, squeezed in the juice of two lemons, then stirred in six packs of stevia.

Tonight, there was enough salad left from dinner to be tomorrow's lunch.

Tonight, there was enough salad left from dinner to be tomorrow's lunch.

Several minutes later, all done with dinner, she got busy doing the dishes. Tonight, there was enough salad left from dinner to be tomorrow's lunch. Plunk. Into a container with a lid it went. It represented a day off from needing $3.99 for the soup and sandwich special at the deli next door to where she worked.

Cleaning up, she recalled the first year after her divorce from Dr. Max. That was when she discovered she would also need to divorce her parents too. They had to understand that they, along with Max, had to let go. She was a grown woman, and she no longer wanted their financial support, because it always came with strings attached. Strings that meant she was not free. It was hard to do but she finally did it. And now, she was finally standing on her own two feet. Her life was hard, but she was finally making it on her own.

Before she stopped them, her parents had started paying all her rent and buying all her groceries. They felt sorry for her, they said. Knowing she’d refused to let Dr. Max to pay alimony. With them paying for everything, and never having to worry about money, she started buying and buying and cooking and cooking. She started living to eat, and her only enjoyment in life was planning her next "comfort food" meal. Stress cooking and stress eating became her favorite past-times, and, before long, she’d put on the pounds. But now, thanks to saying "No thanks" to mom and dad and Dr. Max, and to living only on what she earned, she was financially challenged, but her life was "string-free." She was sweating buckets and eating a lot less, but she was living her life on her own terms.

In the weeks after all the money stopped coming in, with almost no money for groceries, she started thinking maybe she'd spoken too hastily. Then she decided, no. She'd made the right decision. Not taking money from home had turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Cutting back on her food bill allowed her to lose weight, and, looking up and out at the sky through her small kitchen window, she thought about how there was no food that tasted as good as being slim and independent felt. She mouthed a silent "thank you," to the God of her life. Living inside a sauna meant she hadn't had to work hard to lose the 48 pounds she gained the first year after leaving Dr. Max. And, since her finances hadn't improved, keeping the weight off was also a piece of cake—the only dessert she ever needed.

She Enjoyed Earthly Treasures.

Once she was done in the kitchen, her reward was being able to sit down and relax on her comfy eggshell white linen sofa—in her living room area, and to feel no guilt for doing it. She'd earned the right to sit, to relax, and to enjoy the precious few fruits she'd managed to pick, after all her hard labor.

She looked around. It was nice stuff, her new living room. Nothing like the cheap stuff she had to do her best to sell every day at work. Her living room furniture was a gift from God. It was all top quality: the eggshell white sofa, two light teal chairs, and an elegant, espresso-finished beech wood coffee table and end table.

She discovered the treasures at a garage sale she stumbled upon months ago during one of her favorite weekend past times: driving around looking at homes in neighborhoods where she wished she could live. One day, she was in the middle of wishing she could own a home in an exquisite South Miami neighborhood, and when she looked up, there it was. An estate sale. When she stopped to look, she met a young, affluent couple who were divorcing because, as they told her, they found out they hated each other. Laughing nervously, they seemed to be racing to get their words out as they explained why they were practically giving away all their belongings. Expensive things they'd bought together, but now did not want to own together or separately, they said, because the other one had touched them. They had happy looks on their faces, but Mary felt their pain. Their eyes were pleading with her. "You're the first one here," they seemed to be saying. "Please, take it away. I don't want to have to look at it another minute because it reminds me of her/him." Their eyes were speaking volumes, and Mary understood. They were feeling the same way she felt the day she left Max, and she had to help them end the pain. It took nearly her entire paycheck to help them, but she knew she'd never regret buying the furniture. She worked in a furniture store, so she knew a spectacular furniture bargain when she saw one.

After buying it, she was still a young, broke black woman, yes. But she was a young, broke black woman with some very nice living-room furniture. Sure, it was garage-sale stuff. Something that, if Monica Mayberry, her mother, knew she'd bought, she would disapproved of it, vehemently. But it wasn't her mother's furniture. It was Mary's, and Mary was proud of it. Her living-room area was now a beautiful sanctuary. A lovely place in an unlovely apartment, and it was where she got to enjoy looking at the nicest material things she owned. Things she'd bought with her own money. And it wasn't even the furniture that gave her the peace she felt there. It was the freedom of having made the decision to spend her whole paycheck on furniture, not knowing where her next meal was coming from, and not having to explain her actions to anyone.

