“Dept. of Imagination” by Phebe JewelL

“Don’t tell your father,” Mom would say, folding a lottery ticket and slipping it into her purse. Poor people’s tax, Dad scoffed every time he spotted the Washington State Lottery’s “Dept. of Imagination” logo. He never bought a ticket, but Mom stopped by the counter under the four-leaf-clover banner when it was just the two of us. Another of our little secrets, like the cracked bathroom mirror and the scraped front fender. She called them “episodes,” as if they were hiccups, intermissions between acts, her voice high, a tight surface about to break. I swept the glass, careful to reach each shard with my broom. We got good at making up stories. Slammed doors, the carelessness of other drivers.

 “Where on Earth should we go this time?” she asked before each Powerball drawing. Often she chose lottery numbers based on latitudes and longitudes of destinations we dreamed of visiting – serene temples in Kyoto, Lisbon’s winding alleyways, the perfect desolation of Patagonian space.

Every time the numbers were announced and we won nothing, she shut herself up in the bedroom. I’d stand by the door, listening to a silence I didn’t understand. When she emerged hours later, she would stride out the front door without a word. On those nights, Dad stood moored in the kitchen, staring at the fridge. “Let’s order pizza,” he’d say. The next morning breakfast would be waiting, Mom smiling as she offered me scrambled eggs and toast.

After she left for good, I found a shoe box under her bed, stuffed with expired lottery receipts. Unfolding the thin strips of paper, I checked the numbers, degrees of latitude and longitude I couldn’t find on any map.


“Dept of Imagination” first appeared in New World Writing, 2020.

IMAGE: Antonio Ruiz “The Lottery Ticket”, 1932. OIl on canvas. Mexico City.

Phebe Jewell

Phebe Jewell’s work appears in various journals, including Monkeybicycle, Spelk, New Flash Fiction Review, Bending Genres, and Milk Candy Review. Her story “¿Cómo Está Tu Madre?” was chosen for wigleaf‘s 2021 Top 50 for (very) short fiction. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for incarcerated women, trans-identified and gender non-conforming people in Washington State.

Read her at https://phebejewellwrites.com.

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paul beckman

Great title for a great story, Phebe.

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