Chapter 2: Parade

Note: First chapter is the young adult fiction also on my profile.

Despite the corny fanfare of it all, there were a few things I looked forward to each anniversary of the Great Compromise. Mothers dressed their children in Union colors -- grey and gold -- and took them out to festivals, and let their boys and girls climb statues of Union generals and ride ferris wheels and drop bits of soft pretzel on passersby as they made their way to the top. Families charred burgers and sausages on the grill. The scent of blackened corn on the cob wafted throughout every street. And that early in September, the air clung to its summer heat. Any rain that might pelt our heads during the parade came as welcome relief. 

Not all rain was good rain, though. Not anymore, at least. Black rain shut down the parade early three out of the last six years. The first time I ever felt the itch was in second grade, at one of the first parades I can remember. Since then, I’ve seen the clouds roll in from my bedroom window plenty of times, but I’d never actually stood under them except for that day. It was the smallest I’ve ever felt.

I was picking up Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers from the ground when I felt the first drop. While reaching one grimy, stubby-fingered hand out for a hard candy, I felt a sting on my thumb. I yanked my hand to my chest and sprinted back onto the sidewalk, to my mother’s side.

“Mom, a bee stung me!” I whined, limply holding out my hand to show her the wound. She made a clicking noise with her tongue and inspected the hive-like wound on my thumb. 

“Don’t squish him, Mom. He did it by accident.”

“Oh, shush,” she said. Then, her eyes shot up, toward the sky. Her mouth hung open just slightly while she stared. She looked back down at my hand. “Oh, Liberty, we have to go.”

In a matter of seconds, my mother had gotten up, packed up her lawn chair, and was dragging me by one arm to the car. We had parked two blocks away in a nearby neighborhood.

“Why?” 

The late sirens answered my question. I began to run, but my mother was still too fast for me. As I struggled to keep my footing, I watched chaos erupt around me. The floats kept moving, but the uniformed war veterans atop them were rifling around backpacks and boxes. They pulled rubber cloaks from the bags and began hurriedly flinging them into the audience rather than candy. Parents shoved each other aside to catch them, as if they were all a homerun baseball worth millions.

“Slo-ho dow-won, Mom!” I tried screaming, but I was breathing too hard to manage any intelligible speech. She had my itchy hand in her grip, too. I wanted so badly to scratch it. I thought maybe I could reach up to it with my other arm while I ran down the sidewalk. I flung my free hand toward my itchy thumb and got two good scratches in before I lost my balance and tripped over a ledge of rising cement. With two dull thuds, my knees hit the ground, then my torso. The pain didn’t set in immediately. I had a chance to turn onto my back and bring my knees to my chest as I waited for my scrapes to bite. 

Lying on the pavement, my body tingling with the sting of my wounds and high-pitched sounds of panic making my head swell, I looked at the scene above me. 

Clouds, more powerful that those I’d seen in ancient paintings and darker than any sinister swells that nature could produce, filled my view. These clouds, though, weren’t Earth’s. They belonged to us, and they’d come to seek revenge on their mothers and fathers for their Frankenstein creation. A freakish conglomeration of nature and industry. They weren’t made of water; rather, they were made of sweat. Sweat from our ancestors, who built our homes, and our railroads, our mines, our pipelines, and our cities. Black sweat from the machines that harvested our farms and cooked our food and took us to school and kept us warm and made us cool and watered our lawns. 

It was as if I’d looked up to see the same dark sky I’d seen in an old painting once. It was called Manifest Destiny, by some fart named Gast. 

To me, it didn’t make sense that in his painting, the Indians and savages lived in the dark, while the industrious white men brought clear skies and light to the land. My second-grade self lie on the cement in the land those industrious white men took from the Indians, but I didn’t behold those pink and yellow skies and white clouds in the painting. I saw a black, billowing mass that rumbled with corruption.

“Moooommm,” I whimpered.

With a swift yank, she pulled me up by my arm again, and we were off. 

Mom’s white sedan came into view soon enough. I felt victorious, having beat the impending downpour.

“Don’t look up, Liberty,” breathed Mom heavily. 

