May 09, 2005

A Canticle For Lieberman (pt 7)

Pacific Views theater presents the continuation of a short work of fiction. This episode contains strong language and adult content, and is very loosely based on an actual event. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is purely in the interests of parable, satire, and entertainment. See the fiction archive for previous installments.

Deedaleedadeet. Deedaleedadeet. Deedaleedadeet. Deedaleeda (click) ... "Hwah? Whwisit?"

"Robin! Robin, wake up. I'm on my way over, it's now, right now!"

"Oh, god. It's always now. Do you have any idea what freakin' time now is?"

"Yeah, but you haven't had a chance to look at a clock yet, so forget about it and get up. Move!"

"OK. Thanks for that, very bracing, Gwen."

"As requested, boss. You have everything ready? All the ..."

"Yes, yes, I'm up already, slept on the couch in my clothes, packed the bag, got the cage ready, ouch! Good god, where are my damn shoes?"

"You've turned on the lights?"

"Um, ... yeah, 'course I have. I'm hanging up now, I'll be watching for you out the door downstairs."

"Don't maim yourself on the way, and remember your phone. I'll be right there."

Robin looked around the living room for a last check to make sure she'd grabbed everything, rechecked her bag, and edged over to the black cloth cube in the corner of the room. Paul had looked at her very strangely when she'd bought them on their trip a couple weeks ago. There was a little farm near the bed and breakfast where they'd stayed, probably healthier than pet store animals. She'd been able to pass them off to Paul as a gift for a coworker's kids, and he hadn't been over to her place in the meantime to find out otherwise.

Being rid of them at last was the first thing that crossed her mind when Gwen called earlier to tell her to be ready again tonight.

She lifted the cloth, opened the latch, and tucked the fleece lap blankets into the cage around the sleeping troupe of rabbits to form a thick, warm nest and a barrier against too much bumping around. They were moving now, wiggling their adolescent rodent noses at her, looking all innocent. It was amazing the brown one was still alive after getting out and nearly chewing through a lamp cord. Well, anything that twitchy and suicidal deserved to be food.

The cage had banged a bruise into her thigh by the time she got into the cab with Gwen. Maybe the fleece should have gone on the outside. Rabbits were bouncy, weren't they?

"Alright, Gwen, I've called ahead already so we'll get through quickly, minimum of fuss. Now you're sure you want to go back for this? You can just stay in the cab, or at the checkpoint."

"It's really alright. Anyway, you can't just leave that on the sidewalk somewhere, it'll get pinched."

"Well, if you don't mind the extra hour in decontamination coming out, I guess I don't either. I'm not leaving without you, but you might have to be prepared for a lot of hostility, and you absolutely can't give them any reason to ..."

"Robin, I know. I grew up here, I know as well as anyone how the police are going to treat me once they run my name. I won't give them an excuse. Now you remember where I told you to go?"

"Burned into my brain."

Captain Harris was on staff as she'd verified while waiting for Gwen, and she asked for him by name the moment the flashlight was shined into her eyes and over her waiting press pass and ID. There was no search, though Harris pulled off a good impression of one that entirely missed the box sitting between them on the backseat. It was a felony to smuggle animals into the CZ. They were sent off with an admonition to put on paper overclothes if they had them, as a few more cases of TB had been reported in the last few days.

Robin had struggled into the overalls by the time they got to the first destination, fighting in the close quarters with the attached feet. They reminded her of the fleecy whole-body pajamas that her mother had bought her two pair of every winter until she was 'too old for those baby clothes.'

An extra pair of single piece footies went on over the feet of the overalls, Gwen had warned her there'd be a lot of walking and possibly blood. She pulled the jacket and mask on as she was in the process of climbing out the door, thanking Gwen for passing out her bag and shutting the door quickly before running down the nearby alley full tilt. There was a lot of gunfire noise tonight, and she kept low and out of the way.

"You in a hurry?" She was almost at the meeting point, and she whirled around suddenly at the unexpected voice. "It's alright, Robin, she told me you'd be coming." His voice was deep, gravelly and unfamiliar.

"Have we met?"

"Not that you'd remember, call me Earl, but you need to come with me now. Jen said they already called the ambulance."

"There's no way we'll beat an ambulance unless we're going next door."

He paused. "Maybe where you live. Anyway, it isn't the ambulance we're trying to beat. Come on, get in the car."

