The Raffle Ticket

The moment Patrik Ohlsson unfolded the raffle ticket and saw the number for the first time, he noticed the intriguing ambiguity.

"Come and look at this, Linn," he shouted to his daughter. Linn was standing on top of a transformer box, trying to reach one of the balloons that had been anchored to it for the party in the grounds of her daycare. Several other children were standing round, cheering her on. Klara was tugging at Linn's legs and wanted to climb up herself. Reluctantly, Linn clambered down and came over to Patrik. He showed her the raffle ticket.

Linn thought the number was sixty-six, but her dad explained that it was in fact ninety-nine. She was looking at the figures upside down. He turned the ticket the other way up, and explained the misunderstanding.

"You could call it a number palindrome."

She looked, and shouted out in delight. She ran straight over to her friends round the transformer box to tell them about this magic raffle ticket that had two numbers. Patrik was left with the ticket in his hand, and when he examined it more closely, it dawned on him that his daughter had been right. It was in fact sixty-six. There was a little point after the second figure six. He turned the ticket the other way up again, and now it looked like an apostrophe. He realized that this couldn't be right.

Linn came running back and wanted to borrow the raffle ticket to show to the others. She snatched it out of his hand, and melted into the crowd of children milling around.

Patrik Ohlsson had never managed to feel completely at home on occasions like this. He always felt an obligation to play a sort of role, the happy father. The interested parent. He really was interested in his daughter's activities, and he was usually happy, although he had trouble in switching happiness on to order. Besides, he knew hardly any other adults present at the party. The other parents were behaving as if they were more or less members of the same family. They were playing around, hugging one another and making plans for what they were going to do together during the summer. Patrik was standing in a corner close to the gate. Klara's father was also on his own, not far away, and looked as if he was feeling more or less like Patrik. They didn't speak. They'd said hello when they first arrived, and now they were watching Klara and Linn running around the grounds with all the other children. Patrik could see Klara pulling Linn's hair. He glanced at Klara's father, but he was looking the other way.

Anyway, the staff had organized a jolly get-together with all kinds of outdoor activities for both the children and the parents. A little bring and buy sale. A Punch and Judy show. Coffee and juice and cookies. The highlight of the party was to be the drawing of the winning raffle tickets. Then the three baskets of food and toys would finally be assigned to their new owners. Patrik had bought five tickets. Partly because he happened to have twenty-five kronor in loose change in his pocket, and partly because the previous year, Linn had said how much she'd have liked to win a basket like that. He wasn't sure if she was quite as keen this year, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

It was warm for May. Several of the children were wearing shorts, and Patrik had felt obliged to take off his jacket. He wiped a few drops of sweat from his brow, looked up at the sky and saw that dark clouds were gathering. Perhaps there would be a thunderstorm? It felt like it.

One of the staff came out with a bowl and started to summon everybody. The parents sauntered towards the table where the prizes were on display. A mild buzz of excitement began to spread around the adults. The children were still running around in high spirits. Some were pulling at their parents. Patrik Ohlsson took Linn's stroller and pushed it to the edge of the circle that had formed around the lady with the bowl. The three baskets were standing on the table, wrapped in cellophane.

She dipped her hand into the bowl, groped around for a while, then produced one of the tickets. She unfolded it and read it out aloud:

"Number thirty-two."

As Patrik checked his tickets he heard somebody at the far side of the circle shout out in triumph.

"Did we win?" he heard Linn's voice saying from right beside him.

"No, not this time, sweetie."

He saw a parent of a child attending the Blueberry group step up to be presented with the first basket. Linn tugged at Patrik's trousers.

"I want to win too, Daddy."

"Yes, of course, sweetie. Now, maybe this time..."

The lady rummaged around in the bowl again. Picked out a ticket and announced the next winner.

"Number sixteen."

Patrik checked his tickets, but there was no number sixteen.

"Have we won, Daddy?"

"Hmm, I'm afraid not..."

Once again a parent from the Blueberry group. It seemed to Patrick that they ought to spread the winners out better. Then he realized that it would be a bit difficult to organize that. He prepared a little speech of consolation, ready for when they discovered that the next winning ticket wasn't one of theirs either.

The lady with the bowl held up the third and final winning ticket. She unfolded it and read it out.

"Number sixty-six."

Patrik Ohlsson's heart almost missed a beat. This was the first time he'd ever won anything in a raffle. He turned to Linn and smiled.

"Have we won?" she asked, in the same tone of voice as before. As if she already knew somehow or other that they weren't going to win. He recognized the feeling only too well, all those unfulfilled expectations of life. It was as if she'd realized already that winning is not something you do; not her family, at least. Nevertheless, the question has to be put. Nevertheless, the dream has to be kept alive. But deep down she knows already that she's not one of those who win anything. He could suddenly hear so clearly the distrust in her voice, and he couldn't speak quickly enough to point out the new state of affairs: this time they have won. His daughter is also a winner.

"Didn't you hear?" said Patrik. "It's our number."

"Did we win, then?" she asked, her mouth open wide.

"Where's the ticket?" asked Patrik.

Linn examined her hands, one after the other, and saw that there wasn't a ticket there. She felt in her pockets but found nothing there either. Patrik looked closely at the remaining tickets he had, rummaged through her overalls and checked the ground round about. No ticket.

"Ah well, never mind," he said. Took her by the hand and started off towards the prize table. "We know we had the winning ticket."

As they approached the lady with the bran tub, Klara's dad was standing by the table where the third basket was still lying.

"Hi," said Linn. "We won."

"No, we won," said Klara.

The lady looked at Patrik and Linn.

"Oh dear," she said. "We've got a winner already."

