People gathered and milled about on my father’s driveway. The crowd was larger than I’d expected – neighbours had also come. A few of them waved, but most hadn’t noticed me, or perhaps didn’t recognise me. It had been an age since I’d played on the street with the other neighbourhood kids, my face once so familiar to all residents of the small cul-de-sac.
‘They need to hurry up. It’s almost five past!’ said the small thin man with the crooked nose standing near me.
His younger companion, a man in his thirties, nodded patiently. Both men were wearing suits that looked far too formal for a Saturday morning on Daisy Street. The younger looked a little uncomfortable and I wondered how many times he’d worn a suit. He was standing tall and straight, but his hands were fidgeting.
I looked down self-consciously at my own clothes. Nothing matched. I picked these khaki pants and oversized sweatshirt because they were the only items I had that were clean. It had been difficult to keep on top of the washing lately.
‘What does the auctioneer think he’s doing?’ said the man with the crooked nose as he craned his neck to look around at the slowly increasing crowd. ‘Doherty’s over there – and you know he’s just going to knock the whole thing down and turn it into small, poorly built apartments. That’s what he did on Current Street and again with that god-awful eyesore on Ironbark!’
It broke my heart to think of someone knocking my father’s house down. It had been loved and diligently maintained for so long. The house deserved better. I looked into the backyard and saw the cubby house dad had built me for my sixth birthday, and my heart sank further still.
My thoughts scattered as the auctioneer stood on his small podium and signalled to the crowd for quiet.
‘Alrighty!’ His voice was bold and resonant and projected clearly from the front of the driveway. ‘Thanks for coming out for today’s auction. I’m Conrad Booth of Booth Realty, and I’m here today on behalf of our vendor.’
He was talking about me.
A pang of sadness tightened my chest. It wasn’t my home.
‘What a glorious residence, immaculately preserved for the past fifty years,’ said Conrad. ‘All of the period charm and character that you’d expect from a home of this era.’
I tried to keep track of what Conrad was saying, but he began talking in realty jargon, and everything he said scrambled together into a giant mess of words that I had no hope of properly understanding. When I started to pay attention again, the auction had almost begun.
‘Who’d like to start me off today with the opening bid?’
I held my breath. There was a heavy moment of silence before the developer, Doherty, raised his hand.
My breathing quickened and I noticed the man with the crooked nose begin to pace on the spot. His companion raised his hand – I hadn’t expected that the stoic man would be bidding today. ‘One million.’ His voice was clear and steady, despite his shaking hands.
‘One million,’ repeated Conrad in his booming auctioneer voice. ‘Straight away, well that’s confidence, isn’t it? The shock and awe tactic – I like it.’ The speed of his speech was remarkable. I wondered if he had practised saying these phrases beforehand.
Almost immediately, Doherty made a counteroffer.
‘One-point-one.’ His hands rested on either side of his large belly and he gave a self-satisfied nod to the auctioneer.
Doherty’s expression changed suddenly when a woman up the front raised her hand and said, ‘one-point-two’.
I heard one of my dad’s neighbours gasp. Neither of us had expected a house on Daisy Street to be worth so much.
‘One million two hundred! We have one million two hundred! Do we have one million three?’ asked Conrad.
‘Yes!’ bellowed Doherty.
The price of my father’s house steadily increased, and Doherty immediately outbid everyone who entered the arena.
‘Not him,’ I whispered to myself. My dad’s house could not be knocked down.
The auction began to slow and Doherty was left with the leading bid.
‘One million four hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars going once, going twice …’
The tall stoic man raised his hand. ‘One point five.’
‘One million five!’ said Conrad. ‘Welcome back, sir.’ He nodded his head at Doherty. ‘How do you respond?’
The big man looked surprised at the sudden and last-minute re-entry of the other bidder.
‘One million five … and ten thousand’, said Doherty. He wiped his fringe back with his forearm, looking frustrated.
‘One million five and twenty’, countered the young man in the suit.
‘One million five and thirty.’
‘One million five and forty.’
‘One million five hundred and forty thousand!’ announced Conrad. ‘Do we have any more bids from this gentleman?’
The whole crowd turned to face Doherty, waiting in a thick silence for his next move. He had visible sweat stains under both arms and his effortless confidence from earlier had evaporated. Doherty threw down the scrunched-up pamphlet in his hand and walked away without another word.
‘And the winning bid goes to the man in the black suit!’ declared Conrad. ‘What a thrilling end to the auction!’
Suddenly everyone was moving. People were heading back to their cars, or back to their homes, and Conrad was rapidly talking to the winner by the podium. And I was alone again.
I didn’t want to move. Leaving this driveway meant leaving my father’s home forever.
Rapid, light footsteps sounded behind me and two little girls – sisters with matching blue ribbons in their blonde hair – raced past and up to the podium. The sisters flung themselves into the arms of the suited man.
This was now their father’s home.