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.