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Anne Panning



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 space."

"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 North.

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