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Day Trader

You’re good at selling words.

Every morning you go to the market with the other girls and offer up a word or two to the man on the stall. By the time you leave you have a pocket full of money, enough to buy food to last a week for you and momma.

Momma doesn’t like you selling words. She says that a girl must look after her words since they need to last her whole life. But she is ugly and sick and how else will you pay the doctor’s bills? To spare her pain, you tell her that you have a job cleaning fish in the market and give the man at the fish stall a few coppers to let you rub your hands on the block he uses for scaling. You go home with your hands covered in little silver flakes and guts under your nails.

Right now you don’t notice the words that you’ve sold since there are always plenty of others to use. All your friends sell their words too and you make a game of it. You say the man behind the stall will give you more for your words if you smile at him or hitch your school skirt above your knees. 

You know the boys in your class are jealous that they can’t sell their words. A few of them have tried but the man at the stall always refuses. He says he’s only interested in buying the girls’ words. If the fathers hear their sons have been to the stall they come and shout at them, saying how will the boys get good jobs without their words, that selling words is women’s work anyway.

Every few months, the fathers come to the school to speak to the girls. They tell you that a good wife sells her words quickly, to show commitment to her husband. Everyone knows the girl with too many words will never find a man to love her. You tell momma this but she just laughs and says how did she get a husband then?  Momma is proud she never sold her words and she uses them often, savouring each one that passes her lips, like it’s a bite of something steaming and sweet. You wish she wouldn’t use them so much since you don’t like the way the fathers look when they hear her.

The fathers say that momma used her words to trick your daddy into marrying her and that when he realised he died of shame. Momma laughs at this too when you tell her. She says the fathers are old and stupid. You tell her she must be more careful with her words but she doesn’t listen.

Every year there is a day when the weddings happen, when the brides go to the market in their dresses to sell the words they have left. They walk there together, arm in arm. The grooms stride ahead, looking serious as they approach the man at the stall to discuss the price. Behind them the brides laugh and talk about how happy they will be not to have to carry so many words around. Their laughter is high and you can tell, even from a distance that they are nervous.

The price is agreed and the grooms shuffle off to let the sales take place. The brides nudge each other and giggle, suddenly shy of the man at the stall. Eventually one steps forward.

The grooms stand off to the side and watch the brides hungrily, thinking of the words they will use that night, words of persuasion and command they have learned from the fathers. The thought makes them smile. They have all the words they need and a lifetime to use them.

Dominic Reed is a 29 year old based in Glasgow. His fiction has been published in Thi Wurd and was shortlisted for the 2020 Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize.

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