It was a block cooperative's patrolling car, kept fueled up for emergencies and raids on other people's gardens. They were used as rarely as possible, and she knew this was going to cost a lot.

There were more lights on in the building they stopped off at than you'd expect at this time of night. Earl told her she'd be walking anywhere else she needed to go, the car had to be taken straight back. He waved off payment; Jen had dealt with it and had apparently been strict about avoiding unnecessary delays.

Robin walked up to the door where a shaken man in a bathrobe waved her in when she gave her name, and muttered at her as she walked up the stairs where he was pointing. "You be prepared, can't believe anyone wants to go up and see that, anyone isn't a doctor or something. It ain't right, just ain't right."

She turned around. "Is it safe to go up?"

"Safe? Safer than out on the street. But not for her." The man settled into a chair and looked away. She took the bag off her shoulder hesitantly as a wail came down the stairwell, and she quietly picked up her pace.

"Back off or I'll fucking shoot every last one of you." Her camera was out and filming as she followed the shout up towards the third floor. There were several doors open, and a small group had gathered near one of them, though an older woman was shooing people away. She could hear the crying and arguing more clearly now.

There was the shouting man's voice setting up a steady chorus of swearing and apologies, a terrified woman, and a third voice that she couldn't make out.

"... gotta help me, gotta stop it, you aaaaaah, aaahaaaa, oh god, I'm gonna die." There was crying followed by some murmuring. By now, all the bystanders had noticed the camera and slipped towards the opposite stairwell, hands over their faces, shouting to anyone in earshot to close their doors.

The old woman was in her way, not about to let some stranger just walk right up, and asked Robin if she'd come with the ambulance. Robin shook her head no. "I called them again 20 minutes ago, they've got to get here soon, did you see them?"

"No ma'am, I'm very sorry. I'm a reporter, and I didn't see them on my way over."

"What are you here for then? Do you have any medical training? First Aid?"

"I'm sorry, just a little CPR. Someone told me there was a story here, could you tell me what you know?"

"A story, huh? This happens somewhere around here every week. If it's news to you, then I guess you better go take a damn look. What I know is that everybody got woke up about an hour ago, some fools playing doctor in their living room. You bother anybody, if anybody asks you to leave and you don't back off, George'll carry you outside before you know what happened to you. And if you're gonna stand in the door, you stay out of the way if they call for anything." Robin was waved towards the open door, and she could hear the third voice more clearly.

"... just hang on, sugar. Hang on, I've done everything I can, they're on their way." It was Jen. Her voice was muffled under a full filter mask and Robin didn't think anyone else would be able to recognize it. "We'll get you some help, you've just got to keep breathing nice and easy, you've got to stay calm. Just stay calm, and try to breathe slow. See, the bleeding is slowing down, it's slowing down, honey, just stay with me. You have to let me take you down to the car, they've got a car, we have to get you to the ..." There was blood everywhere, the smell was sickening.

"Nooo! You aren't taking her anywhere! They'll lock her up, you shouldn't have called those butchers to come here either, nobody's fucking leaving this fucking room, and ... goddammit if you turn that camera around this way I'll fucking shoot you!"

Robin had been so transfixed by the two women huddled on the floor that she hadn't really seen the man sitting on a couch at the side of the door even though she’d heard him from down the hall. She turned her head towards him, careful not to turn the camera with it, and kept her voice very even. "I won't do anything you don't want me to do, I was asked to come, but I'll leave if you want."

The man's hands were covered in blood to the elbows, and he'd clearly been running them through his stiffened and disheveled hair, used them to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Tears were streaming down his face, which was contorted in anger. Robin didn't see a gun in his hands, but from the way Jen had pulled back, she wasn't going to draw any more attention to herself. "No, it's too late, too late for both of us. God, it's too late to care who sees this, what did I do?" His head had collapsed to his knees and his back heaved up and down with sobs.

"Eeyuh, augh, Nana, oh, the contractions, they're coming again." Nana was Jen's working name, though it doubled as a mark of affection. There weren't many nurses around that made house calls.

"Jake, we can still get Sharon to the hospital. She can make it, but I don't think that ambulance is going to get here in time, you need to listen to me. Now please, what did you give her besides the valium, and how much, I’ve got to know so I can tell the doctors."

Sharon was leaning against Jen now, just crying. The woman had her back to the door and was sitting frog-legged on a pile of towels covered in blood and tissue. She was leaning against Jen, and Robin could see that her feet were tinged blue. Some blood covered instruments gleamed dully from a towel on the coffee table, they looked like tools from a high school dissection kit.

