“Luck Be a Lady” by Amy Sundberg
The day after I broke up with Death, I was in a bad mood. By noon, I was lounging on a pile of embroidered pillows, huddled over a pint of S’mores ice cream. In spite of the hour, I still wore my rainbow silk robe and bunny slippers. My adopted mother Diligence, whom I was now wishing I’d never met, sat cross-legged on the tatami floor, knitting and giving me an occasional sharp glance to remind me I was behind on my work for the day. That’s the problem with being mothered by Diligence. She never cuts anyone a break.
Clickety click went her needles. “You didn’t have to flip the coin, Eloise.”
I scowled into the quickly emptying container. We both knew she had goaded me into it. “Mm hmm,” I said around another mouthful of ice cream.
“You can always change your mind.”
“What, and get another lecture on how fickle I am? No thanks.” What I didn’t add was that this time, Death had worked himself up to a towering rage, worse than I’d ever seen. I didn’t know if changing my mind was even an option.
“Well, maybe it’s for the best.” A little smile played about the corners of her mouth.
I flashed back to last night, when Death, tall, blonde, and pale, had stood in the same room, shaking his fist at me. “How long have you been Lady Luck?” he’d shouted. “Centuries now, isn’t it? And you’re still in that old lady’s pocket!”
Of course, he disliked Diligence as much as she hated him. Especially because I couldn’t decide whether to leave her country home outside of Kyoto, my primary residence ever since she’d taken me, the brand new Lady Luck, under her wing. Death wanted me to move out and live with him in Manhattan.
I finished off the pint of ice cream and pushed myself to my feet, leaving behind the empty container and dirty spoon. “I’ll feel better if I get back to work,” I announced. Diligence smiled her approval, and I shuffled into my office, sliding the paper door shut behind me.
I settled down behind my console, taking a moment to look down at the view of the buds just forming on the cherry tree branches, the brook running between the slender trunks after falling in tiers from the higher level of the house. It was beautiful here, no question of that, and whenever I felt restless, it was easy enough for me to visit the bustling metropolises of Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, or Shanghai, or visit Death at his Manhattan penthouse. No pesky travel times for me; I merely had to decide, with a toss of my dice, which city it was to be today, and there I’d be.
I ran through my routine, scanning through humanity using mostly luck, combined with a dash of compassion and a liberal shake of justice, allocating the next day’s supply of luck, both good and bad. Who did Death think he was, anyway? He might decide who lived and died, up to a point, but I helped shape how they lived. He wasn’t worth this much attention.
I burned through the daily store of luck more quickly than usual and was just considering taking a well-deserved break when the side door leading outdoors began to shake with pounding. Ha! I knew he’d come crawling back to apologize.
I slid back the door, grinning in triumph, only to confront a teenage girl with a wild frizz of blonde hair and a determined expression, her fist raised in front of her, about to bang on my door again. She took a step back when she saw me, still be-robed, and a quick survey of her ratty blue jeans, Ugg boots, and royal blue NYU T-shirt, combined with the knapsack slung over her shoulder, told me what I needed to know. “You’re lost,” I said. “Go away.”
I made to slide the door shut again, but she surprised me by slipping her foot in the way. “Are you Lady Luck?”
Huh. She’d looked like a mortal to me. “Who’s asking?”
She took a deep breath and broke into a speech I could tell she’d been rehearsing. “My name is Adia Lamonte. I’m Death’s daughter. And I want you to stop fucking around with my life.”
The day had just gotten a whole lot worse.
I let her in, of course. I even let her dump her knapsack in the corner, but I left her standing while I leaned back in my comfortable desk chair. “I don’t know what he’s told you,” I began, staring at a point above her left shoulder, “but I don’t interfere with your father’s obligations to you. So if he’s a deadbeat dad or anything like that, it’s not my fault.”
She looked upwards in disgust. “Please. For your information, he’s done just fine being my dad. If you’d just leave my life alone, I wouldn’t have anything to complain about.”
Since I had only been vaguely aware that Death even had a daughter, I found that hard to believe. I folded my hands in front of me. “Explain.”
