Bronfman wasn't so much suspicious as in a state of curious disbelief. He had never won anything before, not in all the thirty-four years he'd been alive. But then he had never really tried to win anything, either.
"Have you ever dropped your business card into one of those jars?" she asked him. For the first time she sounded like a real person. "They have them at restaurants, diners, bars, et cetera."
"I don't know," he said. "I might have." He really might have. Once. At a deli he frequented once or twice a month. Dropped his card in a jar there. That actually might have happened.
Against all of his better instincts, Bronfman was getting excited.
"So you're saying that out of all the cards in one of those jars my card was drawn? Out of all of them."
"Yes, they drew your card," she said.
"Wow," he said. It was finally sinking in: he had won something, something free, something he had accomplished just by being alive. "This is amazing."
"I know," she said. "It's like a dream come true, right?" Did he hear her laugh? No. Well, maybe. And maybe she should. Because even though he knew very well that this was one of those prizes anyone could win, that it really had nothing to do with him at all, it didn't matter. Another card could have been chosen. Even in cases like this you could lose, and he hadn't lost. He had won! Lives were determined in this way: by random phone calls, bulk mailings, flyers posted in the break room at work, and garish roadside advertisements. He lived where he lived now, King's Manor, because of exclamatory signage promising the First Month Free! No, King's Manor was not the safest complex in Birmingham: there was a history of nefarious goings-on in the neighborhood. Nor was it the quietest. There was the little freeway right next to it, and about a hundred yards away, hidden behind a tree line, was a dog pound, and those dogs sure knew how to howl, sometimes very late into the night. But still, a free month? He was enjoying his first free month now, and a few times a day he'd think of it, especially when the trucks went by: I am living somewhere entirely free of charge. Much of his mail was addressed to Current Resident or Occupant, but that was as good as its being addressed to him, because he was the current resident, he was the occupant, and he took advantage of these flyers as if they were addressed to him personally. He looked forward to getting and going through his mail. Special Offers were everywhere.
"So," Bronfman said. "All I have to do is present myself at Sandscapes Condominiums in Destin, Florida, and other than the one-hour presentation there are absolutely no strings attached?" He felt it was his duty to ask, because there were always strings attached. But Carla D'Angelo assured him: apart from the short presentation, which she had mentioned, there was not a single strand.
"It will be quite a treat," she said.
"It sounds like it."
"Destin is beautiful. You and your companion—"
"Wait," he said.
"Wait. My companion?"
"The prize is for two: you and a companion. Your wife, a girlfriend, a...boyfriend—you know, anybody like that."
"But I don't have a companion," he said.
Bronfman heard a pause on Carla's end of the line and, in the background, a faraway female voice say, "Congratulations!" Carla said, "It was written on the jar, Mr. Bronfman. The offer is valid for you and a companion. You have to have a companion."