I knocked up the beginnings of this short story in afternoon during the Christmas holidays. It was just a bit of a distraction, and will probably remain incomplete, as so many things do. Anyway, here goes.
To the rest of the world, Mary McAleese gave the appearance of being unsteady on her feet. Not that she appeared drunk or ill, but rather that she herself was braced for a fall. Onlookers would observe that she walked on a level path, as if on an icy pavement in a high wind. Gloved hands held out to the side, providing essential balance, and readied for the inevitable plummet earthwards. This could be inaccurately described as acrophobia; a fear of heights, and falling from them.
More accurately though, barophobia, an irrational fear of the forces of gravity, would be closer to how Mary felt. At all times she was aware of the perpetual force pulling her downwards, which had to be contended with in order to maintain her equilibrium. In the short walk from her parent’s house to the nearest bus stop, Mary had determined the most efficient route, with the fewest roads to cross, and which left her exposed to the elements only twice. She kept every step deliberately short, and was careful to place each forward-foot flat onto the ground. In her mind, to roll the advancing foot from heel to toe (as everyone else does), would be tempting providence, and an inevitable catastrophic stumble. Attentive watchers would also note that Mary always walked close to a wall or shop front, brushing the back of her hand along it as she made her way. Of course she was entirely aware that this entire rigmarole made her look most peculiar. On balance though, this was far more preferable to the embarrassment, and potential danger, caused by a headlong fall to the pavement.
As an integral part of her meticulously planned routine, Mary would buy a newspaper every morning, with the sole purpose of assembling the precise change in coins for her bus fare. The very thought of paying £1.50 for a £1.35 fare filled her with distinct dread. This, of course, meant having to negotiate an albeit simple transaction with the unnecessarily chatty, and frankly overly familiar Asian shopkeeper. Oblivious to anyone’s concerns, Azmat made it his business to ask a new, seemingly innocuous, question everyday, which Mary found difficult to avoid answering. The more information he built up, the more invasive, and even impertinent she found the questions. Every morning he also suggested the additional purchase of a lottery ticket, and every morning she managed to refuse. Today however, he asked in that unique Glaswegian / Pakastani accent, “So do you live in that big house by yourself – no brothers or sisters?” This was simply too much. Mary would have to find another way to get her correct change in future; but to fend him off for today, she instead asked for a lottery ticket, “One Lucky Dip please, any numbers”. Pleased with his new convert to gambling, Azmat beamed “Here you go, special numbers for a special lady. Good luck hen!”
As Mary boarded the Number 5A double decker bus for Glasgow city centre, she fed precisely £1.35 into the ticket machine, and thought “Luck has nothing to do with it”, and threw the unwanted lottery ticket into the nearest bin. Only when she found her seat on the busy bus, did she realise that she had instead binned the bus ticket. Stuck between the window, and that irritating fellow traveler from the bus stop, she examined the lottery ticket more closely.
Contrary to popular opinion, obsessive-compulsive individuals try to avoid regular patterns, which will inevitably lodge themselves in an already overcrowded daily regimen. As a child, Mary had gone beyond the familiar habit of avoiding walking on the cracks in the pavement. As if to mock the absurdity of the superstition, she would ONLY step on cracks. As symmetry in everything was vital, this then led to her need to make an equal number of steps on each foot; any deficiencies being made up by a double step (tapping the front of a foot as she walked). Before long this obsession had her double-tapping toes and heels on each foot, as she walked ONLY on the cracks as she walked to school. New patterns were definitely not welcome, yet somehow unavoidable all the same.
She shouldn’t have even looked. The numbers had indeed been drawn at random by the lottery terminal, but were immediately all too familiar.
10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45
The first is 10, which is not only her house number, but also her name numerology number, plus 1 (Mary always adds 1 to avoid even numbers). http://m.wikihow.com/Calculate-Your-Name-Number-in-Numerology
The remaining numbers are sequentially those which form exact triangles, as with say snooker balls. This is how it happens, and how Mary becomes hostage to another obligation. Habit dictates that she must now play these lottery numbers every single week. This is both a curse and a blessing; as years before, she had reached an accommodation with herself that every new obligation meant she could drop an old one. One new obligation in exchange for another. Perversely, it was one of the only freedoms she enjoyed.
Danny Pearson was that irritating fellow passenger, who waited every weekday morning, at the same time and at the same bus stop for the past three months. Danny was also a little obsessed. He and Mary were only at the early stages of their relationship, but he already knew they were meant to be together. He knew all about her, and loved her all the same. She lived on her own at 10 Kings Ridge Avenue, worked in the Glasgow Council planning department, and wore size 4 shoes. She only ever ate corn flakes for breakfast, earned £22,750 per annum, and loved the music of Taylor Swift and The Beatles. Oh, and she always plays the exact same same lottery numbers as he does (or at least does now). He had never actually been inside her house, but it’s amazing what you can learn from the things people throw out. Her numbers were as perfect as she was. Stalking is such an ugly word. Danny saw himself as an avid admirer, merely gathering information on her likes and dislikes, so that he could be her perfect match; and he was. It was meant to be. If only he could find a way to make her know this.
Act 3. Lottery win / split £5,364,872 between them. Danny sees it as the sign that they were meant to be together and wants the publicity. She wants no publicity, but Danny knows that she has won too, and insists on spreading the news. It’s a great story for the press, and both are flung together in press conferences. He talks of it as a romantic story, which Mary goes along with.
Act 4. One thing leads to another, and they get married within months. Now both sharing the £5m, he starts to spend huge amounts, but she wants to curtail him. They buy an expensive home in the countryside (his idea). Danny becomes belligerent, to retain control. He hits her, and maintains his stalking on other women. Danny insists that she does what she is told, and that they were meant to be together by having the same numbers. Mary realises that the only way Danny could have known she was a winner was if he knew the numbers that she played beforehand. She had never told anyone, and had asked for no publicity from the lottery company. On checking, the National Lottery company Camelot confirmed that they hadn’t told Danny of her winning. It was now abundantly clear that Danny was her stalker, had stole items from her bins, stole half her £5m lottery winnings, was now controlling her, and was intent on blowing it all.
Act 5. In all this time, Mary hadn’t sold her old house, but would go there every 2 weeks without fail. Danny grew suspicious, and decided to break in. The inside of the house was immaculate, but impersonal. Untouched for the past year, as far as he could see. An eery silence made the stench in the kitchen all the more sinister. Behind the large fridge was a door, which he prised open. Just as he reached the bottom of the basement stairs, the door slams shut behind him. In the darkness, he is grabbed from behind by weak boney hands. With no mobile signal, he can still use his phone as a light. He spins to see the gaunt, and clearly starving face of Mary’s mother. In the corner, under a sheet, are the remains of her father.
“Mary was always good to us, until she started doing the lottery. All she would say is that she couldn’t look after us any more, and locked us down here.”
Act 6. With full control over her fortune, Mary develops new obsessions and deletes old ones from her to-do list.