P and Q is for Peas and Queues

JG2 36

Gladys and the other Saints set off to go dancing at Fist City, the only Ubanian nightclub still in existence. The place was named after an infamous Loretta Lynn song. In it, the speaker challenges an unnamed other woman to “lay off” her man if she doesn’t want to take a one-way trip to “Fist City.” So to get into the club, you had to fist the bouncer.

And by that we mean punch the bouncer in the face. It was a more innocent time when Loretta penned her ballads.

Regardless, Gladys balked at pretty much any kind of fisting.

“I tell you, he is grateful,” said Ubanian Lisa, acting as their local chaperone for the evening. “It keeps him from blowing himself up.”

“How?”

“Because it fills him full of blind rage, mostly toward foreigners, who are the only people to come here. And so he has something to live for, which is to tell everyone how he is going to exact revenge one day.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“But he will never do this.”

“Why?”

“Because he has been punched in the face too many times.”

Jude threw a surprisingly strong left for such an old man, walked into the joint, hopped on a stool which was actually a short Ubanian, and ordered the only cocktail offered, the Ubanian Teardrop. The bartender nodded and went to the bathroom to slap himself in the face a few times.

The rest of the Saints more or less reluctantly followed suit, except for Alex, who was too weak from malnutrition to punch anyone and asked Gladys if she wouldn’t mind double dipping. Naturally Gladys hesitated, but Alex had been so excited about dancing and now looked so nervous about missing out that some maternal thing kicked in and Gladys delivered a quick 1-2 combination that knocked one of the bouncer’s dogteeth loose.

“Thank you,” he said, quite sincerely. “One day I am going to put your head on a spike.” This sent him into a smiley slumber.

Inside the club the Saints sat at the bar while Alex popped wheelies. “Gladys, come dance!” But after slamming her third Teardrop, Gladys did more than that. She sang.

“I want to thank the people of Ubania for having us,” Gladys said as she put on the requisite cowgirl hat. “We did eight shows this week, and they tell us that there were two fewer self-explosions than last week. So even though that may just be because there are getting to be fewer and fewer people here, I’d like to follow the philosophy of Loretta Lynn, who once said, ‘If you don’t pat yourself on the back every now and then, your hand might fall off.'”

This was a misquotation, since as any fan knows the only time Loretta specifically referenced limbs falling off was in relation to her husband Doo’s diabetes. But Gladys had done two performances that day and was a bit befuzzled so we’ll allow it.

She took another shot, for luck. “And speaking of things falling off.” She punched F-2 into the Ubanian karaoke machine, which was a guy named Ubanian Eugene who hummed the tune as best he could for you while his wife wrote the lyrics on his belly. In this case, he started humming “I Wanna Be Free,” and Gladys waved the wife away.

Anyone who’d been to Ubania long knew all the words to this song because in Ubanian bathrooms, which were ditches, there was always an attendant paid by the government to stand there and sing it in an effort to liberate your bowels of whatever choleroidal muck might be trapped in there. These were highly sought after positions in Ubania, to the extent that anything was sought, which as extents go is pretty modest.

When Loretta got the part about taking the chain from off your finger, Gladys dramatically held up her left hand. Her wedding ring sparkled. The next line was about taking the chain from your finger and throwing it as far as you can “sling ‘er,” so Gladys made to take off her ring and fling. Only it wouldn’t come off, so she had to tug and twist all through the part about the bluebird singing and restoring the speaker’s faith in life, and when she finally got it off with a final jerk she was so frustrated she threw it harder than she meant and knocked out another of the bouncer’s dog teeth. To be fair they were pretty loose already, from the rickets.

The Ubanian secret policeman who had been trailing her waited politely until the song was over and the smattering of applause died out before getting off his stool (coincidentally his cousin) and producing his handcuffs.

“Gladys Lake,” he said, “I am a secret policeman. I didn’t know that until just now. Before then, it was a secret. But now I know. And so you’re coming with me.”

