In Which It Grazes
The last person touching the car wins it. Can Camille stop her father's sick contest before it's too late?
Camille eyed the twenty contestants all giddy with perky smiles lined up against the wall of the Beverly High School gymnasium. All of them were laughing and stretching while eying the cherry red convertible in the center of the room, made enormous with vibrating conversation. A woman with large spectacles and a clipboard popped up next to Camille and raised her shoulders before speaking.
“Hey, hey, hello! Are you a contestant? Were you assigned a number? You should’ve gotten one over the phone when you were selected.”
“No, no. I’m not a contestant. Is there a Mr. Deers here anywhere?” Camille looked around at each of the contestants, some old, some young, and squinted her eyes.
“Of course! The man of the hour! You see that sign?” The woman smushed up against Camille and poined to a corner of the gym. “The sign that says ‘offices’ with the arrow? Follow that into the hallway, he should be in one of the offices.”
“Okay, thanks,” Camille freed herself and started walking passed the contestants to the hallway. While turned away, she could hear the woman with the clipboard go up to someone else to ask if they were assigned a number. Clutching her purse a little tighter, she could feel her skin physically make contact with the humid energy coming from the line of contestants. She tried to not make eye contact with any of them but glanced over to see an elderly woman with a cane and a shirtless man with abs discussing their strategies.
“No, lady, you gotta start with your non-dominant hand. Trust me.”
“You can’t switch hands like that. Did you even read the rules? I need my left-hand for my cane, anyway. I’ll fall without it- hey, what are you looking at?” She directed this at Camille, who realized she had been staring. She lifted her chin and let the two continue their conversation. One man further down in the line was holding a pocket Bible and muttering something with his head down. Camille could make out him saying “and thank you to Mr. Deers for organizing this event. God be with us. Amen.”
Camille shook her head and picked up her pace. The hallway was dark except for one flickering light bulb above an emergency exit at the end of it. I can’t believe he’s still pulling this garbage she thought as she passed a leaking water fountain. She almost reached the end of the hallway when she heard a familiar voice.
“Cami? Is that my Cami? Get over here, sweetie!”
Camille spun around and saw the silhouette of her father, gigantic and moving closer to her. Camille rolled her eyes and made her way to him. Upon getting closer, she saw he was wearing the same dirt-covered boots that he wore every year, with gray jeans tucked into them. His crimson plaid shirt would’ve looked out-of-place if it weren’t for his tan Dakota hat. A wide smile was peeking out of bushy beard, but still not as bright as his two gleaming eyes, enveloped in wrinkles.
The two of them met in the middle and her father went to embrace her but paused when Camille pulled back.
“Listen, dad. Can we somewhere and talk?”
“Jesus, Cami, why are you dressed for a funeral?”
“Please, do you have a chance to talk before it starts?”
Out of nowhere, the woman with the clipboard popped up behind her father and said “Mr. Deers, twenty minutes.”
He looked at Camille and winked. “I guess that answers your question. Thank you, Rosa, I’m fine. Do you need anything, Cami?”
Camille shook her head and waited for them to be alone. Rosa nodded and was tapping her clipboard while walking away. Mr. Deers made sure to enjoy every second of Rosa’s walk back, then turned his head to Camille. She fidgeted in response and her dislike for Rosa grew even more at that moment.
“I’m using the office right here. Let’s go.” He motioned to an open door and walked in with Camille following. She shut the door and faced her father, now sitting with his legs stretched, crossed on the desk.
“You can’t go through with this.”
“I don’t know. I like Rosa. You should see her without the glasses. In a fun outfit, know what I mean?”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.” Camille closed her eyes. “I mean the contest. You can still call it off.”
“Ha, that’s not happening. You saw how happy those people are. They’re out to be winners.”
“Dad, every year something bad happens. I wanted to come this time and see for myself. You know how hot it is in in that gym. All for a car? Seriously?”
