Sold                                                                                                                                 Lily Hauge

      It was fall, my mother was pregnant again, with her fifth child. It was a matter of desperation, as she couldn’t feed all of us, so she put up a sign that read, “Four Children FOR SALE, inquire within.” In a matter of days, a picture of our house along with the sign my mother posted out front was all over the news and newspapers. We were disgracefully famous.

       Soon places like Walmart and local refineries were approaching my father, offering him jobs. He chose one working in the Domino Sugar Factory, packaging granulated cane. Eventually, things became stable. My mother was able to nourish us and the eight-month-old fetus she was carrying.

       My sister was born two weeks later. My mother named her Sue Ellen. Three days after she was born my father left us. Our mother told us it was because he loved someone else. Lana and I believed he just couldn't handle the commitment. Without him to support us, things started to get tough again. My mother would threaten us, she would tell us if we didn’t behave while she was at work, she would put us up for sale again. Everything seemed to age my mother, whether it be stress, work, or even putting food on the table. I had just turned fifteen that March and with my age came responsibilities wrapped as a present.

       She began sneaking out, my mother, leaving me to take care of my siblings. “David, don’t forget to do the dishes and make sure Lana and Rae Ann take their baths,” she would say while scurrying from the house, all dressed up. I always made sure to get the things she asked of me done.

       I finally found out why she was always leaving at night. My mother brought him home, a gruff ginger named Arthur. He sort of resembled a sasquatch. Arthur stayed for dinner that night. Most of my siblings took a liking to him, except for Rae Ann, she was distant. She would avoid eye contact, and keep her responses short. Rae Ann thought our mother was moving on too soon, that even though it had been seven months, she believed our father would change his mind and come home.

       After we all had cleared the table, Arthur went out to his black town-car to get a surprise. It was a cake. “Tonight is a special occasion,” he said. He looked over to my mother and she showed us a ring. They were engaged.

       Despite how quickly it was put together, the wedding was extravagant. Arthur’s family paid for it all. They rented out the Town Hall in Northbrook. Decorated it with baby-pink water lilies and sunrise-yellow tulips. My mother decided to reuse her first wedding dress, despite everyone telling her it was outdated. She loved it though, ruffles and all, because it was her mother’s. Rae Ann and Lana walked in the wedding. Sue Ellen, Milton and I just sat in uncomfortable-white-metal chairs and watched the ceremony alongside our Aunt Marissa and Grandmother.

       Two days after the wedding, Arthur and my mother were fighting because Milton broke Arthur’s car window while playing baseball. I tried to shield my brother and sisters from it, but they heard him say it. “I don’t want your children. I never did. I want them gone.” That morning we were for sale again.

       Things escalated pretty fast, and we all ended up in different directions. Some better than others.

       Rae Ann was sold for two dollars. “Bingo money” is what my mother called it. She was sold to a seemingly nice old man named Mr. Charleston. He had to be in at least his fifties. He promised my mother he would take care of Rae Ann. He told Rae Ann something different.

       Sue Ellen and Milton were adopted by an abusive elderly couple. Mr. Michael Morrison was a Nazi, sort of. He believed in what Hitler wanted to accomplish. He would punish Milton for being a Jew, even though Milton wasn’t Jewish. Milton just wore the Star of David because a Jewish girl he “dated” while in daycare had given it to him as a memento. Mr. Morrison made Milton kneel in rice and recite verses from the Bible. The punishment became harsher if Milton recited the verse he was to memorize the night before wrong. 

       Mr. Morrison fawned over Sue Ellen; which was something her keeper, Mrs. Gale Morrison, wasn't exactly happy about. The first two or three weeks she would dress Sue Ellen up and take her to tea with some ladies from the country club, to teach her proper etiquette. Though Sue Ellen was only five years old, Mrs. Morrison believed she was too provocative towards her husband and Milton. Like Mr. Morrison, Mrs. Morrison was a prominently announced Christian. She truly believed Sue Ellen was trying to steal her husband, so she moved Sue Ellen away from Milton and her husband and into a bedroom in the servant’s quarters. Along with that, she required Sue Ellen’s body, arms and legs included, to be fully covered. Unless she was in her bedroom, of course, if she failed to listen to Mrs. Morrison, Sue Ellen would be forced to spend the night in the basement.

       Lana was fourteen years old when she was sent to a nunnery, after being found in a cardboard box under the Sixteenth Road overpass by a police sergeant. The nuns found out Lana was pregnant two weeks after she had arrived. She wanted to get rid of it. She didn’t want to have something she couldn’t take care of.