Mary worked in furniture. She knew a great furniture bargain when she saw one.

Mary worked in furniture. She knew a great furniture bargain when she saw one.

She Flirted a Little.

Working as a sales rep for a small low-end furniture store, that month, wasn't even paying the bills. A year in and she still hadn't quite gotten the knack for her job. She was certain that if she didn't occasionally engage in harmless, mild flirting with her manager, she would have been fired months ago. But, thanks to the needy ego of a balding short, stocky, very married Italian guyone who enjoyed believing a young black woman like her could be attracted to him, her job was safe. A nice man, she knew he'd never actually try anything. He just enjoyed thinking she enjoyed eating lunch with him. So she allowed him his fantasy. So what? She wasn't perfect, and her commission-only pay left her with near subsistence-level income every two weeks. At least she had a job.

She observed little holes beginning to sprout in the black biker shorts she had on, from wear and tear. Huh. There was no way she could replace them any time soon. So what? She'd wear them with holes. She'd bought them herself, with her own money, and they were her favorite lounging shorts.

She Believed.

She had to believe things would get better. After all, she had freed herself from a marriage that became a prison the day she and Dr. Max returned home from their honeymoon. She discovered she'd married a true-to-life "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." And she was still the only one who knew it. Everyone—her parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins, everyone who knew him, people who grew up with him and had known him all their lives, still thought her ex-husband was the catch of a lifetime. But she knew they were wrong. All of them.

She started picking at the holes in her shorts. Somewhere inside, there was this thing that wanted her to feel sorry for herself. But she was stronger than that thing. She told herself the holes in her shorts made it easy for the soft texture of the sofa's cloth to caress her skin as she relaxed there. Holes put her skin in direct contact with the sofa's softness, and that helped loosen the knots under her skin, helping her to unwind, from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet.

She leaned back against the colorful sofa pillows and exhaled a deep sigh. She had made it through yet another completely chaotic and stressful day. Another day where she hadn't sold one blessed thing. Not one piece of furniture. Not even a knickknack. But she was determined to believe. Determined to look forward to a better tomorrow. So. In the moment, she decided to believe she would make a big sale, tomorrow. It could happen. Really. It could.

On the floor next to her white accent end table, she spotted the book. She didn't want to pick it up but she had to. It was too late now to take it back for a refund. She'd gotten it at the half-price book store and now she knew why it was there, at half price. She'd already labored through three of its boring chapters. Someone at work told her it was good, so she'd bought it, and, so far, it wasn't. She could only force herself through one chapter per month, and this was month four. She gave it another try.

Several minutes later, after reading yet another uneventful chapter, she dogeared the last page and slapped the book down hard on the coffee table. Her mind started racing back to Dr. Max and the pictures started creeping in again. It was dark outside now, so this time the romantic pictures tried to come in. The ones that wanted her to know that somewhere deep in her heart and soul, she still loved him. She looked around for the TV remote. She wanted to think of something else. Anything else.

It was time for another re-run of an old Seinfeld episode. In its heyday it was her parents' favorite sitcom, and now it was one of her favorite re-runs. Unable to afford cable, she watched network TV only, and that meant re-run after re-run after re-run. Her evenings were on a steady diet of old shows, but the oldies were good, and tonight's Seinfeld episode would not disappoint. She'd seen promos, and tonight's show was the one where the character named "Elaine" would dance the crazy, akimbo legs and arms dance. It was Mary's favorite episode. She even had that limbs-twisting dance down pat, and that night, a relaxed, young, broke black woman was going to feel good doing that crazy dance.

Her mother always called at a bad time. Tonight, it was right when she was getting ready to watch another "Seinfeld" re-run.

Her mother always called at a bad time. Tonight, it was right when she was getting ready to watch another "Seinfeld" re-run.

She Endured "The Call."