“Why?” I said, curiosity having compelled me to disregard her warning and look into the sky as she dragged me along.

It looked the same, but this time, I watched as a few fat drops fell toward me, onto my cheeks. They came too quick for me to look down. By the time I did, my face burned. One had even gotten into my eye, and I rubbed it furiously. The rain began to come down harder. The steadily falling, stinging pellets hit my skin like needles from the sky. I closed my eyes, but kept running.

“Get in!” I heard Mom yell. Upon opening my eyes, I noticed we’d made it to the car, and she was holding the door open for me with an expression of panic and disbelief on her face. Wordlessly, I climbed into the back seat. She slammed the door, and slid herself into the driver’s seat. 

For a moment, she just sat there and breathed. She finally turned around to buckle me in.

“Are you okay, sweetie,” she said more than asked. She was breathing so heavily. Her wet, brown locks stuck to her lips, despite pointed efforts to push them away with her tongue. She smelled almost metallic. I noticed a number of puffy, red hives on her freckled cheeks.

“Yeah," I said. "It itches, Mom."

“I know, sweetie. I’m sorry.”

While I weaved through traffic to get home from school, I thought about how much more my mom probably itched than I did that day, waiting for me to get in the car. Had she just gotten used to it? How many times had she been stuck in the black rain? How old was she when she felt the first sting of a black rain drop on her skin? Maybe I should ask. 

Then again, she’d probably tell me stuff like that didn’t start happening until the Primas came to Earth.

“I left your dress on your bed, Liberty. Go put it on,” my mom shouted from the kitchen as soon as I’d closed the door behind me. I forced a groan that I hoped echoed throughout the empty house and trudged upstairs.

There it was, lying on top of my comforter: the boxy, collared, long-sleeved dress that I’d been forced to wear to the fifteenth anniversary of my father’s death and every Union event after that. It’s dull grey and gold made me shiver. As if my childish figure were not enough to keep any boys at bay, this dress would be sure to make me appear completely asexual.

I thought, as I tore off my bike shorts and sweaty “Evanston Middle School Basketball” t-shirt, what Mara would think of me if she caught a glimpse of me in this dress. She’d know I was related to a dead veteran. 

It seemed like she hated the Union. Or, at least what they taught us about it in school. Why would a kid hate the  To people like my mother, it was a one-sided war. Humans: good. Primas: bad. To Mara, maybe both sides had something to fight for. Other than the obvious goods and energy, I just didn’t know what it was the Primas could’ve wanted. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to learn from Kerbaney. Everything seems as black and white to her as it does to my mom. But then again, what about that “operation” that Kerbaney mentioned? And the weird greeting she and Mara left each other with? They had to know each other outside the classroom, from where I didn’t know.

I squeezed the dress around my hips, shimmied it up my torso, and, with more effort than I exerted last year, pulled the zipper up my side. 

I looked into the full length mirror nailed to my bedroom door. 

“Gross.”

Thankfully, only a few puffy, alabaster clouds spotted the sky when Mom and I pitched our lawn chairs in the designated “family of the vets” area. I almost wished for black rain, though. The heat was oppressive. The sun beat on the poor souls that sat on a special block where only the moms, dads, children, and spouses of veterans were allowed to watch the parade. Adjacently and in no amount of shade from the few trees that dotted the side of the road was a special spot for families whose veteran died. Usually, I could convince Mom that we shouldn’t sit with them because everyone on that end of the block ended up bawling when the international anthem played. But this year, she insisted. I wouldn’t know why until halfway through the parade.

First came the high school marching bands. Evanston West, South, and Thomas Vincent -- my school. Then, the police and fire departments, the mayor -- a thin, dark-featured man in a black suit and a red and blue bow tie -- waving from a retired Union Army truck, and the local “Families for the Union” chapter with their buckets of candy and water guns to shoot at the pitiable audience.

“Here, kid,” I said more gruffly than intended to a boy about four feet tall with a head of frizzy blonde curls. He took a cellophane wrapped taffy from my open hand with two hesitant, shaky fingers then ran like hell in the other direction.

