What would a woman do with a million dollars?
Millions of Reasons
by Vivian Gilbert Zabel
Later, Melissa told me that the slam of the door echoed through the house and through her head. She pried her fingers off the back of the wooden chair and stumbled from the kitchen to the living room, where she sunk into a heap on the sofa. She covered her face with her shaking hands as she rocked back and forth.
Why was Tom so angry with me? What did I do? She thought as she wiped the tears streaming down her face with her fingertips before picking up the phone from the table next to the sofa.
In a city hundreds of miles away, I hobbled across my bedroom to pick up the ringing phone. “Hello?”
“Abby? It’s, uh, Melissa, Melissa Wright.”
“Melissa? What’s wrong?” I sat on the side of the bed. “I never expected you to call.”
“I needed to hear your voice. I just had to talk to someone who cares.” I heard the tears in her voice.
“What’s wrong?” I repeated to the young woman I met on the writing site over a year before. We never spoke before this call, only typed messages, but our friendship grew and deepened over the months.
“It’s . . . it’s Tom. He lost his job, and he’s, uh, he’s so angry.” Sobs halted her speech.
I hesitated. What can I say? How can I help her? Dear God, help me know what to do.
“I’m sorry.” Melissa mumbled between sobs. “I’m sorry. I’ll . . . I’ll let you go.”
“No!” I nearly shouted before softening my voice. “No, wait. I’m here. Please don’t hang up.”
“You . . . you don’t need any more problems.”
I stifled a sigh. No, but neither do you. “It’s okay, Melissa. Now, what happened?”
The young woman on the other end of the line sobbed, “I think I told you the company was moving, that Tom would be going with them. But they decided to just shut down.”
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry.” I closed my eyes. Melissa and Tom accepted having to move with his job, but to have nothing in an economically depressed area was hard.
“He’s tried to find something else, anything, but hasn’t had any luck. The severance pay and benefits were only for six weeks, and it’s been three already,” Melissa continued. “Oh, Abby, he’s getting so, so unreasonable and angry. That’s not like Tom.”
I struggled to find words to comfort and encourage, but I knew that’s all I could offer, words. “Could he try to find employment in another part of the country?”
“He’s sent out resumes all over the place. He gets the same response, ‘We’re not hiring at this time. Try back in a few months.’ Oh, Abby, he’s so discouraged.”
“I can only imagine. I wish I could help.” I paused, rubbing my forehead with my fingertips. “You are more than welcome to come here. You could stay with me while Tom looks.” My mind kept trying to find a solution. “Have you tried to find at least a temporary job? I know Tom doesn’t want you to work with your being pregnant and all, but . . .”
She half-laughed, half-sobbed. “I mentioned that this morning. He yelled at me, accused me of not trusting him to take care of his family. He . . . he slammed out in a rage.”
“I’m so sorry,” I repeated before I remembered something Melissa told me during one of our online chats. “Didn’t he always want to start his own business?”
“Yes.” Melissa blew her nose before continuing. “But that takes money and a better location than here.”
“I still say you are welcome here. I rattle around in this big, old house all by myself. I know that some large computer place is locating here within the next few weeks and is taking applications for positions right now.”
“Who? What kinds of positions? Can you send me the information?”
After I promised to email her the information from the newspaper, we said our goodbyes, and I finished my trip from the bedroom to the room I used for an office. I logged onto the Internet and then to the newspaper site. In minutes, a copy of the article winged its way through cyberspace.
I flexed and rubbed my hands and fingers before clicking on the inbox for my email, where a message from my daughter Tracy waited. I quickly opened the post, knowing it would contain the time they would leave their home 200 miles away to come to visit. My excitement turned to dismay, though, as I read:
"Mom, tried to call, phone busy. We’ll be leaving in just a few minutes. Things have changed. Annette was hospitalized again late last night and is being medi-flighted to The University of Oklahoma Medical Center. Jerry is flying with her while I throw things into the van and get Josh. By the time you read this Jerry and Annette should be there. I hope to be at your house to leave Josh before noon."
Oh, no. Poor baby. My eighteen-month-old granddaughter had already spent so much of her short life in the hospital. The doctors in the small community where my daughter and family lived couldn’t seem to discover the cause of the infection that would seem conquered only to return. Tracy would arrive within the hour with my three-year-old grandson. I started to rise from the chair when a message popped up showing that Mighty Monster was online.
I clicked on his name on my instant messenger list and typed, “Hey, Mike, what are you doing home this time of day?”
In seconds the reply came, “Sprained something lifting.”
Oh, not more bad news. I blew a stream of air in a soundless whistle as I typed, “Not again. You have to take better care of yourself.”
“I’m getting too old to work like this. My body is rebelling,” Mike replied. “This is a job for much younger men, not someone like me who’s in his fifties.”
