Friday, May 26, 2017

foreword by Anne Moss

          The 1990's were the worst possible decade for a young American to decide to become a fiction writer.  The internet was on its way in and books were on their way out.  The "great American novel" was an idea whose time had come and gone.  The era of Salinger and Hemingway and Melville and Faulkner and Henry Miller and Saul Bellow was history.  Book stores were being boarded up while libraries were emptying their shelves to make room for computer kiosks.  None the less in 1992, namely on the strength of his self-published first novel Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner, Ed Wagemann applied to the Fiction Writing program at Chicago's Columbia College.  His intention?  To become a great fiction writer.  For the next couple of years he was a fixture of the fiction writing department offices at 600 South Michigan Avenue.  He had a rough-living vibe to him, that brought to mind the Bob Dylan lyric "His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean" as he strolled the halls of the 7th floor - never in a hurry to get where he was going, but certainly with a purpose to his step.  He had the demeanor of someone with something to accomplish, and whatever that was, it seemed to involve the battered and worn copy of Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner that was perpetually tucked under his flannel-sleeved arm.  To an outsider, his self-published novel resembled a mission statement - something along the lines of the mission statement that the fictional sports agent Jerry McGuire printed and distributed to his co-workers right before he was fired.  And in fact, Wagemann had pieced his novel together using a copy machine, a three-hole puncher and craft store binding techniques.  In total he had the resources to "mass" produce 28 copies, never bothering to register the novel or obtain an ISBN number.  He simply tacked copies together and, for him, that
was enough legitimacy to declare his novel's validity to the world. 

By 1996, Wagemann had been living off of student loan money and public aid for close to 5 years.  Wherever he laid his hat was his home - usually being a friends couch or a lover's bed.  His possessions were few and if any of the original copies of Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner still existed, Wagemann didn't know where they were - or who had them.  The only remaining version he was aware of was found in bits and pieces on various word files on a handful of floppy discs that he now carried around in lieu of the bulky, stapled-together manuscript.  And it was in this floppy disc format, nearly two decades later, that the novel was presented to me for inclusion in this collection of his early works.  

The format Wagemann originally used to transcribe his novel was out of date by this time of course, which meant I had to transfer the files to an updated format.  That process took awhile and it eventually produced a document that looked like coded messages from Cold War era Soviet Union.  Every couple of words had strange, obtuse symbols breaking the words up - symbols that resembled ancient Sanskrit.  For the next few weeks I spent sleepless nights meticulously piecing the words, sentences and paragraphs back together.  It took the steady hand of an archeologist who brushes away sand and debris from ancient artifacts, but the result was a mesmerizing and raw narrative.  At times, Wagemann's lost novel bounced between present tense and past tense in a nuanced way that made me reluctant to correct it.  The narrator (aka the Smalltown Stoner) seemed so sure of himself that changing even the slightest thing seemed like a crime.  So I left it in its original splendor, letting the voice ring through in its original sense.  

By the middle of 1994 Wagemann began concentrating on the matter of his graduate thesis, a collection of short stories that would eventually need the approval of his thesis advisers.  Three of the stories from that thesis appear in this collection (along with an excerpt from The Panty Thief of Bridgeport which also appeared in part in his graduate thesis).  These three stories were among the first that Wagemann completed as a grad student at Columbia.  The first two, Streetball Junkie and What Makes Jeni Frown, resembled Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner in both tone and rhythm. Wagemann's signature style from that time was so prevalent that Streetball Junkie and What Makes Jeni Frown could have been told by the same first person narrator of Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner - only now, instead of existing as a small-time, small town pot dealer living in an abandoned gas station, the narrator had moved to the big city and was addicted to inner-city pick-up basketball games and a mysterious, slender femme fatale.  Wagemann's first person narrator had a laser like focus and the uneasy, agitated restlessness of a caged animal who doesn't seem to know what to do with himself.  What Makes Jeni Frown however is set apart from Wagemann's other stories from this period as it is his first known (and most earnest) attempt at Erotica.  As Wagemann freely admitted, it was written to impress a girl who "read a lot of Anais Nin" and with whom "I had had a "short-lived and confusing relationship with".  The narrator of What Makes Jeni Frown is a young man who is seemingly incapable of maintaining a meaningful relationship, either of a romantic nature or otherwise.  In that regard, What Makes Jeni Frown foreshadows Wagemann's 1998 novel The Panty Thief of Bridgeport. The difference being that the first person narrator in The Panty Thief of Bridgeport mines great emotional depths and goes to bizarre psychological lengths to win back the affections of his love interest, whereas the narrator of What Makes Jeni Frown is entirely baffled, passive, and simply content to watch his love interest sail away into a sea of uncertainty.

What Makes Jeni Frown was submitted to a number of local literary magazines.  It was the first time Wagemann had ever tried to get anything published beyond his own copy machine method.  He received no response for What Makes Jeni Frown, but Streetball Junkie on the other hand became a local success as it was featured in Columbia College's literary journal Hair Trigger as well as in Jothom Borello's independently-published Sport Lit, and later awarded the coveted Golden Circle Award for Creative Writing.  Streetball Junkie reads like a non-fiction day-in-the-life set within inner-city Chicago.  The first person narrative style is greatly influenced by the hard-boiled detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, etc (all of which were among the first authors that Wagemann ever read as a teenager).  But with the success of Streetball Junkie also came the stigma that Wagemann was a bit of a one-trick pony with a limited range as a writer.  His stories were criticized for not having much of a plot or conclusion.  They seemed to end with no rhyme no reason.  To broaden his horizons Wagemann looked to the works of several writers that were being touted by the Columbia College fiction writing program at that time.  This included Sherwood Anderson, Hubert Selby, Herman Melville, Anton Chekov and Franz Kafka.  He also became immersed in the writings of Chicago literary figures such as Theodore Dreiser, James T. Farrel, Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, Sandra Cisneros, Mike Royko and a fellow Columbia grad student, Don de Grazia, whose novel American Skin had just been published.

Steeped in the philosophy of Columbia's writing program, Wagemann began experimenting with new techniques and his writing took a dramatic turn.  Nigga Killa X, an ambitious case study of an inner city white male channeling the ideas and spirit of Malcolm X, is an example of the direction Wagemann was headed during this time of growth.  The controversial piece, which begins with a white man confronting racist remarks from three black men while riding a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus, was originally written in first person.  Wagemann had written everything in the first person up to that point, but when one of his instructors at Columbia encouraged him to take the daunting step of rewriting the entire story in third person, Wagemann complied.  After this change to third person, Wagemann submitted the story to a number of literary magazines nationwide.  The response he received was overwhelmingly negative.  Nigga Killa X seemed to strike a nerve, for while Streetball Junkie had toyed with the themes of racism and racial stereotypes in acceptable narrative conventions, Nigga Killa X absolutely ran ramshot over these conventions.  The story of a young white male who is continually getting into violent confrontations with young, urban black people certainly must have been a reflection of some of Wagemann's own experiences with the racial tensions of inner city Chicago in the 1990's - as well as a reflection of his personal awakening as he was introduced to black culture for the first time.  Wagemann was, after all, raised in a small rural town (much like the one portrayed in Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner) that had a black population of exactly one.  Wagemann admitted that until he went to college (at the age of 18) he had only met a half dozen African-Americans in his entire life.  This may account for his portrayal of the understated and matter-of-fact moral certainty behind the violent actions that Nigga Killa X's protagonists commits against the African-Americans who do not conform to his ideas of decent behavior.