I didn’t eat candy anymore. So, for the past couple parades, I spent my time picking up the stuff for elementary schoolers before it was rendered inedible by the mid-summer sun and left to melt on the pavement. 

As I bent down to pick up another sweet, I felt something wet pelt my forehead. It only a split second to look up and see if panic had erupted around me.

Parade goers were still planted in their seats. However, there stood a little girl in a Families for the Union t-shirt, water gun pointed at me. She showed me a gap-toothed grin. 

“You got me,” I chuckled weakly, then took a sigh of relief. The scare did force me to look up, though, just to check on the status of the clouds.

The sky had filled up since we pitched our chairs, but the parade would be over soon and the sirens hadn’t gone off yet. So there wouldn’t be anything to worry about.

Next, the best and worst part of the parade. Best, because it signalled the end of this monument to all that is corny. Worst because surely everyone except myself and Mom would be in tears after the corny show and anthem.

That was one thing I didn’t mind about Tiffany Renee Hall. She didn’t cry easily. 

Every man, woman, and child that had been slumped in their chair stood up almost instantly, fell silent, and directed their attention to the Union flag held up by one veteran in a group as they marched down the street. A marching band made up of middle-aged people held their instruments at the read.

A lone drum trilled. The anthem was about to begin. I quickly ran to my mother’s side and formed my right hand into the sign of solitude -- a peace sign with an extended thumb -- and held it up like everyone else in the City of Evanston.

My eyes filled with the scene before me: grown adults crying at the losses of their loved ones, children keeping their attention to a flag and listening to an anthem they don’t understand and holding up their hands in solidarity against a species they’d never even met. 

I pictured, for a second, what this day might look like on the Prima’s planet. Prima grown-ups lined up along their Prima streets, listening to a Prima anthem, crying Prima tears, and Prima children wondering what all the fuss is about, but being glad to have gotten some candy out of it. That led to an almost better question: what the hell is Prima candy like?

The sudden silence with the anthem’s end woke me from my daydream.

Every year, after making everyone cry, whoever organizes the parade tries to lighten things up. So, after the veteran’s band passed by, a modest float carrying a white screen with a projector pointed at it played a short video called “100 Years Ago -- On a Free Planet”. Every year I forgot about it every year it was a pleasant surprise.

I always tried to guess what they’d pick for the bit. This year, I was betting on the Olympics in historic L.A., the Karate Kid coming out, and some song about Purple Rain making it big on the charts.

Turns out I was right about Karate Kid. I nodded victoriously as I watched a grainy clip of a boy in a headband mimicking his elderly sensei in a swift kick. The next one stumped me though. The tink-tink sounds of a bell and a man’s high, soft voice sang along to a catchy electric piano’s melody. The projector showed a video of a tall, dark man in a red blazer dancing around a stage with some ten other musicians and a slew of background singers. He sang low, then high, then low again, then cried out a falsetto note that most vocalists would have approached delicately, but this man thought sounded better as a scream of joy. I laughed, not at him and his tacky dance moves, but at finding myself enjoying the music, the troupe of trumpets and guitars and saxophones, and the infectious happiness the singer’s voice and smile exuded.

“Weird,” I said with a corny grin, noticing my head bobbing to the tune and stopping it immediately for fear of one of the little kids near me pointing it out.

“Marvin Gaye, dead at age 44,” read a blurb in the bottom corner of the video. I cringed. Why so young? I swung my head around.

“Mom! Who is Marvin Gay-ee and why did he die?” I asked naively. “Mom?” She wasn’t in her lawn chair. I glanced around, and spotted her standing up on the sidewalk, talking to a pudgy-faced man with short grey hair and an old military uniform on. I could tell he’d let go of his figure by the way his grey jacket’s zipper strained against his belly. 

I groaned, recognizing him.

“Hi Mr. Corallini,” I said without looking him in the eye. He was so tall. I’d have to strain my neck, anyway. I turned immediately to my mom. “Who is Marvin Gaye and why did he die so young?”

“What?” she chuckled phonily, more annoyed than tickled. “Honey, he died ages ago.”

“Yea,” I agreed. “Why.”