“Did you go to the doctor?”
“The ER. I have some pain meds, am supposed to soak in warm bath.”
“I’m going to let you rest, then. My daughter and grandson should be here soon, and I should make sure things are ready.”
As soon as I logged off, I pushed myself from the chair, groaning as the pain of arthritis jabbed my knees. Shuffling down the hall to the living room, I could hear Martha, the woman who came to help me with the cleaning, singing in the kitchen. James, my deceased husband, had left me well-enough off that I could hire her for one day a month. I knew that she needed more work to help her with her three fatherless children, but I couldn’t afford more. I recommended her to everyone I knew, and she had picked up a few more jobs that way.
Later that night, I once again sat in front of the computer. Josh lay sprawled asleep in the bedroom that was his when he visited me. Tracy and Jerry remained at the hospital by their daughter’s side, hoping and praying that she continued breathing. I also joined them in that prayer.
An email caught my eye, a writing contest. I opened the file and read the rules. Interesting, what would I do if I won a million dollars? The prize for first place was actually for more than a million, but taxes would reduce the amount. I sighed when I saw the deadline: the next day by noon my time. My mind went back over the day: a young couple needing financial hope; a middle-aged man tearing his body to pieces on a job for a younger man but who needed just a semester to complete his degree; a granddaughter who needed expensive treatment; a single mother trying to support her children the only way she knew how.
Thinking a few minutes, I opened the word-processing program and forced my stiff fingers to start typing. Two hours later I printed out a copy of the manuscript so that I could lie down and edit my work. With a felt-point pen and the printed pages in hand, I stumbled to my bedroom, where I prepared for bed before collapsing on the sheets. The few, needed revisions surprised me.
After making the corrections on my entry, I emailed it the next morning. Then I started a day entertaining my grandson, calling for updates on my granddaughter, and praying for all my family and friends. At the hospital, tests continued on Annette, and the small girl continued her fight to breathe. Jerry and Tracy set up shifts to stay with Annette and to come to my house for rest.
Monday morning, I had just set plates of pancakes in front of Jerry and Josh when the phone rang.. I shuffled to the receiver hanging on the wall. “Hello?”
“Mom, is Jerry awake?” Tracy’s voice cracked. “I . . . I, uh, need to talk to him. He . . . he can share things with you. I can only tell this once.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Would you mind if I listened on an extension?” I glanced over to Jerry, who rose and hurried to the living room.
“That, uh, that would work fine. Thanks, Mom.” We both heard Jerry pick up the phone in the other room.
“Tracy, honey, what’s wrong?” he soothed and calmed, his strength apparent even in the sound of his voice.
“Oh, Jerry, Annette has been put in ICU. She went into . . . into cardiac arrest, and we nearly lost her.” Sobs burst across the phone line.
“I’m on my way.” The phone thumped into its cradle seconds before Jerry ran back into the kitchen. He bent to kiss the top of his son’s head before turning to me. “I’ve got to run.”
“I know. If you need me, let me know. I can get Martha to care for Josh if need be.” I tried to smile, but probably grimaced. “I’ll be praying and ask people at the church to pray.”
“God has to help her. I don’t know . . .” Without finishing, he pivoted and strode through the back door.
The buzzing of the phone caused me to realize I stood there still holding the receiver. I hung it up and sunk into a chair at the table, only to find Josh staring at me, his eyes wide with fear.
“Gamma? Is Annette died?” he whispered.
“Come here, sweetie.” When he climbed from his chair and into my lap, I hugged him close. “No, she didn’t die, but she’s a very sick little girl.”
“Can we prayed, Gamma?” His comment sliced through my heart.
“Of course we can, Josh. That’s a very good idea. Shall we pray right now?” I used one hand to brush the tears from my cheeks. “Do you want to pray first?”
Josh squeezed his eyes shut, folded his hands under his chin, and prayed, “Dear Jesus, please let my baby be okay. Don’t let her died. Thank you.”
I took a deep breath, trying to control the weeping that tried to escape. “Dear Lord, I ask the same thing that Josh does. Please touch Annette. Allow us to keep her with us, I pray. Be with Tracy and Jerry. Give them the strength they need. Be with Josh and bless him. Help us all, I pray. Amen.”
Three days passed with crisis after crisis. Finally the medical experts found that the reoccurring strep infection had invaded Annette’s heart. IVs pumped the strongest antibiotics possible into the small body. I left after each visit wondering if I had seen our pretty baby girl for the last time.
At last the antibiotics won the battle, but the infection left Annette weak and her heart damaged. When the hospital released her, Tracy, Annette, and Josh remained with me. She had to be closely monitored, and Jerry and Tracy were afraid to return her to the country hospital’s care. Tom returned home during the week to teach his math classes. On weekends he joined his family.