Her cell phone rang. "Hello, Mama."

"Yes, I'm home. Yes, I've had dinner."

"No, I haven't paid my rent yet. Yes, I know I need to move to a better neighborhood. No, I don't think I could find a place this cheap in a better neighborhood."

"Yes. You're right. I do need a better job."

"No. I don't think my car is going to last out the year."

"No. My electricity didn't get disconnected. Yes, I do need to find a better job."

"No. I know you didn't send me to college so that I could divorce a rich doctor and then get a job that only requires a high-school diploma."

"Yes. I know I'm the oldest and should be setting a good example for my younger siblings."

"Yes. I know I've been working at that store for a year. No, I don't think I could get a raise, because I work on commission."

"Yes, I meant what I said last time you called. Taking money from you and daddy makes me feel like a child. I hate feeling like that. My life is mine when I earn everything I spend. I'm grown."

"Yes, I know Max is still wearing his wedding band, and yes, I do wish I'd kept the rings, instead of throwing them in his face on the way out the door. So I could pawn them."

"Yes. You might have to help me out again with my rent. I'm not sure I'll have it this month. No, I didn't sell anything today. Yes, I do hate having to ask for help when I go to work every day. Yes. I'm glad I have parents like you, but I won't let you help unless you promise to let me pay you back."

"Yes, I do owe you when you help me, no matter what you say. I am keeping track if I borrow money from you, and I am going to pay you back."

"Yes, I promise I'll try harder to find a better job soon. Yes, I mean it this time."

"Yes, I know I'll be 25 next year."

"Yes, I promise I'll think about moving back home at least long enough to get back on my feet."

"Yes. You're right. I am hoping I won't have to."

"Yes, I do wish I'd kept the rings, instead of throwing them in his face on the way out the door," Mary said. "So I could pawn them."

"Yes, I do wish I'd kept the rings, instead of throwing them in his face on the way out the door," Mary said. "So I could pawn them."

Her mother always called at a bad time. Tonight, it was right when she was getting ready to watch another "Seinfeld" re-run. She shook her fist at her mother's invisible face as it floated in the air above. Monica Mayberry always managed to bring out the worst in her. But not tonight. Tonight, she wouldn't allow anyone or anything to ruin her peace. All she wanted, every evening, was one moment in time to feel good and happy and free. Just one moment. Was that too much to ask for?

Monica Mayberry never failed to remind her she wasn't where she needed to be in life. Nothing in her life was working, said her mother's voice in her head. Maybe she should just go back to Dr. Max. The statement was understood even on the rare occasion, in real time (not inside her head), when her mother failed to actually say it. It was what both her parents and everyone else, including Dr. Max, wanted her to do. But no one ever asked her what she wanted.

Maxwell Robert King, M.D., was chief of surgery at one of the biggest hospitals in Miami. Rich, good-looking, tall, distinguished, and mean. She loved Max but hated how he always looked down on her. As if being ten years older automatically made him smarter than her, let alone the fact that he was a doctor. The way he saw it, he'd saved her from life in a small Louisiana college town where her daddy was an elementary school principal and her mama sold Mary Kay. He'd taken her away with him to Miami, to a life of luxury. He thought she should have been thanking her lucky stars for the privilege of being talked down to and often made to feel like hired help. How could a black man make a black woman feel like hired help? She wasn't sure, but she knew Dr. Max had it perfected.

She Left Madness Behind.

She made up her mind to leave Dr. Max the day he told her she had wasted four years of her life getting a useless degree in interior design. One he said would never give her the lifestyle he could give her.

"Drawing little pictures and arranging furniture for a living," he said. "That? Could never be a real career. But you 'lucked out,'" he laughed. "Your degree mistake. Your career mistake. It's all okay because you'll never have to worry about working. You married a real man with a real degree. A real job."

Feeling he could never and would never appreciate anything about her, it was the last maddening straw. Divorcing Dr. Max felt good, even though it created divides. Not just the one between her and Dr. Max, but also between her and her parents. Her and her siblings. Her and her friends, cousins, and everyone else in her hometown who knew and loved Dr. Max. Well, since they loved him so much, they could have him. It was now two years later and she did not regret the decision she made that led to her independence.