       The nuns made Lana pray three times a day. The first hour was for forgiveness; having sex out of wedlock was a sin. The second hour was for herself, so she may have a safe pregnancy. The third hour of praying was for the baby itself, so God would let it be born pure and free of sin.

       I was found in an alley covered in mosquito bites by a social worker. She was a stern lady dressed in grey. I was brought to the hospital. There I was vaccinated, bathed, and put under quarantine for forty-eight hours. They thought I had malaria, the swine flu or some illness contracted through bug bites. Once I was cleared, I was adopted by a young couple who were nice, but strict. They had a five year old son, Kip. He would always run around the house, clutching a little red train in his hand. Mrs. Clara Anderson was nice enough to give me my own room, and she treated me like a son. Mr. Jack Anderson brought me to work with him on the farm. I would herd the cattle and occasionally fix the tractor. He too, treated me like a son. I thanked them both sincerely in the letter I left them when I ran away at seventeen to join the army.

                                                                  ***

       Rae Ann was able to get in touch with all of us thirty years later, when our mother died. No one knows how, but Arthur died too. We all decided to meet up at the Dairy Queen on Sixth Street, to discuss funeral arrangements.

       We all sat down in a booth towards the back, and ordered three vanilla sundaes to pass around the table, along with a round of cheeseburgers. It was awkward at first.

       Rae Ann, now thirty-seven years old, married Mr. Charleston, who died of old age two years ago. He was eighty-eight years old. Mr. Charleston, Willy was what Rae Ann called him, had left her everything.  She now owns the Charleston Manor and a townhouse in Martha’s Vineyard. Rae Ann told us she had three children, and showed us pictures of three English Corgis.

       Sue Ellen, now thirty-five years old, married a soldier who was dishonorably discharged for burning down his squad's camp. She has a five year old girl named Tabitha. All three of them live in a small brick-house six blocks away from our mother's house. Sue Ellen works at a daycare in the morning and smokes her way through a pack or two of cigarettes at night. She was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks before our mother's death.

       Milton, despite getting punished for being a Jew by Mr. Morrison, he ended up marrying Catalina, the little girl from the daycare. He opened a strip club near the Aquarium, where a lot of the guys go for sexual entertainment when they are away from their wives. Catalina bartends there sometimes and offers to take home anyone who is too intoxicated to drive. Milton joked that it’s the reason they have an open marriage.

       Lana left the nunnery after she had her son, Adam. They have an awkwardly close relationship, due to their closeness in age. She is forty-four years old and he's twenty-nine. She said that Adam was the only man in her life, besides working as a florist and keeping their small white cottage in Viroqua clean, her only goal was to keep her son happy. Adam is studying forensic anthropology at the local college only two miles away from their home, that way Lana and her son can remain close.

       I explained to them how, once I turned forty-seven last month, I decided to settle down. After serving in the military for thirty years, I was honorably discharged and now live in a two bedroom apartment on 3rd street. I run a bakery down the street from Town Hall, right next door to the Chinese restaurant that sells fried cat.

       Once we finished catching up, we went on to discuss funeral arrangements. We all have mixed emotions about our mother. Rae Ann, Lana, Milton, and I remembered when, before she sold us, our mother would always smile at the red tulips in the spring, and how she would always make us pancakes on special occasions. Sometimes she would even make up random holidays, like National Flower Day or National Grass Growing Day, just to have an excuse to celebrate. However, with age and her husband leaving, she only took what would make her happy into consideration. All Sue Ellen remembers is the woman who put us up for sale.

       Milton suggested we bury our mother in a white casket, in a mausoleum. We nodded our heads in agreement, except for Sue Ellen. She shook her head and yelled at us, “I don’t care if she rots in a cardboard-box, but I hope she’s having a blast burning in Hell.” She got up from the table and stormed off, and Rae Ann followed her. It was like we were children all over again.

       Lana and Milton continued on without them. Lana said she could make the flower arrangements at her shop. We decided on red tulips and white roses. The basics were covered, the dwindling number of relatives were notified of our mother’s passing, and the only thing left was to pick who would say her eulogy.

       I volunteered after a few minutes of awkward silence. They both looked relieved. Soon after that, Sue Ellen and Rae Ann returned to the table. Sue Ellen apologized for her rash behavior, but said she was sure about one thing, “I want to sell the house.”