Don’t Win ‘The Raffle’

There’s a Raffle that’s been going on in my town ever since I was a little boy. They started doing it in the 90’s. People seemed to have a lot of opinions about it. Everyone’s always said it was stupid and they hated it. I think some of those people are lying. People say we should get rid of The Raffle but they never do anything to actually change it. It’s all a bunch of talk and no action. The Raffle’s been going on so long I was numb to it for a long time but I’m starting to feel some way about it again. I started to read between the lines and understand what was actually happening in our city. If you live here too, just be glad you haven’t won yet.

I think the best part about The Raffle originally was that it used to happen in secret. You had to be a resident–someone that lived in our town to know about it. Lately, people been coming in and finding out about The Raffle. I heard people in other towns know about our Raffle now. That’s not good. That could make them want to come here. Either that or they’ll think we’re crazy. I guess we don’t know any better round here. I’ve lived here over thirty years. I grew up with The Raffle. Lately I don’t know how I feel about it. It wouldn’t matter how I felt anyway. The city runs it now. They never used to. It’s like a game to them, I guess…? It’s a part of living here. It’s an honor to live here and it’s mostly a nice place. That’s why the town is growing. It’s been always growing and growing since I was born and we keep having more and more Raffles. I think we should get rid of it. What’s the point if so many people keep winning?

The Raffles are secret, and we’re not supposed to talk about them…but everybody knows. Even the people two or three towns over. I only talked to Dad about The Raffle once. I was 12. I learned my lesson real quick.

“At school today, teacher said we should get rid of The Raffle.” I began, “he says it’s not fair that the same people win over and over and since the town keeps getting bigger, more and more people are bound to lose.”

“Which class was that?” Dad asked me.


“That man should be fired, filling your head with such dumb notions.” Dad said, “the world ain’t fair son. Some people are born to win and some people are born to lose. The Raffle’s like that. It’s a lesson. The sooner you learn, the better.”

“Yea, but teacher said it don’t have to be that way.” I told him, “everyone can be equal. Everyone can have the same. Nobody has to be a winner if we’re all the same.”

“That’s a crock of shit. I’m calling your principal in the morning.”

Mr. Erickson didn’t lose his job, but he didn’t ever talk about The Raffle again. Dad didn’t talk about The Raffle again. I learned not to talk about The Raffle again.

This all started probably 30 years ago. I was just a baby. I don’t even remember the first Raffle. It used to be run by private citizens, but now everybody knows the city’s in charge of it. Well some people don’t think they are in charge of it. After what I’ve seen, even if they’re not hosting The Raffle, I’m certain the city has something to do with it. They don’t say they host it, but the city doesn’t condemn it either…that’s for sure. That’s why the same mayor keeps getting elected. He follows the rules just like everybody else. To borrow a phrase from a good book: “The first rule of The Raffle is you don’t talk about The Raffle”…we hear about it through gossip. Hope from downstairs will come up to our apartment, knocking on the door early in the morning…

“Hey Scott! Is your husband home? How’s the dog?” she’ll ask. She’ll make all the pleasantries before she comes out with it and gets to the point. “Did you hear they had The Raffle again last night?”

“Oh?” I’ll ask. “Did you win?” It’s a joke that isn’t funny.

Neither of us laugh.

“Hell no, you know I don’t go to those things…” She’ll say and trail off, “I did hear 9 people did win. So many losers. The whole thing’s bad.”

“I know,” I’ll say, “I had a teacher once that told me we shouldn’t be having these Raffles anymore. It’s bad for everybody. I don’t think he was from here. I never used to have an opinion about them, but they just keep having them and there’s too many winners.”

“Yea,” Hope will say, “do you know what I heard? I heard that the mayor’s doing the drawings now. He’s in charge of the whole thing, can you believe that?”

“If you said that 20 years ago, lady or not, my daddy would probably punch you in the mouth.” I’ll say. She’ll get a kick out of that one and laugh.

“It seems like we’re having one every couple weeks. Maybe one of these days I’ll figure out when they are and I’ll go to one.” She’ll say… But she won’t. Hope is an agoraphobe. She never leaves her house except to come up here and talk to me. She usually goes away as quick as she came.

I never used to have an opinion about The Raffles. I never did. I didn’t really think about them or care. Before last night I only came close to winning once. It was a few years ago at the community center. That time I found out I had left too early. I lost because I went home. I cried and cried.

They used to only have them in government buildings or churches. Impromptu. One of the regular people in the city would stand up. They’d look around and then call out “Raffle!” And start drawing names out of a hat.

Nobody ever even knew they had a hat with all the names in it… They’d just be there and here’s a man with a hat that knew you’d be here and you’d hold your breath until he drew out the names of the winners. The losers would leave dejected and sad.

I was at a Raffle last night. It made the news. I think the whole world’s going to know soon. I saw the mayor on television talking about how he didn’t support The Raffle anymore… But he’s lying. I know he’s lying. He doesn’t care about the Raffle at all. Not the winners or the losers. He’s a hateful, sour man. He’ll say whatever he thinks he needs to to get elected again…and we’ll do our part to forget what we know and place our ballots.

I was in the grocery store last night when I heard the call.

“RAFFLE!” a voice bellowed from the glass doors at the front. I turned just as they slid quietly closed behind him. The man had a hat in his hand and began calling out names. As he called the names, people came forward to claim their prize. I didn’t go up when he called me. I could see what the prize was in the reflection of the glass doors. He had it behind his back.

I didn’t want it.

I don’t think we should have these Raffles anymore. I didn’t want to win. Last time at the community center, I didn’t win because I left too early. This time he drew my name. Somebody had to win. Why should it be me? It wasn’t fair. The whole drawing was rigged and I was just trying to buy groceries, so I hid. I waited. I got away.

They say the mayor’s encouraging The Raffles. Today he’s on TV saying he’s not. I don’t know what to believe anymore. He started a press conference…

“In one voice, our city must condemn The Raffle.” He said. “It warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

What I don’t understand is that there were two Raffles in the past 24 hours. 31 people won at them. Here he is condemning them. It doesn’t make sense.

I left that grocery store because I could see the prize. I knew it wasn’t a good one. The man pulled out the hat and called the names. I’m so confused because the mayor is on television condemning The Raffle right now… But it was his voice that bellowed the opening call. He announced The Raffle through that grocery store last night. It was his voice that called the names. The prize was behind his back. He gave it out himself.

31 people won The Raffle in the last two days.

31 people won.

31 people.

How can there be so many winners? It doesn’t make sense. Why the fuck are we still having these Raffles? What’s the point if there are so many?

All the losers got to go home and hug their kids and cry and cry and thank God they weren’t picked.

When I was young, my teacher was right. I don’t know how to feel about it.

We should get rid of this stupid city drawing system. We should stop calling out names and stop having Raffles. There’s too many winners. It’s been going on for so long I stopped even noticing when The Raffles are being held. All I know is, Don’t Win The Raffle. The prize is a lie. Nobody actually wants it and if you win, you lose everything.

All those people who won were just buying groceries. It isn’t fair.

People don’t talk about The Raffle and people don’t talk about the winners. They just talk about where they were for the drawing, when the next one will be, and how well they knew the person drawing the names. Then we forget.

We forget everything.

I have to go now. There’s a knock at the door. It’s probably Hope from downstairs. She’ll ask about my husband and the dog and she’ll talk about yesterday and she might mention about going to the next Raffle…what it would be like…what she would do if they called her name…but she won’t ever go.

Like me, Hope is an agoraphobe. She doesn’t leave her house anymore.

She’s too afraid they might call her name and she’s too afraid she might win.

Inspired by Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

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