“He um…” she looked at Mr. Corallini. “Mark, do you know what killed Marvin Gaye? What was it?”

Mark laughed at my interest in some long-dead singer he probably hasn’t thought of in ages.

“If my mother was right -- and, mind you, she liked to editorialize -- Marvin got shot by his father while he was trying to break up a fight.”

“What fight?”

“One between his mother and father.”

“Oh.”

Mr. Corallini smiled.

“I’ve listened to some of his stuff. Great musician. Always smiling, even in the crap era that he grew up.”

Mom cleared her throat.

“I think I might have a few of his vinyls in the attic,” she chimed in.

I almost choked on my breath. 

“You have music?”

She laughed.

“Your father had music, sweetheart,” she said condescendingly. Mr. Corallini chuckled.

“Dad left music, and you never played it? What other records do you have? Are you even taking care of them? They’re probably getting damaged up there!” I let myself get visibly frustrated. How does one come to own likely invaluable pieces of oratory art just to let them sit and get cracked and dripped on in a humid, leaky attic? From one’s dead husband, at that?

“Why would I play a bunch of old, dusty records, sweetie? You know I don’t like that kind of stuff,” she said, lowering her voice almost menacingly.

I left it at that. I wanted to ask why she didn’t think that maybe her daughter would want to listen to music left my her deceased father that she’d never met to, you know, get a better idea of what he was like, but I just clenched my jaw and held my hands behind my back in an effort to be the quiet daughter she wished she had.

Mr. Corallini tried to pretend he didn’t notice the terrifying dynamic between Tiffany and I.

“Liberty, it’s lovely to see you accompany your mother to the fallen veterans block. It means a lot that you’re both here, remembering the ones that gave all.”

I looked up at Mom. Tears? Were those tears welling in my stony mother’s eyes?

“I can’t imagine being anywhere on a day like this,” she said in a voice so fragile that I had to force down a laugh.

“You both are really remarkable women,” he grinned, but he looked my mom right in the eyes.

“Ahh,” I replied weakly, finally understanding why we sat in the sob-section.

His mouth clicked impatiently.

“Now, if I could just find Eric. I want him to say ‘Hi’ before we hit the road.”

I’d had Eric Corallini in at least one class every year and this semester I had three with the idiot. I didn’t need to see any more of him today.

“There he is.”

As he bounded down the sidewalk and stopped with a dramatic leap beside his father, I noticed something about Eric Corallini that I couldn’t tell from sitting ten seats away from him in history today. His hair was perpetually sweaty, like he’d always just finished running in circles just to see if he could make himself dizzy. He had his father’s formal army cap in his hand. Probably took it off because he was getting it full of his sweat.

“What’s up, Lib?” he said as if we were more than acquaintances.

“Hey, Eric,” I replied. I wasn’t worried about the irritation in my voice. Eric was so absent minded that I’m sure he didn’t notice.

“Eric,” interrupted Mr. Corallini as he reached into his pants pocket. He pulled out a twenty and handed it to Eric. “Mind taking Liberty to Boscoe’s down the street?”

“Um,” he took the money from his father’s sausage-fingered hand as if might bite him. “Sure.”

What a gentleman.

“Do you even like ice cream, Lib?” he asked me. I guess he had been paying attention at Kary Clemmer’s eighth birthday when I told Kary her cake was terrible and tasted like frozen butter. It was an ice cream cake.

“No,” I said plainly. I looked away from Eric to where Mr. Corallini had been standing. “No, I do not-- Eric where are our parents? Oh, great,” I’d already turned to catch a glimpse of them walking down the street, my mom twirling a blonde curl around her pointer finger.

‘“It’s all right. He’ll call me when they’re done with their date,” said Eric contently.

“Their date.”

He nodded. 

I had a brief vision of Mr. Corallini in a tuxedo and my mom in a white dress, holding hands in a church, and Eric and I sitting in a pew together. Eric’s head is just sweating and sweating because the church is so hot and crowded.

“Let’s go.” 

I took off down the street, stepping over blankets and coolers on the sidewalk. Eric followed.

“Where?

“Mr. Bean’s.”

He gasped, as if I’d just suggested narcotics.

