We Can’t Lose

January 26, 2021

I’m sitting at the kitchen table snapping green beans while Mama works on the dreaded meatloaf for dinner. My sister, unsurprisingly, is nowhere to be found. That girl. Whenever there’s any kind of work to be done around the house, she Shazams! herself right outta town. Normally I would resent this, but I like to keep a sharp eye on Mama when she’s making meatloaf. Meatloaf is the devil’s instrument; you can hide ANYthing in there. I need to keep an eye on things, just for safety reasons.

Daddy’s at his desk, going through the mail.

“Hmmmm,” he says, studying the piece of paper in front of him.

Mama doesn’t bite. She’s got dinner to fix.

“HMMmmm,” he repeats, scooting back in his chair.

She continues to ignore him.

He clears his throat.

Nothing. Nada. Snap, snap, snap of the beans.

Daddy sighs a little and then hoists himself off the chair and wanders into the kitchen, paper in hand.


“Mary,” he says, “I have something interesting here.”

“Mmmm?” She is kneading carrots into the dreaded meatloaf. I can see it from my seat at the table. Gross.

“Yes,” he says, jovially. “Mary, we’re winners!”

“Is that so,” she says.

“Yes! Lookee here!” He waves the paper for emphasis. “It says right here! We. Are. Winners!”

She finally looks up at him and stops manhandling the meatloaf. “Okay, Ronald, if you say so. What, praytell, did we win?”

“Well, that’s the kicker,” he says. “We won’t know until we come to collect it, but it says we won one of three things.”

She grabs a paper towel to dry her hands and walks over, peering at the paper. “A diamond ring OR a new car OR a boat with motor,” she reads.

“Right?” Daddy-o chortles. “Those are some amazing prizes, that’s for sure.”

Mama raises an eyebrow. “A motorboat. Ronald. You can’t swim.”

“That’s not the point! We won’t win the motorboat, Mary. And if we do, I can sell the thing and make a profit. I’m betting we won the diamond.”

“I imagine there’s a catch here.”

“Not really!” he protests. “We just show up with this paper on Saturday, give them the number in the left corner and walk away with our prize! It’s simple!”

Mama looks over at me. “This sounds like one of his schemes, doesn’t it?”

I nod. “Crazy schemes,” I say. “He’s sort of known for them.”


Over dinner (my sister has magically appeared and is scarfing down meatloaf, that weirdo), my father works on Mama.

“I mean, really,” he says. “What’s the harm in just going to check it out? It won’t take long and those are three great things we could win. I mean, any one of those and we’d walk away happy.”

“I think this smells, Ronald,” she says.

“Awww, Hell. You’re just a pessimist,” Daddy says. “I never win anything. And this will be fun.”

Mama sighs and rubs her forehead.

“Mary. Trust me on this one. We can’t lose!”


Saturday morning, while my sister and I are watching cartoons, I hear Mama fussing at my father.

“Why can’t you just go pick it up?” she asks. “Can’t you just do that? Go pick up your fabulous gift and leave me out of this whole affair? I have about a million things to do.”

“Nope, sorry, it says we both have to be there. And you aren’t that busy. Too busy for a diamond ring? C’mon,Mary. It’ll be an adventure. It’ll be great.”

She mutters something akin to the Lord’s name in vain, puts on her coat and goes to find her shoes.

Daddy is gleeful. “Girls, we’ll see you in a bit,” he promises. “Won’t it be exciting to find out what we won?” He opens the front door. As they leave, I can hear him say, “I’m serious, Mary. We can’t lose!”


*four hours later*


“What’s taking them so long?” my sister asks. We have consumed nearly an entire box of Sugar Corn Pops.

“I dunno,” I say. “Dad said they just had to collect the prize and skedaddle outta there. Maybe they went to Shop-n-Bag for groceries or something.”

My sister snorts. “Without us? The ones who have to bag all of the groceries and haul them in? I doubt it.”

Finally, we hear the sound of the garage door opening. Then we hear a heavy slam of a car door and my mother’s brisk footsteps. She barrels into the house, throws her coat over the banister and stalks to the kitchen.

You can feel the steam coming off her, she’s so mad. She opens a cupboard, slams it shut. Opens another, slams it. Clanks loudly through the silverware drawer, slams that, too.

My sister and I exchange a look.

She’s muttering in there, still slamming away, and decides to hack a head of lettuce to bits. “Mumblemumblemumble…half the damn day…mumblemumble.” The hard whack of a knife.


My sister and I head out to the garage to see what Daddy’s up to. He’s got the trunk of the Travelall open and he’s sitting in the back of it, looking hangdog and sheepish.

“Dad! What did you get?” my sister says.

“Mom’s acting weird,” I say.

“Yeah, well, it took a little longer than we thought,” he sighs. “Before we could collect our prize, we had to listen to a huge presentation about Florida time-shares. I didn’t know about that little detail.”

“Who cares?” my sister says. “What did you win? Is it the diamond ring?”

Daddy shakes his head and gestures to a box behind him. We crawl inside the back of the TravelAll to take a look.


We are awestruck.

We spy a yellow, flimsy looking blow-up raft with something teeny-tiny on the back of it.

“What the heck is that?” my sister says.

“What’s on the back of it?” I say. “An egg beater?”

“Oh my God,” my sister says. “It does look like a friggin’ egg beater.”

My sister and I look over at Daddy. He is trying to remain solemn but his shoulders are starting to shake and his mouth can’t hide his grin.

“Holy cow, no wonder she’s so steamed,” I say and my sister and I begin to cackle, and then Daddy loses it altogether and we sit in the garage, laughing so hard that tears run down our faces.

“Your mother…” Daddy gasps…”Is not…amused.”

“No, Dad,” I say. “She’s madder than Hell.”

“I know,” he says and then we just start laughing harder.


We sit outside for a while, marveling at his bad fortune.

Daddy gets out a handkerchief and wipes his eyes. “Girls,” he says. “Go in and get your mother. Tell her I’m taking you all to lunch. But do NOT laugh while you’re in there, okay? Sober up.” And then he loses it again. “Damn.”


My sister and I head towards the house, but Cindy can’t help herself. “Hey Dad!” she snickers over her shoulder. “I’m really glad we couldn’t lose, eh?”

“I promise, eh?” I add.

“You girls are terrible,” he says, hoisting the raft and egg beater out of the car. “I’m just gonna hide this away for a while,” he winks.

“Go get your mother. And don’t you DARE laugh.”


(for you, Michele Parsons)

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