Two weeks after Annette came home, Melissa called again as I rested in my room. “Abby, were you serious about us staying with you until Tom can find a job?”
“I, uh, yes, I was.” I mentally searched my house, planning how to accommodate two more people.
“If it wouldn’t work, we’d understand,” Melissa said in my ear.
“Melissa, when I said this house is large, I mean it is huge. You and Tom can have one of the downstairs bedrooms with its own bath. We have lots of room - if you don’t mind sharing the house with an old woman, my daughter, and her two children. Her husband joins us on weekends.”
“I didn’t know. You certainly don’t need two more under foot.”
“Were you planning on being waited on and cared for?” I chuckled.
“Abby, of course not. I’m not helpless, and neither is Tom.” Melissa’s voice became quite haughty.
“Then what’s the problem?” I asked.
“Are you really sure? Tom has an interview with that new company and with two other places.” She giggled. “Having hope has sure changed him back to the man I know.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now when will you be here?”
“Sunday afternoon, if that’s okay. His first interview is Monday.”
After hanging up, I sat up on the edge of the bed and started to rise. When the phone rang, I sat back down and reached for the receiver. “Hello?”
“May I speak with Abby Wynn, please?” a woman asked.
“This is she.”
“Ms. Wynn, I’m Laurie Busman with Writing Contest, Inc. Did you enter the “If I won a million dollars” contest?”
“Yes, I did. Why?” I picked up the pad of paper and the pen on the bedside table and wrote “Laurie Busman, Writing Contest, Inc.”
“How do you want your winnings sent to you?” she asked.
I jumped. Winnings? She said winnings. “Uh, winnings?” I asked. “How much are we talking about?”
“Ms Wynn, you won first prize. After taxes are paid, you’ll received just a little over one million dollars.”
“How do I know this isn’t someone's idea of a joke?” I shook my head sharply. This can’t be true.
“You should be receiving a special delivery letter. In fact, you should have received it this morning, but apparently you haven’t.”
“No, I haven’t received anything. I . . . I don’t know what to say. This is so unexpected.” I placed trembling fingers over my mouth.
“If you have a bank where you would prefer we send the prize money, we can. Or we can open an account for you in ours.”
We visited a few minutes longer as I gave the information about my bank so that the money could be sent there. All the time my mind whirled. How can I use the money to help the ones I want to help, without them knowing. When Laurie Busman hung up, I reset my phone and called the attorney James and I had used all our married lives and who had probated James’ will.
“Tracy?” I called as I picked up my purse from stand inside the front door. “Tracy, I need to leave for a while.”
My daughter walked to the hall from the kitchen, drying her hands on a small towel. “Will you be gone long?”
“I don’t think so. I should be gone no more than an hour, maybe two.” I gave a brief wave before taking my cane from the stand and opening the door.
Saturday morning the first installment of my millions of reasons arrived in the form of a special delivery letter to Jerry. I stood where I could watch but be out of sight when Jerry returned to the living room staring at the envelope in his hands. He sat on the couch beside Tracy. “Wonder why some attorney sent me this?”
“Why don’t you open it and find out what ‘it’ is, and maybe you’ll know,” Tracy suggested as she slipped her arm around his shoulders.
Jerry ripped the envelope open and laughed. “Guess that would answer my question.”
“Tracy.” Jerry gulped before handing the official letter and a check to his wife. “Read this. I, uh, I can’t believe it.”
“Five hundred thousand dollars? Who? Why?” Tracy picked up the check that fell from her hands.
Jerry answered in a strangled voice, “The letter said anonymous gift.” He turned to sweep Tracy in his arms. “We can take care of all of Annette’s medical needs. It’s an answer to prayer.”
Early Monday morning, before Tom left for his interview, another letter was delivered, this time to him. Included was another check, for two hundred thousand dollars. Tom swung Melissa around before quickly stopping. “I’m sorry, but I was so excited. I forgot.”
Pasting a kiss on his lips, Melissa whispered, “Silly, I’m not made of glass.”
“What are we going to do with that much money?”
“Start our new life.” She beamed. “You can start your own business if you don’t find a position you really want.”
A couple of days later I chatted with Mike on messenger as he told me his plans to go back to college. “I gave my two weeks notice, and I can’t wait to get back in school. Do you think I’m nuts for going back at my age.”
I replied, “No, Mike, you always wanted to teach. Go for it.”
When Martha called to tell me she would be giving up all her customers and be a stay-at-home mother, I told her I was glad she could but I’d miss her. I didn’t tell her I had already started searching for help to come in once a week since I kept about one hundred thousand dollars for myself. I can be a bit selfish, too.
At last the house was empty except for me. I sat on the porch in the late spring evening, a smile on my face - probably a silly grin. In my mind I counted the millions of reasons that a million dollars brightened the lives of loved ones and friends. Thank you, Lord.