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by Grace Gannon Rudolph

Wanda McFee, a 59-year-old social worker, loved her small cozy apartment and her job at the Golden Ladder Nursing Home, but looked forward to retirement. She had raised her son Charles on her own. A delight from the moment he was lifted into her arms after an easy labor, Charles was her comfort after her husband ran off two years later with the babysitter.

So the gray morning Wanda found out Charles had fallen into a financial pit so deep there was no crawling out she was bereft; convinced he would spend the rest of his life living in a paper bag on the side of the road.

On her way to work she stopped at the Pump ‘n Save gas station. While waiting for the tank to fill she noticed a sign: Megabucks Tickets Sold Here. She bought her first ever ticket and said a prayer for Charles.

When she got to work that morning she was told Maddy Clarke, an 87-year-old with a heart of stone and a tongue that cut out roommates’ hearts, was dying. “Her son won’t get here till later this afternoon,” Rene the charge nurse said.

“I’ll sit with her until he arrives,” Wanda said. “I’ve got a ton of paperwork I can do at her bedside.”

Maddy’s mouth was slack, pulled down in one corner. Her respirations were shallow, her limbs mottled, her fingertips blue. The room was quiet except for Maddy’s bedside clock as it ticked away the final minutes of her life.

Wanda suddenly put her paperwork aside. She glanced around the room; no one. She tilted back her chair and glanced out at the hallway; empty. “Hello?” she said softly; no communication between Maddy’s room and the nurse’s station. Wanda pulled her chair closer to the bed and whispered in the dying woman’s ear, “Maddy, today when you see God tell him Wanda McFee needs to win Megabucks.” She patted Maddy’s icy hand, whispered “Thank you,” and went back to her paperwork.

The drizzle of rain in the morning became a torrential downpour in the afternoon and by the time Wanda left for the day lightning and thunder erupted from the sky with a ferocity that shook the earth. Maddy, her lips purple and cracked lingered, waiting for her son’s arrival. “Probably wants to give ‘im hell for not coming sooner,” Rene said.

The next morning was sunny; washed clean by the previous day. Wanda stopped to buy a sympathy card on her way to the Golden Ladder. She took Maddy’s chart from the rack and Rene said, “Where are you going with that?”

“I’m going to write the final discharge note and send a sympathy card to Maddy’s son.”

Rene held out her arms for the chart. “She rallied,” she said. “Good as new. Alert and oriented times three. She’s as clear as a bell. Remembers everything.”

Wanda tiptoed to the doorway of Maddy’s room. Maddy turned her head on her pillow and said, “God said no.”