“Well, now, hold on. They win the car and a sum of money, don’t forget that.” He reached down and pulled a flask from the drawer. He took two sips and gestured and pointed at it while looking at Camille. She declined with a wave of her hand and sat down in the chair in front of the desk.
“You do realize you’re screwing these people?”
“Ha, only Rosa, dear.”
“God, can you just take this seriously, please? You have the chance to stop this and do something good. You said over the phone retirement’s been treating you well. Those were your exact words. Why bother hosting this type of-”
“You know, Cami. I’m glad you brought that up. Now that I’m not working, I’ve been thinking a lot more. And there’s this old, African proverb I need to tell you.”
“God, Dad.” Camille folded her arms, awaiting whatever mental gymnastics would ensue.
“It comes from Ethiopia. The proverb goes-”
“Hey, we need you out here. One minute ‘til showtime.” Rosa opened and closed the door quickly, her announcement making both Camille and her father look at the door and then to each other.
“Well, there you go. I’ve got a contest to run.”
“Just call it off. You know what you’re doing to these people.”
“It’s out of the question. Besides, it’s not that bad. See for yourself. Go in the bleachers, make a friend. Maybe get some popcorn or something. Enjoy the show.” With that, he tapped the desk twice, got up, and disappeared into the dark hallway. Camille rubbed her forehead and took a deep breath before returning to the gym.
She ignored the hollering from the contestants, now standing in front of the podium her father was walking up to. He smiled into the crowd and waved his hands. Rosa was standing next to him with the same grin. The concession stand offered a variety of stale snacks and expired candy bars, making Camille pass on it. The bleachers were mostly empty so she chose a spot in the front row, close to the car. The small amount of onlookers seated behind her were cheering various names, shouting “you can do it!” and “come one, you got this!” loud enough for everyone to hear. Camille looked back at her father, who was done soaking up the attention. He adjusted the microphone to match his height before he spoke.
“Ha, alright, everybody. Let’s settle down. I know, I’m excited, too. Let’s settle down, now.” He nodded and looked at everyone’s signs, numbers one through twenty-one. “Now, before we start I need to say a couple things. First up, the rules. I know, boring. Let’s get through this quick. One hand on the vehicle at all times. This means your palm and all five fingers. No witching of the hands, no lifting fingers, no lifting palms, and yes- you will be monitored. Closely. No shoving, no pushing, no stepping on your neighbor’s feet. None of that. Let’s play nice.”
Camille rolled her eyes, and her father cleared his throat to make his next point clear.
“One car. Plus five-thousand dollars. One winner. Last man, or woman, ha, standing wins it all. Every three hours there’s a 15-minute break. This will surely test your physical stamina, mental fortitude, and primal grit. As you can see, we’ve got two medics just in case, so don’t be too frightened. Anyway, I wanna see some fierce competition.” He squinted as he looked on at everyone bouncing with anticipation. He then pointed to the bleachers and Camille got a nervous feeling.
“One last thing. In all my years of doing this, my family’s never come out. This year’s is gonna be special, though. My daughter, look how wonderful, came all the way to see me and to see how we do things. Let’s show her something she’ll never forget!” Camille’s face went red as she looked down at the wood floor, hoping to God everyone ignored this part of the speech.
“Alright, last minute-stretches.” Her father gripped both sides of the podium and started yelling out. “The 60-second countdown starts now! Hands better be on it when the buzzer sounds!”
The basketball scoreboard erupted back into life and started ticking down high above the podium. Everyone on the floor started shuffling and fighting for certain spots. At first, all the door handles were taken and seemed to be the ideal spot. The shirtless man and elderly woman stood beside each other at the front of the car as if they formed a union against everyone else. The man who had the Bible earlier still had it in his right hand as his left rested on the hood. A lanky teen who couldn’t have been older than sixteen had his hand slapped on the liscense plate, the only open spot that remained.