"Fuck me, I told you, I don’t remember what the shit was called. There was something like they give hemophiliacs, something else to start the contractions, I don’t … Oh fuck. Now, you listen. We're not going to jail, I’m not going to that fucking war and come back missing body parts like he did." Click. Jake stood up with a gun he must have pulled out of the couch and walked into the field of the camera's view, pointing it at Sharon's head. Nobody moved. "Oh fuck, baby, I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry. Goodbye, baby."

"Jake, please don't do this, you know you care about her more than that. Please put that away and help me get her downstairs. Help her live through this, you can do it. Now please hand me that bathrobe, something to put on her. ... That's right, put it, no, no you don't have to do that, you can both get through th ..."


Jake fell back in a heap. Sharon tried to get up, she was hyperventilating now, and the linens she was sitting on glistened with a fresh wave of her blood. "No, god, Nana, Nana what happened? Jake?" Sharon turned her head and screamed, or she would have, if she could still make that much noise. She fell back towards Jen, shivering. "Nana, I can't feel my feet, my hands are cold, could you, could you get me some coffee?"

"Shhh. Shhh, honey you got to stay with me, you've got to remember where you are." Jen stroked Sharon's hair and rocked her gently.

The old woman from the hall rushed past, grabbing a jacket from a chairback and throwing it over Sharon's shoulders. She had fresh towels under one arm, and improbably, found somewhere to set them that wasn't soaked in somebody's blood. "You there, dummy with the camera, stay out of the way. We're going to get this girl downstairs. George, get yourself in here right now!"

The two women pulled Sharon away from the mess as a large man in full paper gear ran past Robin, who was standing just out of the way inside the door. They packed Sharon in towels then wrapped her in a bathrobe, and the man who must have been George had grabbed her up like a child. George and Jen ran out and down the hall and Robin followed.

They'd made it down one flight of stairs when Sharon let loose a real scream and stiffened out in George's arms. He stopped and looked back at Jen. "Well, keep going, we can't do anything for her here, I don’t have the equipment, probably make it worse if I did more than I have."

He looked down at Sharon, she was shaking in earnest and she said something that Robin couldn't hear. George took two more steps and she screamed again.

"Nana, I'm afraid it's hurting her, being tossed around like this. She says it's only the contractions, but she's a little out of her head."

"George, she’ll die if we don't get her to a hospital right now and I don't think anyone is going to send an ambulance to this neighborhood if they haven't done it by now. Sounds like a war zone out there. She may die anyway, but you have got to get her in that car if she's to have a chance."

"Ma'am." He resumed his pace, but Robin saw that he was trying to land his steps more gently. They made it down two more flights of stairs when Sharon started to scream again, but it finished more like a whimper and then the shaking stopped. Blood was trickling down George's overalls. He wouldn't have felt it through their plastic lining, but he could see the fear in Jen's eyes when he turned around.

Jen reached over and felt Sharon's wrist, her neck, opened one of her eyelids to peer in. "Lay her down." Jen set her bag down away from the blood, pulled her mask off and started CPR. Her back was to the camera, and Robin shifted to an angle that gave a good view of the scene but hid Jen's face best.

Sharon coughed a little, mumbled something, and Jen looked up at George and shouted at him. "You pick her up now and double-time it to that car!" Robin and Jen struggled to keep up, catching him only because he had to stop to get her into the backseat of a car with a driver sitting up front and the engine running. There was even a little blue light flashing from the roof, probably stolen out of an undercover police car. Jen climbed into the backseat, and Robin was waved into the front with the driver.

Jen had Sharon's head in her lap, and she started CPR again, but they didn't make it more than seven blocks before Jen said to stop the car. She kept her head down, still looking for a sign that she was wrong, her voice was funny and quivery, exhausted. "Man, she's cold and she hasn't moved. I can't feel her breath and there's no pulse. She's gone, oh god, she's gone. Turn that thing off, get it off." Robin flicked the switch and tucked the camera in her bag. Jen addressed the driver. "Look, this is only a trip to the morgue now. I can't ask you to take food out of everybody's mouths back home, or risk getting arrested, to drive her any farther."

"Ma'am, Sarah would have my hide if I just pushed you all out onto the sidewalk right here. There's no point taking her to the hospital now, but we can take her home, if you know where that is."

