Her brakes squeak loudly as she continually pushes them in the halting traffic. She turns the radio up just a bit so she can pretend she doesn’t hear them as she rests her arm on the rolled down window. It’s hot out. Too hot for the window to be open but running the air conditioner will use up more gas and she already put her allotted money in the tank this week. She knows she needs new brakes but it isn’t to the point of emergency yet.
She looks in the rearview mirror at her daughter sitting behind her, she smiles as her daughter pushes her tongue through the empty spot in her gums where her tooth used to be. Yesterday her daughter was crying because the cavity had gotten so big it hurt almost continually. But today, the hole is there where the pain used to be. She used the emergency fund to take away her daughters painful tooth.
She moves her glance back towards the halted traffic and starts thinking about her brakes again — they’re the next emergency. That’s how she categorizes all the things that need her attention, the things that will cause her to re-do the budget for the month… again. The emergencies get taken care of first and today her daughter’s cavity is the emergency, not the squeaking brakes.
The traffic stops again, the same spot every morning, she thinks. Right under the billboard that changes every few days to announce that someone else has just become a millionaire. Someone she doesn’t know and someone who doesn’t deserve the money as much as her and someone who will never need to categorize the expenses by emergencies.
She stares at the sign. Her eyes fixed to the amount, $56 million today. She thinks of that cavity, the tennis shoes she needs to buy for her son so he continues to not suspect anything is wrong, the name brand laundry detergent she wants to splurge on… just once. She sits there in the stopped traffic and thinks of all the things she wishes she could afford – all at once, not needing to space it out in between paychecks. She wants to be that mom that just goes and gets the materials for the class project without adding up the amount in her head at the cash register and hoping it’s less than the amount in her bank account. She wants to place her items on the conveyor belt and talk nonchalantly with the cashier about the weather and the shrimp that are on sale instead of holding her breath hoping to get the “transaction approved” sign from the debit card reader.
She lets her gaze stay on the sign just a bit too long as the traffic moves a few feet ahead. She knows she isn’t going to win the jackpot that’s flashing on the sign above her head because she never plays… and she laughs at the thought of it, for a moment. She knows the five dollars she would spend on her “winning numbers” will pay for her daughter’s lunches that week at school. She thinks someone with fewer priorities will win, she knows it’s not her.
She breathes in deep, her lungs slowly filling with the stale air of this stagnant life, the life where priorities take over — the struggles, the empty bank account, the loss of laughter, the facade. She knows that winning the lottery would screw up the alignment of this life. She struggles to convince herself that she isn’t deserving of this sad but she knows that anything making it better wouldn’t feel right.
She looks around at the other cars stopped in traffic with her. She can pick out the people who think they don’t deserve anything better, who think the lottery will be won by someone else — they look like her… pretty hair, discount clothes, a fake smile — those are the people who think they deserve to be sad.
Still, she looks at the billboard and she wonders. She plans her budget in her head — millions for the kids, a million here and there for relatives, new furniture, a carpet for her dining room, a vacation. She smiles and allows herself to let out a small laugh, then she remembers her daughter’s cavity, her son’s sneakers, the school lunches. She curses the billboard as she finally passes it by because she knows it made her forget about her priorities.
She glances at her now sleeping daughter once again in the rearview. The traffic breaks apart and she continues home. She places a call to the bank to check her account. This months emergency fund will take care of her daughter’s cavity, maybe next month she’ll get a rug for the kitchen. Maybe next month her priorities will change.