Page 19

“You go,” Keisha offered.

“No, if you really want to, you do it,” Mira said.

Finally Flora stepped in and determined that Mira would go and Keisha would stay.

Then Flora said, “I want you girls to think about working this out, you hear? Because it’s going to feel like a long, long stay in Kansas if you two are going to be like this. The quicker you work through it, the easier it’s going to be for all of us.”

Sadly, she didn’t explain how they could actually “work through it.” So they were left to their own poutings, which were almost humorously identical.

As soon as we were far enough away from our group’s new base camp, Janna asked me what the plan was for Jimmy’s birthday.

“I bought him a pony,” I told her.

She slapped me on the shoulder. “That’s not fair—I bought him a pony, too!”

“Did you take the tag off? Can you still return it?”

“I bought it used.”

“You bought my boyfriend a used pony?”

“Yes,” Janna replied, looking skyward. “I bought him a pony that was used by the Lord.”

“No! You don’t mean—”

“That’s right.” She smiled. “Straight from the ark itself.”

“Damn, that’s one old pony.”

“Only the most special for Jimmy.”

I liked that Janna could joke about the Lord, even when she was such a firm believer. (“Although it doesn’t really come up much in the Bible,” she once told me, “I happen to think that Jesus had a great sense of humor. He just strikes me as the type.”)

We got to the corner where the counterprotesters were. Somehow I knew they wouldn’t have gone away. If anything, there were more of them now, shouting at us to go home, then telling us we were going to hell.

“I wonder if Cathy’s in there somewhere,” Janna said as we passed. “I mean, if Mary Catherine’s in there. Cathy would never be a part of that. But Mary Catherine…I wonder if she’s here, or if she and her family went to Wichita.”

I scanned the crowd, looked at the faces. So many angry, tired faces. People just like us, but not like us at all. I didn’t see Mary Catherine, but I saw a lot of Mary Catherines—girls and guys our age, shouting as loudly as the rest. Most of the counterprotesters were older, but there were still enough young ones for me to be painfully aware that this was a fight that would follow us into the future.

Janna shook her head. “I hope they don’t think we’re leaving. I want to tell them we’re coming back. And that we’re not going to hell. I mean, who are they to say? It’s one thing to warn someone out of concern. It’s another to take it upon yourself to make the damnation. The last time I checked, it was the Lord’s call whether or not we go to hell. I hope whenever a person tells another person he or she is going to hell that the Lord notices and decides to hold it against the hell-caller when his or her day of judgment comes. I hope he or she gets up to the gates and the Lord says, It was so easy for you to send people to hell in My name that I’m afraid it’s going to be easy for Me to do the same.”

When we got to the farther reaches of town, we saw something inspiring: Although there were definitely some cars leaving now that the rally was over, there were still more people pouring into Topeka to join us. One pair of women passed us carrying a lime-green couch, preparing for the long haul. Their young daughter slept on top of it. It took us an hour to get to the bus, but along the way we were greeted by any number of smiles, nods, and determined looks. At the bus, Flora divided us into teams—some carrying sleeping bags and tents, others in charge of food and water.

Janna, Mira, and I were set to carry some of the boxes of Everything Bars that we’d brought.

“A full day’s nutrition in just one bar!” Janna chirped, mocking the Everything Bar jingle.

I tried to sort through the boxes to bring a balance of bars back to our base.

“Should I bring savory or sweet?” I asked.

“What do we have?” Mira asked back.

“A lot of Thanksgiving Dinner, some Cinnamon Goodness, some Fruit Attack.”

“Ooh—I like Thanksgiving Dinner,” Janna said. “Especially the blueberry dessert.”

“I guess I’ll just take some of each kind. Leave the rest for later.”

“Do you think there’s going to be a later?” Janna wondered aloud. “I mean, are we really going to be here for that long?”

I looked at the food supplies. “Well, it can’t be too long—assuming we want something for the way back, we only have a day or two more for all of us, assuming the Everything Bars are enough to last the whole day.”

“Are you saying they won’t deliver as advertised?” Janna said, pretending to be shocked.

Flora came over to check on how we were doing.

“We got enough?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” Janna said. “Even including the triplets and Sue and Elwood and Mrs. Everett.”

“Oh, yes,” Flora said. “Mrs. Everett. I tell you, that woman…”

Janna, Mira, and I were suddenly intrigued.

“How do you and Virgil know her?” Janna asked, making her voice as wide-eyed and innocent as possible.

“Hmpf,” Flora said. “I guess you could say she was the one who came before me. Wanted Virgil bad, I tell you. But didn’t catch him, and it’s a good thing she didn’t, ’cause I would’ve got him whether she had him or not, if you know what I mean.”

I did know what she meant, and I was scandalized. I couldn’t imagine Virgil with anyone besides Flora. They were like roots to the same tree.

“Are you worried now?” Janna asked. “I mean, now that she’s back.”

At this, Flora laughed and laughed and laughed—her whole body shaking like jelly in an earthquake.

