Mum received a novelty cheque and Gold Lotto-labelled champagne when she won second-division lottery. The air conditioning was broken that summer, so when we drove to Woolloongabba to collect the cash our sweat was only the swell of a turning tide. The bubbly went up in Dad’s cabinet alongside football trophies he won twenty years ago. Dad made sure those shelves never collected dust. I asked Mum why she didn’t pop the cork.
‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever won,’ she said.
Dad drove us to The Valley and we ate expensive sushi and drank cherry wine. Even I was allowed a glass. The head chef joined in our cheers and when the restaurant doors closed he sang opera and offered Dad an imported cigar. This is how the rich live, I thought.
The money covered the land for my parents’ retirement. Their dream was to build a self-sufficient farm. If she’d won first-division Mum could’ve paid for a house too, but as it was they put up a tent, dug a toilet and commuted on weekends to plant trees. There was a timetable to it, so that the fruit and veg would bloom when they wanted to move out.
It was in the same year Mum won the lottery that her bowel jammed and she needed surgery to unblock it. She was up all night, on the toilet, sobbing, not wanting help, only wanting privacy. Dad carried her to the car to get her to the Princess Alexandra, around the corner from the lottery office. Mum was unconscious, thin, and I wanted the swell to stop rising, because the tide hadn’t really turned and I cursed every dollar that made me think otherwise. Then the doctor told us there had been a complication.
‘The chance, one in–’
But I didn’t listen to the number, because Mum was that one. ‘Nicked’ was the word used. The surgeon had nicked her bowel and she wouldn’t recover for weeks. It was long enough that she told me to stop visiting, because I couldn’t figure out how to smile in a hospital.
When she was finally discharged we thought it was over, but her swollen, scarred stomach didn’t go down. Every meal she ate made her sick and her body ached from her legs to her fingers. A specialist diagnosed her with allergies; it was a list too long to quote. He recommended fresh food, no preservatives. So it was lucky, really, that when the doctors’ visits ended there were cucumbers growing in her garden. And corn. And dragonfruit. And when my parents moved out they took the Gold Lotto champagne with them. Mum poured the liquid down their shovelled toilet and used the bottle as a vase for sunflowers.
Stacey Main is a Melbourne based writer. She is completing a Masters in Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at Melbourne University.