Category B: Highly Commended (2021) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Sanjay Ravichandran
Title: At the auction of the glass slippers
It is that time of year yet again when a plenitude of bidders’ flock into the Grand Auction Room. As part of their ongoing “Slippers Series”, the Auctioneers have proposed the auction of the blue glass slippers, sparkling behind the state of-the-art and impenetrable transparent glass.
The slippers’ supposedly inconceivable powers draw both the rich and the poor, the hard-working and the lazy, the young and the old to the Auction. Yet, the Auctioneers have drawn a line. There are no journalists to be present. They have been discarded outside the city limits so as to maintain peace. There, they can utilise their First Amendment rights, freely aggravating the fragmented outside world, without further riling up the already flustered crowd and impeding the attendees’ willingness to spend money.
For many, including myself, this is one of the few opportunities to experience close to physical contact. A rare occasion indeed for a world that has shifted to the virtual and physically sedentary. The crowds within the walls of the Auction Room murmur indistinctively among their own private social groups. Posted at the base of every pillar are the best of the best cardiologists in the country, ones who have mastered the Da Vinci robots, counselling those with a broken heart. I myself am one of the patients.
The slippers for sale have drawn many kinds of people, promising a life of luxury and class. According to the great physicists and rocket engineers of our era, these slippers have the ability to instantly enable you to mingle with the highest of highest social classes and find acceptance in today’s society. It is no wonder that so many people have left their houses to attend this Grand Auction.
Predictably, the teenagers are out in the masses, given that the Auctioneers had a very strong campaign on social media. Many of them are on the verge of boredom, their heavy eyelids forcing themselves open so that they may look towards the slippers, their only perceived guarantee for future success. Some waver unconsciously, as if they haven’t walked for years, as they limp towards the food stalls neatly lined up around the walls of the buildings. The food provides a form of satiating sustenance to fill the chasm of directionless limbo. It is a chance to feel a sense of fulfilled agency in being able to make menu selections, while still unsure of the larger life choices and answers which currently evade them. Squinting my eyes, I can barely make out the silhouette of my own son licking away at his ice cream. He and his friends are leaning against what seems like a green-cyan bus with a white roof and the classic 142 number, with a picturesque coniferous backdrop. Besides them stands the more elderly, yet not too old to have wrinkles nor loss of teeth. Their eyes are empty, longing for the youth that had once naively carried them to this moment in time.
Then there are the idols who draw the teenagers from near and far, wearing their makeup and posting livestreams, while taking the centre stage. An aura of unimaginable fame, hazed in the shades of glory that surround these people, brings the colour back to the eyes of the teens, who are shrieking and pushing their way towards the influencers. For a moment, even the nostalgic middle-aged men and women momentarily escape their respective crises, entering into a new world, a mirage of a so-called ‘better life’ which could attend to their every desire, before slipping back into reality and sobbing. Although their requests at times demand too much, the Auctioneers know well to not argue with them, for they are the driving force of the crowds. Long gone are the days of movie stars and musicians, and long gone are the people who grew up with them.
No auction in the modern world would be complete without the imaginary characters who escaped from the virtual world and materialised into reality. Grabbing front row tickets are the two stepsisters, their bare feet aching to wear the slippers at any cost. Those around the two step-sisters disapprovingly distance themselves, as the step-sisters’ mother silently gazes at the glass slippers with earnest hope and desire. Behind the front-row seats sit the fairies and godmothers and princes and kings and queens, eagerly waiting to welcome a new member to their class. Men on flying carpets and blue-scaled fish are also present in the audience, although why a fish would want glass slippers is beyond my understanding. Playing with the blue-scaled fish are small figures of a cowboy sheriff and a spaceman action figure, skidding their hands alongside the top of the water.
The voices of the Auctioneers on the Grand Stage grow louder, and paddles start dipping up and down in the silent crowd. Everyone is now watching the slippers with their full attention. I too raise my paddle, but the numbers grow so large, that the paddles no longer resemble the worth of the glass slippers, but a person’s desired self-worth. Soon, my hands stop reaching for the air, and I slide down my recliner. A man must give up proudly when he does, for sometimes, it is that reluctance- that unwillingness to let go – that keeps us from moving forwards in life and from finding happiness.
As the adrenaline of the Auction dissipates, I am left without the slippers, but I realise I am no lesser for it.
As I step out of the Grand Auction Room and into the midnight breeze, a neon sign captures my attention, with bold captions “NEXT WEEK: FIND YOUR LOVE”. I will probably return for next week’s auction, hoping to fill that crack within myself, but if I do find the power to move forward, I might not have to.