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        We went to the swap meet intending, for the first time, to trade. We had been every summer but just to window-shop the maladies as it were—there are no windows in a traveling swap meet. This time, I had a purpose and I hoped to find someone who wanted what we had and had what we wanted.

        Ffiona held onto my arm as we made our way through the crowd. The swap meet was held just twice a year and attracted traders and people from miles around. Ffiona’s trembling was worse in stressful situations and all these people pushing past us was certainly stressful. They weren’t just moving past. Many—most—were examining the crowd as much as the market stalls, trying to guess what these people might be trading. I watched them eye Ffiona and look away—the trembling was not desirable. 

        My sister had been so healthy, the healthiest one in the family. Our mother was dead, gone years ago, and our father suffered from heart disease. It was managed and he still worked at his welding shop, still lifted steel beams and lit up the shop with his welding gun. He was never interested in the swap meet. “I got what I got and I’ll keep it that way,” he said, which was a long sentence for him. 

        If he was disappointed that he had two daughters and no sons, he never said so. Maybe the sentence would be too long but, seriously, he just taught us how to weld. I was good at it. Ffiona turned out to be better as a business manager. She met the clients, gave the quotes, prepared invoices, and hounded people until they paid. Customers would say they liked the way Ffiona reminded them, that she was quiet and polite and even quite sweet. They never felt chastised but they always paid up as soon as they could. Ffiona made allowances for brief hard times, yet we were always in the black, fully funded and never worried about how to pay our bills. 

        “Ceridwen, you're so good too, as a welder,” customers would say to me. I specialized in the smaller, more artsy jobs: ornamental gates, stair railings, spiral staircases which were tremendously popular in our town. 

        Craftsville was filled with two-story houses and really they were three stories because the houses were all built on sturdy stilts. Deep snow in winter and deep flooding in the spring and we couldn’t all evacuate half of every year thus the stilts. Metal spiral staircases withstood the snow and rain and added a flair to the house next to the substantial octagonal stilts. 

        The swap meet was held at the beginning of summer and the end of summer, missing the difficult times. When Dad had his heart attack, we urged him to go to the swap meet and see about trading. “No one wants this,” he said and the matter was closed. He took medications suggested by the town herbalist and ate a healthy diet. He was not suffering. 

        I have low blood pressure. It makes it hard for me to stand still for long periods of time and I am quite adept at doing my welding work while sitting on a stool. There was no need for me to swap that for anything else. Sure, it made me tired in the afternoons and I had to sit with my feet up before it was my turn to make dinner. Long evenings reading or listening to stories on the radio were relaxing and made me forget my lightheadedness; it just wasn’t a big deal. 

        Then, in the middle of last winter, Ffiona had trouble holding a pen. She could grasp it but when she tried to write, her hand shook so much that she couldn’t control her fingers; the pen would bounce all over and eventually jump out of her hand. This continued through the winter. We consulted the Oxport Book of Maladies and found three possible diagnoses but, unfortunately, not one of them had cures or even relief from symptoms. And two of them specified that the tremors would get worse and spread throughout a person’s body. One was ultimately fatal. There was no way to know what kind Ffiona had. 

        “You’ll have to do the writing, Ceridwen,” she told me. “I’ll tell you what to write but you have to write it all.” This was obvious as spring came along and it became impossible for her to write at all. Eating was difficult too but she could manage to get food on a spoon and get it to her mouth; the movement wasn’t as fine-tuned as writing was. 

All spring we debated about the swap meet, until Dad had enough. 

        “That’s all you talk about,” he complained one night during dinner. He was right, we did talk about it constantly and in fact just before he said that we had gone over the same argument three times trying to convince each other of our point of view. Ffiona was convinced that it was a waste of time and no one would want her tremors and there was nothing she wanted in trade. 

        “What could I possibly get?” she said.” I'd rather have what I know and know how to deal with it.” 

        “What if we both trade?” I would argue. “Maybe together we can find you something worthwhile and find someone who will take the tremors, with my issues as a bonus.”

        Dad said, “The more you try to fix something the worse it gets.” 

        We knew this was his philosophy; he didn't really even need to tell us. Even in welding, if he or I made a mistake, he would show how trying to fix it just led to frustration. So what was the use; the thing to do was to just immediately start over again.

