My parents have taken us to the fair. It’s the summer I’m seven. It’s really, really hot, and we’ve been on the midway all day. It was a good day, more yeses than no’s, elephant ears, funhouse mirrors, and a helium balloon that floated away as soon as my little sister declared her love for it.
We head inside, to the exhibitions. Maybe there’ll be something inside the agricultural halls that can make my sister stop crying over the balloon, now floating high above the city, headed for the American border. We wander through the food fair section, stopping to buy some pink shrimp chips. She stops crying, not because she likes the chips, but because she’s trying to figure out what the hell these puffy pink, slightly foul-smelling things are.
There are booths set up on the other side of the huge building. Pots and pans for sale. Miracle brooms. Booths where you can sign up for the Armed Forces, right then and there. We pass by a booth, and someone calls my mother’s name. We’re in mom’s hometown, and this is someone she went to high school with. Mom and the woman start chatting; I’m bored, but I know I need to look polite. I focus on the sign over the woman’s head. I make out the words “Pro-Life”, “Murder”, and “Jesus”. But the word “Abortion”, I have some trouble with. I’m trying to sound it out, when I catch a snippet of their conversation.
“It’s the videos that get me. I can’t even watch them. Most times, I have to turn the TV the other way.” She turns the screen, and so I get a side-view of what she’s talking about. I see a doctor in a mask, something that looks an awful lot like our old green canister vacuum. And then, what I’m pretty sure are doll parts, floating inexplicably in cherry jello.
They chat a bit longer: “Horrible what these women do!” “I can’t imagine being a murderer. How could you LIVE with yourself?” Then we walk away. I look at my mother, and she tells me we’ll talk when I’m older.
My sister and I are staying with the Big City relatives (who we aren’t actually related to, but through a dense and tangled system of associations, we have always called them Aunt and Uncle and don’t really care about DNA). The Aunt takes us to the Big City Fair. She lets us pick the rides, eat what we want, play the rigged games we can’t possibly win. When the sun is directly over us, she declares the need for shade and water, so we go inside to the Exhibitions. We watch the Super-Dogs, check out the vendors. I notice the same kinds of booths as were at the last Big Fair we went to. The same household doodads, the army still waiting for Bright Young People, and the same Causes, beckoning folks in, to tell them why it was important that they think a certain way.
This time, I knew what the word “abortion” meant. I’d looked it up in one of the dictionaries in school. (I even had my story ready, in case I got caught by a teacher, looking up a clandestine word. I would tell her I was wondering what ‘abolished’ meant. And the teacher would think I was incredibly advanced for even knowing such a word. But she never did ask.) I knew it was Serious.
The Aunt looked at the booth. Her eyes narrowed. She muttered some things under her breath. “Tell me what to do with my body?” “Where do you get off…”
When I looked at her, she turned, stared straight ahead. “Just never mind them, Ginny.”
That night, the Aunt had guests over. No kids, just more grown-ups. I sat in the corner of the living room, trying to be invisible.
“Those god-damned pro-lifers just make me so… mad! I just wanted to march over there, ask them if they were going to take care of all those unwanted babies. I mean, personally, were they prepared to take on those kids? If they don’t want abortions, they don’t have to have them. Do we need to go back to women dying, with coat-hangers up their…”
One of the guests coughs, darts her eyes towards me. The Aunt stops, smiles at me, resignedly.
“I think maybe it’s time for bed, kiddo.”
I lay in her guest room that night. Thinking. I had been right; it was a Serious thing. But in more ways than I could have known.