The winter I lost my job, my son was home sick from nursery. I made him a heart-shaped box from cardboard and folded a lottery ticket inside.
“If we win I’ll buy you a proper present,” I whispered, cupping his hot cheeks.
One by one numbers rolled out that weren’t ours.
My son adored the box anyway. He plucked things from all over the house, hid them inside and gave them back to me as presents. His filmy eyes watched my face for delight. Sometimes a harmonica lay inside, sometimes a crayon or a sock. Items that had never been together before were chosen and set down at new angles, like the splintered casing of a Biro cutting across a piece of soap. I pretended to be happy.
Christmas day we were waiting for our tax credits. All we could do was put our things in the box and pass it to each other, back and forth. We ransacked cupboards and lifted furniture. I gave him pasta shells, he gave me his asthma pump. His final gift was that crinkled old lottery ticket.
“That’s everything Kiddo,” I sighed, handing over the empty heart box. While he peered inside for the last time, I smoothed creases from the ticket hoping next year would be different. He kissed the curves of the heart, ran laps around our living room and punched the air as if we had won.
Amy O’Neil is an emerging writer living in Brighton, UK. She recently won the Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction contest, the Globe Soup Summer Short Story competition, and has been a finalist in various fiction competitions. She is currently working on her first novel.
Illustration by Amy O’Neil