From afar, Camille cringed seeing how tight they were packed. She couldn’t imagine what the smell would be be in a couple hours, not even factoring in the gym’s humidity. The buzzer sounded off and the entire room fell silent for a couple seconds. Then immediate cheering came from behind Camille as she looked at her father dancing near the podium. One of the contestants was bellowing out “I’m winning, man, I’m winning!” Another responded with “Quit, junior, you got no chance.” A couple taunts later, Camille started regretting even coming down here in the first place. She noticed the scoreboard was now counting upwards. It was at two minutes, probably only a small fraction of how long the whole thing would end up being.
She then heard a loud sneeze come from the car’s direction and snapped her head to the scene. Everyone was facing a chubby man who was sweating more than anyone. Camille could feel the mood shift as if someone pulled a weapon or yelled out “fire!”
“He lifted his hand! When he sneezed!”
“Kick him out! Loser!”
“Judges!? He lifted his hand!”
Everyone touching the car was shouting at the chubby man, who was frantically looking around. They kept ganging up on him until Mr. Deers came closer, laughing. The man started stuttering.
“I just sneezed! I didn’t lift my hand! What is this?”
“Come on, now, I saw you, too.” Mr. Deers smirked and tilted his hat to see the face of the first person to lose. “Thanks for playing, sir.”
“Man, I don’t need this!” The man lifted both hands behind his head as he stormed off towards the exit. Laughter ensued from the remaining contestants, all enjoying the man’s walk of shame. Everyone except the man with the Bible started chanting “bye-bye, bye-bye!”
Camille felt the bleachers shift as a woman walked down, leading her kids out the gym. She could hear the mother telling her kids, “your father tried very hard, okay? You know how his allergies get.” This made Camill look down at her shoes in awkward embarrassment.
Once the contestants settled down, they began conversing and chuckling, making an actually pleasant scene. They seemed to be getting along, even cracking jokes with each other. Mr. Deers was chatting with Rosa, making gestures around the gym while eying the car.
Camille was about to get up to talk to him when a commotion started from the floor.
“I need to go now! Really, can we have our break now?” A young man, waddling back-in-forth in place had one hand raised with the other still on the car. “Please, it’s an emergency.”
“Shut up!” was the general response from the rest of the contestants. Mr. Deers walked over to investigate and shrugged when he heard the man out.
“It’s only been forty minutes, guy. No break for another two hours. You know the rules.” Camille didn’t see why her father couldn’t have the slightest sympathy for the man about to soil himself, but curiously watched on.
“Sir, I need to go. Can’t you understand-”
“It’s out of the question.” Mr. Deers’ smile faded and he started grinding his teeth.
“I’m gonna go right here if you don’t let me-”
“You piss your pants, I’m throwing you out myself.”
“FINE.” The man, blushing a deep red, turned away from the car and ran out, ignoring the chuckling from those still touching the car. Camille couldn’t finish watching him jog out of the room and instead focused on her father, now muttering and walking back to Rosa.
He had his back turned for long enough to miss out on the next dramatic occasion.
With a loud thud, the elderly woman fell to the floor and stayed there, unmoving. Everyone fell silent and looked down at her. Mr. Deers ran up and knelt beside her, whispering something close to her.
Another contestant, who was gripping the side-view mirror, jumped forward yelling out “I’m a doctor! I can help!” Mr. Deers barked out for him to give them space as some of the contestants started laughing.
“There’s already two medics here, stupid! You just lost!” The shirtless man was having trouble yelling this out as he giggled and knocked his head back. The man, now regretting his announcement, had his mouth open trying to realize what he had just done. His head fell and he was sniffling as he escorted himself out of the gym.
All attention returned to the elderly woman, now sitting up and rubbing her head. She held her glasses, which cracked in half, as she asked, “did I win?” The two medics held her arms and guided her out of the gym. Mr. Deers advised them to call someone to come get her. He then looked at the scoreboard. Only an hour passed.
“Alright, let’s keep it up! Who wants it the most?” He clapped his hands together and started circling around the car. Camille’s face held no expression as she tried to process what just happened. She shook it off, leaned back, and closed her eyes.
