LUCK IS A LADY
Sam wasn't sure if it was a wonderful sign or a sign of impending disaster but he knew it was definitely a sign and to ignore it would be foolish indeed. His mother had taught him the importance of paying attention to signs--like the time when he was five and the chickens wouldn't eat, she just knew something terrible was about to happen. Sure enough, her brother Vern wound up in the hospital the next day more dead than alive. The fact that he had started a brawl with a motorcycle gang while blind drunk didn't factor into it as far as Mama was concerned. A sign was a sign and you ignored it at your peril. Another time when the clouds formed a dollar symbol in the clear blue sky, she made Papa buy her a lottery ticket and--praised be to God--didn't she win fifty dollars? She used that money to buy Sam a new suit for church as a thank-you to her sweet lord and savior. It didn't matter that Sam wanted to buy the silver race car in the window at McCrory's, Mama couldn't have cared less. Funny thing about it, now that he was a grown man with a good job he had plenty of money to buy himself a racecar, but he didn't want one any more. Just like he didn't want to stay up all night watching TV while he shoveled candy in his mouth until he felt sick. Times change.
But this sign was a tough one to figure out and Sam knew everything depended on getting it right. A wrong decision could ruin everything. He wondered why it couldn't be something simple, like finding a penny heads up or walking under a ladder. At least then he'd know what to expect. Of course, not every sign was reliable. One time, a bird flew straight into the window and killed itself and Mama went crazy waiting for the tragic news that someone had died. Weeks went by and nothing happened but she never relaxed her guard until she heard that Earl, their old mailman who was in his 80s and living in a retirement home across town, a man who used to keep stones in his pocket to ward off vicious dogs and who liked to shoot baskets with the boys in the park, had died. That afternoon, Mama threw open the curtains, breathed a sigh of relief and said well, finally that's over with, thank-you, Jesus. Sam thought that one was a bit of a stretch, but he didn't say so.
Now that Mama was gone, Sam had trouble reading the signs; he couldn't tell good omens from bad and it had left him befuddled. Mama could always explain everything by reading the signs and she made perfect sense. But there were no signs the day she died, no warnings at all, no howling dogs or dead crickets, nothing. In the evening, Mama had sprinkled salt in front of the doors to keep evil spirits away, just like she always did. Then she had baked a chocolate mayonnaise cake for the Church bake sale and put it on the sill to cool--that's what she'd said anyway. Sam knew she did it to stop him from snatching a slice of his favorite cake. Later on, with the aroma of chocolate cake swirling through the air and the sound of his mama humming softly to herself, Sam had been lulled to sleep. But when he got up in the morning, she was already gone. She just went to bed and never woke up. They saved her chocolate cake for the funeral, of course. Sam didn't want any, didn't want to eat at all, but he broke down and ate a piece in honor of his mama. Usually, you don't know when it's the last time you'll ever do a thing. This wasn't one of those times. As Sam savored the cake, taking small forkfuls to make it last, he knew his mama would've been tickled to know she'd catered her own funeral reception.
In the three months that followed, it was all Sam could do to take care of the house and the chickens by himself and make it to the marina by eight. There was no time to think about signs or anything else. Then, one morning, he found a ladybug on the roof of his truck. He knew good luck was coming his way. Carefully, he moved her to a leaf and made sure she was safe, but before he could get in the truck, a black cat ran out from between the tires, darting right in front of him. Sam shook his head. That meant bad luck for sure--or, if he was lucky, it just canceled out the ladybug. He drove more carefully than usual, unsure as to what fate had in store for him. He barely made it to the marina on time and had to run straight to the dock to prep the boats for the tours scheduled that day. As he stacked the life jackets, he was startled to discover that he wasn't alone. A woman in cutoff shorts with streaked brown hair was stocking the boats with drinks. She turned around and gave him a dazzling smile.
"Hi, I just started working, today's my first day. Did you see those fish jumping out there--amazing! And the sun sparkling on the water, isn't it just beautiful? Oh, I forgot to introduce myself, I'm Samantha, but call me Sam. What's your name?"
As the fog in his head cleared away, Sam laughed out loud. He knew this was the last sign he would ever need. And it wasn't confusing at all.