“Coffee? It’s already 7 p.m.!”

I shook my head and kept walking down Main St., wondering if I should brace myself for any more surprises, pleasant or otherwise.

Chapter 2: Parade
Despite the corny fanfare of it all, there were a few things I looked forward to each anniversary of the Great Compromise. Mothers dressed their children in Union colors -- grey and gold -- and took them out to festivals, where the boys and girls climbed statues of Union generals and rode ferris wheels, dropping fluffy bits of soft pretzel on passersby as they made their way to the top. Families charred burgers and sausages on the grill. The scent of blackened corn on the cob wafted throughout every street. And that early in September, the air clung to its summer heat. Any rain that might pelt our heads during the parade came as welcome relief. Not all rain was good rain, though. Not anymore, anyway. Black rain shut down the parade early three out of the last six years. The first time I ever felt the itch was in second grade, at one of the first parades I can remember. I’d seen the clouds roll in from my bedroom window plenty of times, but I’d never actually stood under them, right where they would pour their poison. It was the smallest I’ve ever felt.I was picking up Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers from the ground when I felt the first drop. While reaching one grimy, stubby-fingered hand out for a hard candy, I felt a sting on my thumb. I yanked my hand to my chest and sprinted back onto the sidewalk, to my mother’s side.“Mom, a bee stung me!” I whined, limply holding out my hand to show her the wound. She made a clicking noise with her tongue and inspected the hive-like wound on my thumb. “Don’t squish him, Mom. He did it by accident.”“Oh,” she said. Then, her eyes shot up, toward the sky. Her mouth hung open just slightly while she stared. She looked back down at my hand. “Oh, Liberty, we have to go.”In a matter of seconds, my mother had packed up her lawn chair and was dragging me by one arm to the car. We had parked two blocks away, in a nearby neighborhood.“Why?” The late sirens answered my question. I began to run, but my mother was still too fast for me. As I struggled to keep my footing, I watched chaos erupt around me. The floats kept moving, but the uniformed war veterans atop them were rifling around backpacks and boxes. They pulled rubber cloaks from the bags and began hurriedly flinging them into the audience rather than candy. Parents shoved each other aside to catch them, as if they were all a homerun baseball worth millions.“Slo-ho dow-won, Mom!” I tried screaming, but I was breathing too hard to manage any intelligible speech. She had my itchy hand in her grip, too. I wanted so badly to scratch it. I thought maybe I could reach up to it with my other arm while I ran down the sidewalk. I flung my free hand toward my itchy thumb and got two good scratches in before I lost my balance and tripped over a ledge of rising cement. With two dull thuds, my knees hit the ground, then my torso. The pain didn’t set in immediately. I had a chance to turn onto my back and bring my knees to my chest as I waited for my scrapes to bite. Lying on the pavement, my body tingling with the sting of my wounds and high-pitched sounds of panic making my head swell, I looked at the scene above me. Clouds, more powerful that those I’d seen in ancient paintings and darker than any sinister swells that nature could produce, filled my view. These clouds, though, weren’t Earth’s. They belonged to us, and they’d come to seek revenge on their mothers and fathers for their Frankenstein creation. A freakish conglomeration of nature and industry. They weren’t made of water; rather, they were made of sweat. Sweat from our ancestors, who built our homes, and our railroads, our mines, our pipelines, and our cities. Black sweat from the machines that harvested our farms and cooked our food and took us to school and kept us warm and made us cool and watered our lawns. It was as if I’d looked up to see the same dark sky I’d seen in an old painting once. It was called Manifest Destiny, by some fart named Gast. 
To me, it didn’t make sense that in his painting, the Indians and savages lived in the dark, while the industrious white men brought clear skies and light to the land. My second-grade self lie on the cement in the land those industrious white men took from the Indians, but I didn’t behold those pink and yellow skies and white clouds in the painting. I saw a black, billowing mass that rumbled with corruption.“Moooommm,” I whimpered.With a swift yank, she pulled me up by my arm again, and we were off. Mom’s white sedan came into view soon enough. I felt victorious, having beat the impending downpour.“Don’t look up, Liberty,” breathed Mom heavily. “Why?” I said, curiosity having compelled me to disregard her warning and look into the sky as she dragged me along.It looked the same, but this time, I watched as a few fat drops fell toward me, onto my cheeks. They came too quick for me to look down. By the time I did, my face burned. One had even gotten into my eye, and I rubbed it furiously. The rain began to come down harder. The steadily falling, stinging pellets hit my skin like needles from the sky. I closed my eyes, but kept running.“Get in!” I heard Mom yell. Upon opening my eyes, I noticed we’d made it to the car, and she was holding the door open for me with an expression of panic and disbelief on her face. Wordlessly, I climbed into the back seat. She slammed the door, and slid herself into the driver’s seat. For a moment, she just sat there and breathed. She finally turned around to buckle me in.“Are you okay, sweetie,” she said more than asked. She was breathing so heavily. Her wet, brown locks stuck to her lips, despite pointed efforts to push them away with her tongue. She smelled almost metallic. I noticed a number of puffy, red hives on her freckled cheeks.“Yeah," I said. "It itches, Mom."“I know, sweetie. I’m sorry.”