The undercurrent of perceived racism in Nigga Killa X, combined with the "too-familiar" understanding of homophobia in The Open Minded Dude and a Glory Hole, combined with what was dubbed as his "pro-life message" in The Abortion Doctor's Wife, left more than a few readers of Wagemann's early works wondering if he held some radical Right-wing Conservative agenda which he was playing out in his works.  Wagemann for his part, recognized that pieces such as Nigga Killa X, The Open Minded Dude and the Glory Hole and The Abortion Doctor's Wife agitated the "lock-step, knee-jerk ideologues from both extremes" of the political spectrum - but he didn't think that was necessarily a bad thing.  Although all three pieces revolved around controversial topics that pointed to Wagemann's evolving political awareness, they also represented a change in Wagemann's writing style during this early period.  The Abortion Doctor's Wife in particular is an example of a shift in Wagemann's shift in writing style.  Reading as if it had been written by a John Grisham impersonator toiling away in the copy writing department of a Pro-Life super PAC, The Abortion Doctor's Wife stands as a testament to the crisis Wagemann was having with his writing style.  He still aspired toward the 1930's hard-boiled detective fiction that informed his earlier stories, but the story came off as blatant propaganda that could almost be seen as a parody of Upton Sinclair.

The crisis Wagemann was having in his writing style can be traced back to the spring of 1995 when Wagemann was tutoring for Columbia College's Writing Department and discussing his novel-in-progress The Socialist in the Closet, to anyone who would listen; co-workers, classmates, instructors, people he met in bars, strangers at social gatherings or even peddlers at bus stops.   Wagemann was certain that this was going to be the next great American novel.  This was the one that would put him in the echelon of great American novelists.  He already had the entire novel formulated inside his head, full of rich characters and a plot that revolved around an organized group of socialists lead by Tatum Rudkus (the great-grandson of the fictional Jurgis Rudkus from Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle).  This group of socialists covertly infiltrate all the major political and financial institutions of Chicago then secretly take complete control of the entire city without anyone outside the group knowing it.  Wagemann described his novel-in-progress to patrons he sipped beers with at the Inner Town Tavern over and over again, for days, then weeks.  More than one patron must have felt as if they could have committed Wagemann's story to paper themselves.  Yet, when it actually came time for Wagemann to get it all down on paper, he stalled.  One false start led to another.  His frustration mounted and each time he started on it, it wouldn't come out like he wanted.  This lasted for months.  Occasionally he would shift his focus to The Abortion Doctor's Wife, but finally Wagemann admitted that he was quickly evolving an identity crisis with the first person narrator's voice in The Socialist in the Closet.  He tried to switch to third person.  This too proved futile.  It appeared that he was having a classic case of writer's block.

After many nights of beer drinking and soul searching, Wagemann came to the conclusion that his problem in writing The Socialist in the Closet could only be attributed to something he called Lit-think Syndrome.  Lit-think Syndrome is a common ailment in young writers who attend "writing classes" in a highly-reputed "writing program" and who, after being indoctrinated in the program's milieu, are subsequently afflicted with an acute case of "lit-think" that inevitably ruins everything they touched (or so Wagemann claimed).  One of the symptoms of Lit-think Syndrome, according to Wagemann, is that an overriding tone of self-importance dominates the writing.  In writing The Socialist in the Closet, Wagemann claimed that at a certain point he began to feel as if he was writing the novel for no other purpose than to showcase "my self-righteous desire to expose the evils of corporate capitalism to those poor souls with a lesser insight to the ways of the world than myself – even though I was only 27 years old."  But worse still, The Socialist In The Closet had become "Spiellberg-ized" - another Wagemann term, meaning anything that was formulaic or lacking in originality.  His writing felt stiff, too wordy and he eventually abandoned the novel to devote his time to a series of short pieces that were getting favorable reactions in the writer's workshops at Columbia.  These pieces would eventually morph into The Panty Thief of Bridgeport.  The excerpt from The Socialist in the Closet that is included in this collection represents approximately on-fifth of what Wagemann actually committed to paper. 

Considering that it was written during this same period, The Panty Thief of Bridgeport might have suffered from similar inflictions as The Abortion Doctor's Wife and The Socialist In The Closet.  The saving grace however was that Wagemann wasn't taking the writing of it very seriously.  The result was that The Panty Thief of Bridgeport flowed naturally and with minimal effort.  The novel was inspired by true events of a man in Japan who went around stealing women's panties.  Somehow this tale inspired Wagemann and he soon found himself writing simply for the enjoyment of it again.   Abandoning the self-importance that his writing style had gotten stuck in, he returned to a style that reflected the inward musings and thoughts of a first person narrator who relied heavily on humor to navigate through life.  The narrator of The Panty Thief of Bridgeport, who is enamored by the works of Franz Kafka, even takes jabs at the craft of writing - which perhaps is a direct indication that Wagemann was taking a much less serious account of the "serious writer" world view he had fallen into as a graduate student at Columbia College.  At one point, after being approached by a student film group, Wagemann considered scrapping his dream of being a great American novelist altogether and turn to screen writing instead.  Wagemann played with the notion of transforming his (at the time) novel-in-progress The Panty Thief of Bridgeport into a film screenplay.  "It would make a great Romantic Comedy for Owen Wilson," Wagemann declared one night after a screening of Wes Anderson's film Bottle Rocket with some film industry friends early in 1996.  In the end though, Wagemann finished The Panty Thief of Bridgeport in the novel form and started sending it out to dozens of small press publishers. 
Without an agent's guidance or the touch of an editor, The Panty Thief of Bridgeport was soundly rejected by every single publisher Wagemann sent it to.  So Wagemann simply shelved it.  By this time he had completed grad school and had enlisted in the Air Force.  It wouldn't be until a decade later that The Panty Thief of Bridgeport would see the light of day when Wagemann decided that he would just publish it himself.  As the story goes he was was inspired one afternoon in 2010 as he came across a paperback novel written by a former Columbia College classmate named Joe Meno.  One of Meno's novels had been left in a scrap heap at a garage sale.  "All this work a writer puts into a novel, and this is how it ends?" Wagemann thought.  "But at least someone other than the author had read it."  So Wagemann decided to dust off The Panty Thief of Bridgeport and publish it himself.  

