The day of the lottery was bright and sunny; the flowers outside Doose’s Market were blossoming exactly on Taylor Doose’s schedule and the grass was a brilliant green. Not the showy, self-conscious sort of green you might find in New Haven or Waterford; not the sort of green that called attention to itself. Just the right amount of green, that’s how green the grass was in Stars Hollow. Everyone gathered in the main square between Luke’s Diner (closed for the holiday, but with an urn of free coffee out front) and Kim’s Antiques (open and doing brisk business) around ten o’clock. In some towns, there were so many people that the lottery took two days, but in Stars Hollow the whole process took less than two hours, so things could kick off at ten o’clock and still be over in time for noon dinner at Al’s Pancake World, unless Luke relented and opened the diner, which he rarely did (“I bring the coffee and take the same turn as everybody else every year. I think I can take one afternoon off”). Al still did not serve pancakes.
Both Chilton and Stars Hollow High had let out for the summer, and the crowds tended to divide along school lines. Only a few Stars Hollow children attended Chilton, and they gravitated toward the gazebo. Tristan Dugray had already stuffed his pockets full. Jess Mariano maintained a studiedly unconcerned air as he assembled his collection of rocks as if by accident. Jess, like his uncle Luke (of Luke’s Diner), made a point of showing the least amount of interest possible in Stars Hollow tradition, but they both attended every year, just the same. The girls stood aside, mostly talking among themselves, while Lane Kim anxiously compared the size of her rock pile with Tristan’s. Hers was taller, but not by much.
The men’s conversation was constant yet muted. They smiled rather than laughed. Taylor (of Doose’s Market and Taylor’s Olde Fashioned Soda Shoppe) drifted through their midst, gauging the size and shape of the stones they had selected and making modifications where necessary. He also brought coffee.
Taylor had served as Town Selectman for fifteen years. And they had been good years for Stars Hollow, no matter how much Luke or others grumbled. Miss Patty wore a new hat and loudly complained to everyone who arrived of how much her hands shook on this day every year. “Because I can’t possibly eat anything on lottery day,” she said, “so I get low blood sugar. But I just can’t eat breakfast.”
Mrs. Kim came out of Kim’s Antiques ten minutes before ten o’clock and never a minute sooner, flipping around the door sign that read “BACK AT NOON.” Mrs. Kim never joined the others at Al’s Pancake World afterward, but no one ever spoke to her about it, although no one else’s absence would have been tolerated. Sookie St. James had once tried to cook a staff meal back at the Dragonfly Inn after the lottery, but never repeated the attempt.
The lottery was directed, as were the movie nights, the Revolutionary War reënactments, and the Bracebridge Dinner, by Taylor Doose (of Doose’s Market, and Taylor’s Olde Fashioned Soda Shoppe, and also of the town council). Kirk Gleason stood next to Taylor every year in case he ever needed help during the ceremony. He never did, but Kirk lived in hope, and carried the black wooden box from its place under the bandbox over to the gazebo in silent pride.
The night before the lottery, after elections for the Harvest Festival (can’t start planning for the Harvest Festival too early, Kirk always said), Taylor and Miss Patty drew up the slips of paper and put them in the box; the crossing guards at Stars Hollow High brought the box over to the square the next morning. The rest of the year, the box was kept in storage; it had spent one year in Miss Patty’s ballet studio and another year under the grandfather clock at Kim’s Antiques (until Mrs. Kim sold the grandfather clock), and some years it just sat on the shelf at Stars Hollow Video. (Once, Jess Marino tried to rent the box. The box was moved to the back room with the adult videos, and Jess was formally disciplined.)
The lottery was broken down into three sections: heads of families first, then heads of households in each family, then members of each household in each family. Last year, Lorelai Gilmore had tried to include Juan Valdez along with Rory Gilmore on her list of family members. (“He’s the coffee guy. The Gilmores don’t exist without coffee. It’s a joke, Taylor.”) There was a now a rule named after her. (“Taylor loves making rules almost as much as he loves running the lottery,” Lorelai said. “If you think about it, I did him a favor, giving him a chance to add a rule to the day.”)
Just as Taylor turned to the waiting faces of Stars Hollow, Lorelai Gilmore ran hurriedly into the square, a sweater thrown over her vintage Bangles concert T-shirt. She slid into place next to Luke and Rory and stage-whispered, “I swear to God I forgot this was today. I mean I knew this was today, obviously, because I’m not trapped in some sort of weird ‘Groundhog Day’ situation where I’m stuck in yesterday, or whatever, but I thought today was some other day, maybe Flag-Washing Day, or the Last Tuesday’s Historical Reënactment Society, and by the time I remembered which today today was, I was too late to get any Luke’s coffee, and obviously I can’t do the lottery without any coffee—”
“Obviously,” Rory said, with a mock frown, “because then you might have to have your coffee after the lottery, and that would be a break from tradition, and then we might have blizzards in July—”
“Shh,” Kirk hissed at them.
Luke silently handed Lorelai a cup of coffee. “I knew you’d be late,” he said, “so I thought I’d save us all the trouble of bringing the lottery to a halt while we tear the town apart so you can get your caffeine fix—”
“It is a fix, you fixer, you, you have fixed me, thank you, you wonderful fixing man, like some sort of fixing machine,” Lorelai said.
“Just drink the coffee,” Luke said.
“Can’t talk right now,” Lorelai said. “Lottery’s starting. No talking during the lottery.”
“Shh,” Kirk hissed again.
“See?” Lorelai said. “You’ve broken Kirk. No talking.”
“If Lorelai is ready for us to get started,” Taylor said pointedly from the dais (“Since when is there a dais?” Rory asked. Lorelai: “Why not a lectern?” Rory: “Or a rostrum.” Lorelai: “Think we have time to scare up an actual soapbox?” Kirk: “Shh“), “then we will begin. Is anybody not here?”