While I weaved through traffic to get home from school, I thought about how much more my mom probably itched than I did that day, waiting for me to get in the car. Had she just gotten used to it? How many times had she been stuck in the black rain? How old was she when she felt the first sting of a black rain drop on her skin? Maybe I should ask. Then again, she’d probably tell me stuff like that didn’t start happening until the Primas came to Earth.“I left your dress on your bed, Liberty. Go put it on,” my mom shouted from the kitchen as soon as I’d closed the door behind me. I forced a groan that I hoped echoed throughout the empty house and trudged upstairs.There it was, lying on top of my comforter: the boxy, collared, long-sleeved dress that I’d been forced to wear to the fifteenth anniversary of my father’s death and every Union event after that. It’s dull grey and gold made me shiver. As if my childish figure were not enough to keep any boys at bay, this dress would be sure to make me appear completely asexual.I thought, as I tore off my bike shorts and sweaty “Evanston Middle School Basketball” t-shirt, what Mara would think of me if she caught a glimpse of me in this dress. She’d know I was related to a dead veteran. 
It seemed like she hated the Union. Or, at least what they taught us about it in school. Why would a kid hate the  To people like my mother, it was a one-sided war. Humans: good. Primas: bad. To Mara, maybe both sides had something to fight for. Other than the obvious goods and energy, I just didn’t know what it was the Primas could’ve wanted. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to learn from Kerbaney. Everything seems as black and white to her as it does to my mom. But then again, what about that “operation” that Kerbaney mentioned? And the weird greeting she and Mara left each other with? They had to know each other outside the classroom, from where I didn’t know.I squeezed the dress around my hips, shimmied it up my torso, and, with more effort than I exerted last year, pulled the zipper up my side. I looked into the full length mirror nailed to my bedroom door. “Gross.”
Thankfully, only a few puffy, alabaster clouds spotted the sky when Mom and I pitched our lawn chairs in the designated “family of the vets” area. I almost wished for black rain, though. The heat was oppressive. The sun beat on the poor souls that sat on a special block where only the moms, dads, children, and spouses of veterans were allowed to watch the parade. Adjacently and in no amount of shade from the few trees that dotted the side of the road was a special spot for families whose veteran died. Usually, I could convince Mom that we shouldn’t sit with them because everyone on that end of the block ended up bawling when the international anthem played. But this year, she insisted. I wouldn’t know why until halfway through the parade.First came the high school marching bands. Evanston West, South, and Thomas Vincent -- my school. Then, the police and fire departments, the mayor -- a thin, dark-featured man in a black suit and a red and blue bow tie -- waving from a retired Union Army truck, and the local “Families for the Union” chapter with their buckets of candy and water guns to shoot at the pitiable audience.“Here, kid,” I said more gruffly than intended to a boy about four feet tall with a head of frizzy blonde curls. He took a cellophane wrapped taffy from my open hand with two hesitant, shaky fingers then ran like hell in the other direction.I didn’t eat candy anymore. So, for the past couple parades, I spent my time picking up the stuff for elementary schoolers before it was rendered inedible by the mid-summer sun and left to melt on the pavement. As I bent down to pick up another sweet, I felt something wet pelt my forehead. It only a split second to look up and see if panic had erupted around me.Parade goers were still planted in their seats. However, there stood a little girl in a Families for the Union t-shirt, water gun pointed at me. She showed me a gap-toothed grin. “You got me,” I chuckled weakly, then took a sigh of relief. The scare did force me to look up, though, just to check on the status of the clouds.The sky had filled up since we pitched our chairs, but the parade would be