Even though The Panty Thief of Bridgeport did not become an immediate commercial success, it none the less seemed to be the antidote Wageman needed to evolve beyond his short-lived writing crisis of the middle 1990s.  His next two stories, Waiting to Happen and Eye Puzzle reflect the writings of someone who is much more sure of what he wants to say and how to say it.  Both stories are set in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood in which Wagemann lived during the 1990s, and both stories clearly reflect the influence that living in that neighborhood had on him.  In Waiting to Happen, Wagemann's tone and style had devolved beyond the Lit-think syndrome he had suffered during the tail end of his graduate studies.  Instead it harkened back to the best elements of the hard-boiled detective influenced narratives of his earlier work but it also had a maturity and easy flow that Nigga Killa XThe Abortion Doctor's Wife and The Socialist in the Closet lacked at times.  The story also had a playful, tongue-in-cheek tone similar to that of The Panty Thief of Bridgeport.  It is however, considered by some to be Wagemann's most blatant attempt at the "popular fiction" style of the time.  Perhaps this is a fair criticism, but even as Wagemann deftly utilized all the formulaic tools of the popular fiction style, he did so in his own unique way.  Waiting to Happen, although not a penetrating look at the human condition, is a fun and fast read.  The tale revolves around the erotic relationship that develops between "two young midget women" and a protagonist who has an infatuation with 1930's Depression-era bank robbers.  The lust/love that one of the females has for the protagonist echoes that of the lust/love that the narrator from The Panty Thief of Bridgeport has on Samantha (the girl in that story) - and likewise that lust/love grows into an increasingly unhealthy obsession.
Eye Puzzle, completed in 1999, signals Wagemann's return to submitting his works for publication as he entered it into a number of local writing contests.  Eye Puzzle was not as playful as Waiting to Happen or The Panty Thief of Bridgeport, but it would unexpectedly become Wagemann's most notorious piece of writing from this period.  The story however, did not obtain its notoriety until 12 years later when it became an oft-referenced favorite of various protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement of late 2011.  Ironically, its popularity came to Wagemann's attention during the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago.  Wagemann was an NCO in the Air Force National Guard by then and had deployed as a military escort providing security and transportation for State Department big wigs during the summit.  One day during a large protest on Michigan Avenue an Occupy protester tried to commandeer a government vehicle.  The protester was rebuffed and apprehended by several military members.  When the protester was searched, a Xerox copy of Eye Puzzle was found in his possession.  This seemed like too much of a coincidence.  An investigation ensued and Wagemann was questioned by federal agents. Wagemann told them he was utterly dumbfounded to find that his story was being read by the protesters.  The attraction to Eye Puzzle for the Occupy protesters seemed obvious however.  It is the sad and inevitable tale of the decay of Chicago's historic Maxwell Street Market which portrays the battle against (and defeat at the hands of) modern corporate gentrification - all of which is told through the eyes of a moderately ambitious young real estate agent who unwittingly yet remorsefully participates in Maxwell Street's demise. 

Being the last short story Wagemann wrote before the new millennium, Eye Puzzle seemed to be the perfect story in which to end the collection.  But as the finishing touches to the collection approached, there was a sense that more content was needed.  When I mentioned this to Wagemann he informed me he had taken a fiction writing course as an undergraduate student at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois in 1990.  He vaguely recalled a collection of short stories that pre-dated the era of Confessions of a Smalltown Stoner.  Semi-fearful of another floppy disc quagmire, I none the less asked him if he had any of his work from those classes.  He said he doubted it, but that he would check.  And of course a week later he handed me three ragged looking binders which I took home and immediately began thumbing through.  What I found was hundreds of pages of quirky story starts, bits and pieces, unfinished scenes and bizarre doodles.  One pieces in particular held promise.  Psychedelic Christmas, an uneven and abandoned bittersweet tale of a teenage boy who tries psychedelic drugs for the first time while riding to his Grandma's house during a snowstorm on Christmas day in 1984.  On the car trip to Grandma's house the teenage boy becomes convinced that the DJ on the radio is contemplating suicide because of the song selections he plays.  When the boy arrives at Granny's house - a woman who is described as the most joyless and lifeless woman to ever walk the Earth - he manages to sidestep the holiday meal because Granny cooked meals as though she was trying to take all the taste out of the foods so that it was as bland and joyless as she is.  

Another piece that emerged from Wagemann's tattered notebooks was the the piece that became Bean Ball, a short story which Wagemann included as part of his graduate thesis.  Bean Ball tells the story of a ten year old boy in Little League who is petrified of getting hit in the head by a baseball.  Bean Ball's narrator could have very well have been the Smalltown Stoner at the age of 10.  Like most of the snippets from Wagemann's old notebook stories, Bean Ball described places and plots that were set near the same small town that was featured in Confession of a Small-town Stoner.  Overall, the notebook pieces appear as glimpses of an alternative history of Wagemann's life as told through the voice of more innocent, sentimental and light-hearted version of the Smalltown Stoner. 

Although neither of those two pieces are included here, I did find bits and pieces of a work that later became 1981, Wagemann's first foray into Rock journalism.  In 1981, Wagemann recounts being a 12 year old during the weeks immediately following the assassination attempts of Ronald Reagan and John Lennon.  1981 is straight non-fiction,  It first appeared on an on-line diary website (an early version of blog websites) during the U.S. Presidential Election of 2000.  1981 brought Wagemann to the attention of Rock music fans and inspired his popular blog Who Will Save Rock and Roll?

Overall, the material gathered for Gentrification: The Early Works of Ed Wagemann was chosen to provide insight into the maturation process of a young American writer in 1990's America.  A starving artist who, after finding some early success, struggled to expand his pallet and strive for greater things.  I can still almost see the Ed Wagemann of those early days, working hard, scribbling on scraps of paper at CTA bus stops, hustling to preserve his ideas during coffee breaks or just observing patrons and co-workers who populated the various odd jobs he toiled away at.  And despite a mid-decade slump that resulted in narratives that produced (at times) cringe-worthy paint-by-numbers writing and lit-class self-importance, overall there is an arc of evolution going on in his writing that fans out across the progression of these stories and which reveals the expressions of a young man with something to say.  These expressions, which are filtered through the rawness and intensity of youth (and with all the uncomfortable truthful edginess that comes with that territory), create a collection of transmissions from the margins of 1990s American society that transport the reader back to that mid 1990's era when society had yet to be taken over by the internet and other communication technology.  It is a fascinating place in time and history and there is a tangible, genuine human warmth emanating from these stories that many of today's writings can only aspire toward.  I am thankful they are finally being shared with us and perhaps that is what Wagemann was grasping for all along, all those years ago, as he trekked the halls of 600 South Michigan Avenue with his battered, rag-tag copies of Confessions of A Smalltown Stoner tucked under his arm.  Maybe he was just looking for someone to tell his stories to.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

