At The Chicago Art Institute, I studied Chagall's famous
"American Windows" and soaked in all the blue. It was almost closing
time, and I still wanted to buy a Klimt mousepad, some Monet
coasters, and an entertaining educational gift for my
three-year-old, Hudson. Eight months pregnant, I could barely move.
I hogged a whole bench, read about Chagall, discovered he was ninety
years old when he created the masterpiece. "I prefer a life of
surprises," he'd said. When I looked at the huge blue windows,
bigger than my two-car garage at home, I knew what he meant.
Five minutes to closing.
I hauled myself up in search of a bathroom. One of the guards
intercepted me; his nametag read "Sundiata." He was a tall, thin
black man with moist dark eyes and long eyelashes. He pointed at my
stomach with his walkie-talkie. "You got a baby in there?" he asked,
and I said yes. "You know what it is?" he asked, and I said no,
we're waiting for the big surprise. Sundiata stood back, crossed his
arms in an exaggerated fashion, looked me up and down. Museum-goers
shuffled past us: children screaming, wheelchairs gliding, voices
pitching high and loud into a cathedral ceiling gilded gold.
"Boy," he said. By now a small crowd of museum security guards
had gathered to take part in our carnival game. "Yes indeed, boy,"
he repeated for the newcomers. "Because it looks like a basketball.
See that?" He didn't touch my stomach, but I did. Sundiata nodded.
"Girls like to spread out. Girls like to stay inside with all the
eateries and relaxities and all, but boys—they want out. They need
"But I already have a boy," I said. "I want a girl! I'm not
afraid to admit it—I really, really want a girl." He laughed and
clapped his hands together, which somehow caused an ink pen to
explode all over him: blue everywhere, dripping and staining his
fingers, his white shirt, his nice shoes. He rushed off, hollering,
"I'd bet money on it—boy!"
Over the loudspeaker, someone announced the museum was officially
closed. I rushed down the dark muffled corridor of Egyptian
artifacts, caught a glimpse of Warhol's Mao in the foyer, and was
popped out into the cold sunny starkness of a midwestern afternoon.
A group of black kids played the drums on the steps by the stone
lions. One of them wore a camouflage bandana on his head. He was
getting lots of attention from the crowd, and hammed it up for them.
He flipped his drumsticks, caught them easily, did a little boogie
as he turned himself around. They used a coffee can for cash. Cars
and buses blasted past and the baby kicked hard to the beat. I sat
on cold concrete, riffling through my wallet. The smallest I had was
a crisp, fresh twenty from the ATM. It was too much to give. The
drum beats intensified to a heart-thumping storm. Something trickled
down. Someone couldn't wait.
Anne Panning has published a book of short stories, The
Price of Eggs (Coffeehouse Press), as well as short fiction and
nonfiction in Beloit Fiction Journal, Prairie Schooner, New
Letters, The Florida Review, Black Warrior Review, The Greensboro
Review, and many other journals. Her novel Good News Girls!
won The Cecil B. Hackney Award, and she has received a New York
Foundation for the Arts grant in nonfiction writing. Her essay
"Trailer Court: Rolling" was just selected as 1st Place for The
Thomas Hrusha Memorial Prize in Creative Nonfiction by Passages