over soon and the sirens hadn’t gone off yet. So there wouldn’t be anything to worry about.Next, the best and worst part of the parade. Best, because it signalled the end of this monument to all that is corny. Worst because surely everyone except myself and Mom would be in tears after the corny show and anthem.That was one thing I didn’t mind about Tiffany Renee Hall. She didn’t cry easily. Every man, woman, and child that had been slumped in their chair stood up almost instantly, fell silent, and directed their attention to the Union flag held up by one veteran in a group as they marched down the street. A marching band made up of middle-aged people held their instruments at the read.A lone drum trilled. The anthem was about to begin. I quickly ran to my mother’s side and formed my right hand into the sign of solitude -- a peace sign with an extended thumb -- and held it up like everyone else in the City of Evanston.My eyes filled with the scene before me: grown adults crying at the losses of their loved ones, children keeping their attention to a flag and listening to an anthem they don’t understand and holding up their hands in solidarity against a species they’d never even met. I pictured, for a second, what this day might look like on the Prima’s planet. Prima grown-ups lined up along their Prima streets, listening to a Prima anthem, crying Prima tears, and Prima children wondering what all the fuss is about, but being glad to have gotten some candy out of it. That led to an almost better question: what the hell is Prima candy like?The sudden silence with the anthem’s end woke me from my daydream.Every year, after making everyone cry, whoever organizes the parade tries to lighten things up. So, after the veteran’s band passed by, a modest float carrying a white screen with a projector pointed at it played a short video called “100 Years Ago -- On a Free Planet”. Every year I forgot about it every year it was a pleasant surprise.I always tried to guess what they’d pick for the bit. This year, I was betting on the Olympics in historic L.A., the Karate Kid coming out, and some song about Purple Rain making it big on the charts.Turns out I was right about Karate Kid. I nodded victoriously as I watched a grainy clip of a boy in a headband mimicking his elderly sensei in a swift kick. The next one stumped me though. The tink-tink sounds of a bell and a man’s high, soft voice sang along to a catchy electric piano’s melody. The projector showed a video of a tall, dark man in a red blazer dancing around a stage with some ten other musicians and a slew of background singers. He sang low, then high, then low again, then cried out a falsetto note that most vocalists would have approached delicately, but this man thought sounded better as a scream of joy. I laughed, not at him and his tacky dance moves, but at finding myself enjoying the music, the troupe of trumpets and guitars and saxophones, and the infectious happiness the singer’s voice and smile exuded.“Weird,” I said with a corny grin, noticing my head bobbing to the tune and stopping it immediately for fear of one of the little kids near me pointing it out.“Marvin Gaye, dead at age 44,” read a blurb in the bottom corner of the video. I cringed. Why so young? I swung my head around.“Mom! Who is Marvin Gay-ee and why did he die?” I asked naively. “Mom?” She wasn’t in her lawn chair. I glanced around, and spotted her standing up on the sidewalk, talking to a pudgy-faced man with short grey hair and an old military uniform on. I could tell he’d let go of his figure by the way his grey jacket’s zipper strained against his belly. I groaned, recognizing him.“Hi Mr. Corallini,” I said without looking him in the eye. He was so tall. I’d have to strain my neck, anyway. I turned immediately to my mom. “Who is Marvin Gaye and why did he die so young?”“What?” she chuckled phonily, more annoyed than tickled. “Honey, he died ages ago.”“Yea,” I agreed. “Why.”“He um…” she looked at Mr. Corallini. “Mark, do you know what killed Marvin Gaye? What was it?”Mark laughed at my interest in some long-dead singer he probably hasn’t thought of in ages.“If my mother was right -- and, mind you, she liked to editorialize -- Marvin got shot by his father while he was trying to break up a fight.”