It was a glorious day. Sun lit up the mica in the cement sidewalks, children played hopscotch in the school yard, and the street vendors had their best wares out: the freshest bootleg films, semi-precious stone jewelry, and flashy neon bandanas.
Joe leaned against the bus stop pole, watching Alex fiddle with the zipper on her jacket.
“Would you cut that shit out? That noise is irritating as all hell.”
“Sorry butthead; I can’t help it. I think we’re gonna’ get caught for this one.”
“We’re not gonna’ get caught. You say that every time and every time, we walk out and nothing happens.”
“Would you pull your pants up? You look suspicious,” Alex said.
“How in hell do I look suspicious? I look just like every other dude on this block. You’re paranoid, for real”.
“Hey, check that guy out over there in front of the corner store, he look right to you?”
“Man, you’re trippin’. I don’t know nothing about that dude. You ever seen him around here before?” Joe said as he tried to make a paper ball three-pointer into a nearby garbage can.
“He looks a little like that crazy guy from the pawn shop we tried to hit a few months ago; you remember him? He went batshit crazy and pulled that gun on us.”
“Oh yeah, ’member how he kept screaming “save her gold soul”, man, that shit gave me nightmares. You think it’s him?”
“I dunno’, he must’ve weighed fifty pounds more than that guy over there. Is it possible to lose fifty pounds that fast?”
“Yeah, it’s possible, ‘specially when you snort PCP on the regular.”
“What’s he doing right now? I don’t wanna’ stare; PCP junkies don’t like that,” Alex said as she feigned intense interest in a poster hanging in the video store across the street.
“He’s just looking in the window of the corner store but something definitely wrong wit him, he’s like an inch away from the glass.”
The sticker covered plate glass door of the corner store shot open and an irate man stepped onto the street.
“Get the hell outta’ here you junkie! Why are you staring in my window? You’re freaking out all my customers!”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry man. I was just looking for something I lost,” he replied.
“Well, look somewhere else, I don’t have anything for you in here.”
The crazy man stumbled away from the window mumbling.
“Oh shit, he’s walking over here, quick, turn around, maybe he won’t see us,” Joe said.
“You think it’s him?”
“I ain’t tryin’ to find out.”
Joe and Alex turned to face a vacant storefront, both resisting the urge to turn and watch the crazy man’s progression. The children in the school yard nearby had moved on to a raucous game of tag. Their screams filled in the narrow corridors between the buildings.
“You think he’d recognize us?” Alex asked.
A scream rose above the sound of the children playing. Alex whipped around in time to see the crazy man standing over one of the jewelry hawkers, a familiar pistol dangling from the crazy man’s hand.
“Where did you get it? Did you take it off her corpse you scum bag? Where did you get it?” the crazy man screamed.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, where did I get what?” The vendor replied stepping back from the table.
“The ring you dickhead, the ring, where the hell did you get it?”
“Hey, let’s get outta’ here.” Alex said as she grabbed Joe’s arm. She slipped her hand into his jacket pocket and grabbed the package of gold they had lifted from the jewelry store down the street. She tossed the tightly wrapped packaged into the green metal garbage can next to the bus stop pole, dragging Joe with her towards the now empty school yard.
How Babies Are Made
“It was the coolest thing. In the picture, he was holding a picture of himself and in that picture he was holding another picture of himself. He’s done it every month for ten years,” Jane said, setting her coffee mug on the kitchen counter, and taking the kitchen rag from the faucet.
“The only thing I’ve done for ten years is breathe,” Jake said.
“We should do it too.”
“That’d be rude.”
“Why?” she asked as she wiped the table.
“Because we’d be stealing his idea,” Jake said, sucking his teeth.
“So what? I wanna pick up a hobby, do something different. All we ever do is sit around watching T.V.”
“I work ten-hour days and I like T.V.”
“It’s boring,” she said, dropping the rag on the table.
“Let’s take a trip. That’d be more exciting than committing every new wrinkle to film.”
“We can’t afford it.”
“Not even a local one?”
“That’s not exciting.”
“We’ve never been to the Cape,” he said, cocking his head at her.
“Why would we want to? The place is filled with the Kennedy family.”
“The beaches are supposed to be beautiful.”
“But we’ll come back home and stare at the T.V. every day until we die.”
“But we could reconnect, you know, charge our batteries”, he said as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I don’t want to fuck; I want to make something together,” she said as she turned out of his embrace.
Jake took a step back, leaned against the counter, picked up his coffee mug, and took a deep chug of the lukewarm homebrew. And then the idea hit him.
“We could do both.”
“You should stop taking the pill,” he said in a subdued voice as the lightening of the thought faded.
“You can’t be serious,” she said, her hand flying to her hip.
“I am. I think it’s time to have a baby,” he said with growing confidence, planting his feet shoulder-width apart and puffing out his chest.
“You really think so?” she asked, searching his eyes for the right glint.
“I do. I know we don’t have any money and things will be a little tight, but I want to come home to you with a bouncing baby falling asleep in his pasta,” he opened his eyes wider than she had ever seen.
“Or her pasta,” she said.
“Or her pasta,” he said as he closed the gulf between them.
Eleven months later, Evelyn was born. They named her for Jake’s grandmother. Jane threw the T.V. out.