“Michikagazeroonancyreagan?” Ubanian Lisa asked the man, which roughly translated means “why are you hassling this sad white lady?”

“She has to appear before the grand jury,” he said. “The grand jury has to decide whether or not to charge her with a crime.”

“But I didn’t do anything!” Gladys said.

“You fell on a Ubanian and crushed him.”

“Oh I did do that.”

“But she already got her slap on the wrist,” Ubanian Lisa said.

“Yes, well, this case has now drawn the attention of the Secretorney General of the United Notions.”

The United Notions was a group of people from around the world who debated for a long time and then issued Notions about what was right and wrong. No one really felt the need to follow the Notions, because all the UN could do to enforce them was send out a group called the Peaskeepers. The Peaskeepers would come to your country with exactly one hundred peas. If something bad happened and they lost some of the peas, they reported back to the Notions, and the Notions wrote down in a big book just how many peas had been lost. And then the book was put in a big warehouse and sometimes people came to look at it.

“Why would the Secretorney General care about one little Ubanian?”

“There are a number of members of the Notions who care about Ubanian lives because their countries sell arms to the Ubanians.”

“Yes, arms we’re blowing ourselves up with!”

“Yes, well they also send us arms to replace the arms people lose when they stand too close to someone blowing up. And we need those. But they can’t afford to send those arms unless we prop up their economy by buying the other arms.” The secret policeman cuffed Gladys.

“I knew I should have studied economics.”

“Don’t worry, Gladys. This is just for show.” Lisa patted her shoulder. “Lolajazeezeegeorgemichael. That means, chin up, and don’t drop the soap.”

They brought Gladys to the secret courtroom, which until half an hour ago everyone thought was just an enormous broom closet. The grand jury members tittered – literally – when they saw her. Out of the blue, Jean appeared and took her bound hand. He kissed it.

“My dear, this is an outrage.”

“No, it’s probably justice. I did kill a guy.”

“Well you do not have to worry about that. It took some pulling of string, but I found a very special special prosecutor.”

A woman with a terrible perm stepped forward to shake hands.

JG2 37

“I’m Marcia Clark,” she said. “I lost the O.J. Simpson trial. So don’t worry. I’ve got this. And by that I mean you’ve got this. I’ll lose this thing faster than you can say wifebeater.”

“Why?”

“Because it hurts less, for me, to try to lose and be good at it, than to try to win and fail. For the last twenty years I’ve been losing every case I possibly can. You know what it’s like. When you’re a woman, and a loser, you have to do it twice as well as a man to be taken half as seriously.”

“I think we’re conflating a couple of different issues here.”

“Hey don’t act like I’m the first prosecutor to throw a case. I mean look at that black kid who got shot by that cop.”

“Which one?”

“Oh I like you. Yep.”

Marcia Clark took her place at the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen of the grand jury, I think you know what this is.” She held up a piece of white paper with this on it:

JG2 38

A hush fell over the room. Marcia Clark then walked slowly to the jury box, and placed the paper on the floor in front of them. Everyone gasped.

“What just happened?” Gladys whispered to Jean.

“She has just played the race card.”

“This case is about race. Yes. Here we have a hare,” she gestured to Gladys. “Look at her. She’s the product of a culture that has instilled in her a sense of entitlement so strong, she believes she can do anything. And so, she can! She can hail a cab, and go somewhere and buy something. She can get a loan, and start a business. She can go to college, and spend four years studying William Blake if she wants to. You sir,” she pointed to one of the grand jury members, “do you know who William Blake is?”

He shook his head.

“Exactly! Thank God we have this woman to tell us who William Blake is. She is a real hare.”

