TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Holding the sleeping infant on her shoulder, she gazed peacefully at her surroundings. Tourists wandered in and out of stores, an old man was setting up his easel by the lakeshore, and a child’s balloon escaped into the breeze. A moment later, she looked up as shouts startled her and the baby. Everybody was running in her direction…
Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.
Miranda placed her son on the blanket beside her, then stretched her legs, looking over her shoulder for the source of everyone’s excitement. Outrage and protest were unmistakable in the cacophony of human voices. Not curious enough to let whatever unseen thing was happening disrupt her day, she picked up her book and leaned back, trying to resume where she’d left off.
A few feet away, near the souvenir pushcarts, the balloon-bereft little girl keened miserably. Her mother kneeled beside her, holding the pink-clad, blonde-haired child, shushing her gently as her father spoke to the balloon vendor. Sympathetic to the cause of calming the shaken little girl, the man handed over a large yellow balloon, grunting, “No charge, man. Shock made her lose it.”
People continued to gather, stopping short of the grassy hillside, their faces contorted with emotion.
“Police are on their way,” panted the breathless, flush-cheeked old painter. His seersucker shorts flapped in the wind. Despite his seeming frailty, he’d had enough pep in his cane-assisted step to abandon his easel and find a phone, alerting authorities to the crime.
The baby stirred from the kerfuffle growing around them. Miranda dug deep into the diaper bag, locating and wresting loose two clean cloth diapers. She twisted them together and tucked the makeshift earmuff around the baby’s head, like a thick fabric halo, to shield his ears. The child looked like a mumps victim of yesteryear, but it worked. His eyes closed and she lifted him into her arms once more.
Two nubile female joggers in matching pastel sweatsuits stopped at the edge of the gathering crowd. The leggy, glamorous one grabbed a nearby tree, her face green. She bent over, heaving, first air, then vomit. Her elfin running partner started to cry.
“God!” the wee woman cried.
“Yeah..,.” the recovering puker gasped simultaneously for speech and air once her heaves turned dry.
“Can’t…get it…out…of my…head…” she panted.
Sweat liberated the sick girl’s curls from their once-restrained ponytail. She peeled off her drenched jacket and mopped her wet face. The makeup she had applied so carefully just an hour before stared back at her from the jacket, a Maybelline Shroud of Turin. She balled the soiled jacket and used it as a pillow, curling up on the side of the tree opposite her upchuck.
“It’s just disgusting,” her pixy-like sidekick lamented, running her hand, without much comfort in her touch, along her friend’s damp back.
A young man on a skateboard careened to a graceless stop in front of Miranda, whose baby started again.
“Dude, seriously?” he barked.
Miranda turned her head, looking for the dude in question. Three other skateboarders zoomed up behind her, all red-faced and sweaty, despite the cool day. The skateboarders took flight, then reconvened beyond the row of green benches along the shore.
“Sick, man!” the tallest of the teens shouted from afar.
“Damn nasty” cried the chubby one with acne and an overbite.
A band of gray-haired women walked three abreast, arms swinging in time as though they were participating in an aerobicized version of a rally from the era in which they’d come of age. The swish of polyester pants echoed the unified march of their lily-white sneakers. They stopped short of the grassy hillside, tongues clucking and heads shaking in dismay.
Miranda craned her neck for a look at the grassy space between her and the crowd. This scenario wasn’t what she had imagined last January when booking her summer rental. Known for its affordability and sleepy-town charm, with amenities for families with children, Titus Cove had seemed like the perfect place to spend a few weeks away from the city. Now she wondered.
In the distance, a siren wailed.
“Who would do such a thing?” a bottle-job redhead with unflattering short hair raged from the center of the silver-haired crowd.
“How could something like this happen?” another older woman squawked, her hands shaking.
“This is a nice community,” one finger-pointing woman gestured wildly about her head, arthritic joints trapping a knuckle’s worth of diamond-crusted rings–trophies of decades of marriage–weighing down her left hand.
The chubby, zit-faced skateboarder left his peers and approached the old women. The crowd looked on expectantly.
“What are you gonna do about it?” he demanded with a harsh jut of his chin, followed by a series of sharp blinks. He cracked his knuckles, shook out his hands and tipped his head back and forth, like a medal-crazed competitive swimmer about to take the plunge.
The siren grew louder.
“Why is this my problem?” the ring-laden woman replied in outrage.
“Be the grown-up, lady!” he dared her.
An intergenerational street fight? Miranda wondered, packing the diaper bag. Being caught in the crossfire of a public disturbance wasn’t an option. She reached for her discarded sandals, imagining the headline: “Vacationing mother and child killed in freakish geriatric-on-teen gang incident. Story at eleven.”
The police cruiser screeched to a halt. The officer killed the siren but the lights still flashed. Miranda stood, tucking her baby into the stroller, grateful to see law enforcement.
“Thank God!” shouted the red-haired senior.
“Dude, that chick is sick,” grimaced the pimply teen, pointing.
The officer crossed the grass. Miranda smiled up into his reflective sunglasses.
“Ma’am, you’re under arrest,” he said gruffly, averting his eyes.
“What? Me?” Miranda sputtered, dumbfounded. The officer pulled out his handcuffs.
“Disturbing the peace. Public indecency. Inciting a riot.”
“There must be some mistake, officer.”
“No, ma’am. Public breast feeding is against the law in Titus Cove. You have the right to remain silent…”
As the officer led Miranda and her son to the car, the crowd of onlookers cheered.