A Fair Exchange by Len Kuntz

To make it work, she borrowed babies–blue ones with bloated cheeks and the rheumy eyes of old men. In the dressing rooms she crawled beneath the stall slits while customers examined themselves in mirrors, verbose salesclerks lurching over shoulders like bleach-blonde jack o’ lanterns.

The junk people carried around astonished her. She’d been taught to ignore it, just grab cash, but still their oddity had a perverse attraction, like the strong pull of pornography, and so she kept some items: a gold-plated nail file, an old-fashioned opal broach with a rusted clip, day glow condoms, a paring knife, one lone shotgun shell.

She always brought the babies back by dusk. The exchange was not dissimilar to summers when she’d unload gunny sacks of potatoes from her Uncle Ernie’s truck. Uncle Ernie with his Polish jokes, his ratchet laugh and carrot-thick fingers busy up inside her.

Now, one of the infants follows her movements as if it wants to be hypnotized.

“He likes you,” the mother or relative or whomever says.

The other babies blink and bawl at the sound of an adult voice somewhat happy.

“He don’t like me,” she says, angry now. “He’s starving. Don’t you ever feed these kids?”

The babies go still.

She takes the baggy filled with bindles. She can’t tell by their weight if it’s a fair exchange. Later when it’s cooked up and boiling in her veins, she’ll know for sure.

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11 Comments

Filed under Len Kuntz

11 responses to “A Fair Exchange by Len Kuntz

  1. argh! so much agony in this. good job!! :)

  2. Scary-strange, Len. Good one!

  3. Oh, this was a creepy one Len, but it left me wanting backstory and more story!!

  4. thanks, guys. this is actually a fairly true story. i appreciate your reading.

  5. Kim Hutchinson

    Very clever but scary girl. The babies are so sad. Strong story.

  6. Melissa

    “Uncle Ernie with his Polish jokes, his ratchet laugh and carrot-thick fingers busy up inside her.” — if I was reading this in a paperback, I would have underlined it.

  7. Kelly

    I like this, very much. And have read it several times now, to help me figure out why – it’s not sentimental, for one. So, a recognition of something real, an ebb and flow of a consciousness whose signposts are elusive. no moralizing, but not without a morality – one that subtly emerges from the painful harmony between character and setting.

  8. This is really sad, and so effectively crafted. Spare details, just the touch of dialogue, rare setting…they all add up to that Len Kuntz brilliance that makes me wish I wrote it.

  9. My God, so dark! Again, I could never write this, so again, I am awed that you are able to, and with such finesse and bleak, black honesty.

  10. What wonderful strangeness, and so extremely rich in the behavior and details. Babies with the rheumy eyes of old men – wow. The babies are mysterious. And, oh, uncle Ernie’s fingers are such a stealthy and deadly central fact. It’s head-shaking good, this story.

  11. Pingback: Week #40 – The money’s gone | 52|250 A Year of Flash

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