the abortion doctor's wife - part 1

Dr. Egush-Patel heard a scream as he pushed his forceps into the vagina of 15 year old LaUniqueshwa Scott.  The scream did not come from LaUniqueshwa – she was out cold – nor did it come from either of Egush's two nurse aids who were there to assist him with the procedure.  It was a ghost scream.  Egush-Patel motioned toward his nurse to wipe his brow as a single drop of sweat spilled from his hairline onto his eyelid.  Two feet above him, a large, bright overhead lamp beamed stale heat directly onto his scalp. The lamp was to aid Egush's vision but as he looked at the nurses faces, the white light from the lamp saturated them into egg-yoke blobs.  Their expressions were indecipherable.  Egush-Patel drew a breath and continued his work with the forceps. He was beginning a dismemberment abortion, or what was called a Second Trimester D&E Abortion.
Egush-Patel performed hundreds of dismemberment abortions during the three years he held his practice at the Woman's Advocate Health Clinic.  The procedure was second nature to him.  So when he positioned the forceps onto the mid section of the tiny unborn human inside of L'Uniqshwa, he wasn't surprised by the unborn baby's response.  The touch of the steely cold forceps caused the baby to move.  Instinctively Egush-Patel noticed the cohesiveness of the skin tissue.  He found the flesh easy to grip.  This meant the body would be relatively easy to dismember.  Egush-Patel also gauged the unborn body's pelvis was at least 5 centimeters in width.  He made this mental note, then moved the forceps deeper into the vagina until the icy metallic grips found the human head.  He would have to crush the head by squeezing it between the ends of the forceps.  That often took a great deal of strength involving the wrist and forearms.  Most doctors who performed dismemberment abortions were men.  There was a certain gruesomeness in collapsing the skull – it was accompanied by a gut-dropping "snap" and a certain feeling of "give" that was similar to the sensation someone feels when they crush a walnut inside a nutcracker.  Most people didn't have the stomach for this, but he did.  He had the stomach for it and he had the hands for it.  His hands, wrists and forearms were strong enough to perform such a maneuver in a very slow, deliberate manner.  And each time he did this he had the same realization - the realization that he was ending a life.  During his training the unborn baby was always called a fetus.  But there was no doubt to him that it was a living human being.  His forceps probed deeper toward the skull.  Crushing the skull would come at the end of the procedure, it was the finale.  But first Egush-Patel would have to cut the pelvis, then use the long curved Mayo scissors to decapitate and dismember the rest of the unborn baby.
That scream he heard wasn't real, he realized.  It was some kind of ghost scream – a mental flashback to a scream of an unborn child he aborted several weeks prior.  It was an unborn from another teen mother.  That fetus, that unborn baby, that human being had screamed and it had been unmistakable.  He had heard it, his aids had heard it.  They were startled.  It sent shivers down their spines.  Egush-Patel believed he had already crushed that unborn's skull but in fact, he had only smashed its face in.  When he pulled the disfigured baby from its mother's vagina it cried out.  There was no mistaking in.  Egush-Patel didn't stop though.  He simply turned to his nurse and handed her the remains to dispose of.  He put that scream, the scream, out of his mind.  Instantaneously forgetting about it - he thought.  But it was still there, somewhere in the back of his mind.  He could still hear it.  Even now as he gripped onto a meaty piece of flesh from the unborn body inside of LaUniqushwa, even as he pulled it toward him, through LaUniqushwa's cervix—the scream was still there.  Egush-Patel tugged harder and here was a steadily increasing resistance.  He was accustomed to this friction that came with pulling body parts through the cervix.  That friction helped tear the body apart – somewhat similar to the way chicken meat is pulled apart from a succulent, well-baked chicken.  So he pulled with a bit more torque and a liquidy, bloodied dismembered piece of flesh was ripped off the tiny human body.  As he pulled it out of L'Uniqushwa's vagina, the human body inside her thrashed and kicked.  The piece of flesh he pulled out of her was the left foot and ankle which he had just ripped apart from the left leg.  Gush-Patel discarded this piece of flesh then repositioned his forceps into the vagina to grab the rest of the leg.  There was more resistance as he pulled it through he cervix, until the leg ripped apart just above the knee.   The body thrashed about more.  Egush-Patel pulled this leg part out and flung it into a cold steel container at his side.  After removing the foot and then the leg, up to the knee, Egush-Patel felt the tiny human body inside of L'Uniqshwa still violently thrusting about, almost to the point of delirium.  Egush-Patel did not need to look at the ultrasound equipment.  There was obviously still a heartbeat. 