Marcia Clark presented a picture of the man Gladys crushed when she fell to earth. The picture was taken with a Ubanian camera, which means they hired someone who looked kind of like the guy and put a frame around his face. “Here we have a tortoise. I have real sympathy for his family. I do. He too, in time, might have managed to walk the eighteen miles in the sun to make it to Ubania’s only cabstand, and if he didn’t faint, he too might have endured the three and a half day wait to make it to the front of the line. And then he might have climbed on the shoulders of whoever was the cab that day, and the two of them, with the aid of a miracle or two, might have made it to the border without getting shot.

“And he too might have eventually been chosen by a microfinance group to get a loan of ten cents to go door to door selling nickels for a two percent mark-up. And if he did that for about forty years, he might have had enough to buy a small wagon he could use to sell potato chips. And if his son and grandson had carried on that work, they might eventually have had enough to buy a larger wagon to sell shampoo, too, or seasonal stickers. And if they had – you see where this is going here. This main was a tortoise among tortoises.”

She stood behind Gladys. “Don’t slow the hare down, ladies and gentlemen. Let her go on and win the race. The human race.”

The jury applauded. “You can go,” Marcia Clark said to the picture. The picture held out his hand for a nickel. She shook her head. “Teach a man to fish,” she said.

Gladys gave the picture a nickel. Then she stood up. “The tortoise wins the race,” she said.

Marcia Clark’s eyes widened. “What are you doing?”

“Well it’s true. The tortoise wins the race. Because the hare is too sure of himself.”

“They don’t know that! They don’t have books!”

“Look,” she addressed the grand jury. “Maybe I know who William Blake is, and actually I don’t, though he sounds nice enough, but who’s to say that’s better than shitting yourself to death in a ditch in a slum?”

Six jury members raised their hands, signifying that they believed it was better to know William Blake than to shit to death, but Gladys was looking down at her bare ring finger and could not see them.

“Last night I followed the advice of Loretta Lynn, and freed myself. But of course her lyrics, balanced against her life, are full of a delicious, if painful irony. See, I went to college so I make up sentences like that. Sorry. Okay. My point is Loretta wrote song after song about leaving her man, but she never found a way to leave the actual SOB. I think she didn’t want to be free. I think freedom was too scary for her. Sort of like it’s scary to know how a tortoise can beat a hare. Or scary like asking ourselves how will we measure a race if the key factor isn’t speed? Or scary like how will we measure a race if there isn’t even, can’t even, be a winner. Or scary like having a seven pound screaming phlegm-covered junior human kick its way out of your ladyhole, I don’t know.”

She picked the race card up. Everyone gasped, again. She handed it to Marcia Clarke. “I want to be held responsible for the things I’ve done. My kid needs an example of that, and God knows it won’t be his father. Although to be fair I punched holes in his condoms and went off birth control without telling anyone including myself. But I had to.”

“Why?” The jury asked this as one.

“I don’t know. I didn’t know I felt that way until just now. But I had to. I had to have this child. I mean not in a hormonal way. I mean there’s a reason for him. Maybe‚Ķmaybe it’s that – ”

The foreman of the jury stood up. “We indict her for murder!” he cried. The rest of the jury cheered. They’d never indicted anyone before and found it very exciting. “Take her to the UTI!”

Two secret bailiffs were told they were bailiffs and started dragging Gladys away.

“Gladys! What have you done?” Jean cried. Then he sneezed.

“It’s alright, Jean. I’ve had a UTI before. Painful, sure, and a little shameful, but if treated properly – ”

“No, no, sacre bleu! The UTI is the Ubanian Terror Institute!”

“Oh, well. That’s different. That sounds worse.”

Marcia stopped the bailiffs. She looked Gladys in the eye. “Kid, I like the cut of your jib.” She tore the race card in half.

“Go win another one,” Gladys said.

“Hmm yeah the social conscience thing is tempting but I think I’ll just get a lot of plastic surgery and write mystery books instead. There’s only one life. Hey, just so you know, in the Ubanian justice system, an indictment is the equivalent of a conviction, and the punishment for all crimes is exactly the same.”

“What is it?”

“Death by explosion. I’ll see you around.”

They took Gladys away.