This story is by Mary T Bradford and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It Could Be You
Tina strode with a purpose, her thoughts of where the extra cash to fix her washing machine would come from bothering her. She found a walk helped her think and today the cold frosty air made her snuggle into her scarf as she pulled it up over her mouth. What would it be like to live in a warm climate, to wake up to summer-blue skies each morning she thought? Her job just about paid her rent and bills. A mist lingered by her feet, strange for this time of day. Tina looked up, it was then she realised she did not recognise this part of the park.
“Hello, Tina,” a voice crept through the trees startling her.
A tent, small and colourful, peeped out from behind a giant oak. The entrance was pinned back and although dark inside, some light flickered. She shivered, her instincts telling her to turn and run. Looking around her, she was alone.
Run away the voice in her head was screaming but her feet disobeyed. Feeling compelled to oblige, she began walking the few yards between it and her. Peeping in, it was homely, an armchair with soft cushions in jewel colours, near a small table with a glass globe sitting on top of it. The warmth was inviting, stepping inside the comfort from the cold welcoming her. The entrance flap slapped close, and the lamp grew brighter. Okay, now I’m in trouble she reckoned.
From her left, an older woman appeared, cloaked in purple while dangling red earrings adorned her ears. She pointed at the chair and Tina sat as she was told. Surprisingly, she felt relaxed and safe. It was like two friends meeting for a coffee and chat.
“How do you know me?”
Tina sat back into the chair, she tried to take it in. Was this real?
“Tina, the future you seek is in the hands of a foreigner, number three, and many balls. If you do not heed my words, then the future you seek shall never be yours.”
“But how, when?” Tina mumbled
“Three, remember three, time shall run out…” The woman rambled on in a language, Tina did not understand. All she grasped was take heed, balls, foreigner, three and now what was the woman doing?
She circled the armchair, waving burning sage over the young woman. Feeling sleepy in the pleasant tent, Tina’s eyes grew heavy and the aroma of the burning herb calmed her.
How long had she been asleep? The graffiti covered timber bench, made her back ache. She looked around for the cosy tent, but once again, she was alone.
Thrown by her experience, she shuddered with fear, she needed to get home. Without stopping to draw a breath, she reached the safety of her front door. Her rushed body damp with sweat.
A tent in the park, armchairs, an old woman in a cloak? She was running a fever, she’d got to be. It was all so bizarre yet felt so real.
Putting on the kettle, she busied herself with preparing a cup of tea and a slice of the two days old coffee cake. She needed the cake to steady her nerves, stale or not. So a foreigner and balls held the key to her future. That was just great, what foreigner did she know that liked balls? Or sold balls? What bloody type of balls was the woman referring to? She didn’t even begin to think about how number three came into it. Plus if she didn’t work it out, she was doomed to live in poverty. Wait till she told her friends. Or maybe not, they would think her daft.
Tina slouched on her sofa. This was madness. She would ring in sick to work and go get herself checked out at the doctor in the morning. If she were to believe what she was told, she needed to work this puzzle out. Ha, like that was going to happen!
The waiting room was filled with sick people she noted. Coughing, sneezing, and spluttering attacked from all sides, with every sort of germ airborne. Tina had to admit she didn’t feel ill. But the episode in the park yesterday had shaken her and well, she couldn’t dismiss something so hallucinogenic. That must be it, a hallucination, why she didn’t know, but that was it for sure.
Back home armed with a bundle of magazines and a sick certificate from the doctor for work, stating she was stressed and so needed the time off, Tina slipped on her pyjamas. This would affect her pay but money worries or not, she needed to rest. The more she thought of the park episode, the more convinced she became she had imagined it.
Work was boring, an office of pushing and piling forms daily, she had wandered into the job after finishing school, believing she had time to plan her future. Only now ten years later she was in the same job without motivation or spark to brighten her days, having fallen into a rut. Never going for promotion, believing she would soon be packing it in for something better. She rooted in her cupboards for her wool basket. Found it! Picking up an abandoned jumper project, Tina began to knit. She surprised herself how much she had missed this and promised herself that she would finish the garment this time. To design knitwear was a passion of hers once. A passion she let slide. As her fingers worked the needles and yarn, the park episode wormed its way into her head. What did it mean? Scolding herself for entertaining the scene, she promptly dismissed it.
Next day brought with it heavy rain, so another day by the fire. By night-time, Tina was glad to cuddle beneath her duvet. She was feeling better, she had definitely needed the rest. As her eyes closed the voice from the woods filled her head. Blast it, she had not given thought to this riddle. She sat up, was this a sign she was running out of time? But she didn’t know how to tackle it, she tortured her mind with numbers and how the connection to balls could be made. She twisted and turned, while the morning sneaked up on her.
“Hi, Olive, it’s good of you to phone. Yes I’m feeling better, resting a bit. You know how it goes. Any news at work?”
Olive recounted the boss was in a foul mood, John had announced his engagement and not to forget the big lotto tomorrow night, some were doing a syndicate for it.
The lottery? That was it, the balls mentioned in the puzzle. But what did a foreigner and three got to do with it? Tina’s heart slumped in despair. Gloom wrapped around her like a blanket.
She looked at the unfinished jumper. Unfinished! That was it, she never committed, never took responsibility. Her fate was in her hands. She sat and worked on numbers, three, twenty three, thirty three, thirteen? Were these the winning numbers? Why hadn’t she done this sooner? But she needed six numbers not four. It had to be the lottery.
Frustrated she picked up her knitting. She allowed herself to dream about how she could give up work and do a designer course in fashion if she did win a lot of money. But what if the balls were balls of wool? What if she was on the wrong path with the lotto? What if she was too late? Night came and Tina was no closer in solving the wood episode.
Her morning coffee warmed her. Until she figured out this whole ridiculous riddle, she knew she would not sleep. It had been how long how? Since last Tuesday and now it was three days later. Wait! Three days? The number three!
Clutching the piece of paper, tonight she would know her fate. She would either be celebrating or commiserating but whichever she would do so in style. She would hand in her notice at work, go to night-classes and work on setting up her own business.
A pot of freshly brewed tea was placed on the table by her chair. Her knuckles white as she held her lottery ticket. It was time for the show. She watched the balls spin around in the barrel. Her breath held, all she was missing was the foreigner bit, some things were out of her control she mused but at least she had tried.
“And tonight as it’s our anniversary show, our host, a special guest, from overseas, will you please welcome, Julio Iglesias”
What? He was foreign wasn’t he? Tina’s heart was jumping with each beat.
”Six, fourteen, thirty four, one, fifteen, twenty and the bonus is number twenty five.”
She didn’t move. Tina clutched the sheet of numbers to her chest. Gasping the tears streamed down her face, tears of happiness for her future.
“Thank you,” she whispered to the empty room, “thank you.”