“What is life?” Brock Sproles addressed the group of high school seniors.  “When did your life start?  He looked around at the class. The class was typical of the high school groups he often spoke to.  Fifteen years removed from high school himself, Brock surmised that this class wasn't very different from the classes he attended when he was a high school student.  He remembered the drama queen, the prom queen, the stoner, the jock, the music geek, the computer geek, the wall flower, the shoe gazer, the art chick, the class clown.  Brock himself had always been bored in high school, completely bored.  Now, as an activist, boredom was the one sin he refused to commit.  
“Does anyone want to take a stab at that question?” he asked.  “When did your life start?”
A dark-haired boy up front declared, “Your life began when you were born.  Duh.”  
There was a few half-suppressed chuckles.
“So what were you before you were born?” Brock asked.  “When you were in your mother's stomach?  Weren't you a life then too?”
Brock knew this was the kind of question that most of these kids hadn't previously given much thought.  He searched their eyes for cues.  Where any of them mulling over possible answers?  Ms. Witherspoon, their Health Sciences teacher stood toward the back of the class.  Brock's presence there wasn't her idea.  Brock had petitioned the school board, filed the red sea of red tape and schmoozed the school's administrators for several months before convincing them to let him into the classroom to talk to the seniors during sex education week.  
Finally one female senior with bookish glasses and the look of a junior librarian raised her hand.  “My pastor says life begins at conception.”
Brock had a ready-built “recourse of conversation” for any path that any student response would take.  The religion angle was one he had to tread lightly around, one that he wanted to avoid actually.  Truth be told, he was actually an agnostic.
“Okay, conception – does everyone know what that term means?”
There was a few guffaws, a few giggles before Ms. Witherspoon spoke up, “On Monday, we watched the documentary you recommended, The Miracle of Life, which explained the process in detail.”
Brock had made a quick effort to size up Trisha Witherspoon earlier, when the vice-principle introduced them to each other.  She had shoulder-length black hair, a thin figure that was draped with traditional progressive attire, brown leggings and a sleeveless blouse.  She was a few years younger than he was, her facial features were sharp, precise, but her expressions were somewhat suppressed, as if she were constantly straining to hold her emotions in check.
“Okay, good,” Brock continued.  “So you understand that prior to conception there is a sperm and an egg which are parts of two different human lives—one part from the man and one part from the woman's body—but separately the sperm and the egg do not constitute a human being.  It is not until these two entities join—when the sperm fertilizes the egg—that an entire new human life is created.”
Ms. Witherspoon stared at Brock.  There was something mischievous about him.  Here he was, dressed respectfully in a suit and tie, with his clean, even jawline, and his hair just one quick head-turn away from being unkempt, speaking in a professional manner, with a politically correct confidence to his cadence - yet there was something troublesome about him.  His aura was that of a man on a mission of some sort, a mission beyond just educating high school students about the moral questions that arise from the Abortion debate.  
“So technically, biologically speaking, that point is when your life began.  Conception.  If that moment of conception had not occurred, the rest of your life never would have happened.”   Brock paused to let that idea resonate.  Trisha Witherspoon found that her pulse was starting to increase.
“So, I'm here to talk to you today about abortion...” he said, taking in the student's faces once again then nearly grinning at Trisha Witherspoon, who now had her arms crossed tightly around her chest. “...And some of the questions that arise when someone is thinking about abortion.”    
“What is this guy up to?” She wondered.
“In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a right to choose to abort the life that has been conceived inside of her. Since that time, there have been over 50 million human lives aborted in America," Brock declared, letting that large number sink in, knowing that most kids had no idea there had been that many legal abortions.  Then he added, "Nearly half of those have been African-American lives.”
Now why the fuck did he have to mention that?!? Witherspoon questioned to herself, What does that have to do with anything?  But then she contemplated that statistic.   That can't be true, she told herself.
“I'm not here to give you a history lesson or bombard you with a lot of statistics, but just let me share one more bit of information with you,” Brock continued. “It is a statistical fact that only one out of every million Americans choose to kill themselves.  One out of a million.  Remember that number - that is the percentage of Americans who choose suicide.”  
Trisha Witherspoon was glaring at him now.
“So that means that out of those 50 million aborted lives since 1973, only 50 of them – fifty out of 50 million – would have chosen to abort themselves.  All of those other 50 million are innocent Americans whose lives have been taken against their will.”
Trisha's jaw nearly dropped to the ground.  What the fuck is this?!?  
“So the question you might be asking yourself,” Brock continued, “is why were these millions upon millions of American lives denied the miracle of life?  Why weren't they allowed to choose life?  Why were their mothers allowed to decide life or death for them?”
Trisha couldn't contain herself a minute longer, “Excuse me, Mr. Sproles – but how do you propose that a zygote express its decision to live?”
Finally, Mrs. Witherspoon gave herself away.  It was usually about half and half when it came to health education teachers.  Half were pro-life, generally of the Holy Roller variety.  While the other half were pro-choice, generally of the woman's rights variety.  Witherspoon looked like she could have belonged in either camp though.  Yet she also did not look like someone who had no opinion, she didn't look like someone who was neutral.  And now as she cocked her eyebrow at him, Brock knew which way she bent, and he couldn't help but admit that he was attracted to her.  Oddly enough, he was attracted exclusively to women who were pro-choice.  Something about the challenge of converting them made them much more interesting.  He was once pro-choice himself, after all he was a Democrat.  But, similar to how a born again Christian yearns to spread the word of the Lord and convert everyone he meets, Brock had undergone his own born-again experience and he yearned to spread his message.  Only his message didn't involve the Lord.  No, his message was that of life is a miracle - and it should not be destroyed under any circumstances.  And he wanted to share this knowledge and convert everyone he met, especially hard-boiled, somewhat uptight Health Science teachers with perky breasts.  So when Ms. Witherspoon posed her question about how is a zygote supposed to express its decision to live, Brock was "go" time.
“How does anyone express their decision to live?” he stated, pointing to a slacker sitting toward the back of the class room.  
“You there, how do you express your decision to live?  Did you wake up this morning, throw open the shutters to your bedroom window and decree to the world outside that 'Today, I choose to live!'”
This line got the predictable laugh from the class.
“As a matter of fact, I did,” the slacker joked.
There were some more laughs as Brock smiled at him and said, “We express our decision to live by actually living.  By partaking in this merry-go-round miracle of life and by moving forward, evolving, learning, loving, living... our cells growing, our bodies moving, our blood pumping.  Just like the zygotes in The Miracle of Life did.”
Oh for fuck's sake, I have to stop this guy, Trisha Witherspoon decreed to herself before speaking up, “Mr. Brock, with all due respect, everyone in this room is conscious.  We are all sentient beings.  We can choose to live or we can choose to end our life – but a zygote is not sentient.  A zygote cannot even exist outside the womb.  It is totally reliant on their mother for their survival.  Technically speaking, a zygote is actually just a clump of cells, like the skin cells that come off your body while washing your face.”
“Well, a clump of cells that came off my face never became an Abe Lincoln, or a John Lennon or a Martin Luther King or a Ms. Witherspoon.  No, a zygote is not just a clump of cells.”  Brock knew he had sparked the fire.  That fire and passion that the abortion topic always ignites - and that was never boring.  
“Look at this way,” he continued, “technically speaking, the word zygote is just a name that mankind has assigned to a certain stage of development in a human's life.  It is no different from the other names that we use to describe other stages of human development like 'teenager', or 'baby', or 'adult', or 'elderly'  or 'middle-aged'.  The only difference is the stage of life a person is in.”
“Except that a zygote is not sentient, Mr. Brock.  And a zygote cannot exist without its mother.”
“The same could be said about my cousin Mortie,” Brock joked.  “But does that give his mother the right to kill him?”
Again the class laughed.
“You know what I mean, Mr. Brock,” Trisha patronized.
“I do know what you mean, Ms. Witherspoon,” Brock smiled at her.  His grin was inviting, instead of being a look of confrontation, it was a look of inclusion that welcomed all comers.... yet that mischievous glint in his eye, it had a strange affect on her –  it made her fearful, fearful to step deeper into this conversation, where the promise of dangerous and challenging ideas lurked - ideas that Mr. Sproles had already navigated astutely over and over again.
“And I'm glad you bring up the notion of sentience, Mrs. Witherspoon,” Brock continued.  “Sentience is a very crucial part of the equation when it comes to a decision on Abortion.”  He paused a moment.  Trisha had her eyes glued to him.  And he had his eyes glued to her.
"You see, if your argument is that any human life that is not sentient has no right to life then that means that you believe that someone who is knocked out, or someone who is sleeping or in a coma, has no right to life.  So from that point of view, if a human being is in a temporary state of not being sentient, well that's just tough luck because mankind has no obligation to helping those human beings out.  But a question I ask to this class is: Just because a human is unconscious at a certain moment, does that make them any less human!?!"
Ms. Witherspoon's fists were actually clenched now.  Her face was blush.  She wanted to say something, but she held back, trying to bite her tongue when she blurted out, "Mr. Sproles, are you trying to say that abortion is equal to killing a person?  Because killing a person is illegal.  Abortion is not."
"Actually killing a person in not illegal if it is done in self-defence or in an act of war," he shot back, sensing she was coming unhinged.  And she was sensing this too.  In fact she realized that if she didn't excuse herself from the classroom at that very moment, she would... she would do something that she didn't want to do.  And without another word she stormed out of the classroom, into the hallway where she stood motionless, fist still clenched, staring at the floor.  Trisha Witherspoon took a deep breath.  
To her surprise, upon looking up, she noticed a young lady sitting on a wooden chair beside the door to her classroom.  This young lady had Down Syndrome.
"What are you doing here?" Trisha asked the girl.
"I'm waiting for my uncle Brock," the girl explained.  "He's giving a speech," and she looked toward Trisha then toward the classroom.
Trisha nodded slowly, as if she understood, yet she was actually completely confused.  She was feeling light-headed actually, as though she might black out.  She began walking slowly, not sure where she was headed, dragging her feet until she noticed the drinking fountain down the hall.  She went to it, bent over, took a drink then stood back up and stared at a flyer for a Band Recital that was pinned to a bulletin board.  After reading it thoroughly for several minutes, she slowly composed herself.  She sighed heavily then headed back to her classroom.  As she re-entered Mitzi, a girl who wore too much lip-gloss was speaking.
"But what kind of life would that baby have?"  Mitzi asked, "It wouldn't have the economic opportunities that most kids have, that baby wouldn't be as loved as kids who are wanted.  They would probably get hooked on drugs and get involved in crime.  I mean, they could become little Adolph Hitlers and Charlie Mansons."
The class laughed at this, and another dark-skinned kid chimed in, "Yeah, that baby would probably grow up so unhappy and miserable that they would just want to end up killing themselves anyway - So why not just do it for them before they are even born?  Save them all the heartache."
Brock had this class engaged in a manner that Ms. Witherspoon hadn't been able to achieve the entire semester - hell her entire teaching career.
"Well, now you are getting into the area of Social Engineering.  Who decides if poor children's lives are worth living?  Who decides if their lives have value?  That's social Engineering - which, if you've read your history books, you'll know, is what Hitler was doing in regard to the Jews in Nazi Germany.  And we all know that that is wrong.  Don't we?  Don't we all know that the decision to live or die must be up to each individual human?"
Ms. Witherspoon immediately regretted that she had re-entered the classroom.
"So remember that statistic I gave you earlier,"  Brock continued, smiling at Ms. Witherspoon as she re-entered.  "Only one in a million Americans choose to kill themselves.  The overwhelming majority of people choose to live rather than to die?"
Trisha Witherspoon turned and headed straight for the back of the classroom where she leaned herself against the back wall.  She still felt light-headed.
"Now, I know there are a lot of jerks in this world." Brock continued,  "A lot of total A-holes, but I also know that in my 30 plus years of life that most people I meet actually have more good in their hearts than they have bad.  Most people have hope, most people, if you treat them nice, are going to be kind."  
Still looking at Mrs. Witherspoon Brock asked, "Would you agree with that Mrs. Witherspoon?"
"I'm not sure what this has to do with the choice of abortion," Mrs. Witherspoon replied.
"Ah, but it has everything to do with abortion," Brock continued.  "In its most basic essence, the question of abortion comes down to this one simply question: is it best to have a glass half-full view of life, or a glass half-empty?  The highest form of existence, the highest level of decision making, comes when every decision you make and every action you take is in consideration of what is best for humanity.  ALL of humanity.  Not just your self.  Now, certainly if someone is elderly and has lived a long life, but is in constant physical pain, it is reasonable to think that they might want to kill themselves and be put out of their misery.  But most folks, young folks, physically healthy folks choose to live.  Most folks choose to learn and love and create and celebrate life."
"So I'd like you to each ask yourselves one simple question."  Brock then walked over to his duffel bag, pulled out a bottle of water and a small drinking glass.  He sat the glass on Ms. Witherspoon's desk and poured the water into it until it reached the halfway mark.  
"Is the glass half-full or is it half-empty?"
Witherspoon took a glance at Brock, making eye contact.
"Is life a good thing?  Is it something we should rejoice in and celebrate?  Or is it a cruel, terrible thing?  Something we should destroy?"
Brock looked at Trisha, "How about you Mrs Witherspoon?" he asked smiling invitingly.  "Is this glass half-empty or half full?"
"My personal opinion is not relevant to the abortion issue in regards to this class, Mr. Sproles.  And I don't think yours should be either," she replied coldly.
Brock cocked his head, "But isn't much of the goal of education to help and inspire kids to develop and obtain skills that allow them to reach the highest levels of critical thinking?  And doesn't the highest level of thought development involve making decisions that extend beyond how your decision is simply going to effect yourself?  Doesn't the highest level of decision making concern how your decisions effect others?  In fact doesn't the very highest level of decision making involve taking into consideration how your decisions not only effect you and those around you, but how they may effect all of mankind?  And all of history?"
Trisha Witherspoon did not respond.
"So if you have faith in humanity, if you believe that there is more good in the universe than there is bad, then you have to believe that every human life is more likely to want to live than die.  Even the weakest, poorest, ugliest, smelliest specimen on Earth has more potential to be happy if they are alive rather than dead."
It was time for Brock to pull out his secret weapon.
“As you all think about your obligation to mankind and, in turn, mankind's obligation to the weakest members of our species," Brock continued, "I'd like to introduce you all to my very good friend Jenny...”
Brock then walked to the door, opened it and Jenny, the girl with Down Syndrome who had been sitting obediently in a chair outside, walked in.  She followed Brock to the front of the classroom, standing by his side.
“Hello," she said, "My name is Jenny Smart.  Some of you may recognize I have Down Syndrome.”  The slacker kid rolled his eyes and the kid next to him looked as if he was about to laugh.
“When my mother was about your age she was raped and she became pregnant.  Before I was born, the doctors told my mother that I would have a defect.  They told her that it was very expensive and very difficult and even dangerous to have a baby like me.  They told her about abortion, but she said she did not want one.”  
Jenny's gaze had gradually drifted downward as she spoke, until her head was tilted toward the floor.  She remembered what Brock had told her though.  She had to keep looking up, find someone in the back of the room and speak as though you are speaking directly to them.  So she raised her head again and saw Trisha Witherspoon, standing in the back with her arms crossed.
“It was hard to raise a baby like me,” Jenny continued.  “My mom did not know it was going to be so hard, but she did a good job.”  Jenny looked to Brock, who nodded at her with his smile.  
“When I was in school I used to get teased,” Jenny told them.  “One mean boy called me Jenny 'Not So' Smart.  Every day he said this and he made ugly faces and noises.  But today I have my own job and my own apartment and three cats that I take care of by myself.”  When she mentioned her cats, Jenny's face lit up into a huge smile.  “I am pro-life because every human life has value.”
Brock then hugged her as the classroom watched.  And with that Brock said, "When you go home after school today, I would like each and every one of you here to walk up to your mother, give her a big hug and say 'Thank you for choosing life and bringing me into this world.'  Life is a good thing.  Life is something to celebrate - not something to destroy."