“How would we know?” Lorelai shouted from the back. “Show of hands if you’re not here?” Even Luke grimaced at that.
Taylor continued as if Lorelai had not spoken. Taylor often continued as if Lorelai had not spoken. “Anyone drawing for the first time this year? Luke, are you still drawing for Jess?”
“I can draw for myself,” Jess started, but Luke shook his head. “You start paying the bills, then we can talk about drawing for the family.” The crowd murmured its approval, and Jess busied himself with the rocks at his feet.
“Well,” Taylor said, “guess that’s everyone. Now, I’ll read the names—heads of families first. Then come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand without looking at it until everyone has had a turn. All clear?”
“The Gilmores don’t have a man in the house,” Lorelai said, “unless you count the pizza-delivery guy. Should the pizza-delivery guy draw for us?”
Taylor continued as if Lorelai had not spoken. “Miss Patty draws for herself. Lorelai Gilmore draws for the Gilmores. Everyone else, man of the house draws first.” Taylor raised one hand high and said, “Bennett.” A man came forward.
“Jackson,” Taylor said, and Jackson stepped up, retrieved a folded piece of paper, and walked over to Sookie, standing a little apart from her.
“Barans,” Taylor said. “Danes.” Luke strode to the box and took his slip of paper. Mrs. Kim went up, and Kirk, and Brian Fuller, and Dean Forester for the first year as the head of household, and Miss Patty, and old Fran Weston. After that, there was a long pause, until Taylor, holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, people.”
For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened and everyone started whispering all at once. “Who’s got it?” “Is it the Rygalskis?” “Is it the Jacksons?” “Is it the Kims?” Then: “It’s Gilmore. It’s the Gilmore girls.”
Lorelai said to Taylor, “Technically, I’m not from Stars Hollow. I’m from Hartford. So I don’t think that the Stars Hollow drawing even affects us.”
“You’re registered in Stars Hollow, Lorelai,” Taylor said.
“My parents live in Hartford—”
“Can’t have it both ways, Lorelai,” Kirk said.
“That’s right,” Mrs. Kim said. “You live here, you draw here.”
“And how many children, Lorelai?” Taylor asked formally.
“Just the one that I know of,” Lorelai said.
“All right, then,” Taylor said, ignoring the joke. “Kirk, have you retrieved both of their tickets?” Kirk nodded and held up the slips of paper. “Put them back in the box, then,” Taylor directed.
“This is a dumb game,” Lorelai said. “I think next year we should play Parcheesi.”
Kirk put the two slips back in the box, and dropped all of the other papers onto the ground, where the breeze caught them. (“Littering,” Lorelai said. “What would Smokey Bear say?” Rory asked. Lorelai: “Rory, that’s fires. Smokey doesn’t care about littering.”)
“Ready?” Taylor asked, and first Lorelai, then Rory, stepped up to the box and pulled out a slip.
“If it’s Rory, there is no way I am passing Civ this year,” Lane Kim said.
“If it’s Lorelai, I’m going out of business,” Luke said.
“All right,” Taylor said. “Open the papers.”
Rory opened her hand, barely glancing down, and there was a general sigh through the crowd as the townspeople craned their necks and saw that it was blank. “Oh, thank God,” Lane Kim said. Mrs. Kim gave her a sharp glance. “Sorry, Mama.”
“Show us her paper, Luke,” Taylor said.
Luke went over to Lorelai and pulled the slip out of her hand. “Luke,” she said, as if he had done something surprising. It had a black spot on it.
“And if it is you,” Emily had said to Lorelai at their most recent Friday-night dinner, “I expect you at the very least not to make a scene. No Gilmore in a hundred years has interrupted a lottery, and I know that you’re allergic to tradition, but I’d like to think that the lottery still means something to this family.” (Hartford’s lottery was two weeks earlier and presided over every year by Pennilyn Lott.)
“Uh-huh,” Lorelai had said, idly rearranging bites of lamb on her plate.
“Is that an uh-huh registering comprehension and agreement, Lorelai?” Emily asked. “Or is that an uh-huh, I was checking my phone under the table and am periodically emitting agreeable noises in order to get you off my back? It’s very difficult to tell with you, you know, and I’m afraid I’ve neglected to bring my Lorelai pocket translator to the dinner table.”
“Can’t it be both?”
“Rory,” Emily said brightly, turning to her granddaughter. “Will you be joining us for lunch at the club after the lottery is over?”
“Why don’t you ask Rory if she plans on disgracing years of tradition?” Lorelai asked, abandoning her lamb-rearranging and letting knife and fork clatter to her plate. “Rory, are you planning on breaking centuries of uninterrupted good fortune for our beloved town due to your selfish whims, like your mother?”
Rory carefully did not meet her mother’s or her grandmother’s eyes. “They teach us about lottery stuff in school,” she said. “Grandma, this mint sauce is really good. Did I tell you we’re reading ‘Moby-Dick’ this semester?”
“I just want to know that the lottery still means something to you,” Emily said to Lorelai, as if Rory had not spoken.
“Yeah, Mom, it does,” Lorelai said. Emily smiled tremulously.
“All right, folks,” Taylor said. “Let’s finish quickly.” Everyone picked up a rock and moved toward the center of the square. Miss Patty had small stones in both of her shaking hands and, addressing no one in particular, said, “I can’t run at all. You go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.” Sookie gently handed a fist-size rock to Rory, who said nothing. Lorelai held her hands out as the villagers moved in. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Kirk said, “Come on, everybody, the sooner we finish, the sooner we can have noon dinner.”
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, it’s the least fair, it’s like the reverse of Snow White, it’s the unfairest of them all,” Lorelai screamed, and then they were upon her.