Cheap Lawn Furniture
Eye-stinging dust blew hard across the enormous parking lot. A small group of protesters in sandwich signs and knock-off Birkenstocks stood shouting in front of the Texas Wal-Mart.
“We’re all Betty Dukes!”
The rag-tag group had assembled at seven a.m., a hard time for any young person to arise. The nine of them had met online, on a site called getinvolved.org. Anti-American bloggers, pro-unionists, and stoners used the site to connect with other political dissidents and these nine had decided to protest Wal-Mart’s treatment of its female workers. Betty Dukes was the hero of the hour because she had brought suit against the multinational conglomerate on the basis of gender discrimination.
Aara, the oldest and clear leader of the group, shouted at an older couple just hoisting themselves out of their old Buick.
“Think for yourself, question authority!”
The little old lady quivered at her screams, but the more rambunctious older man shouted back.
“Go away! We don’t want hippies around here! You’re scaring my wife!”
Aara was patient with the old folks, but firm.
“Hippies, huh? You know who was a hippie, Jesus!”
She advanced towards the couple.
“You know they pay the women here half what they pay the men, right? What if it was your daughter working here, or your granddaughter? You think it would be fair for her to be denied a promotion just because she has a vagina?” She called.
The old man scoffed, grabbed his horrified wife under the arm, and rushed towards the door.
“Such nasty language,” the old lady whispered to her husband.
The other protesters stood behind Aara, adding in the occasional “Right on!” and “Yeah!” to the chorus. Martin, a twenty-year-old college dropout was her strongest support.
“She and I are equal,” he yelled, in between her taunts.
The Wal-Mart manager, Simon, called the cops. He wasn’t an unjust man, just a man doing his job. When the flashing blues pulled alongside the giant glass entrance, Simon stepped out into the fire lane and told the cops the protesters were disturbing the peace and harassing customers. He’d never had a protest in front of his store before.
While Simon explained the situation to the officers, Billy, a protester from A&M, decided it was time to break with the group. He already had a DUI and his parents would cut him off for sure if he was arrested again. Parched from a morning spent shouting and inhaling Texas sand, he headed towards the Wal-Mart entrance.
Aara wasn’t sure what to make of his abrupt exit. Before she knew what was happening, Martin saw Billy and started chasing him towards the door. Well, this led to a protester stampede. The cops saw them coming but they were too late. The group had stormed the front door.
Once inside, none of them knew what they were doing, but the adrenaline was flowing. Sue, a homeless girl who had been molested by her father for several years finally let go. She started pulling down clothing racks filled with children’s t-shirts made in sweat shops halfway around the world. She began screaming.
“I told you never to touch me! Never, never, never!”
The scene made the cops freeze up. New to the force, they always got stuck with morning shifts, when the hardened criminals were sleeping off last night’s fix. And they had never seen a riot before.
The other protesters capitalized on the uniform’s inaction, racing through the aisles, arms outstretched. Cheap makeup, soap, and shaving cream littered the floor. Dazed early-morning shoppers stood in little clusters watching the madness unfold.
Seeing this, Aara knew it was time to rein her comrades in, so she slipped behind a blue-vested employee and grabbed the store phone.
“I need to use the intercom system, quick, turn it on!”
The employee pushed her chubby fingers into the phone buttons, causing the speaker system to come alive with a crackle.
“The blue dog flies at dawn! The blue dog flies at dawn!”
Her voice ricocheted off the cheap lawn furniture, Paula Deen house ware, and big screen televisions.
The signal sent the protesters looking for exits like roaches caught in a fogger. None of them wanted to be arrested. Martin managed to make it out the back door with a few others, but the rest were caught inside the store because Simon decided he wanted to be a Wal-Mart hero. He had grabbed a shot gun and shells from the sports department and stood shaking at the double doors that led to the stock area.
Aara rushed to the back of the store, right past the cops who were busy trying to calm Sue. She got to the back of the store and saw Billy fighting with Simon.
“You have to let me out man, my parents are gonna’ kill me if they catch me caught up in all this shit man!”
“No way. You wrecked the store. You’re gonna’ have to pay for all this stuff. I’ll get in trouble if I let you go; I might lose my job over this.”
Remembering a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie, Simon lowered the shotgun and pulled the slide back. He got a thrill when the slide sounded, chick-chick.
Billy took a step back.
“Hey man, you don’t need that thing; you should probably put that back where you got it.”
“No, I’m tired of dealing with big stupid frat boy meat heads like you, comin’ in my store actin’ like you’re better than everybody just ‘cause you go to some stupid college. You’re comin’ with me back up to the front of the store.”
Aara reached the two of them and tried to talk Simon down, but he wasn’t hearing any of it.
When he realized Simon wasn’t going to let him leave, Billy snapped. He shot forward like a panther. Aara, always in control, grabbed Billy by the waist, but Simon was ready to earn hero status. He aimed the shotgun and pulled the trigger.
Simon wasn’t a good shot, as it turns out. The buckshot he had loaded into the shot gun missed Billy and Aara entirely, flying just to their left. It did hit the old couple Aara had berated as they walked into the store.
The two collapsed there, full of pellets, in front of the stock room door, between the aisles of cheap kid’s toys and treadmills.