A pile of memories sat in Donna Egush-Patel's mind, like rocks in a pile or suds in a bubble bath.  The ones at the top were more accessible, mostly because they were more recent.  Some of the memories were older though, many years older, but they were still on top because of the impact they had on her emotions – the unexpected, the out of the ordinary.  Sometimes old, mysterious memories were connected to newer ones.  Like her abortion.  She had been 18 years old.  She remembered the boy, she remembered knowing that she should have known better.  She remembered the headache that ran from the front of her skull, straight down to the bottom of her jaw that lasted for days.  But mostly she remembered the ten year old boy she saw when she left the clinic that day.  There he was walking down the sidewalk, by himself, eating an ice cream cone, with chocolate ice cream all around his mouth.  He looked so content, so happy.  When he stopped a few feet from her,  he looked into her eyes.  She remembered those eyes.  She remembered the panic that swept over her... she remembered thinking that he knew what she had just done.    
Donna met Egush-Patel a couple years later.  She just called him Egush.  He reminded her of a Pakistani version of Jimmy Stewart.  He was tall, slim, well-mannered, humble, shy... yet when he asked her out on a date, she hesitated.  Something about Egush made her think about that boy again.  So when Egush asked her to dinner, she said "How about lunch instead?"  Their first official fight was over who should pay the check.  Egush insisted on paying for the lunch, after all he had asked her out.  But she argued that she was a modern woman and she insisted on splitting the bill.  Then Egush surprised her, and himself, when he said he would let her pay the entire check - but only if she would allow him to take her to dinner the following night.  They glared at each other, then broke into a laugh.  It was the first time she had ever seen him laugh.  Egush rarely laughed, in fact.  Always so serious.  
After that they began dating each other regularly.  He was always very direct, very pragmatic, very to the point.  He made her feel safe, but after six months of dating exclusively, she decided to call it quits.  She suggested they date other people.  Egush pressed her for a reason and she admitted that she could never marry someone who was not a Christian.  She felt as though they were wasting their time by dating each other.  Egush practiced some "bizarre Hindu religion" that worshipped some "weird 8 armed, blue-skinned humanoid with an eyeball on its forehead".  But again Egush surprised himself and he told her that he would convert to Christianity. 
A year and a half later they were engaged.  As many brides-to-be are, Donna was nervous on the days leading up to the wedding.  She couldn't eat, she couldn't sleep.  She obsessively combed her hair - a bad habit she hadn't partaken in since she had been a teenager.  But now that habit had come back.  And she couldn't seem to concentrate or think straight.  She left her keys in her car one day, with her car door wide open as she went into a movie theater.  She watched the entire movie, went shopping, had lunch then came back out to find that her door was still wide open with her keys still in the ignition.  She also kept dropping things; drinking cups, her toothbrush, she dropped her change purse right into the toilet one day.  Finally on the night before the wedding, she was at dinner with both of their families, when she excused herself to use the restroom.  Instead of going to the restroom, she slipped out the back door and stood alone staring at the parking lot for several minutes.  It was then that she saw a young boy walking alone, across the parking lot.  It was dark, but she swore it was that same boy - the boy she she had seen years earlier, right after her abortion.  The exact same boy with the exact same eyes... 
Five years later, on a sunny spring afternoon, in which birds were singing and tulips were sprouting, Donna sat in her car, in the parking lot outside of the Women's Advocate Health Clinic, thinking about that boy.  It had been years ago.  That boy would be twenty by now.  Would she still recognize him if she saw him?  She let out a long sigh.  I have to do this, she convinced herself, opening her car door and stepping out.  It was rare for her to visit Egush's place of work.  She came only two or three times a year.  The last time had been for the Christmas party last December.  But now she came to tell Egush the news.  She was not alone.  Inside her, a tiny human was growing.