Two hours passed, with the occasional disqualification. Mr. Deers enjoying himself and dancing around kept Rosa entertained. While Camille got her shuteye, bleachers kept getting emptier with husbands, wives, and kids leaving once their contestant left. After enough exhausting attempts, many of the hopeful people had to let their hands go. Flies were buzzing around the concession stand, the medics were tapping their feet, and the few contestants that remained had either put their heads down or were slumped over. Altogether no one was talking.
Camille awoke at the third break, for no one could sleep through the blaring buzzer sound that signaled the break. She looked around to see the contestants collapse and finally enjoy the water bottles that were being handed to them. At this point, three people remained. Camille tried to look at the people around the car, lying down and beat, but the longer she gazed, the harder it became.
After the break was done, all the contestants stood up again and assumed their positions. Mr. Deers looked proudly at the spectacle, practically ready to crown a winner for this years contest.
For a solid twenty minutes, the only sound was the low humming of the overhead lights and the seconds getting added onto the timer. Camille looked around the bleachers and realized she was all alone. Maybe the contestants still here really had no one. Maybe that’s where their drive came from. Either way, Camille crossed her arms, awaiting for something, anything to happen.
That’s when the shirtless man’s head snapped over to the man with the Bible. Everyone still watching the contest felt like something was about to happen. Even Rosa and Mr. Deers stopped chatting and looked on. Without warning or caution, the shirtless man swatted the Bible out of the other man’s hand. It fell on the floor and made a deafening sound that made everyone wince. Its owner jumped after it with both hands and instantly picked it up again. After dusting it off, he looked at the aggressor then back at the Bible. He pocketed it then shoved the shirtless man. The two started scrapping on the floor, much to everyone’s surprise.
“Yout can’t push! You broke the rules!”
“You can’t touch my stuff! Not my Bible!”
“You get off!”
Camille’s mouth was open as she took everything in. Her father rushed over and separated them, raising his voice over both of them.
“Both of you! Gone! Out of here, you’re done.”
“But he pushed-”
“Consider it even. Both of you went too far. It’s my competition, and I say to leave. Escort them out!” He motioned for the medics to come over, but the two contestants were way ahead of him. They both trotted away, with grudges while muttering anger.
Mr. Deers looked at the car, then to the very last person touching it. A middle-aged woman with sweat stains all over her tank top and frizzled hair. She was wide-eyed and stared at her own hand. Her dried lips slowly cracked into a smile, revealing slightly yellow teeth. Her bloodshot eyes darted to Mr. Deers as she started fumbling her words.
“Win- did I, did win, sir? Did I, sir? I mean, did I win?”
“Yes, dear,” Mr. Deers replied. “Congratulations. You’ve fought very hard. You deserve this. Again, congratulations.”
“Are you sure? I really won?”
“Ha, yes. Jesus, you need rest. Rosa! Get over here, give her some water and sandwiches. A chair, too.” Mr. Deers looked at the winner as if she was family. “I’m proud of you.”
“Oh, my God. I can’t believe this,” she replied. She lifted her hand through shakes and sat on the floor. Then she spread out as Rosa came over with paperwork.
Camille got up and made eye contact with her dad. He waved her over and she followed. Mr. Deers sighed and pulled out his flask as they made their way into his office. The hallway was even darker than when they started ten hours. He let Camille enter the room first then shut the door. She sat in the same chair and her father settled into his desk and looked at his daughter.
“What did you think? Some show, huh?”
Camille was drumming her fingers on her arm. “Some show? I’m never coming back to one of these. That was sick. You saw how you hurt people.”
“Oh, Cami.” he leaned deeper into the leather. “It was a good contest. That was true, human sport you just saw.”
“It was humiliating. For everyone. People got hurt. They embarrassed themselves in font of their families. Just for your entertainment.”
Camille put her head in her hands then looked up at her father. “You take advantage of people. What did I just watch, I mean, Jesus-”
“Can I finish my point from earlier?” He looked at his daughter and cleared his throat. “There’s this African proverb. Comes from Ethiopia. It goes like this: A cattle is as good as the pasture in which it grazes.”