Exchange Value Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Cooter and his brother Loftis break into the apartment of Elnora Bailey, an old black woman whose apartment is down their own hall. The woman has not been seen for a while, and although these two young men are not criminals by habit, they believe she will be an easy mark.

They find that Elnora, who is known around the neighborhood as a beggar, has been hoarding money and material things, including her own feces in coffee cans, for quite some time. They find her body, inflated in death, as well as close to $900,000 and additional wealth in the form of stocks and jewelry. They also discover many years’ worth of old junk, including, most disturbing to Cooter, three portions of a tree. An old issue of the Chicago Defender tells them that she inherited most of her wealth from a former employer for whom she had worked as a maid.

Cooter urges his brother to forget the money and leave the things where they are, fearing they could be cursed. After Loftis dismisses his fears, the two set about moving everything valuable to their apartment. While they wonder what they should do with their haul, Cooter takes some money and goes on a shopping spree, buying himself new clothes. When he returns, Loftis has changed the locks and rigged a booby trap to protect their new things from anyone who would try to take them.

Loftis is angry that Cooter has spent $250 on clothing and warns him not to spend any more money until he, Loftis, returns...

(The entire section is 405 words.)