Inside the clinic, Egush's workday was about to end.  He walked from the operating room, straight past the metal bin containing the day's pile of dismembered body parts.  These body parts had to be properly disposed of.  A couple years earlier, when Egush opened the clinic, he did a cost analysis between having the body parts disposed of on site - a process that would have entailed purchasing special equipment, paying more licensing fees and other trainings costs - versus the option of paying a professional contractor (who specialized in biological disposals) to come in and take the discarded baby parts to a pathology lab.  Egush decided to train his staff on the "clean up" aspect of post-abortion, but then pay a professional contractor for disposal.  He was aware of a number of abortion clinics that merely wrapped the body parts in heavy bags and dumped them, but Egush would never risk something like that.  He could lose his practice, lose his license and be disgraced.  So he decided to contract out the Sanitize-O disposal agency.  But then there was one more option.  The option that no one spoke of... the black market.  
One day Hamilton Standish, the friendly handler/driver for Sanitize-O, came in for a pick-up and rather casually he mentioned the black market to Egush.  Standish, a blond-haired, middle-aged guy who looked as though he exercised regularly, told Egush that "Not all of the body parts we cart away make it to the pathology labs."
"What do you mean?" Egush asked.
"You know, a lot of the body parts actually make there way to an underground agency and end up being sold on the international market."  
Egush did not respond to Standish's not so subtle come-on, yet the idea of making money on these body parts instead of spending money on them certainly began wiggling around in his mind.  Until one day, three months later, Egush asked Standish to step into his office.  Egush had a part-time book keeper who had the day off and Egush was highly aware of the day-to-day financial transactions of his business.  So his first question to Standish was, "How do these abortion clinics that sell body parts to the black market, keep the transactions off their books?"
Standish shrugged, "That's really not something they discuss with me."
"Do you know of any clinics that have been caught?"
Standish had dealt with "amateurs" before and had an entire rap ready to feed Egush.  "No, not a single one.  How it works is like this: I continue making pick-ups here each week, only now I take two bins.  One bin has a few less valuable parts in it, while the other has the bulk of the body parts.  I call my contact, drop off the valuable bin to them, they pay me in cash, which I split with you, then I take the smaller bin to the pathology lab.  
"Won't the lab notice the bins are less full?"
"No," Standish thought of how asinine the question was, then added, "No one there cares."
"Do they have inspectors?  Auditors?"
Standish laughed, "Believe me, no one cares and no one will notice."
"So what happens to the body parts after they go on the black market?" Egush asked.  
Standish raised an eyebrow, as if to ask "Do you really want to know?" then let out a sigh.  "Well, all I know is that there is a number of Asian, African and Middle Eastern networks that provide aborted babies for experiments, medical research, you know.  They even provide babies from 'botched' abortions, that is, babies who are still alive.  These networks sell the eyes, organs, limbs, tissue.  Then also, like in Japan, there are companies that use the fetal tissue from abortions to make facial creams. 
"What?" Egush questioned.
"Beauty creams," Standish continued.  "The parts are listed as 'human collagen' on the labels.  If you ever see 'human collogen' on a face cream label that means there is material in it that is either from child's tissue or from the placenta.  This is forbidden in the United States however."  
Egush had one last question, "How much money are we talking here?"
Standish was still holding the invoice for that day's pick-up in his hand.  "Let me put it this way, one bin would cover your entire yearly fee for disposals."
A month later Egush split his weekly supply of body parts into two bins and gave them to Standish. 
"I am only interested in doing this one time each year," he explained.  Standish didn't object.  But eventually it became twice a year, then five times, and soon enough it became old hat, routine, no risk.  And eventually with each payment that Standish dished over, Egush would contemplate a new spin on his cost analysis.  What if he cut out the middle man?  What if he cut out Standish and took the parts to Standish's contact himself?  Or even hire someone, for 50 bucks, to do it?  The idea sounded preposterous to Egush, yet one afternoon after Standish picked up two bins of body parts, Egush tailed Standish.  Standish nearly lost him twice, and nearly spotted him once, but he finally lead Egush right to the location of his black market connection.  It was a large warehouse on the Westside in a predictably shady neighborhood.  Egush wrote down the address then drove away.  
He kept the address in his wallet, but it wasn't until this day, as he passed the pile of body parts, that he decided to test waters for himself.  In his mind he could not help but calculate the price tag that such a pile would bring.  He had gotten to know Standish well enough to believe that Standish was low-balling him.  And today was the day to find out.  He just had to figure out how to get the bin out of his office without raising any suspicions.  Just then his head assistant came down the hall.  
"Your wife is here," she told him.
Egush thought he was hearing things.
"Your wife."


