by Anthony Varallo
I don’t remember much about the blanket. It was one of those handmade kinds you sometimes see in older people’s homes, slung atop the back of a sofa, or folded at the foot of a bed. It was blue and gold, possibly fringed. Patterns might have played a role. Or not. Like I said, I don’t remember much about it. If you were looking at a photograph of the blanket right now and asking me questions about it, you would probably conclude that I hardly remembered anything at all about the blanket. And you’d be a little bit right. But you’d also be a little bit wrong, too.
Because I remember I was nine years old when I first saw the blanket. My mother had taken me to our annual church bazaar, held in the church basement, rows and rows of tables fitted out with arts and crafts items, holiday wreaths and poinsettias. I didn’t want to go the church bazaar. What nine-year-old wants to go to a church bazaar? I must have complained enough that my mom, in a rare moment of acquiescence, gave me a dollar and told me to look around. Maybe there was something I would like? Maybe not for me, but for someone else? Christmas was just around the corner, after all.
I wandered the bazaar for a while, the dollar in my pocket. Table after table of things I didn’t want, couldn’t possibly want, ever. Tea cozies and pot holders. Decorative planters. Tissue box covers shaped like cats and dogs. Nativity sets fashioned from clothespins and Popsicle sticks. I stopped at each table and feigned interest for a while, pleased by how much interest the kindly people sitting at each table seemed to take in my presence. Here’s a nice boy with a bright future, I imagined these people thinking, as I admired a paper towel tube pencil holder. If only there were more young people like him!
The blanket was spread across an entire table; I remember that. All the better to admire its needlework or stitching or embroidery or whatever. I clasped my hands behind my back as I stood before it, as if the blanket were a museum piece cordoned off with heavy ropes. The person behind the table told me about the blanket. How I could buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win it. The lucky winner would be announced at the end of the bazaar. Maybe my parents would like to buy a ticket? I nodded, then reached into my pocket and produced the dollar bill.
“One ticket, please,” I said.
The person behind the table gave me a look, then handed me one half of a ticket. KEEP THIS COUPON, the ticket read. Beneath, a number that I immediately knew was lucky, special.
For the rest of the bazaar, I imagined the moment the announcer would call that number. Heads would turn. Who had the winning ticket? And then I would clear my throat and say that I did, even though I wouldn’t say it loud enough to call attention to myself. Only the people around me, whoever they happened to be, would hear. Over here! these people would say. This young boy has the winning ticket! And then I would sheepishly walk toward the announcer, head down, uncertain, clutching the winning ticket in my hand, as the crowd parted in front of me, and I would feel everyone’s collective thought settling around me, as warm and comforting as if they’d placed the blanket across my shoulders: It is good and right that, of all the people who might have won this exceptional blanket, fate has chosen this young boy to be the winner.
But I didn’t win. Someone else had the winning ticket. I stood with my mother and watched as an older lady claimed my prize. People applauded and cheered. The older lady smiled. I crumpled my ticket into a tiny ball.
That was a long time ago. I can’t say that I think about that blanket much, or ever, really. The blanket isn’t something the means anything to me in significant way. Except that sometimes, if I’ve had a long or difficult day, or something just feels wrong or a little off, and I feel that kind of discontent I now feel more often than I used to, I’ll think, Now, what is it that’s got me down? And sometimes it isn’t even until later, usually when I’ve turned off my bedside lamp—but not my thoughts—that it will just sort of hit me. Oh, right, I’ll think, the blanket.
Anthony Varallo is the author of a novel, The Lines (University of Iowa Press), as well as four short story collections. New work is out or forthcoming in The New Yorker “Daily Shouts,” STORY, Chicago Quarterly Review, One Story, and The Best Small Fictions 2020. He is a Professor of English at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, where he is the Fiction Editor of Crazyhorse. Follow him at @TheLines1979 or www.anthonyvarallo.com
Photo: Mitchell Luo/Unsplash