The company picnic was significantly worse after the budget cuts. Last year, they’d had a pavilion out in a big field, and there had been a lake, and hiking trails, and live music. For the kids, there had been two bouncy castles and a swing set.

And what did they have this year? A potluck in the middle of a parking lot. For the kids? There was a little tent where they were playing bingo.

“Bingo?” Howard repeated, his eyelids drooping.

“Bingo’s okay,” his daughter said. But it was obvious that it wasn’t okay. The company had over two hundred people, which meant fifty some children were attending the picnic, so not only did you have hundreds of people wandering around a parking lot, unsure of what to do with themselves, you also had children crammed under some sort of awning, playing bingo so close to each other that they couldn’t help their elbows from touching.

“Budget cuts, eh Howard?” Dalton said. “Boy, if only the old man hadn’t tried to sell our business to Russia, right? And just imagine if they hadn’t let Stevie go. He’d really liven up this party.”

“But bingo,” Howard said. His daughter had her arms crossed beside him, looking impatient already.

“Hey, my son’s in there,” Dalton said, pointing at the tent. Faintly, they could hear Susan, the morning secretary, reading off rows and columns while the kids scratched their pencils at their scorecard. “Give it a try,” Dalton said to Howard’s daughter. “It’s not so bad.”

Howard’s daughter kept pouting, but she said, “Okay, I’ll play.” She led Howard into the tent, with Dalton behind them.

“Red dinosaur!” Susan called out, looking at a scorecard of her own.

“Red dinosaur,” Howard muttered to himself. “What’s this about?”

Dalton explained, “The bingo set they found was for kids. Like, kid kids. Kids who haven’t learned to read yet.”

Howard looked over all of the children. The score cards had colors for columns, and animals for numbers. “It’s only supposed to be five letters and some numbers,” he said. “How young of kids are we talking?”

His daughter had already gone up to the front, grabbing a scorecard and squeezing herself in between Jeremy’s boy and Rebecca’s son.

Jeremy popped into the tent, snaking around the tables, going up to the front and whispering something to Susan.

Howard pointed at them. “Did he just slip her a five?” he asked Dalton.

Dalton snickered. “Better have been more than a five if he wants to win.”

“Win what?”

“Win bingo.”

As Jeremy retreated, Susan called, “Blue monkey!”

The children scratched their pencils at their scorecards.

“What do you mean, win bingo?” Howard whispered.

Dalton gestured at Susan. “There’s no way to pick squares at random, right? I’m sure this bingo set used to have, I dunno, cards, or dice, or something to help choose, but they couldn’t find it, I guess.”

Susan called, “Green fish!”

The children scratched their pencils at their scorecards.

Michael came into the tent, and he snaked around the tables, making his way to the front. He gave Susan something.

“Michael just gave her a ten,” Howard frowned.

Susan called, “Red horse!”

The children scratched their pencils at their scorecards.

As Michael weaved his way back to the end of the tent, his daughter gave him a smile, and he smiled back.

Susan called, “Blue cat!”

“Bingo!” Michael’s daughter called. The rest of the kids groaned.

Howard found his daughter in the crowd, and she gave him a look of utter disdain.

“What’s this about?” Howard asked Dalton.

“It’s like I was saying, there’s no way to pick random squares,” Dalton said. “So Susan’s got a copy of all the scorecards. Whoever buys the win, wins.”

Howard put his hands on his hips. “They’re paying off Susan?”

He’d said it too loudly, and Susan looked up at him. But she only smiled.

All of the kids were standing up, getting new scorecards, but Howard’s daughter was coming towards him. “Can you buy me a game, Dad?”

Howard fumbled, “I… Wha… Buy you a game? What do you mean?”

She crossed her arms and pouted again. “One of the girls said you had to buy the game to win.”

Howard pursed his lips. “I’m not going to buy a game. It’s silly to do a thing like that.”

“But Daaaaaad!”

“I’m not buying a game,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Dalton made a sound that might’ve been half a chuckle.

Susan called, “Is everybody ready?”

Howard’s daughter gave him a nasty look, and she hurried away to grab a new scorecard.

Dalton asked, “Why wouldn’t you buy her a game? You don’t expect her to just sit here and lose the whole afternoon, do you?”

Tabitha came into the tent. And then Paul. They were muttering to each other as they made their way to the front.

“We’ll start in a moment,” Susan told everybody, just as Howard’s daughter was finding her seat.

Paul passed Susan three dollars. A moment later, Tabitha gave her four. Paul didn’t look happy.

Susan studied the scorecards in front of her. “Uhhhh, yellow cat!”

The children scratched their pencils at their scorecards.

Just as Tabitha was about to squirm back out of the tent, Susan stopped her. “Which is your daughter?” she whispered.

Tabitha pointed.

Susan nodded, checking her scorecards again. “Yellow dinosaur!” she called.

Howard’s daughter turned to him, giving him a nasty look again.

“You’d better buy this one,” Dalton advised.

“This is insanity,” Howard grunted. “I won’t do it.”

Jamison came into the tent. As he went up to Susan, he threw a thumbs up to his son across the room. He gave her a ten. Susan hurried to sort through the scorecards.

Howard muttered, “I’m not paying over ten dollars for one game of bingo.”

“C’mon, it’s for your kid,” Dalton said.

Susan called out, “Green dog!”

Paul had squeezed back into the tent, and he was marching up to Susan with his wallet in his hand.

Dalton looked over the kids, his eyes landing on his son. “Hey, do you know if there’s an ATM around here?”

“Red bird!” Susan called.

Howard’s daughter was staring at him again. She was mouthing the word, “Please,” over and over again. “Please? Please? Please please please pleasepleaseplease?”

Paul had just given Susan four bills, and Howard hoped that it had only added up to thirteen.

“Blue flower!” Susan called out.

The children scratched their pencils at their scorecards. Howard’s daughter was rolling her eyes and groaning.

Howard whispered to Dalton, “There must be something else for the kids to do besides bingo. There must be.”

Dalton was amused. “We’re in a big parking lot in the middle of nowhere. You gonna teach your daughter to drive doughnuts?”

“I could… draw up some hopscotch,” Howard tried desperately.

William came into the tent, and he walked up to Susan with a twenty in his hand.

“Red cow!” Susan called out, just after consulting the scorecards.

Howard’s daughter was staring at him again. All he could do was give her a weak smile.

“Yellow horse!” Susan called.

“Bingo!” William’s son screamed.

Howard’s daughter was squirming in her seat, bumping elbows with the kids next to her. “Please please please,” she was mouthing again.

The kids were all standing to get new scorecards.

With a sigh, Howard took out his wallet.




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