Her hands clenched. “You mean you want to sit there and gloat while I explain everything you’ve done to ruin my life?” I stared at her in silence until she shifted her weight uncomfortably. “Fine.” She began counting on her fingers. “I’m the last person to find out when class locations have moved, or when papers are suddenly due early, or when test material changes. I’m living with the most incompatible roommate known to man, and my enrollment has gotten messed up and I’ve been dropped from all my classes. Three times. My bag has been stolen twice, so I don’t even bother to carry my wallet with me anymore. Do I need to go on? But now you’ve gone too far. My boyfriend Micah’s in the hospital, and if I don’t find a miracle for him as soon as possible, he’s going to…” She faltered, then came forward to lean on my desk and grace me with her best glare. “Damn you! If you want to paint a target on my back, fine, I’ll deal. You won’t last long with my dad with that kind of twisted attitude anyway. But Micah’s just an innocent bystander. He doesn’t even know about my dad. He doesn’t deserve to die just because you’re throwing a little hissy fit.”
She had plenty of spirit, I’d give her that, even if she was dead wrong. “Whoa there. I hate to break the lovely picture of myself you’re painting, but there’s plenty of bad luck in the world that’s got nothing to do with me. Besides, I have better things to do with my time than go after mortal teenagers.” Just the thought was laughable.
She pushed off my desk and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t believe you. My dad’s told me all about you. Unfortunately. And you’re going to fix what you’ve done. I’m not leaving until you do.”
Oh no. A permanent teenager in residence? “I’m telling you, this is outside my jurisdiction,” I said. “Besides, if your boyfriend is dying, wouldn’t your father be the more appropriate party to intervene?”
Adia shook her head, and her face twisted, just a little. “He’d never interfere,” she said softly. “He’s completely by-the-book.”
I burst out laughing. “He is, isn’t he? So unsuitable. That’s what Diligence is constantly telling me.” Adia gave me a blank look. “Sorry. Look, your father and I aren’t even together anymore. I promise I’m not out to get you, or your boyfriend, or anyone else. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Adia tapped on my console. “I’ll believe it when I see it. Show me my record.”
I shrugged and keyed in her name. Her photo came up, along with a basic summary of her life thus far. She came back behind the desk with me and scanned it quickly. The record showed clearly that I had never intervened in her life, for good or for ill. I allowed myself a small sigh of relief. I could have easily given her a shot of bad luck six months ago and never remembered a thing about it.
I began to read her summary, fairly average for a girl of her age, especially given her unusual parentage. It livened up considerably in the last couple months. Not luck work, certainly, but — “This is a little unusual,” I admitted. “The last few months of your life aren’t fitting correctly into your pattern. Have you experienced any major life changes? Moved locations, found God, anything like that?”
Adia shook her head. “This is my second year at NYU,” she said. “I met Micah over a year ago. Nothing’s changed, except that now my life sucks.”
I read to the end of her file, but it didn’t enlighten me further. “Maybe it’s because you’re the offspring of an Incarnation,” I said slowly. “There aren’t that many of you out there, after all. Maybe your patterns are supposed to be a little … strange.”
“So now this is my fault?” Adia’s voice faltered. “I came all this way for nothing? No one even knows where I went. They all think I’m a … a heartless bitch, for not being at the hospital with my boyfriend. I maxed out my credit card getting the plane ticket here. And Micah’s lying there in a coma because I was born different?”
She was going to start crying soon, I just knew it. “Why don’t we calm down?” I said hastily, pulling her away from the console. “You can pop back over to … New York, is it? And if your boyfriend’s in a coma, he won’t even notice you’ve been gone.”
The tears started then, and I cursed myself for my lack of people skills. It was just so rare for me to interact with any of them on a personal level. I was out of practice. She grabbed my hand with both of hers. “Please, you’ve got to help him,” she said, giving small snorts between words. “Can’t you give him some good luck? Please! I’ll do anything. Just save him.”
I tried to pull away, but her grip was surprisingly strong. “It really doesn’t work that way.” I began peeling her fingers off me. “Wish I could help.” Her eyes were turning an unattractive red shade, and I wondered if mine were still that color from last night’s fight with Death. Speaking of… “Maybe I should call your dad?” I offered. Not that I wanted an excuse to talk to him. Definitely not.