Patrik looked at her, and then at Klara, who was holding on to the basket.

"I'm sorry. There must have been a mistake," said Patrik, forcing his way through all the children crowding round the prize table. "We had number sixty-six."

"So did we," said Klara.

"Have you got the ticket?" the lady asked.

"No, we've lost it," said Patrik. "But I'm quite certain we had the winning number."

"Didn't we win, Daddy?" whined Linn from behind his back. Patrick had to drag her out from between two bigger boys who'd pushed their way forward to the table.

"No, we won," screeched Klara.

"How odd," said the lady, turning to face Klara's father. "Are you sure that you had number sixty-six?"

Klara's father smiled and took the raffle ticket out of his pocket.

"Of course, here it is. Are you sure you didn't get it wrong?" he asked, looking at Patrik. "It's quite easy to mix up sixty-six and ninety-nine, you know. They're the same number, in a way."

Klara's father smiled and waved the raffle ticket around for a few seconds before putting it back in his pocket. Klara tugged so hard at the basket that it nearly fell off the table.

"Excuse me," said Patrik, "but I think you're the one who's got it wrong. We noticed the little detail which made the real number clear. I showed it to Linn, and I'm a hundred per cent sure that our ticket was number sixty-six."

"Didn't we win, Daddy?" Linn asked.

"I'm sorry," said Klara's father. "We are the ones with the ticket."

He picked up the basket, but Patrik grabbed hold of the other end of it. He clung on tight and stared Klara's father in the eye. The lady who had conducted the raffle looked worried. She picked Linn up and gave her a hug.

"If you'd kindly show me your ticket, I can demonstrate it for you," said Patrik.

"Daddy, you said it was upside down," said Linn with a sob.

"You're right, sweetie, I did. But I was wrong. When I examined the raffle ticket more closely..."

"But we won," shrieked Klara, and started pulling Patrik's hands away. Patrik resisted. He could feel Klara's sharp little fingernails digging into his knuckles.

"There was a little dot," Patrik began--but now Linn started screaming. Screaming for all she was worth, and burrowing her head deep into the lady's long, curly hair. Klara was also screaming now, tugging away at the basket. The raffle lady and Klara's father were both glaring accusingly at Patrik.

"Don't you think it's time to stop this nonsense now?" said Klara's father.

Patrik shut up and let go. Linn was still sobbing. The lady hugged her tight and Patrik tried to place a confused hand on her back, but realized immediately how misguided that would be. He considered smiling indulgently, but decided against it. Klara and Klara's father took the basket and joined the rest of the parents who had now started to pack up and leave.

"We won!" yelled Klara from the midst of the teeming mass of children racing around the groups of parents disconsolately trying to organize the journey home.

Patrik stayed where he was with the rest of the raffle tickets in this hand. He crumpled them up and put them in his pants pocket. A chilly breeze blew across the day nursery grounds. Linn was still in the raffle lady's arms, being rocked gently. He would have liked to be the one consoling his daughter in these circumstances. The sun had gone in, and dark storm clouds were accumulating.

"You said we'd won, Daddy," squeaked Linn from in among the lady's hair.

He stroked her head and thought it was high time the lady put Linn down now.

"I know, sweetie," said Patrik. And we did. We had the winning number but Klara's father told lies and tricked his way to the prize, he thought. But what he said was:

"That's the way it goes sometimes. Come on, we'd better get moving before it starts raining."

After far too long the lady passed Linn over to her father, and he hugged her tight.

"Let's go home now, and have some ice cream," he said.

They went back to the stroller and packed away their things. Nearly all the parents and children had left by now, and the staff were carrying the tables and chairs back indoors. The sky had become worryingly dark blue in color, and the balloons were swaying around in the wind. Linn was still sobbing, and Patrik wondered how many of the tears were due to the prize they'd failed to get, and how much to the scene at the table.

Soon large drops of rain started to fall, and Patrik sat Linn in the stroller and set off for the parking lot. He opened up an umbrella and did his best to make it cover both of them. As they passed the transformer box Patrik noticed something blue lying on the ground. A raffle ticket. Even before he picked up the soaking wet piece of paper, he knew what number it would contain. He glanced round and saw Klara's father packing the last of his stuff into his car.

"Wait here a moment," he said to Linn and marched off toward Klara's father's car. It was quite a long way away, and the rain was pouring down now. He took a short cut over a lawn, slipped and very nearly fell down but managed to regain his balance, and got to Klara's father just before he was about to sit down at the wheel.

"Take a look at this," he shouted, breathlessly, holding up the soaking wet piece of blue paper.

Klara's dad squinted through the rain. Patrik held the umbrella over both of them. The father took the ticket, unfolded it and read the number. The rain pattered on the roof of his car.

"Can you see that little point after the six?" said Patrik.

Klara's dad returned the raffle ticket to Patrick. Through the open door on the driver's side Patrik could see Klara sitting with the basket in her lap, seat belt duly fastened, dangling her legs. Her father looked at Patrik.

"If you want to take it away from her, please go ahead."

Patrik stared back at him. He stood for a few moments without saying anything as the rain pelted down even harder.

"No?" said Klara's father, raising an eyebrow.

"All I mean is..." Patrik broke off. Turned round and peered at the buggy where Linn was sitting exposed to the elements, wet through and crying.

"So that's that, then," said Klara's father and jumped into his car. He backed out, and Patrik ran back to Linn.

On his way there Patrik Ohlsson was overtaken by the car containing Klara and her dad, and although he couldn't hear what she said, he could see Klara's mouth forming the words: "We won."

First published as "Lotten," in Det andra mlet (Stockholm: Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 2007). By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Laurie Thompson. All rights reserved.