"I am thinking about a house on Lake Como," my husband said over dinner.

"In Italy?"

"Yes, though not a large house," he said, all seriousness.

We had been playing the imaginary game of How Will It Be When We Retire, which, given that our youngest child recently turned 7, is approximately never. Still, anyone can dream.

"Even a small house on Lake Como would be wonderful," I breathed. It hadn't occurred to me that our savings could ever extend to such a thrilling location. Did my husband know something about our finances that I did not?

"Maybe just, oh, a $12 million house," he went on.

"But -- what -- how?"

"That's after we win the Powerball lottery, you understand," he said, with a grin.

Aha. I did understand. He had shifted from the game we'd been playing to the much more exciting and less practical game of How It Will Be When We Win.

Unbeknownst to me, he and the rest of the world had been playing for days. Somehow, I had been oblivious to the fact that the jackpot had swollen to half a billion dollars, but now I could play too!

"Of course, you'd lose more than half of it in taxes," I overheard one mother saying to another the next morning, as we all dropped our children at school.

"Yes, but think what you could do a lot with the leftovers!" laughed her interlocutor.

At the hairdressers' later that day, as techno-pop thumped gently in the background, the stylist working on people in the chair next to me chatted about the lottery to each of his clients in turn.

"One chance in 176 million," he'd say, dreamily.

"Still, someone has to win," customers would laugh.

"Even if it were broken into 20 portions -- "

"That's fine, I'm not greedy!"

Everyone in the salon seemed as affected by cheerful grandiosity as those of us slavering for properties on Lake Como.

"I would ski for a living," said one woman.

"I would be the secret benefactor of everyone in my family," said another.

"I would arrange for a rickshaw to drive a little child I know in Delhi to his speech therapy sessions," said a third.

"Half a billion dollars!"

The phrase seemed to float on the air, wafted back and forth on breezes of desire and sending into every heart a little bit of Mother Teresa and a little bit of Uriah Heep.

"I don't know," said a killjoy, as a hairdresser clipped her bangs. "It just seems like all that money could be put to more productive use."

There was a pause, as everyone's cloud castles suddenly evaporated. But soon she would leave, and we could all resume our gauzy fantasies.

Late that afternoon when I got home, there was a message in my email from a close friend that momentarily stopped my breath.


What? Really!? The delay seemed interminable as I waited for the message to open. Had the drawing already taken place? Good lord, had my friend actually won it?

At last the email popped up. "Just practicing," it said.

Very funny, I thought sourly -- and then couldn't stifle a happy smile of hope. I still had time to decide what sort of house to get on Lake Como.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.