Brock gazed at the large bright red banner that hung from his office window: “On an average day in America there are 1,876 black babies aborted. Since 1973 there have been 50 million abortions in the U.S. African-American women have accounted for 40% of these abortions even though African-American women only make up 6% of the population in the U.S.  This means African-American women are nearly 7 times as likely as white women to have an abortion.  Over 80% of all abortion clinics are located in predominantly black neighborhoods.”
His organization, DOA (Democrats Opposing Abortion) had rented the office space in the plaza that shared a parking lot with the Woman's Advocate Health clinic.  From their second floor window they had a bird's eye view of the entrance to Egush-Patel's abortion clinic.  Brock and his team hung their banner so that anyone who walked in that parking lot (which meant anyone who exited the abortion clinic) would certainly see their banner.  It was prominent enough that hundreds of people a day would read it.
Brock was flanked by his two partners-in-crime, Charles Chabley and Deronda Butler.  The Glee-some Three-some, they called themselves.  They each wore a tiny, yellow pro-life button on their jackets, the one with a smiley face that had the phrase “smile, your mother chose life” encircling it.
“And so it begins,” Deronda joked.  
The Glee-some Three-some had been DOA's most effective unit in Chicago.  They had closed down three abortion clinics in the last 18 months.  The last one had taken less that 60 days.  As a team they had grown into a cohesive unit that could finish each others sentences, know what the other was thinking, anticipate each others moves.  Charles, who relished the role of the bad cop, also had a knack for grant writing and finding off-the-beaten-path sources for donations.  Deronda, who wore her heart on her sleeve, was deeply Christian and had a down-home, honest nature that always shone through.  She spoke with a matter-of-fact truthfulness that gave her an air of having been through it all and seen it all.  Low-income girls, especially black girls, connected with her immediately.  She was like a mother figure, like their own personal Oprah Winfrey.  She was dedicated to the cause, she put in the longest hours, did all the dirty work, filed papers, answered phones and she and was HIV positive.     
A fourth “unofficial” member of their unit was Paul, the "kid in the bowler hat".  Paul looked down from the upper window, ready to adjust the sign if Brock directed him to do so.  Brock waved to him, then gave him a "thumbs up".  Paul, who always wore a bowler hat, was a college student who had joined the unit as an intern.  He was a video production whiz and Brock knew there was a very large chance that he would move past DOA and onto one of the high-salaried positions offered by some corporate suiter just as soon as his internship ended.  Brock's only chance to keep him was to convince him that his job was the funnest and most important thing in the world.  To do so, he gave Paul free reign.  Paul was producing a series of videos that would be shown on public access channels in over 30 major cities nation wide.  The videos documented the various conflicts with pro-choice folks that the Glee-some Three-some sought out.  The only rule Brock gave him was that he had to make the pro-choicers look like idiots - which given the tactics that the Glee-some Threesome developed was not very hard to do.  Ideally he wanted the pro-choicers to get so mad at him that they physically attacked him.  He wanted the camera to capture their rage and hatred.  He wanted to portray them as irrational kooks.
Two young black women exited the clinic, one was holding a baby.  A small child was trailing behind them.  As predicted the two women saw the three-some looking up at the banner and they slowed to glare at it.  Brock handed them a flyer announcing a meeting for 7pm that night
"Well, I won't be attending that," the first woman declared.  "My views on abortion are not political; they're personal and as far as I'm concerned your views on abortion are null and void, because you do not have a uterus. Are we clear, sir?"
"I'm familiar with your argument, miss..."
The woman stared at him.  If Brock hadn't flashed her that slick smile of his, she probably would have slapped him.  Instead she conceded.  "My name is Holmita."
"Yes, this argument Holmita, that 'What a woman does with her own body is her business and hers alone' doesn't hold up, because by that same logic you could argue that if woman wants to blow her body up next to a school bus full of children, then that's okay, because its HER body. The thing with abortion is that it is not just her body she is affecting. It is that unborn baby, that living soul she is destroying.  
Holmita, had heard enough, "Look Jack, if you oppose abortion, don't have one!"
"But that's like saying if you don't support killing people, then don't kill someone.  We have to do better than that."  Deronda could have stepped in at this point, she could always defend Brock's flank - but it thrilled her a bit to see the way Brock countered every aggressive attack with his unflappable certainty.  He was stone, he wasn't budging.  He could insult people right to their face, call them murders basically, but in such a cool, calm and confident manner that sometimes it was just better to sit back and admire.  
"We have laws that prevent people from killing other people Holmita," Brock continued.  "If we want to thrive and evolve as a race, that is something we must do.  We must protect the weak and we must celebrate life - not destroy it."
Holmita was steaming.  Boiling.  Brock could almost see the smoke steaming from her ears.  She had been played.  She grabbed the small child at her side, nearly jerking his hand off as she marched away.  
Brock looked up at the banner again.  There was Paul, the boy in the bowler hat.  He had grabbed his video camera the second Brock handed Holmita the flyer.  He was too far away from Brock to have gotten much of a sound recording, but the confrontation and the gestures of Holmita were worth something.  The boy in the bowler hat thought about how he could insert a voice-over in the video and make it work.
At that moment, Donna Egush-Patel exited the clinic.  She had not informed Egush of her pregnancy like she had planned.  It was probably a bad idea to spring it on him at work.  He was preoccupied, busy - but she needed to tell him as soon as possible.  Inside the office was not the right place.  So she told him to meet her in the parking lot in fifteen minutes.  Fine, Egush thought, figuring that would give him time to sneak the baby parts out the back door, to where his SUV was parked.  As Donna left the building, Egush dismissed his receptionist and assistance, then put the baby part container on a dolly.  The container was basically a small cooler.  It reminded him of the dorm-room fridge he had in college as a freshman.  He rolled it out the back door and prepared to hoist it into the cargo carrier of his utility vehicle.  But the bin was too heavy.  
"Oh fuck," Egush muttered to himself.  He wasn't able to get the container into his vehicle... unless... "I'm gonna have to take the bags of body parts out of the container," he muttered to himself.  "Throw the empty container into my vehicle and then throw each bag back into it..."


             "Excuse me Miss," Brock smiled at Donna, who was walking nervously to her car.  He handed her the flyer as she slowed to glance his way.
"There is a discussion panel meeting this evening..." and then he recognized her.  And she recognized him.
It had been a decade.  They hadn't spoken since the abortion, literally.  He had not accompanied her to the clinic.  He called her afterward, but she didn't return his calls.  She never wanted to see him again.  But now here he was, right in front of her.
"Donna?  Are you..."  This was too weird.  The last time Brock saw her she told him she was going to the abortion clinic.  And now, ten years later, here she was coming out of an abortion clinic.  Brock didn't know whether she had the abortion or not all those years ago.  He had called her, tried contacting her friends and family, but...
"Are you pregnant?" he asked.
"Oh my god!" Donna cried, then ran off.  Paul, the kid in the bowler hat kept the camera rolling as Donna ran around to the side of the building, right to where Egush's SUV was parked.  There, she saw Egush literally holding a bag of aborted baby parts as she rushed up to him and declared, "Oh Egush, I'm pregnant!" as she wrapped herself in his arms. 
Egush blushed as she clenched him.
"That is great news Honey," he smiled at her, noticing the flyer Brock had handed her just moments before.  She was still clenching it.

"We are having a baby," he nodded at her.