“No,” she sobbed. “I already told you, he doesn’t know I’m here. He’d be so mad if he found out.” She finally released my hand, which I wiped carefully on the back of my robe. She closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose a few times. “I’m fine, I’m fine.” I wondered if I should get Diligence, but she had even fewer people skills than I did. “May I use your bathroom?”
It was with relief that I showed her to the bathroom, got dressed myself, and returned to the office. I checked on the boyfriend’s chances of survival. They weren’t good.
Adia crept back into my office some time later. I eyed her cautiously, but she seemed to have stopped crying. She came to my side. “Show me how it works.”
I minimized the window on my screen. “Excuse me?”
“Show me how it works,” she repeated. “You said you can’t help Micah because that’s not how it works. So tell me what you do.”
Should I really reveal trade secrets to this child? I pulled a coin from my pocket (the fateful coin from yesterday, not that I was keeping track of it) and flipped it. “Tails I tell you, heads I don’t,” I said. I uncovered the coin. It was tails. I put it back in my pocket. “All right then.”
Adia was staring at me. “Is that really how you make decisions?” she asked.
“Sometimes.” I didn’t even try to explain. Mortals never understand, even though they’re pretty random themselves. “There’s only so much luck to go around at one time. Some good, some bad. The ratio between the two changes from day to day.” Adia nodded. “So I have my various ways of choosing, from the database, who’s going to get especially good or bad luck on any given day. Right now I was working on tomorrow.”
Her face brightened. “So give Micah good luck tomorrow. It’s not too late for him.”
I shook my head. “It’s not that easy. Every day I work off a generated list. I’ve already checked, and he’s not on tomorrow’s list. So if I give him good luck tomorrow, it will be taking it away from someone else.”
“Who cares if someone doesn’t win the lottery tomorrow?” Adia clasped her hands together. “You can do it! You can save him.”
“It’s not all about lotteries. Here.” I touched a few places on the screen. “I’ll show you who we’d be taking the luck from.”
I double-tapped, enlarging the photo of a little curly-headed girl. “Claire is going in for surgery tomorrow. Without her dose of luck, there’s an 83% chance of complications developing during the procedure.”
I dragged the photo to the side and pulled up the next one. “Alberto hasn’t been able to find any work for some months. He’s finally lined up an interview, for tomorrow. He has three small children.”
I brought up the last photo. “And this is Svetlana. She’s a few years younger than you. Her dad hits her, and the beatings have been getting worse. She’s going to try to make a break for it tomorrow.”
The photos were lined up across the screen. I gestured to them. “These are all real people. Alberto and Svetlana have already been suffering for some time. Claire is only five years old. Which person would you have me replace with your boyfriend?”
Adia stared at the photos in silence. “Don’t you hold any luck in reserve that you could use instead?” she finally asked.
“Sure, but that’s off limits unless it’s an emergency.”
“It is an emergency!”
I shrugged. “For you, yes. But for the general balance of the world, not so much. I have to save enough back so that if anything important happens tomorrow, I can deal with it on the spot.”
She reached out to touch Claire’s photo. “I thought you already knew what was going to happen tomorrow.”
“I know the probabilities of what will happen tomorrow, and I know how much impact my luck can have on those probabilities,” I said. “That’s not the same thing.”
She rubbed her eyes, which had dark rings around them. I felt a sudden pang of sympathy. The fact is, I’m not mortal, and I can only understand so much. The people I help, or hurt, are just an endless stream of photographs to me. Adia, on the other hand, was all too real. “You can choose,” I offered. “Choose one of these three, and I’ll take the good luck I would have given them and give it to your boyfriend instead.”
“Are you serious?” she asked.
I nodded. “Take your time. I don’t need to lock in the selection until midnight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I haven’t finished my work.” I herded her to the door. “If you come back when it gets dark, Diligence will feed you.”
Adia showed up at the front door just as the shadows began lengthening. “Take off your shoes,” I told her. She padded across the tatami floor and sank down beside the low table. Diligence had made miso soup, yellowtail, and white rice.
