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A Fair Trade
About the Author: Ben Orlando has published fiction in various magazines and journals, including the Bellevue Literary Review, and he was recently a finalist for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award. He teaches writing a George Mason University.

Marcie’s spooked. She thinks they’re coming after us.

She sat across from me this morning picking Cheerios out of her milk one at a time, about to say what she said every morning.

“Of course they’re coming after us,” I said before she could mumble the words. “But they don’t know who ‘us’ is. You know that.”

I sucked the runny eggs off my spoon and tried to meet her eyes but she’d already dropped her head and a curtain of auburn hung between us. She used to dye it red like this at Berkeley, before we dropped out.

I should have let her make the eggs but I wanted her to sleep. She only sleeps with pills and we ran out three days ago. And she doesn’t want to get more. Says it’s not natural. So we lie in the dark staring at the ceiling pretending we’re asleep, knowing the other is awake.

At the table I tapped her bowl. “Hey.”

She looked up because everything makes her look up. Everything makes her jump.

“They don’t have a clue,” I told her.

“Maybe they do.”

“They don’t.”

Marcie’s hair fell back into her face. She shrugged. It was the kind of shrug that makes my hands want to throw something at the wall. 


Leaving the house this morning I tried not to catch sight of Marcie daydreaming her way towards the garage. I knew she was thinking about Joseph Kohls or Stevie Langmire. When she looks at me likes it my fault, that’s when it’s Stevie, and that’s when I see a squirming four-year-old wriggle off my shoulder and jump in front of a minivan. I can close my eyes, try to stop the image but I still hear the crack of his little head against the pavement.

The memories aren’t enough. She has to punish me in other ways now.

This morning when she followed me to the Whirlin’ Waters Adventure Park she stayed five cars back instead of the normal three. And she ignored my calls.

I know she wants this to end and I don’t want to scream at her, “It is the end! Number sixteen, we’re here!” We have just this one more job to complete but she doesn’t even want to do that.

And she knows about this last job, how I feel about it, how I feel about him. “We’re so close,” I said this morning before we left the house. But Marcie acted as if she didn’t hear me.

Number sixteen is Tom Jarvis, a senior-ranking senator from South Carolina. He has lived within a fifty-mile radius of North Charleston his entire life. In 1993 he bought a house. He’s been eating three eggs over-easy, two pieces of rye toast, three slabs of bacon, and one coffee with one creamer on the same covered porch every day for the last twenty-three years. No matter what health experts say about egg yolks or coffee or bacon I know that Tom Jarvis will be eating the same breakfast on that same back porch until the day he drops dead from a heart-clogged seizure.

An ex-preacher, Jarvis believes in upholding American values as he sees them. He believes in strengthening sodomy laws. He believes that police need more money and more tanks. He believes that crack cocaine laws are too lenient. He believes that flag burners should be harshly punished and that affirmative action from the start was going too far. Tom Jarvis is a forty-six-year-old, barrel-chested African American man who scored big among aging white males but drew a meager three to eight percent of the African American vote during each of his four elections. Tens of thousands of South Carolinians came out to bankroll and canvas for Senator Jarvis because he stands for the unbending, sacred laws of his patriotic slave-owning forefathers, and if Senator Tom Jarvis died by assassination his adoring hoard would rally around the man’s corpse. They’d lift his body above their heads and proclaim a national day of mourning. And then they’d all pump a round into the chamber.

Even if I believed in murder as a strategy I wouldn’t kill Tom Jarvis. Death for him, for any of the thousands of men and women like him, is never the answer. The answer is amputation.

This story appears in our MAR2017 Issue
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