“Whew!” she finally said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “That’s a mighty good one. No, Janna, I’m not worried. Virgil liked her back when he was living la vida loca. That wasn’t too long ago, but it’s long enough. He’s still got a streak in him, but it’d never really do him wrong. I’m not really worried about that woman.”

“That’s what I thought,” Mira said quietly.

“Oh, honey,” Flora consoled, “it’s not the same.” She gave Mira a prop-up hug, then continued. “Virgil and I have some years on us now. And I’m going to let you in on a secret: When it all comes down to it, the thing that matters the most in a relationship is principles. Now, I’m not knocking the other stuff—even at our age, Virgil still makes my little red Corvette go much too fast. But what I’m really attracted to are his principles. We have the same idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, and that’s gotten us through any number of things. If you can have that with someone, then you’re most of the way toward love. Not just lover-love. Any kind of love.

“Plus,” she added, “did you take a good look at that woman? Her booty’s so big now, they should be calling it a boaty. If Virgil wants to dance with somebody who loves him, he’s gonna be dancin’ with me. Now let’s get ourselves all packed up—the walk back’s going to be much heavier than the walk here, so we’d better go while we still have some energy. Each of you might want to have one of those bars before we go.”

I grabbed a box of Everything Bars and slung a sack of sleeping bags on my back. Janna packed some surprises for Jimmy in her pack, while Mira tried to avoid the inside of the bus altogether.

We stuck together more as we headed back—Mira, Flora, Clive, Janna, me, Gary, Ross, and the others in a delivery cluster. Aside from the weight of what we were carrying, it was a pleasant walk—the weather hadn’t turned to ice, and the stars were in evidence over us. The closer we got to Topeka, the more we saw the glowing green banners of the Stein supporters. What seemed like a whole squadron of schoolkids had spread out to distribute them, and everyone took them happily. We pinned the pieces of green to our packs and wore them across our shoulders. Just as we’d been a trail of headlights and taillights as we’d driven into town, we were now a hundred-lane highway of human traffic, all heading in the same direction, all looking for the same destination.

Every now and then, we checked the news to see if anything was happening. Nothing we saw or heard really surprised us—the governor of Kansas, unable to kick us out of his capital city, was now trying to play the fear card in a big way, warning everyone of disasters that could occur if we stayed, saying his troops couldn’t be held responsible if they couldn’t prevent “chaos among so many people who’d refused to leave.” He even mentioned the threat of tornadoes, even though tornado season was long over. Anything to get us to leave.

Meanwhile, more election officials were coming forward with “irregularities” against Stein. But despite this, the governor’s recount continued.

(“They’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court,” one commentator on the green channel said. “And since the opposition party appointed the majority of the judges on the Court, you can imagine what would happen there.”)

Once again, the counterprotesters jeered us as we walked past.

“I feel bad for them,” Flora said. “I do. The opposition party is using them just like they use everybody else. The politicians take those people’s votes, saying they’re going to bring back all that Decency. But then what do those politicians do? They just take those votes and convert them into tax breaks for rich people. They don’t even bother with following up on all that Decency talk. They promise anything to get the votes, then go back to ignoring the poor people until they need their votes again. Just goes to show: You can walk like a man or woman of God and talk like a man or woman of God, but that doesn’t make you a man or woman of God unless you’re willing to follow all of the Lord’s teachings.”

“Hallelujah,” Janna chimed.

As she said this, we rounded the corner and saw what the park had become. It was as if someone had taken the night sky and mapped it down onto the grass. Green specks glowed everywhere, blinking in the movement of bodies and breeze. The enormity of our gathering—so obvious in daylight—now took on the intimacy of a candlelight vigil, all of us united in an illuminated field. Already, children slept. Already, plans were being made for tomorrow. Voices traveled in long-distance conversations, and murmurs fell softly among couples and friends. We had all quieted into a settled hush. But that hush carried with it the potential of our noise…and the promise of what Flora would no doubt call our principles.

twenty

Everyone was happy to see us and the supplies. After we’d all eaten our fill, the sleeping bags were unrolled and the tents unfurled, each with a newly gained green-glowing flag at its height.

Since there weren’t enough tents for everyone, Jimmy and I decided we’d sleep under the stars, zipping our bags together so we could be each other’s furnace. Gus gave his own tent to Gary, Ross, and Elwood—and then he angled his way into getting our tent for him and Glen.

“I swear with all my heart and hips that I won’t get him pregnant,” Gus appealed to us (while Glen was out of earshot). “You know I’m saving it for my wedding night. But, oh my la, I’d marry him in a week and a day, if you know what I mean. It’s like the first time we opened our mouths, our hearts just went leap-leap and have been snuggling ever since. That’s got to be worth some tent space, no doubt?”

We gave him our tent and our blessing and some breath mints for the morning.

Mrs. Everett made a fuss about sleeping in the open air and seemed to want Virgil to invite her to stay close to him. Flora, however, swooped in and offered her son’s tent…which she then set up herself, as far away from her own tent as possible.

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