"Yeah, I know where it is, I'll give you directions. And you can leave us there; it's closer to my place."

"What about this one?"

"Don't worry about her, she's with me. She won't make trouble for anyone."

Sharon's body was laid out near the entrance of another apartment block. Jen knocked at the door, to let the night watch know they weren't up to any funny business. They left as quickly as they could, before the family was called down.

Robin walked half a block without saying anything until she had to take her mask off and be sick into the bushes. "Christ, Jen, what the hell happened back there? What the hell was that? What did you expect me to see when you called me up?"

"What happened back there was that Sharon and Jake were having a fling. She's been staying with her husband's parents since he disappeared in police custody, shipped off to the war it turned out, and she got lonely. Then she got pregnant. She was five months along, but she didn't know until a couple weeks ago, damn ignorant. We try so hard to convince the co-ops to let us teach their kids about this stuff, but too many people think it’ll never happen to them until some poor kid gets brought back to their neighborhood wrapped in a damn sheet, or some girl’s family kicks her out, beaten half to death. Or maybe just dumped out with the trash. Fuck.

“So then she hears that her husband is coming back, minus a leg. He used to beat her before he left, she was afraid he'd kill her if she turned up pregnant after him being gone so long.

"Jake figures he can perform an abortion himself, scrounged up some medical books, and somehow convinced her that he knew how. If there's any stupid thing that a young woman won't believe when she's scared, pregnant, and thinks she's in love, I haven't heard it yet. She came to me for some drugs to help out. She asked me for valium and something to start contractions, and I told her that what she was planning wouldn't work, probably get her killed. I wouldn't get her anything, told her if she was that worried, I could help her hide. The CZ is big and people keep to themselves, I could have found her someplace safe. Wouldn't listen to me.

"She came back again last week, said she really needed the stuff, it couldn't wait any longer. I told her to let me know where to drop a message for her, it would take a little time, and then I went looking for her. I heard through the grapevine that she was hitting up other sources, and she turned over a rock that had what she wanted under it. None of the other nurses would do it, we all tried to talk her out of it, but some little bottom feeder found what she was asking for. No place easier to get drugs than a big, effing prison.

"A few of us put our heads together and tracked her down, but she’d left home already last Friday when we found the place and we all feared the worst. We looked for this Jake character every day, but never found him. Then tonight, I got a call. It was him, she’d told him to get in touch with me when it started going wrong.

"What I wanted you to see was what really goes on around here. I was hoping for a better ending, but at least you can show people the truth."

"Jen, you should know, hell, for something like this, I don't know if you understand what people will say when it gets out, of any of it. The story in the press will be that this is what used to happen all the time when abortion was legal, they'll say that this is why it was outlawed."

"Robin, you know that's not true. Anyone who's been alive long enough to remember a real election knows it isn't true. Maybe you don't think I know what you do with your reports on the things I show you. But we're pretty resourceful around here, plus, Gwen worships you. She wants to be just like you someday, and she tells me everything any chance she gets, so proud of her work.”

“Well, I …”

"No, listen. You're right that after you and your editors get through with this, it'll become a lie. I know you have bosses, too, just like everybody else, and you have to make them happy. But it won’t be a lie to everybody; some of them will still see the truth, maybe even enough of them. There wasn't any contraception for this girl, no ambulance would come for her, and her boyfriend was so afraid of being arrested and sent to the military that he shot himself and might have shot her if I hadn't been there.

"Before the Pill and Roe v. Wade, it was just as unacceptable for a woman to control her body. But there's what people talk about, and there's what they know. You talk a good game on the television yourself, but you come here to my house every few months and you get some Ortho for you and Gwen. You know it's your right to make that choice, you know Gwen deserves better, and you care for her in your way. I don't usually say so, but I've always been very grateful for how you've helped my niece."

"She's worked hard, Jen, deserved all of it. You're the one who bought her ticket out, took care of her all those years, paid to get her out of the CZ, put her through school where she studied like anything. I'm just taking advantage of all that work, and hell if I even know what I’m doing anymore that she should be looking up to me."

"Huh. You know, I think Gwen was right, I think something got to you lately, and not just tonight. So maybe you'll see. Do your report, whatever the heck you people do to facts to turn them into stories, and see what happens. There are people who'll buy your version, but a lot of them will see the truth and they’ll be lost to whatever cause you think you're promoting."

