Volume 4 Number 2


Spring 2005

The Trade-In

by Joanne Comito

She helped Marcus up the stairs leading into the huge amphitheater. Long ago they'd gotten rid of all the wheelchair ramps. He leaned heavily on her arm for support. She gazed at him as he placed each foot so carefully, got his balance, placed his other foot. She loved each crease, each white hair, each brown spot that dotted his face and hands. Age spots, they used to call them. She loved how he didn't give up, even now, and she had to take a deep breath to steady her nerves as they reached the top and stood before the cavernous opening.

"Good Lord," he said in astonishment. He looked at her and his eyebrows rose, half surprised, half amused. "It's worse than we thought."

"I didn't want to tell you..." Her voice trailed off. "I didn't want you to know. That I'd done it."

"Monkey," he said affectionately. "How could I not know? Look at you!"

"I know you know," she clarified. "I just didn't want you to know I went through with it after seeing all this." She swept an arm around the room.

They noticed now that people were staring at them. One woman, blonde and fit with a clipboard, stepped forward. "You must be Mr. Wilson," she said briskly. "We're ready for you, sir. Come with me."

She set off, Marcus and Dorothy trailing behind. Everywhere they looked there were booths with beautiful young men and women calling out slogans and alluring advertisements. We can give you longer warranties, stronger muscles, shinier teeth, blonder hair. Ready for a new model? We'll give you a deal on early trade-in!

Marcus paused to read one of the signs: "No Babies! No Old Age! Do Your Duty for the Continuation of the Species!" He snorted and shook his head as Dorothy pulled at his arm.

"Don't start, Marcus," she warned.

A lovely redhead at one of the booths called out to him. "You should be ashamed!"

Marcus stepped away from Dorothy and approached the woman. "I should be ashamed? Me?" He laughed bitterly. "Young lady, I am not one of those responsible for the destruction of our natural environment, the end of our ability to reproduce as nature intended, or this sham!" He gestured around him. "This scheme that forces us all to live forever!" He pointed a finger at her now, ignoring the hisses and angry comments around him. "Those so called leaders are the ones who should be ashamed!"

Dorothy pulled at him now; the blonde with the clipboard had come back for them, an impatient look on her unlined face.

It was an effort, moving through the crowd. It had grown and swelled as people spread the word and everyone wanted their look. They pushed and shoved, their lean, perfect bodies tight with curiosity, their hard eyes staring.

Marcus began slowing down as the booths and people crowded in on him. "They're all the same," he murmured. "Everyone looks so much the same."

He had come to appeal the decision. In earlier times, he had managed it through a contact, but now that was impossible. The board had decided it was time that Marcus quit delaying the inevitable. Dorothy knew they would not hear his appeal. She knew it was a matter of hours before the white hair, the deepening wrinkles, the pale watery blue of his eyes were replaced with one of the youthful, perfect models that surrounded them.

"Marcus," she said, in a strangled tone, as they approached the Board Room.

"Yes?" He stopped to take a breath, a small bead of sweat trickling down his temple. Gently, she wiped it away.

"I have something to tell you."

"What is it, Monkey?"

A gust of emotion stopped her words. The blonde woman swiveled, coming back towards them.

"Sir," she said, "we must hurry. The trade-in technician is waiting."

"Technician? No, no. I'm here to appeal, young lady. Ask my wife. She called and set up the appointment."

Dorothy couldn't look at him.

"I'm sorry, Marcus," she whispered. "I couldn't let you ... leave me. I just couldn't." Her eyes met his for a moment. "What would I do without you?"

He stared at her.

"It's forever, Marcus. You can't just die and leave me here." She swallowed. "Alone."

She watched as they led him away, his old legs bowed and stumbling. He looked back at her once, his eyes blank as if staring at a stranger. Dorothy sat and waited for hours, the noise in the amphitheater fading to nothing. The booths were silent now; the only people left were those assigned to scrubbing the floors or throwing away the mounds of trash.

Dorothy never saw Marcus leave. And how would she know, she slowly realized, unless he came for her? There was nothing now to set him apart.