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The win­ter fuel al­lowance made Elsie feel guilty. Un­earned money is un­clean money, Ma would have said. Elsie had nursed her for 15 years, but she wasn’t sure if the nest-eggMa left her could be called clean. Had she re­ally earned it?

She found her­self fas­ci­nated by the junk mail that had al­ways gone in the bin. She scratched off sil­ver-grey stuff to re­veal match­ing sym­bols, af­fixed stick­ers and re­turned forms in Yes en­velopes, and won a cal­cu­la­tor and a tar­tan lug­gage set.

Ex­cit­edly, she spent some of the al­lowance on a bot­tle of sherry, a Da­mart cardi­gan (with free toi­let set) and a raf­fle ticket for the vil­lage hall fund.

She put the rest in the bank for win­ter fuel, gig­gling at the idea of KingWences­las and page bear­ing pine logs to her all-elec­tric flat.

The raf­fle ticket won her a re­flex­ol­ogy mas­sage. Elsie felt em­bar­rassed about her toe­nails, but the re­flex­ol­o­gist was un­fazed. “You are reach­ing out for free­dom,” he said, and ad­vised her to spend longer on the loo and ac­cept the un­ex­pected.

The next day, a let­ter from a Span­ish Lot­tery told her she had won £810,746. She had a glass of sherry while fill­ing in the ac­cep­tance form, and a glo­ri­ously white Christ­mas passed in a haze of ex­quis­ite dream­ing. This would be the purest, clean­est of money, earned un­ex­pect­edly with a cor­rect ticket. She bought a crim­son mo­hair shawl in the sales. Her card was re­fused. She hadn’t known how cold her feet were un­til that mo­ment. How cold she was all over. She stum­bled home and phoned her bank. Cleaned out, they said. I told you, said her dead Ma. Un­earned –

Don’t start, said Elsie. She made co­coa with the last of the milk and turned the cen­tral heat­ing off.

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