        So, summer came upon us and Ffiona and I went to the first swap meet. We looked more carefully than we normally did, examining the different conditions on offer. I pointed out a paraplegic offering. Not very many people would want to be paralyzed from the waist down and lose the use of their legs but we could make it work for Ffiona. She sat at a desk doing paperwork anyway. Ffiona did not think that was a good idea. I noticed so very many stalls with high-blood-pressure people looking to even their blood pressure out by negotiating with a low-blood-pressure person—a half-and-half trade. That would be me, and it seemed like I was the only one who could offer such a thing. I could be in high demand and even mobbed if they knew my condition. But I held back because I wanted to negotiate my condition in tandem with Ffiona’s. 

         At one booth, where I stopped while Ffiona admired the flowers for sale at the next booth, the vendor suggested a deal. I would sell all my low blood pressure. He could sell half to two people and then I would get half of each of their high blood pressure. So while they would come out with normal healthy blood pressure, I would have traded and ended up with high blood pressure. For that, this vendor would take Ffiona’s tremors. He would keep it in storage because as he said, “You never know what someone might want.” Then, Ffiona could choose a condition from his low-priced selection, or go without. 

        “Going without is deadly,” I said. 

        He said, “Well it leaves a void. We don’t really know the full effect of having a void.” I did. That was how our mother died and I was startled and annoyed that this vendor would even suggest it. Surely, he knew of the danger. I decided that he was untrustworthy and so I walked away. Also, getting high blood pressure from two sources could result in sky-high blood pressure; the halves were not necessarily accurate. I wanted to save my sister but I didn’t want to die doing it. We examined the entire swap meet and while I saw some possibilities, Ffiona saw none. We went home. I was disappointed. Ffiona was relieved. So was Dad when we reported back. 

        I spent the summer not discussing my ideas with Ffiona, but my brain roiled with solutions and problems and awful outcomes. Our mother had a truly horrible case of endometriosis that flared painfully after Ffiona’s birth. The pain was debilitating. Without telling Dad, she went to the first swap meet she could get to and found someone who would take her condition if she paid him and offered her nothing in return. She should have negotiated. Headaches, stomach issues, muscle weakness, some small manageable thing. But she was in so much pain and so glad to find someone to take it from her that she did not negotiate. She left the swap meet with a void. It turns out you can live only a few weeks with a void. The empty space inside you invades the organs, swallows them up until they are part of the void. The last three weeks of her life were spent in bed, slowly shutting down. To her credit, she told me and Dad what she had done and warned us never to do the same thing. Ffiona, poor thing, grew up never knowing her mother. I was eight years old and took over the care of the infant, with the occasional help of an aunt who lived far away and a neighbor woman who lived nearby. No, it was an obvious death sentence and no one was going to suggest it as an alternative for Ffiona. 

        The welding business changed. There was almost no new construction and Dad wandered around the shop, cleaning and rearranging. I was busier than ever. The new fad was fancy wrought iron decorations applied to the plain stilts. I had a creative skill in designing floral or geometric shapes and I had more work than I could handle. Dad had no creative skill but if I gave him clear instructions, he could fabricate the decorations beautifully. We also took care of all the paperwork, following Ffiona’s guidance. However, Ffiona got worse. 

        Throughout the summer, her trembling became so pronounced she needed help eating. Getting food from the plate to her mouth was impossible. Dad and I took turns feeding Ffiona. I watched Ffiona try to hide her agony but often heard her crying in her room. I was determined that at the upcoming swap meet, I would find the solution. I didn't say anything to Ffiona or Dad but I kept thinking about the best possible outcome. Finally, with the swap meet just days away, I told Ffiona and Dad about my plan. 

        Ffiona said, “No. No way.” 

        “It's the only way,” I said. “Dad, back me up. We can't let her go on like this, we have to do something.” 

        “There's something I do want,” Ffiona said. “The void. If you can get me the void I would be so appreciative. That's what I want, that's all I want.” 

        “I understand,” Dad said, leaving both of us to wonder which one of us he understood. 

        “The swap meet lasts for three days,” I said. “We'll try for two days, we'll negotiate with everybody and on the third day if nothing comes up, then we will negotiate for a void.” I hated saying that and I was determined that I would find a solution before that became the possibility, the only possibility. 