The friendship Mary's ex had with her father survived the divorce.

The friendship Mary's ex had with her father survived the divorce.

The friendship Dr. Max had with her father survived the divorce, and somehow, she always knew it would. Dr. Max and Dr. Max's dad had been her father's fishing buddies for years, long before she and Dr. Max started dating. When Dr. Max's dad passed away the friendship and the fishing did not. Fishing was Mary's dad's favorite sport, and it was Dr. Max's favorite sport. That's why there would be no separating of the two. While she and Max were dating, the doctor bought a fishing boat that her father kept so that he, Dr. Max, Monica Mayberry, and several of their friends could go fishing on the bayou on special weekends.

Her mother told her she should be grateful to Max. For asking them if he could ask her out when she was still a sophomore in college; for realizing he was in love with her and proposing the year before she graduated from Grambling University, and for marrying her the weekend after she graduated. Monica Mayberry loved Max. Not just because she enjoyed telling people her oldest child had finished college and married a brilliant doctor who was already an accomplished surgeon. That wasn't it. The woman genuinely loved the man she saw as Maxwell King.

"Maxwell King wanted a hometown girl to be his wife. He could have married any young woman in this town," her mama said just one week ago. "But he wanted you. A man like that? I mean, you're pretty, but a big-time doctor like that falling for a scared little country mouse like you? You're my child, Marybeth, but you got your grandma's personality, not mine. My mama was scared of her own shadow, and so are you, bless God. You're the type of girl that needs a man like Max to teach you how to be strong. To give you some courage. I know the man has flaws. Maybe even some big ones. But all God's children got flaws baby. You better get your head on straight and think about this thing before that man falls out of love and stops asking you to come back to him."


How dare her mother say she had no courage. Didn't it take courage for her to stay in Miami, on her own, instead of running home to Louisiana? And didn't it take courage, every day, for her to drive her broken down car to a bad neighborhood, where she sold overpriced low-end furniture to people in the hood, offering them easy-to-get credit with sky high interest rates, when all she wanted to do was to warn them to do without instead of being taken advantage of? If that wasn't courageous then she was sure she didn't know what the word meant.

Two years ago, after three years of charming her and her family, Max gave her the wedding of her dreams. After that, things only went downhill. Her new husband purchased a condo for them in Miami without telling her. Then, when they got back from their honeymoon in Paris, when they were supposed to be looking for a new home together, he surprised her with it.

After that, when she started looking for a job, he demanded she stop. That's when he told her he expected her to be his wife, to stay home, and to have babies. Nothing else. No job, no career. He said she wouldn't need a career. "Just because you have a college degree," he said, "doesn't mean you have to work. You have what millions of white women in this country want, a good husband who wants his wife to stay home, have babies, and raise a family. And I don't wanna hear that women's lib bullshit a lot women spout when they either miss the boat and don't get married, or they want to see how many stupid girls they can trick into staying single and being miserable. And you know why they do it? They do it, 'cause misery loves company. Wake up baby. Don't fall for it. You're a young, black woman, and you already have what most women want."

And that was Dr. Max. The world's leading authority on what most women wanted. And Dr. Max had spoken.

Looking back, Mary knew feeling alone in it was why her marriage failed.

Looking back, Mary knew feeling alone in it was why her marriage failed.

She Looked Back.

"Max the blowhard's" speech on "What Most Women Wanted" was one of her ex's oldest, most often played "LP's." She was fed up with all of his power-trip albums, tired of feeling completely alone in her marriage. So she got out of it. But not until she was exhausted from being disappointed again and again and again as she discovered more and more of his flaws. And now she was tired of mourning the loss of her marriage. Two years of mourning was enough for a marriage that lasted only one year.

Maybe Monica Mayberry was right. Maybe she hadn't looked hard enough for a job in interior design—her career field. Maybe she had allowed Max's words to seep into her subconscious, destroying her hopes of ever finding anything worthwhile in her career field. Maybe she had settled for the first job she found. Maybe she should have kept the new Mercedes Max bought her, instead of leaving it and driving away in the Buick Regal she drove while she was in college. But at the time, she hadn't wanted anything at all from Max, and that meant she needed a job, any job. She wanted and needed a place of her own: to get away from Dr. Max and still not have to move back home with her parents.

