By Michael G. Glab
— Thirty-two —
Anna feels queasy. Funny thing is, so does Anthony. It’s a few minutes past eleven. Anna has turned the TV off and on a half dozen times already in the half hour or so since the news ended. She can’t decide whether to stay right where she is and let the little waves of nausea pass or get up and go kneel over the toilet.
Anthony, on the other hand, knows precisely what to do to combat his unsettled stomach. He learned all about it during Yippie!’s self-defense training sessions in Lincoln Park. He ties a water-soaked bandanna over his nose and mouth. He rather likes the idea; it makes him look like an outlaw.
Anna picks up the months-old copy of TV Guide and thumbs through it. A few seconds later, she tosses it across the room.
Anthony dips his fingers into a jar of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly being passed around by some hippie chick wearing a nurse’s cap with a peace sign button pinned to it. He rubs the jelly on his exposed facial skin. It reminds him of the time some ten years ago in his mother’s kitchen when he tried to reach into the pot where rigatoni was boiling. He was famished from playing baseball all afternoon out in the alley with his pals. He’d been Ernie Banks that day. He has to laugh right now. Even then he was a radical. He was the only kid on the block who wanted to be one of the Negroes on the Cubs. Anyway, he’d reached into the potful of boiling water with the wooden spoon and accidentally flipped a piece of pasta and a good third of a cup of hot water onto his face. His skin immediately splotched carmine. His mother, reacting to his howl of pain, raced into the kitchen and whacked him on the side of the head with her wedding ring hand, which produced a welt on his cranium that long outlasted the redness of his face. Cherie then got the jar of petroleum jelly and rubbed some on the burned skin. Anthony smiles at the memory. The hippie chick says, “What’s funny?” He says, “Nothing. Just thinking about my mother.” And she replies, “Yeah, I’ve heard that soldiers going into battle think about their mothers.” Anthony is silent; he’s stunned by the realization that this may indeed be a war.
Anna needs to stand up. Then she doesn’t. Anna thinks she has to pee. Then she doesn’t. Her feet throb. Then they don’t. She feels dizzy. Then…, well, you know. She thinks, This is really weird. She’s going in a thousand different directions at once. Like that time she and Anthony did Orange Sunshine for the first time back in December. So speedy and confusing. She didn’t like it at all; she felt out of control. She thinks, Is this a flashback?
Anthony’s still rubbing petroleum jelly onto his skin when he hears a voice over a distant police bullhorn. “It is now eleven o ‘clock. The park is closed. You must disperse. Begin leaving the park now.” The cop issuing the announcement has a deep, raspy voice, the voice of a stupendously aggravated old geezer, say, who’s pissed that these scruffy kids have hit their goddamned ball into his backyard for the two-dozenth time. Only the guy behind the voice is no geezer. He has a badge and a billy club and a service revolver and hundreds of other supremely pissed off guys behind him. At least that’s what Anthony figures since he can’t see any of them. The voice comes from over a little rise, a relic of an ancient shoreline some several hundred yards from the present one. Anthony shivers. Nothing like a disembodied voice to scare you to death.
Anna gently holds her enormous round abdomen in her hands. She feels like Atlas preparing to hoist the world up on his shoulders. She describes little circles with her hands. Her shirt buttons look like they’re about to pop. She undoes the bottom three buttons to expose the skin of her belly. She places her fingertips on that taut skin, so softly, so carefully that they’re almost not making contact with it.
Now there’s a light, a corona, an aura emanating from behind the little rise in Lincoln Park, just like last night. Haze begins to billow up, backlit by the corona. A few people near Anthony start singing “Kumbaya.” The singing itself makes him even more tense, contrary to the intent of the singers. He thinks, Jesus Christ, you people, do you think that’s gonna stop these guys from breaking our heads?
The middle of Anna’s body feels as if it’s being gradually squeezed, as if a giant hand has taken hold of her around the waist. She says out loud, “Oh!” She’s embarrassed because no one else is around. Then she’s embarrassed because she’s embarrassed. The giant hand squeezes again. She hollers, “Oh!”
Anthony hears the hippie chick with the nurse’s cap blurt out a frightful, “Oh!” She has caught sight of the front line of Chicago police officers coming over the little rise, their faces covered by gas masks, some of them carrying billy clubs, others shotguns. The hippie chick turns and runs blindly.
Anna thinks, This is it!
Anthony thinks, This is it!
Anna’s nausea disappears.
Anthony’s nausea grows worse. The teargas fog that seconds earlier had looked like a a cheap cinematic effect has drifted over the protesters. His eyes sting. His skin burns. It feels as though his nasal passages and throat are filled with razor blades. He unties his bandanna and flings it away.
Anna undoes the top button of her clamdiggers. Still, she feels as if they’re gripping her like a vise. She stands and wiggles out of her pants. She tosses them across the room where they land on the months-old TV Guide.
The cops begin to run toward the protesters. Anthony feels the hairs of his body going erect. He pivots and begins to run himself, toward the south, down State Parkway, where he’ll undoubtedly find a place to hide. He runs and runs and runs and runs until he finds himself, panting, in front of the Playboy Mansion. He falls to his knees.
Anna’s uterus contracts. It is a pain so severe it seems the entire room has been bathed in a bright white light.
A man comes out of the mansion. He sees a cop advancing on the kneeling freak on his front lawn. The cop’s arm is raised. In his hand, he holds a black nightstick that he hopes will break the head of the hippie piece of shit kneeling like some kind of blow job artist on the grass. The man, Hugh Hefner, shouts to the cop, “Hey there! Don’t do that!”
At that very moment another cop who is running past whacks Hefner in the ass with his billy club.
The first cop’s nightstick travels in a downward arc some 36 inches or so. The sweet spot makes contact with Anthony’s skull. His field of vision is filled with a brilliant flash, a light so bright and bold that for a millisecond he wonders if the atom bomb has fallen.
Anna glances down at her abdomen. The first contraction was so strong she assumes she can literally see her belly turn smaller. She waits and waits and waits and waits for a second contraction that will not come tonight.
The brilliant white light fades away. Anthony reels and collapses on his back. Now he can see the face of the cop wielding the nightstick. It is his very own neighbor, Sal Sanfillipo. He is grinning. He raises his right arm again. Anthony closes his eyes tightly. He doesn’t even feel the second blow.
Anna stands, unsure of herself, wondering if she’s going to be able to maintain her balance. She picks up the phone and dials the phone number of the home she grew up in. “Please, please, please,” she whispers, “pick it up, Daddy. Pick it up!” But it is Tree who says hello. Anna silently places the receiver back in its cradle. She walks gingerly back to the sofa and eases herself onto it again. She breathes deeply. She closes her eyes. A few minutes later, she awakens and says, aloud, “What happened?”
At that moment, Anthony, laying on Hugh M. Hefner’s lawn, awakens from his own involuntary nap. He has the worst headache he’s ever experienced. He says, “What happened?”
But he, too, is alone. Hefner has dashed back into the mansion. Sal Sanfillipo has run off to swing his billy club at other freaks.
Also at that moment, Tree stands at her front window. Al’s voice comes from the bedroom: “Who was that on the phone?” She takes a drag from her Pall Mall. “Wrong number,” she says. She parts the curtains a half inch and peers across the street at Anna and Anthony’s house.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.