It was a place for the homeless, the alcoholic, the lost. Almost every day I hear about somebody dying in the alley behind the library. I was first to spot the rumpled pile, a human body. I checked the pulse: there was none and the skin was icy.
“Did you know her?” I asked the huddled group.
Most shook their heads and turned away, but one old guy said, “Yep, I knowed her. Tole me her name were Marilyn, but around here, who knows if’n thet’s true.”
“What did you know about her? Any family?”
“Hell, sonny, don’t nobody here knows that ‘bout each other. Lemme see, though, she might’ve mentioned a daughter.”
I jotted down what he said, then, after calling the police, I turned to the old man again.
“Did she know she was in bad shape? Any idea what happened to her?”
“She’s pretty fond of crystal meth. Could be she took too much. Las’ night she were whoopin’ and hollerin’, her an’ a couple other folks, but then this mornin’ she were gone. Tried to wake her, I did, but I couldn’t.”
The police arrived, and took statements from the old guy and me. The paramedics shook their heads and pronounced her.
One officer went through the woman’s pockets, looking for ID. A wrinkled photo, a dollar or so in change, the detritus of a life. He put them in a plastic bag, then reached in the other pocket. An old lottery ticket, crumpled and dirty. The cop showed it to his partner, who shook his head. “Just junk. No need to keep that.” The first officer tossed the ticket onto the ground.
How sad, I thought, her last attempt at getting off the street. Idly, I picked up the ticket and slipped it into my own pocket. I circled around the other people, offering bus passes, telling them where they could get a shower and a meal. They thanked me, and I left for the church office.
“Marilyn” lingered on my mind, and I fingered my paper memory of her. I never buy them. Expecting something for nothing seems wrong. But on a whim, I stopped by a convenience store that sells the tickets, and asked the clerk to check it. She scanned it, then her eyes popped. “Jeez, mister, you won the jackpot from last March! Two million dollars!”
My heart lurched. Temptation touched my spine with its icy finger. No-one would know. She had no relatives, probably…
“Okay, mister, ya gotta take this one downtown to claim your winnings. You have a year to claim, from the date on here.”
I knew what I should do. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. My heart pounded, until the clerk said, holding a camera, “We need to get your picture, as one of our winners.”
Visions of my congregation’s reaction tempered my greed.
“It belongs to an old woman who died. I’ll give it to her family.”
If I could find them.