Her mother kept her updated on just how badly she was doing at work. "You're never going to make it in sales," she preached, every time she called. "You don't have the personality for that profession."

Maybe her mother was right. Sales was a profession that woman knew something about. She had been a successful Mary Kay representative for 25 years, pink Cadillac and all. If anyone knew sales, Monica Mayberry knew sales. The woman could spot another sales personality a mile away. So why didn't she just listen to her and throw in the towel? What was she trying to prove by staying in a job she hated, that she probably didn't have the personality for, and would probably never be good at? Was it so that she could design the interiors of all the little room areas at work? And even that was a job she got to do only because she pretended to like going to lunch with her boss three times a week.

Her mind started replaying her list of failures in her mother's voice. She was not on the right career path. She wasn't doing the right thing with the degree she worked so hard to earn. She wasn't on the right budget because she could barely pay her rent. She wasn't living on the right side of town, wasn't going back to the right man, and didn't even have the right personality for the only job she could find quickly after liberating herself from her marriage.

She stomped her foot. The phone call and it's aftermath of predictable and well-worn reflections had caused her to miss most of the "Seinfeld" episode. After she'd planned on watching it. She had really wanted to see it. To do that crazy dance. To look and act crazy too, and to laugh a lot while doing it. She'd wanted to feel good and free for a moment before heading off to bed. But the call made her get lost in her thoughts and disappointments, and now the last scene of the show was coming up. It was the scene where everyone on the street was doing the "akimbo" dance behind Elaine's back as she and Jerry Seinfeld walked down the street. She threw her book at the TV. Jealous. She wanted to feel as carefree as those actors looked as they were doing that nutty dance.

Mary lost track of time when her mind started replaying her list of failures in life so far, in her mother's voice.She wasn't living on the right side of town, wasn't going back to the right man, and didn't even have the right personality ...

Mary lost track of time when her mind started replaying her list of failures in life so far, in her mother's voice.She wasn't living on the right side of town, wasn't going back to the right man, and didn't even have the right personality ...

She Looked Foreward.

Maybe she would call Max back in the morning. Maybe she would finally accept the dinner invitation he had offered every weekend for nearly two years. Maybe she'd just watch the rest of the news and then go to bed. And when Max called tomorrow morning, as he did every Saturday morning, maybe this time, she would actually answer the phone. And maybe she would finally accept his invitation. Maybe. She yawned. She was getting sleepy.

Maybe she had already found what she left Max to find. Maybe she had found her courage. Her self-confidence. A backbone. Her freedom. Maybe she had proven to herself she could make it without his money, and without her parents' money. Maybe she'd convinced herself she could survive on her own. Even if she did have holes in her shorts, no money, and was living in a hot, crummy little apartment she couldn't afford to keep, let alone keep cool. Maybe it was all part of the price of freedom. And now that she knew she could pay that price, maybe she knew all she really needed to know about herself, but—as a bonus, had learned even more. Because now she knew the best form of prosperity had nothing at all to do with money.

The best prosperity had to do with health, and she'd lost nearly 50 pounds. It had to do with happiness, and she was happy with herself. It had to do with doing what people said she couldn't do. Her mother said she couldn't be good at sales, and she was going to show Monica Mayberry. She could be good at sales, and she wasn't convinced she didn't have the personality for it. Maybe she just didn't have the personality for selling what she was selling to the people she had to sell it to. Maybe that didn't mean she couldn't be good at sales. And to prove it, from now on, she was going to sell the best pieces of furniture in the store, the items that actually weren't a rip off. She was going to offer them to people who had bad credit for the same interest rate the store offered people with good credit. And she was going to begin doing it tomorrow, no matter what. And if she got in trouble for doing it, she'd just be in trouble for doing it.