Diligence gave her a nod. “You’ve fallen behind in your class work recently,” she said in a bland voice. “Better get back to work or you’ll never catch up.”
I rolled my eyes at Diligence and we all fell to slurping our soup. We ate for a few minutes in silence.
“So Adia,” I said, helping myself to a little more rice, “have you made up your mind?”
She got very still. “Maybe the man with the job interview. What was his name?”
“Alberto,” I replied. “Yes, the one with the starving family. Did you know his youngest child is only two? And his wife’s pregnant again. Nasty situation.”
“Maybe not him,” she said hastily. “Perhaps Svetlana… she can always move out another time, right?”
I spoke with my mouth full. “There’s a forty-three percent chance she’ll end up in the hospital the next time her father lays into her.”
Diligence turned her head back and forth between us as if she was watching a tennis match.
“Well, I’m not going to choose the little girl,” Adia burst out. “She deserves the luck the most of all. Who would you choose?”
“Everyone deserves luck,” I said. “And not everyone who deserves it gets it. That’s what makes it luck and not something else.” I took another bite of fish. Too salty. Diligence knew I didn’t like it that way. “Why not flip a coin?”
“Because I’m not the living incarnation of luck?” Adia said. “I’m not leaving this to chance.”
I pulled the coin from my pocket. Still the same coin as last night. I was holding onto this sucker. “Why not?”
“Just … be quiet and let me think!”
Her forehead wrinkled and I wondered if she’d start to cry again. I began to flip my coin in self defense. Heads she’ll cry, tails she’ll hold it together. Tails. Heads she’ll tell Death about this, tails she won’t. Tails. Heads Death and I will get back together and live happily ever after, tails I’ll never see him again. Tails. Shit. What was wrong with this stupid coin?
What was wrong with it, I saw as I turned it around in my fingers, was that both sides were marked tails. And then I knew. “Mother.” It came out almost like a growl.
She gave me her normal placid smile. “Did you enjoy your dinner, dear?”
With a sweeping gesture, I knocked over everything on the table. Brownish-yellow tea spread across the flat surface, seeping into the rice remnants and my white cloth napkin. Adia sprang back, eyes wide with alarm. “You messed with my coin!” I shouted.
Diligence merely shrugged. I wanted to hit that smug smile off her face, and it took all of my self control to keep my hands at my sides. I was shaking, I was so mad. “This is going too far! I’ve been Lady Luck for forty-seven years. Surely you don’t think you still know better than me.”
Diligence shook her head as if in pity. “I know better than everyone, Eloise. It’s the burden I bear.”
I snorted. “Bullshit.” Then another wave of realization hit me. “You’re not responsible for this girl’s problems, are you? Diligence?” She had the grace to look into her lap. “She’s just a kid! What were you thinking?” It was a rhetorical question, and we both knew it. If Death had thought I was the one messing with Adia, he would have broken up with me and never looked back. Diligence always had a plan B.
Adia had backed up into a corner, but at these words she bounded in front of Diligence. “Make him better!” she shouted. “Take it back, or I swear, I’ll make you wish you had.”
I stood up. “It’s okay, Adia. I’ll draw on the emergency luck stores to help you out. She’s not worth our time.” From above, I could see that the part in Diligence’s hair was slightly crooked. Her chest caved in slightly and she stared resolutely forward, refusing to meet my eyes.
“I thought you said….” Adia trailed off.
“Undoing the work of a crazy Incarnation counts as an emergency,” I said, glaring at Diligence. “I’m sending your boyfriend all the juice I can spare.” Adia flung her arms around me in an embarrassing way.
Once she’d backed off, I threw the fake coin onto the floor and watched it roll into the corner. Tomorrow, I was moving into Death’s penthouse. No coin toss needed.
About the Author
Amy Sundberg is a writer of speculative and Young Adult fiction, a musician, and a blogger. A recent graduate of Taos Toolbox, she lives with her husband and little dog in California. She loves to sing, travel, and eat pie. You can find her online at practicalfreespirit.com.