Some Things the Free Market Will Bear


1. The three youngest strawberry pickers at the farm in Burlington speak only Spanish, and only to each other. They are sisters: six, seven, and nine. One day a thirty-one-year-old man, who has paced them for half a mile on an empty stretch between the farm and the suburb where their mother is cleaning someone else’s house, walks up behind them and takes the nine-year-old by the arm, quietly, but not quietly enough. The six-year-old and the seven-year-old are on him like rabid dogs, sinking teeth and nails into his fatty calves under the hem of his cargo shorts and hitting him in the crotch with their whole weight behind closed fists. They do not waste time with body blows and when he falls to the ground like a huge tree, they kick him several more times in soft places and the face. They have had to do this many times before.

2. It’s the third report he’s read today. Each one has been in a different business section in a different national newspaper. Each one lists different injuries to different people. He feels sick. He told his supervisor the plans to streamline the ignition switch so that the supply chain didn’t lean as heavily on Korean parts had problems. He was asked to submit the report again and clean it up, and he refused. He got transferred to a different division and now basically just enters data, day after day, hour after hour. His new supervisor is lazy and occasionally inserts mistakes and then blames those mistakes on him. He can’t quit. He has nowhere to go. He reads the story again. He goes into the bathroom and throws up.

3. She just stopped having sex with her husband, eventually. He tries romancing her halfheartedly every now and then, but he gets it. Sometimes they just kiss for a few minutes after the kids are in bed but she can tell it’s frustrating being like a scared teenager who can’t get pregnant, or else, again. He’s allergic to latex and hormones make her depressed. More depressed. IUDs are out of the question. If she gets pregnant again, she’ll lose six week’s wages and the family’s ten percent discount at the store, which they depend upon for groceries, diapers and soap.

4. Thursday afternoon her mother died. She heard details, a lot of details, from her boyfriend, who was grinning the entire time. She doesn’t like her boyfriend at all, but if this city is a bad place for women, it is a worse place for single women, and so she keeps her boyfriend the way you would keep a badly-made gun under your bed. He loves to tell her he will kill anyone who hurts her, and so she had better be good to him. Her brother, who lives far away now, is involved in some kind of a socialist group of nerds who read too many comic books and break into government computers for fun; this time they found the name of a cop who has protection on this side of the border, and so a message needed to be sent, so that the little white bags are moved smoothly and without interruption, and a woman was murdered publicly and in a shameful way. It is regrettable but neither the American courts nor the Mexican courts regulate this kind of commerce so the threat of violence is the only effective deterrent. She is very careful to think always in the passive voice.

5. She lives in a small bedroom with no windows in a house in Queens. She speaks only Russian. She has access to food, and water, and makeup, and some lacy clothes. She has no idea whether it is nighttime or daytime.

6. The cat hasn’t been fed anything besides bread in more than a week, and there are birds and maybe some field mice outside. It’s never been outside, but she can’t bear to bring it to the shelter, which kills the animals after two weeks. Sometimes less. She used to volunteer there, before the accident. She wheels herself over and opens the door and lets it out and pretends not to hear it asking to be let back in, confused.

7. The whole block is being demolished to make room for the stadium. The barber shop was his dad’s before him. They had a huge party to close the place down, and he told his friends he’d catch up with them next week. Everybody’s stumbling home. He’s just sitting there now, drunk, in the dark, with his scissors.

8. He knows 13 people in the cell block from his high school class. On the front of the building is a picture of the world.

—SBT, Sept. 1 (Labor Day), 2014

Illustration: La Era (The Threshing Floor), Diego Rivera, 1904.

Author: samthielman

Sam Thielman is a reporter and critic based in Brooklyn, New York. His blog is, his twitter handle is @samthielman, and if you can't find him you should check The Strand.

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