Robert Olen Butler: from FAIR WARNING

Robert Olen Butler (born January 20, 1945)                        

From the short story Fair Warning

Perhaps my fate was sealed when I sold my three-year-old sister. My father had taken me to a couple of cattle auctions not minding that I was a girl – this was before Missy was born, of course – and  I’d loved the fast talk and the intensity of the whole thing. So the day after my seventh birthday party, where Missy did a song for everyone while I set alone my chin on my hand, and  meditated behind my still uncut birthday cake, it seemed to me that here was a charming and beautiful little asset that I had no further use for and could be liquidated to good effect. So I gathered a passel of children from our gated community in Houston, kids with serious money, and I had Missy do a bit of her song once more, and I said, “ladies and gentlemen, no greater or more complete perfection of animal beauty ever stood on two legs than the little girl who stands before you. She has prizewinning breeding and good teeth. She will neither hook, kick, strike, nor bite you. She is the pride and joy of and greatest treasure of the Dickerson family and she is now available to you. Who will start the bidding for this future blue-ribbon winner? Who will offer fifty cents? Fifty cents. Who’ll give me fifty?” I saw nothing but blank stares before me. I’d gotten all these kids together but I still hadn’t quite gotten them into the spirit of the thing. So I looked one of these kids in the eye and said, “You, Tony Speck. Aren’t your parents rich enough to give you an allowance of fifty cents?” He made a hard, scrunched-up face and he said, “A dollar.” And I was off. I finally sold her for six dollars and twenty-five cents to a quite girl up the street whose daddy was in oil. She was an only child, a thing I made her feel sorry about when the bidding slowed down at five bucks.   …

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