“What fight?”“One between his mother and father.”“Oh.”Mr. Corallini smiled.“I’ve listened to some of his stuff. Great musician. Always smiling, even in the crap era that he grew up.”Mom cleared her throat.“I think I might have a few of his vinyls in the attic,” she chimed in.I almost choked on my breath. “You have music?”She laughed.“Your father had music, sweetheart,” she said condescendingly. Mr. Corallini chuckled.“Dad left music, and you never played it? What other records do you have? Are you even taking care of them? They’re probably getting damaged up there!” I let myself get visibly frustrated. How does one come to own likely invaluable pieces of oratory art just to let them sit and get cracked and dripped on in a humid, leaky attic? From one’s dead husband, at that?“Why would I play a bunch of old, dusty records, sweetie? You know I don’t like that kind of stuff.” she said, lowering her voice almost menacingly.I left it at that. I wanted to ask why she didn’t think that maybe her daughter would want to listen to music left my her deceased father that she’d never met to, you know, get a better idea of what he was like, but I just clenched my jaw and held my hands behind my back in an effort to be the quiet daughter she wished she had.Mr. Corallini tried to pretend he didn’t notice the terrifying dynamic between Tiffany and I.“Liberty, it’s lovely to see you accompany your mother to the fallen veterans block. It means a lot that you’re both here, remembering the ones that gave all.”I looked up at Mom. Tears? Were those tears welling in my stony mother’s eyes?“I can’t imagine being anywhere on a day like this,” she said in a voice so fragile that I had to force down a laugh.“You both are really remarkable women,” he grinned, but he looked my mom right in the eyes.“Ahh,” I replied weakly, finally understanding why we sat in the sob-section.His mouth clicked impatiently.“Now, if I could just find Eric. I want him to say ‘Hi’ before we hit the road.”I’d had Eric Corallini in at least one class every year and this semester I had three with the idiot. I didn’t need to see any more of him today.“There he is.”As he bounded down the sidewalk and stopped with a dramatic leap beside his father, I noticed something about Eric Corallini that I couldn’t tell from sitting ten seats away from him in history today. His hair was perpetually sweaty, like he’d always just finished running in circles just to see if he could make himself dizzy. He had his father’s formal army cap in his hand. Probably took it off because he was getting it full of his sweat.“What’s up, Lib?” he said as if we were more than acquaintances.“Hey, Eric,” I replied. I wasn’t worried about the irritation in my voice. Eric was so absent minded that I’m sure he didn’t notice.“Eric,” interrupted Mr. Corallini as he reached into his pants pocket. He pulled out a twenty and handed it to Eric. “Mind taking Liberty to Boscoe’s down the street?”“Um,” he took the money from his father’s sausage-fingered hand as if might bite him. “Sure.”What a gentleman.“Do you even like ice cream, Lib?” he asked me. I guess he had been paying attention at Kary Clemmer’s eighth birthday when I told Kary her cake was terrible and tasted like frozen butter. It was an ice cream cake.“No,” I said plainly. I looked away from Eric to where Mr. Corallini had been standing. “No, I do not-- Eric where are our parents? Oh, great,” I’d already turned to catch a glimpse of them walking down the street, my mom twirling a blonde curl around her pointer finger.‘“It’s all right. He’ll call me when they’re done with their date,” said Eric contently.“Their date.”He nodded. I had a brief vision of Mr. Corallini in a tuxedo and my mom in a white dress, holding hands in a church, and Eric and I sitting in a pew together. Eric’s head is just sweating and sweating because the church is so hot and crowded. “Let’s go.” I took off down the street, stepping over blankets and coolers on the sidewalk. Eric followed.“Where?“Mr. Bean’s.”He gasped, as if I’d just suggested narcotics.“Coffee? It’s already 7 p.m.!”I shook my head and kept walking down Main St., wondering if I should brace myself for any more surprises, pleasant or otherwise.

The End

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