"I'm just a reporter; I'm not promoting any causes."

"Tell it to somebody too young to remember better. Tell it to Gwen; tell it to these poor kids around here who barely know where babies come from. But don't tell it to me. You smelled the blood back in that apartment, so just tonight, let's be straight with each other, alright?"

"What are you asking? You want me to confess my sins to you because I'm not doing the same job they were doing a few decades ago?"

"No, you don't have to tell me anything. But I think you owe it to yourself to take a look at things and figure out what's right. If you have any sins to confess, confess them to yourself. Nobody else can do a damn thing about them."

"I'm sorry, Jen. I don't want you to be disappointed in me."

"Nah, you've been pretty much who I thought you'd be. But you know, now and then you exceed my expectations. Don't be listening to me right now anyway, I'm pretty mad at myself tonight. I could have saved her maybe if I'd gotten there earlier. If I'd been able to talk that twit into letting me get her to some help, been able to convince her to try something else, or God, if I still worked at a real clinic, I could have gotten her what she wanted without risking her life. All I could do in the end was make sure that a few more people would know what happened to her, and I appreciate that you'd risk the trip. No matter what you do, some truth sneaks out eventually.

"You know, someone could have seen that last piece of work you did, and heard the easy hooks to wave it all off as a fight over drug crops. Others looked at the footage and they saw squash and beans tended by people who dress like they're prepping for surgery every day of their lives, because that's what's here. Some people still believe their own eyes."

They didn't say anything else until they got back to Jen's place. One of the things Jen paid extra for was the decon shower near the back entrance. They helped each other out of the paper clothes and added them to the bin. They pulled the shower chain for each other, dilute isopropyl pouring out of the head. They washed their bags and contents, thank god for all-weather cameras, then soaked their clothes to the skin and held the bottoms of their shoes up to the spray. They scrunched up their faces, held their noses, closed their eyes and put their heads under one at a time.

Jen had sealed a towel in plastic and when they were done she opened it up and they took turns with it after wringing out their clothes a bit. When they were only a little squishy, they left their overshoes on the steps and went inside. Gwen was waiting for them, she'd heard them coming down the hall and opened the door before Jen could get her keys in the lock.

"Aunt Jen!"

"My little Guinevere. How are you? Oh, don't hug me, you'll get soaked. You look fabulous, girl."

"You look like two drowned rats, and those fumes could disinfect a dog at thirty paces. What happened?"

“It was messy, we lost her, and I don’t want to talk about it right now, sugar. You two want some tea?”

“I’ve got the kettle on already, Jen, go change.” Jen headed to her room without another look back. “Robin, I put your spares on the bathroom sink and there’s a bag for what you’re wearing.”

“You thought of everything, thanks Gwen.”

“Better to be prepared, I say.”

When Robin came out of the bathroom, Gwen and her aunt were sitting on the couch catching up on all the things they were too nervous to talk about over the phone. They looked up, and Gwen started getting ready to go, reluctantly. She heard more gunfire outside and figured the cab driver was probably snug in a bunk at the garage by now, they’d told him they’d be a while and to just wait there on their tab, so what the hell. They could afford the fare.

“Hey you two, I don’t think the cab’s going to want to come until it sounds a little safer outside. If I can catch a few winks somewhere, I can tell you, I’m in no hurry to leave.”

“Sure Robin, the bed’s made up. If you don’t mind the comforter, there’s an extra blanket on top of the dresser you can use And thanks so much for the rabbits, those bastards next block over have stolen so many chickens, noisy little peckers, … anyway, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Jen. And thanks for letting me use the bed. I’d have been more than happy with the floor." She turned towards the bedroom, but then turned back. "Oh yeah, there’s some more of those seeds in the camera, you said they went over big with that co-op. Gwen knows where, but I’m about ready to fall over. Just, you know, punch me in the arm or something when it’s time to go.”

Robin barely had time to pull the blanket over her shoulders before she fell asleep.

To be continued.

Part 6

Fiction Archive

Posted by natasha at May 9, 2005 01:44 AM | Fiction | Technorati links |

How old is Gwen, exactly? Is she a kid, a teenager, or an adult?

Posted by: Joe Taylor at May 9, 2005 01:50 PM

She's an adult. She's Robin's assistant & was briefly introduced (IIRC) in episode 2.

Posted by: natasha at May 9, 2005 06:40 PM