Since she'd learned a lot in the two years since their divorce, maybe the brilliant surgeon had learned a few things too. Perhaps being alone and in shock over her leaving him had taught him that love always has been and always would be, a verb. Maybe he had learned how to listen to her and what she wanted and needed from a marriage. And maybe he now knew how to speak to her in loving ways, and how to open up all of his love to her—not just the bossy part of it. Maybe he had learned that to show love, he first had to show respect for her, cherishing the woman she was and the one she would become. These were the things he kept saying he'd learned in all the messages he kept leaving. Maybe he was sorry for being such a jerk about her desire to have a career and a family. Maybe he had changed, and maybe she would think about possibly giving him something she believed their love for each other probably deserved: a second chance.

When Mary finally opened her eyes, the lottery numbers were being drawn.

When Mary finally opened her eyes, the lottery numbers were being drawn.

She Spent Her Last Dollar on a Lottery Ticket.

She dozed off for what had to have been more than a few minutes. She knew a lot of time had passed because when she opened her eyes the lottery numbers were being drawn. That meant the news was over and she'd missed it. The first lotto ball quickly swooshed up and into the man's hand from the bottom of the machine. It was a 2. The number on the next ball was 17. The next 5, then 56, 12, and 35. When the last number of the night shot up, ball number 19, Mary thought the seven numbers she was looking at seemed awfully familiar. The year her mother was born, Max's age, the number of younger siblings she had and their ages, the number of years since she first dated Max, and her age when she lost her virginity. She always played those numbers, and she bought a lottery ticket that day on her way home from work. It was something she rarely did, but today she wanted to get a pack of gum after putting gas in her car. So she ran into the convenience store and bought the pack of gum. After that, she spent her last dollar on a lottery ticket, just for the fun of doing it. For the freedom of doing it. Because her mother wouldn't have approved of her doing it. And because Max would have said she was crazy for doing it. Having one dollar to her name and spending it on a lottery ticket? It was a crazy thing to do. And that's why she did it.

Now. Hearing those numbers. It couldn't be. Her purse. Where was it? Oh yeah, it was where she'd dropped it earlier—on the floor beside the couch. The ticket was sticking out from the side pocket. She hadn't even taken care to put it somewhere safe. It was just a worthless lottery ticket that meant she was free to buy it; to do as she pleased with her last dollar. That she was a grown woman—free, black, and over 21 with a mind of her own. That's all it meant. That's all it was.

Her purse. Where was it? Oh yeah, on the floor beside the couch. Sticking out from the side pocket was a lottery ticket she bought with her last dollar, just because she could ...

Her purse. Where was it? Oh yeah, on the floor beside the couch. Sticking out from the side pocket was a lottery ticket she bought with her last dollar, just because she could ...

She Won.

She looked at the numbers on the ticket, eyes darting back and forth from the screen to the small piece of paper in her hand. There was a 35, a 17, a 5, a 12, a 56, a 19, and a 2. Wait. She had to look again. The numbers had disappeared from the TV screen and a car commercial was on. A candy-apple red, shiny, expensive car was zooming by and the numbers were gone. But she didn't need to see the numbers on the screen anymore. Each one was vividly etched inside her brain. A 35, a 17, a 5, a 12, a 56, a 19, and a 2. They were all there on her crazy thing to do lotto ticket! And the jackpot was over $300-million dollars.

She got up from the sofa and started looking for her iPod. That song from the show was on her iPod. That old Earth, Wind, and Fire song was just what she had to hear. Right now. She needed to hear "Shining Star" and she needed to hear it now. She found the iPod and before long she was dancing the dance. Oh yeah. She was doing the freedom dance. Legs and arms flailing like crazy, akimbo. She was twisting her legs and ankles, dancing, and laughing. She was doing that crazy dance, and it felt crazy good. She had all the crazy little kicks and moves and head jerks going and she was rockin' 'em with soul. Oh yeah. She could hardly wait for Max to call. Getting to know freedom was something she'd already done. That's how she knew happiness had nothing to do with money. And now, her next move had never seemed so clear. It had nothing to do with money either. She would definitely talk to Max when he called. Oh yeah. She loved Max, but she loved herself too. And she could finally say it. It was love, for Mary—and not for money, that had turned her life around. Being flat broke for too long had showered her in prosperity, none of which was money. And now, to top off all the more important forms of prosperity she now possessed, she won.

© 2013 Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD