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cash register, Janice held her favorite fountain pen at the top of a blank page in her moleskin notebook. The countertop was the only clear space in the entire store, whose walls and shelves were cluttered with gift books, antique stationery, statuettes of fiddle-playing cats and cherubim, little signs displaying cozy household maxims, lamps made out of old trumpets and clarinets, and beautiful pens like the one Janice held. Her eyes stared across the room, through an upper corner, to whatever lay beyond. She lifted her pen to touch her lip, then brought it back down slowly. She had managed to write a first word, wallflowers, before a crash out on the street made her jump. She went over to the window to see what was going on. A group of black-clad youths had amassed a little way down the street. They were anarchists; the crash had been a large blue trash can colliding with a lamppost. A few of them had tipped it over and rolled it down the street toward the line of riot police facing them at the end of the block. The can was not a perfect cylinder, though, so the straight shot had turned gutterball right in front of Janice’s store. The young man who had commandeered the trash can turned to his compatriots. “No bailout, no capitalism!” he shouted, pumping his fist into the air. The ones around him cheered. He knew they would get through. They outnumbered the police here, so they might be able to break through the line. If not, they would get through another way. Some of them would get arrested, and their faces would be shown on the nightly news, maybe even in The New York Times. That would make the politicians and financial dictators think twice about exploiting the world for their own economic gains. A paunchy officer hefted his riot shield, which kept sliding down his arm. It was getting tiresome. He thought of his home back in Lancaster, where he could be playing golf right now on this lovely fall afternoon. But the city had requested police support from every district in Pennsylvania for this summit. They had known ahead of time there were going to be a lot of loonies here. A man in a saffron robe sat cross-legged on the sidewalk a short way from the police line. Around him sat a few others like himself. They were monks from Tibet; they had flown all the way from their home in the Himalayas to protest their country’s oppression by China. Other small bands were scattered up and down the street— indignant lawyers, war veterans, elderly ladies. Some of them held vigil on the sidewalks; others had joined the anarchists’ parade. The march was progressing slowly up the street between the closely packed brick buildings. Most of these buildings contained storefronts on the first floor, with the upper floors used as neighborhood apartments. The butcher down the street stood in front of his store with his arms across his chest; the owner of a little consignment boutique poked her head out of her door. Up and down the street, bodies were leaning out of the upper windows to catch some of the action. Janice had lived in Lawrenceville for her whole life. She had never seen anything like this. The G-20 had descended onto the old Rust Belt city of Pittsburgh, taking over dahntahn n’ Souside n’at, and they had brought with them a pestilence of protesters. When Janice had heard that the city was building a new convention center just down the
street, she had been excited for her store, but now she regretted the day that the sleek, eco-friendly edifice had been conceived. Out the window she spotted some kind of motorcade approaching. She turned back to her countertop to try to resume her story. There was only one word on the page. What she had intended to write after it? Wallflowers…always grow toward the light? No…that didn’t seem right, and she didn’t even know if it was true. Wallflowers…grow up into the ablest lovers? But no…this wasn’t going to be a story about love. Or at least not that kind of love. She scratched out the word and started her brainstorming over again. The policeman looked down the line to his left, then to his right. All he saw was a row of statues, faceless behind the curved masks reflecting the glare of the sun. He sweated under his heavy black suit. The Kevlar armor would protect him from long-range projectiles, but it could not occlude a sharp knife or a bullet at very close range. Not that he expected anything like that. These anarchists were just a bunch of college dropouts and city punks… The young revolutionary stood on his tiptoes and looked back to survey the rally. He caught sight of a line of black limousines threading onto the street. He felt excited and relieved. Finally, something would have to happen. The British financial minister sat on the leather bench at the back of his car, reviewing briefings on the different issues the conference would address. The main item on the table was the recession. Irresponsible risk-taking and exorbitant executive compensation would have to go…no more multi-million dollar bonuses for the financial elite. The stimulus plan…the Group would probably vote to continue it until the economy had stabilized. For PR reasons, they would also discuss the environment, the main reason the summit was being held in this rinky-dink town in the first place. What else was there? Free trade arrangements with South America…possible sanctions against Iran… The car stopped. “What’s the hold-up?” he asked the driver. “Road’s blocked by protesters ahead,” the driver replied. “We’re gonna have to take a slight detour.” As the driver turned down a side street, the minister looked out the window at the mob and sighed inwardly. No matter how much work he and his colleagues did, nobody was ever satisfied. The shave-headed monk stayed quiet and still, his arms tucked into the folds of his sleeves. Opening his eyes just a slit, he looked out without moving his head and saw a cameraman across the street. It was good. It meant they would be on the news. The young man in black had watched the motorcade turn off the street, and now he saw it approaching from another side street closer to the wall of police. His rage boiled; the rich bastards had managed to circumvent the marchers. He had to do something now or nothing would ever be done. Janice kept coming back to that word wallflowers. She wished she could plant some to freshen up her building’s crumbling brick façade. She wrote the word down again beneath the scratched-out one, but just as she was about to write down a second word, a loud popping interrupted her. She ran over to the window and saw smoke everywhere and boys and girls dressed in black, running and holding cloths over their mouths. The financial minister rifled through his papers one last time, then set them back in order and slid them into his briefcase. He took off his glasses and massaged his
temples. It was time; time for him and his little Group to save the world, again. Whump! Something hit the side of the car, almost causing the minister to poke his own eye out. Jesus Christ! he thought, struggling to calm his agitated heart. A man—no, a boy, probably only seventeen or eighteen, had body-slammed the car and now was pounding on the window, yelling like a lunatic. The minister couldn’t hear what he was saying through the tinted, bulletproof windows. The riot police quickly swooped down on the boy, and a heavyset officer tackled him, put a knee on his back, and handcuffed him. A few of the rioters had charged the motorcade, and about half the police force had moved in on the anarchists, throwing cans of tear gas and shooting rubber bullets. It was like all the animals at the zoo had broken out of their cages. People were running all over the place, windows and cars were being smashed, alarms were going off. A yellowrobed monk was rolling on the ground, clutching his eye, while his fellows tried to hold him still. The other half of the police force stayed behind to hold the line, and while the chaos was raging, they quietly opened a gap to let the black limousines slip through. When the confusion had subsided and the last of the fallen protesters were being rounded up by the police, Janice turned away from the window once more to write her story. This time when she set her fountain pen to the page, the words flowed easily. Wallflowers have the hardest job in the world. They have to decorate its most atrocious creation.
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