By Matthew Brennan
We drank coffee at the racetrack to feel grown up, without sugar or cream for as long as we could stomach it, bought in Styrofoam cups from the concession window beneath the stands. Our fathers were up top watching the races, their bets already placed. Mickey and I stayed below, poring over the statistics for the horses in each race, trying to predict the results and make educated guesses for our small bets, to use well the few dollars our fathers had given us. First-place bets were risky for novices like us, so we focused our bets on third place, sometimes second if we felt confident.
Statistics aren’t a guarantee, can’t predict the future, but they can give education to a guess, and the small bets Mickey and I placed hit their mark often enough for us to double our money over the course of the morning. We bought lunch with our winnings – hot dogs with onion rings and Cokes – and ice cream later on, discussing what else we might do with the spoils. For months, Mickey had been saving his allowance up for a bike, and his cut put him past the halfway mark. I wanted a guitar, a Fender Stratocaster, not like the old acoustic I’d been learning on, but we would need a much larger win to make that possible, so I’d decided on the new Beatles record, which was respectable enough for Mickey.
When my father came to find us, I could smell the bad luck on his breath, knowing that whiskey was often the closest he could come to a winner’s high. But then his face lit up when I showed him our profits, and he knelt down and said, “How about double or nothing, eh kid? Go out with a bang?”
I forgot all about the record, the guitar nearly tangible in my hands, and I gave him my half of the money, while Mickey pocketed his, then we ran off to study the sheets on the horses entered in our last race. Hearing the explosive roar of the crowd above us signal the start of another race, we checked the numbers twice – this was a first-place bet, afterall – then ran to find my father, who was already at the counter.
“… on Moneytrain,” I head him saying.
“Dad! Wait!” I yelled. “Bet on Compass Rose, Dad, Compass Rose.”
He looked down at me and winked. “I’ve got a tip on this one, kid. Trust me.” He turned back to the window. “Moneytrain, please.”
Matthew Brennan earned his MFA in fiction from Arizona State University. He is a novelist, translator, short-fictionist, and freelance editor, and his short fiction has received several awards and fellowships, including Colgate University's Lasher Prize. Four dozen of his stories and literary translations have been published in anthologies and journals, including The Superstition Review, Pure Slush, Fiddleblack, The Eunoia Review, Recess Magazine, the Rose Red Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Per Contra, and the Citron Review. A former prose editor for the Hayden's Ferry Review, he remains on staff with the journal as an associate editor, and is an assistant fiction editor with Speech Bubble Magazine. Find him at: http://matthewbrennan.net