This mom—one of them—held up the thing that was to raise funds at the fundraiser.
“That?” I said, because it was barely anything, but then she held it up to herself and it became a little more.
“Consider this over what I’m wearing,” she said to the dad and me. Everyone around us were half couples—still or once married. But here tonight, we were all singletons, floaters.
Coins had been tossed in living rooms and driveways. If we considered ourselves winners or losers right now, we weren’t saying.
So we had dressed carefully for a modest night, with nothing to flaunt but our love of our kids, all joyously mixed up, thrown together by lottery. “We won,” we had said, breaking down the recycling, endlessly shaking out the duvet.
I wanted to tell the mom: “No one would have noticed the thing in a different fabric, one that anyone could see,” and then I would lift my cup and toast her, and maybe the band they got to donate services would finally play some of the decent things they were supposed to play.
Around us, parents were drinking. This dad was drinking. The mom was drinking. Alcohol had been smuggled into the school, and we parents were having fun, for once. Wooden blocks our kids used during the week had been built into a bar. Some parents virtuously had tried to knock the block bar down. Parents who liked it weren’t sure they should.
“Nobody’s fault but hers,” the volunteer parent bartender said, waving his glass at the principal.
“Sshhh,” the principal had told all the parents in the planning committee meeting. “Pass it on.”
On the clipboard, the mom had signed her name for the thing. This was called “placing a bid.” “I hope I get this thing,” the mom said. In her fist, all together like that, the thing almost became something the dad and I could get behind.
“Stay with your thing,” I advised, and then I moved down among the other things that had been gathered from all over our city for the kids and this brick building in which they all kicked around in. I wrote my name under some things.
There are things about me I haven’t told anyone. Sometimes I am mistaken for a man. My handwriting. My legs from the knees down. My voice often gets so deep, I’ve learned to keep it down.
“Can you keep a secret?” my husband said about an hour ago when I exchanged our kid for the car. I could not, I told him.
For a silent auction, everyone was being loud, and in our kids’ school cafeteria, that band was still banding away.
How could I be expected to concentrate on anything? Parents moved their plastic glasses to and fro under low fluorescent lights, even as the auction wound its way down.
The trouble we could get into.
“I think I’m going to get the thing!” the mom called out. She had listened to me, but was I listening to her, as our beautiful kids were learning—trying, trying so hard to do? Not really.
In fact, I was making my way to the block bar, where the bartender was exchanging my last drink ticket for one clear glass of water, poured from a plastic bottle that collapsed under his hand.
“No!” I protested. “That’s not the thing,” I said, but stayed with him anyway, tossing back the water as if it were something more, outrageously writing on the one askew block, placed there for my bidding. I was getting louder. The mom drifted over wearing her thing.
The band crashed through to the end, but I was doing more, so many things no one was expecting of me. “Look at me,” I shouted, my name the only one on my block, next to the bartender’s hand, a barrier between me and what I had been drinking. I had bid on myself and won.
Julie Turley is a fiction writer and librarian in New York City. She has published fiction in Phantom Drift, Gambling the Aisle, North American Review, and Western Humanities Review, where she won the inaugural Utah Art’s Council fiction contest, judged by William Kittredge. While she writes fiction in cramped spaces on the lower east side of Manhattan, her main inspiration continues to be the American West.