        The end-of-summer swap meet was bigger than ever. So very many booths crammed into the town square. In my head, I divided the swap meet in half. I would talk to every vendor on the south and west sides the first day and on the north and east sides the second day. And, against my own wishes, I would keep an ear out for any vendor willing to offer the void. Dad and Ffiona trailed after me for a time but Ffiona got tired physically and grew tired mentally as she listened to vendors answer my queries with disgust. Eventually, they went off to the food vendors in the alleys and left me on my own. Without Ffiona there to demonstrate how bad her trembling was, I almost had a few offers. But as always, more direct questioning brought more detailed explanations and I had no luck on the south side. I stopped to get something to eat, looking in three alleys before I found my family. 

        They were easy to spot; Ffiona’s trembling was so pronounced that people steered clear of her and the table she and Dad were at. I grabbed a tofu wrap and a corn-on-the-cob and joined them. 

“Any luck?” Dad asked, although with a resigned sigh as if he knew I did not have any luck. I shook my head. 

        “Still have the west side to ask after I eat.” 

        “We’ll go home,” Dad said, leaning his head toward Ffiona who tried to hold in her tears but not very successfully. I could have gone with them. My afternoon with the vendors on the west went horribly bad; the rumors had already run through the vendors’ gossipy network and some of them waved me away before I even started. I knew tomorrow would be worse but I had to try. Tomorrow I would pull out the prize—my own low blood pressure which I had kept a secret. It just might entice some vendor to take on Ffiona’s trembling. 

        I was surprised the next morning when Dad and Fiona made themselves ready to come with me; I was sure they would skip the second day of the swap meet. We all walked into town, my brain churning, hoping I could find a solution before Ffiona’s solution on Friday. I started talking to vendors on the north side of the swap meet while Dad and Ffiona excused themselves and went away. Of course, these vendors had heard all about my request from the other vendors yesterday and said no before I even opened my mouth. Halfway through the north side, I found a vendor who was polite enough to listen to my plea. She graciously turned me down, putting her hand on mine with a touch that reminded me of my mother. I felt safe with her so I leaned in and told her that I had low blood pressure and would consider changing half of it with someone who had high blood pressure. She perked up and said she had the perfect person. Her own daughter. Her daughter was in her late teens and suffered from high blood pressure but not debilitating like some people had. She said it would be a good trade, the amount of high blood pressure I would get would put me in a normal range and I wouldn't be suffering. Best of all, her daughter would be put in a normal range and she would no longer be suffering. I said I would agree to it if she could come up with something to do about Ffiona’s trembling. 

        She said, “I will buy it off her and give her something else that I have lying around and could not get another customer for.” 

        “What would that be,” I asked. 

        She glanced over at her record book and said, “Most likely it would be cancer. I have a couple possibilities, some with longer life expectancies than others. But nobody wanted any of them so I might as well trade trembling for one of the cancers.” 

        “Let me talk it over with my sister and then I will happily share my low blood pressure with your daughter.” We shook on the deal and I went off to find Dad and Ffiona. I walked the whole swap meet, and I looked down every alley but did not see them anywhere. I wondered if they decided to go home but they would have told me. Then a vendor I talked to the day before from the west side waved me over. 

        “You’re looking for your sister,” he said, “the one that trembles.” 

        I said yes. 

        “They're in the big tent,” he said. He pointed as if I didn't know where the big tent was. The big tent was the place where the transfers were made. I panicked. Did Ffiona decide to go ahead with the void now? I hurried over to the big tent, making my way through the crowd and came to the entry. The guard at the door refused to let me in. 

        “Only traders and their vendors can go in. If you know someone in here, you have to wait till they come out.” 

I paced. I would have ranted aloud if there weren't so many people around. Finally, after another hour went by, Ffiona and Dad came out of the big tent. And then I realized what had happened. Dad was trembling even worse than Ffiona had been. 

        And Ffiona was smiling. She came to me and said, “I have Dad's heart disease, but I have a long life expectancy even with the disease. Just as Dad did.” 

        On the final day of the swap meet, I left Ffiona to care for Dad, who was failing rapidly, and went by myself to make that blood pressure trade. It didn't take long and I immediately felt that I had more energy. I came back home to find Dad deeply asleep and Ffiona digging into all the paperwork, fixing whatever I had done that wasn't quite right. She was so very happy.

Swap Meet

Amy Jones Sedivy

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