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Fiction

The Trade

Art, cowardice, and the consequences of going bald.

Scott Redner pursued, wooed, and married Zelda Krinsky because his name was Scott and her name was Zelda. After they wed, Scott became an uncommitted alcoholic and forgot everything he knew about cars.

Scott’s ambition was to be a fiction writer — and he was — but he made no money from his stories and so concluded that he couldn’t escape his family’s antique business. Scott’s father knew his ambition and called his son a fool every day. Zelda told her husband to walk away every day, but Scott cowered in the face of generational obligation.

One day, while Scott was folding some towels at home, he came to a realization.

“I don’t even like gin and I used to know a lot about cars,” he told Zelda, “and also my hair on the top has gotten really thin.”

“This is why you pulled me out of my studio?” Zelda asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Scott frowned. “About my hair? How have you not noticed this?”

“I did notice it,” Zelda replied, “but I don’t care.”

“You’re beautiful when you’re covered in paint,” Scott smiled. “I don’t have that. I don’t emerge from my office covered in ink or smeared with graphite. I’m not speckled with words after I write a story. I don’t get soiled by my art.”

“Scott, just do it already,” Zelda begged. “We have enough saved up. My last show killed. The upcoming one… I have three pieces pre-sold. Walk away from your father and that warehouse full of garbage.”

“Ha!” Scott laughed. “I get soiled from that. You know I’m an antique dealer when I come home covered in decades worth of dust from whatever basement or attic I was crawling in.”

“That’s not an art,” Zelda said, “and you’re not beautiful when you’re covered in dead people’s dust.”

Scott sighed and ran his hand over the top of his head, “That’s really getting thin.”

Zelda returned to her studio. Scott grabbed the basket of folded towels and brought them to the bathroom. He put them away and then inspected his hair in the mirror. It was thick enough on the sides and the back of his head, but his scalp could suffer a sunburn should he neglect to wear a hat.

“Ridiculous,” Scott told his reflection. “It’s the difference between going mad and being mad.”

So Scott shaved his head.

When he finished he charged into Zelda’s studio. “There!” he yelled over the music.

Zelda leaped from her stool and dropped her brush and pallet. She paused the track. She turned and faced her husband and gasped, “What did you do?”

“I rescued myself from semantics,” Scott said.

Zelda moved to him and ran her hands over his bare head. “I don’t like it,” she said.

“No,” Scott said, “but acceptance is not the same as approval. I understand that now and I’m sorry for it.”

Zelda kissed him. “I guess it’s not so bad. I can get used to it.”

“Oh, you’re going to have to,” Scott insisted. “This is liberating. But I’m trading this for something. You get paid.”

“What are you talking about?” Zelda laughed.

“I’m going to burn down the warehouse and all that old garbage with it.”

Zelda laughed again.

“I’m serious,” Scott nodded.

Zelda stopped laughing and returned to her stool. Behind her was a work in progress: a portrait about to take shape and declare itself.

“Do you want help?” Zelda asked.

Scott held out his hand, “I’m finally ready to say ‘yes’ to that question.”

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