This is what happens when you put a little too much in the build-up. This was a flash fiction challenge from a few years ago. The prompt was a weird picture — it involves a mannequin holding a sword — but I lost the link to it. Anyway, it’s not so much a story as a scene. Enjoy
You can cop to it — we’ve all done it. I know I have. Admit it, you have, too: fantasized about winning the lottery. Filling in the bubbles on that little pink ticket with the stubby yellow pencil. Forking over five, ten bucks to the ethnic guy behind the counter who wishes you good luck in a voice with no luck in it at all. Probably because he has fifty dollars worth of tickets crammed in his back pocket himself.
What do you play? Your birthday? Anniversary? Your kid’s birthday? The numbers you found on the back of the fortune from dinner the other night?
You see the numbers on the billboard driving home. Lotto! Play and win! Then the numbers. Is it twenty million? Forty? Fifty million? No, something big. Big numbers. A hundred million bucks. Hundred and fifty. Wasn’t it over two hundred million the other day?
But the fantasy is not just winning, is it? No, that’s not the fun part. Winning is just, like, a day. It’s a day, and the one day you have to make a business decision: all in one lump sum or in installments? You’d be smart — take it in installments. Less taxes come out that way.
The fantasy, the joy of the game is in planning out what you’d do with it. Let me guess: new car. Two kinds of people in the world. Those that go with the sports car, and those that go with the chauffeured limo, maybe a Bentley. What do you like? A Maserati? Ferrari? Lamborghini? Something foreign, something way too fast. The chauffeur is a way to go, too, though. Be pretty nice just have some guy drive you around all day.
You’d pay off your debts, own your house free and clear. Maybe buy a second place somewhere nice, right? Some new clothes. Take a nice, long vacation. Maybe a cruise.
And you’d be magnanimous, of course. Help out your family. Tell your parents to retire. Maybe buy them a house, too. Your brother that needs his life straightened out? You don’t know how to do that, exactly, but with money, you don’t have to. He’s taken care of. Maybe for fun you start leaving hundred dollar bills in the tin cups of homeless people on the street.
If there was enough money, maybe you’d even start a foundation, help people. After all, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re lucky? When you have a ton of money?
It all sounds great, doesn’t it? Winning the lottery. All those fantastic, beautiful things you’d do with the money. But the truth is, it’s all just fantasy, and you and I know it. You’re never going to win the lottery, never going to come within spitting distance of a million dollars, much less tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. So you don’t really know.
For Olga Braithwaite Linenfelter-Wenzeslaus, it was not a fantasy. She had more money than one person could ever possibly spend. And here’s what she did with it before she died.
In all fourteen rooms in her seven-thousand square foot house, Mrs. Braithwaite Linenfelter-Wenzeslaus had, over the course of her later years, painstakingly re-created the most important moments of her life. These were the pivotal turning points, and in many cases, the most private, intimate moments, of her life.
In the master bedroom was her longest lasting and most recent wedding to Archduke Karl Ernst Wilhem Wenzeslaus of Austria. Instead of a king sized bed was an exact replica of the pulpit at the Wettingen-Mehrerau Abbey near Switzerland. Instead of the actual Bishop, of course, there was a mannequin, complete in the Bishop’s flowing robes. And of course, instead of the Archduke, who died nearly twenty years ago, there stood another mannequin, dressed in his regal medals and military uniform.
And he was gently holding the hand of another mannequin, small, petite, beautiful. She wore a white, flowing dress the color of a cloud and the consistency of butter. Several pews filled in what extra space was left, and Mrs. Braithwaite Linenfelter-Wenzeslaus had recreated the attendees in the front rows, down to the shoes.
Her kitchen as not a kitchen. It was a four-month excursion to Tanzania and the wild of the Tarangire National Park, complete with stuffed zebra, a sleeping lion perched in on a rock outcropping, and low grass. In the corner by the breakfast nook was a tent and several crates.
Her living room was an homage to her youthful education. The lively dorm room shared with her four friends at Mt. Michel’s Prep was now occupied by four small mannequins, engaged forever in a pillow fight while textbooks for nearly seventy years ago lay splayed across old wooden tables and upset chairs.
The live of a multi-millionaire was not always easy, and it remains a mystery why Mrs. BraithwaiteLinenfelter-Wenzeslaus even bothered to rebuild the snapshots of her life in some of the darker rooms. Her brief time in New York, quickly married and un-married to an abusive man, the mannequin on the floor, painted gingerly in black and blue, her hand forever aimed palm-out against her oppressor.
The bathrooms held smaller memories. A happy day at the beach. A day with her nieces and nephews at Easter.
But the best room, the room with the most detail, the room done with the most love, delicacy and special care was the larger guest bedroom. Why she chose the guest room for this memory, this moment was anybody’s guess.
His name was Viktor Zhdanovich, and he was a Russian fencing champion — some said the best in the world. At the time, she had just divorced a wealthy Texas oil tycoon (the laundry room, lots of cowhide). She needed a distraction. She needed something new. She needed the best time of her life. And if her guest bedroom is any indication, she found it at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy.