The Auction

The scene is set; the actors in their places. The room is over-filled – witness the grubby legs dangling from rafters, where their youthful owners have found an excellent view of the proceedings. A gentle hum of excitement pervades the space. If we examine the crowd, three oddly still figures catch our attention.

Mabel Sherman is dressed in her Sunday-best; a painfully patterned (though thankfully faded with time) summer dress, and an elaborate straw bonnet artfully decorated with cherries and hyacinths. She sits very upright and stares straight ahead, the only external sign of her inner turmoil a handkerchief that she twists compulsively in her lap.

Beside her and in contrast, Jack Sherman is weeping quietly and unashamedly, tears sliding down his face like the streams of new rain on a desert-floor. He has also dressed for the occasion, wearing his only suit and well-polished shoes.

Elizabeth Harwood lounges casually, seeming relaxed and comfortable. Her trouser-suit is unrumpled despite the heat. She has a slight smile on her perfectly made-up face. Only her eyes betray the truth behind the insouciance: they are hard and glittering with a combination of triumph, anger and grief.

All three protagonists share the same intense focus. The object of their interest follows convention and occupies a raised position at one end of the barn. It is solemnly attended by no less than five persons in black suits and collars. One of these now raises his voice and his hand: “Going, going, gone.” The gavel slams down, “Self-portrait by Susan Sherman sold to Mrs Elizabeth Harwood.”

To understand the significance of this scene, we must investigate events commencing fifty years before the auction. Let us begin.

12 thoughts on “The Auction”

  1. I really enjoyed this!

    It has the perfect crime thriller / dark family secret vibe, exactly like the first chapter of that kind of novel. I thought this even before I realised that is how you pitched it with the last sentence.

    The descriptions, the grubby feet in the rafters, the elaborate hats, the carefully neutral description of the characters – only the outward appearance, no insight, a tableau of implied tension of grief – it really works for me. I can imagine re-reading these paragraphs after finishing the novel and seeing them in a completely new light.

    Small niggles: did not like the use of “protagonists” – felt wrong, breaking the pure-observation vibes.
    “Going… going… gone!” reads better to me than the commas (commas are too fast?)
    After “the gavel slams down” I would have preferred a colon to a comma.

    But that aside, it is masterful and I really enjoyed it. I’m reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” at the moment and it really put me in mind of the Dark Secrets of the Vanger family in that novel.

    1. Thanks. Glad you liked it – the vibe you got is very much what I was trying to achieve. I’m pretty happy with protagonists, as I see the characters as the leads in the story around this micfic. But, I agree about the bits around the speech. I am beginning to try my hand at that and still finding my way. I wasn’t entirely happy with Going, going, gone and your version definitely reads better.

  2. Ooh, the tension. A story full of secrets – I liked it but it’s like a teaser chapter at the end of a novel, you come to the end and think ‘oh, when’s the next book’.

    1. Thanks. I very much meant it to be a teaser :-) , although rather the beginning of a book than the end of the first part in a series.

  3. Really enjoyed this. Loved the neutral observer’s voice and the fine attention to cute vivid detail. Really enjoyed the explicit (art vs life) narration -‘the scene is set, the actors…’ – This meta-reflection works really well in generating the fly on the wall feeling.

    I love the way none of the internal state of the characters is directly described only what a external observer could see.
    (The one exception to this is: ‘the only external sign of her inner turmoil’ – I would have preferred no explicit mention of said turmoil)

    Enjoyed the idea that you would never know all the secrets – it wasn’t exactly either a tease or a frustration for me – right from the beginning I felt like I was reading a lovely rich curiosity that I would never fully understand.

    I love the serious funeral-like set up and raised dais of the auction – this reveal is done beautifully.

    I slightly feel the ‘gone,going gone’ happens very fast so maybe two sentences would have been better (or possibly dashes, I would never use ellipses to represent pauses as Parf suggests). But this auction action is not the focus of the story and maybe this simple resolution keeps the focus in the right place – it also show how the moment is not so dramatic for the non-protagonists; just another lot complete of many.

    Fun and clever – maybe someday you’ll get to write more micfic around this lovely setup

    1. Thanks for the comment. I love that you call it a “lovely rich curiosity”. I am quite happy with the inner turmoil mentioned for Mabel Sherman, but understand your point. But I wanted to highlight that there was a lot of turmoil going on and that it was central to the scene for the three characters.

  4. Really enjoyed the descriptions of The Three, and as ES says the view as an observer at the auction would have seen.

    The reveal was handled very well. I especially liked the solemnly attending black suits and collar folk.

    On first read, I felt slightly cheated by the ending, but on rereads I really enjoyed it. The opening act of a much bigger story – great!

  5. I’d say this was beautifully evocative, except stv will laugh at me ;>. A lovely exercise in hinted narrative – it’s even more effective than an entire story in 250 words, because the implications are so rich. You’ve been very economical with descriptions, but the minimal detail is beautifully chosen to be suggestive, not only of plot and character, but of setting and time period. (Barn. Bonnet. Sunday best. Boys in the rafters. Rural, small-town, no later than the 50s, but not 1900s because of the trouser suit – I’m guessing 30s, actually.) Really liked this! thank you!

    For the record, I have no problem with “protagonists” – it suits the air of slightly pedantic detachment your narrator has adopted.

  6. I love the grubby people hanging from the rafters. It immediately made me think that this auction was, in a way, more of a low-brow affair. And then we find out later that this is, indeed, being held in a barn. Which clashes in an interesting way with the painting that’s being auctioned: why is this possibly high-brow object being auctioned in a barn?

    This is a great scene, and had me wondering who these people were in relation to each other and the painting. It’s very short, but in a longer work I imagine it sets you up to answer your own questions, which I enjoy.

    Also, I’ve always enjoyed (not entirely sure why) a narrator that’s obviously a narrator.

    I didn’t have a problem with either, “protagonist,” or, “going, going, gone.”

    I liked this piece quite a bit. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the lovely comments :-)

      It is interesting how people view what one has written in different ways – that is one of the fascinating things about this micfic exercise. For example, I didn’t see the auction as low-brow, just rural, small town and somewhat in the past. But I like that you could read it quite differently and still enjoy it and find it reasonably consistent.

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