Phebe Jewell ~ Dept. of Imagination

Don’t tell your father,” Mom would say, fold­ing a lot­tery tick­et and slip­ping it into her purse. Poor people’s tax, Dad scoffed every time he spot­ted the Washington State Lottery’s “Dept. of Imagination” logo. He nev­er bought a tick­et, but Mom stopped by the counter under the four-leaf-clover ban­ner when it was just the two of us. Another of our lit­tle secrets, like the cracked bath­room mir­ror and the scraped front fend­er. She called them “episodes,” as if they were hic­cups, inter­mis­sions between acts, her voice high, a tight sur­face about to break. I swept the glass, care­ful to reach each shard with my broom. We got good at mak­ing up sto­ries. Slammed doors, the care­less­ness of oth­er drivers.

Where on Earth should we go this time?” she asked before each Powerball draw­ing. Often she chose lot­tery num­bers based on lat­i­tudes and lon­gi­tudes of des­ti­na­tions we dreamed of vis­it­ing — serene tem­ples in Kyoto, Lisbon’s wind­ing alley­ways, the per­fect des­o­la­tion of Patagonian space. Every time the num­bers were announced and we won noth­ing, she shut her­self up in the bed­room. I’d stand by the door, lis­ten­ing to a silence I didn’t under­stand. When she emerged hours lat­er, she would stride out the front door with­out a word. On those nights, Dad stood moored in the kitchen, star­ing at the fridge. “Let’s order piz­za,” he’d say. The next morn­ing break­fast would be wait­ing, Mom smil­ing as she offered me scram­bled eggs and toast.

After she left for good, I found a shoe box under the bed, stuffed with expired lot­tery receipts. Unfolding the thin strips of paper, I checked the num­bers, degrees of lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude I couldn’t find on any map.


Phebe Jewell’s recent work appears or is forth­com­ing in Monkeybicycle, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, New Flash Fiction Review, Crack the Spine, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she vol­un­teers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a non­prof­it pro­vid­ing col­lege cours­es for women in prison.