Catherine Macaulay
Catherine Macaulay

Good Luck Gone Bad

by Catherine Macaulay


Not long after Barry and I moved to Tryon, we found an old horseshoe

half-buried near the house. We cleaned it up and set it by the entrance, clearly excited with our prize. We knew the folklore. Mythically speaking, we were the equivalent of made men in the mafia, with the pagan gods bound by ancient tradition to protect us from all troublesome comers.

Or so I thought until some friends came to visit. Spotting the rusty horseshoe, they assured us that our quintessential lucky charm wasn’t positioned correctly to impart any luck, being heels side down instead of heels side up, which they assured us was the only way to draw any blessings out of the spheres.

And so we changed it. But the whole thing got me to thinking—what was this thing called luck? What separates the good from the bad of it? Is it the alignment of the stars, a random game of chance, destiny, divinity? And more importantly, should I believe any of it? Perhaps, this whole business of luck was nothing more than primitive, superstitious thinking.

I went to the refrigerator to think, determined to figure out the dilemma. I could do this, being after all, Homo sapiens, the dominant species on this planet, the one blessed with the superior intellect.

I pulled out some leftover chicken and began munching away, my mind always working better whenever my jaws are in motion. Clearly, life had to hold some measure of serendipity. If there were no element of chance, then why did Chinese takeout always come with fortune cookies? No, the question in my mind was not the existence of luck, or its seemingly random nature, but whether or not good luck could lead to bad luck over time, given the penchant we humans have for getting ourselves into trouble.

Say, for example, someone—let’s call him Tom Terrific—won a $5 million Super Lotto Plus lottery. That would definitely be good luck. But if Tom Terrific, the hard-working handyman, subsequently found himself unable to handle the burden of wealth, indulging in fast cars and fast women, losing his good wife and his family, his out-of-control spending and poor investments costing him millions, eventually forcing him into the clutches of a lottery buyout dealer who gave him mere pennies on the dollar, the stress of which induced a lethal heart attack—that would definitely be some good luck gone bad, though perhaps not for his wife given that Tom turned out to be not so Terrific a husband.

I closed the lid to the leftover chicken and put it back on the shelf. I had to admit, I was making sense, my evolved, mammalian brain asserting its capacity for logic. But I needed to expand my theory, test it further. I went to the cupboard and pulled out a bag of pistachios, looking for something else to eat. What about other species on the planet? Lacking the capacity for written language, abstract reasoning, for morals, ethics or even values, could good luck similarly turn bad for another animal given the promptings of their natural behaviors?

Having discovered a bag of pistachios hidden behind some cans of mushroom soup, I started knocking off the contents in rapid succession, my mind probing the logic thoroughly. What I needed was to find a species that possessed an aptitude for trouble that was equal to that of we Homo sapiens, a group whose inherent impulses put into play a whole slew of disasters—a species like Equus.

Of course. Anyone who has ever been around horses knows they can get into trouble inside a padded room, much less left to their own devices. A leaf falls—gotta go! A shadow passes—gonna die! Wind playing across a puddle of water—feet don’t fail me now! An undetected length of bale twine left in a flake of hay—brace yourself.

Having found my species, I had only to find the perfect example upon which to test my hypothesis. My stack of pistachio shells grew higher as I kept thinking the big thoughts, eventually recalling a story a friend had told me during a recent beagling meet.

It seems her new pony had won the equivalent of the Super Lotto jackpot the day she arrived at Alice’s farm—good care, open pasture and carrots liberally dispensed by her granddaughter. But, good luck had gone terribly bad when the girl took her carrots, turned and exited the pasture via a narrow, walk-through in the fence.

Being naturally inclined toward trouble, the pony naturally decided to go pell mell after said carrots, and, while the speed of a runaway horse might not count for anything, as Jean Cocteau once wrote, a fat pony running toward a skinny opening in a fence in pursuit of an insatiable desire is entirely a horse of a different color.

Another mammal might have slowed to investigate matters, but Equus being Equus plunged head first through the opening, the pony managing in the process to wedge herself between the concrete retaining posts like a steamship run aground, her shoulders stuck fore, her flanks solidly aft.

Luckily, Alice employed her superior Homo sapiens intellect to solve the pony’s dilemma, which she did by rushing into the house and emerging moments later, a bottle of olive oil clutched between her uniquely opposable thumbs.

            “Can’t you use the cheap stuff? That’s imported olive oil,” admonished her husband, also a Homo sapiens, but of the male persuasion, which qualified Alice to do what every multi-tasking, mammalian female trying to run a peaceable kingdom has been doing since the beginning of time, be they Homo sapiens, Equus or otherwise.

Ignoring her mate completely she solved the problem, this particular one by oiling the pony from stem to stern until at last, expensively greased, the pony slipped through the posts unharmed, proving not only that good luck can, indeed, go bad for any species, but that it can also be turned around just as quickly given the intervention of someone with the capacity to help another down on their luck.

I wiped the salt from my lips and put away the pistachios. A breakthrough like this called for dark chocolate. I headed toward Barry’s closet to raid the stash I’d asked him to hide earlier, which he had, but not successfully enough to elude me, a mistake for which he will be severely chastised just as soon as I polish it off.


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© Barry Rosenberg