Chapter Nineteen

After-Christmas sales, which coincided with the New York City vaccine mandate, were just a couple of weeks away. Julia had been called to appear before Manhattan Family Court the first week of January to defend herself against the accusation that she was an irresponsible parent for not getting her child injected with an experimental gene therapy that conferred no benefit and was almost guaranteed to harm. Julia’s only idea for dealing with the situation was to call off the divorce. This was probably what Paul had in mind. 

I lay supine, Julia prone under a down comforter. Julia rested her chin on her folded hands and complained, “He never parents. If I go back to him, he’ll just sit in front of the TV and drink. If I divorce, he’ll have her over every other weekend and he’ll pretend he’s a real father just to spite me.”

“Sounds wonderful for you and your child.”  How many abusive husbands were weaponizing the mandate against their wives, I wondered. 

“I’ve done it this long,” she said wearily.

Down the hall Honoré was in her room teaching herself how to play a little electric piano that I’d bought for her.  She was singing, what sounded like, the blues.
“I don’t suppose I will be part of the agreement, weekend visits?” I asked

Julia didn’t answer.

“What’s she singing? ‘My momma won’t let me have what’?’

“Crackers.  I wouldn’t buy her saltine crackers at the store.”

“Ah, may she never know worse hardships.”

“Better get dressed and go applaud her performance.”

Lately, the more the cartoon villains seemed out to get us, the more Julia and I took to the bedroom, and the way we clung to each other, damp and giddy, was proof that They could not drive us apart. At night, however, I could not escape the fears and the accompanying desperate devising and scheming. We could flee to Sweden. No, Julia would never quit her job, and I could never sell the farm. I could homeschool Honoré if only evil Paul would become another death entry in the VAERS database, karmic punishment for using his child to get back at his wayward wife.

I read the tragic reports of deaths and disabilities—little kids, celebrity athletes, mothers and sons—with appropriate horror and sadness, but mixed in, like salt that I craved, was hope. The more people died, the sooner the mass murders would come to light, and we could start new Nuremberg trials. Every dead teenager made me think, Good now they’ll stop; they’ll have to.  But they didn’t stop.  They kept lying, Yes, there are very rare events, but ‘the studies show’ that the risks of myocarditis and autoimmune disorders are higher with Covid than with the vaccine. Surely people would start noticing that only their vaxxed friends and family were crossing into the other lane. But they went on not noticing. They went on standing behind the protocols, like a high school debate team that had been assigned the task of defending, for the sake of exercising rhetorical skills, slavery or infanticide.   

*

Honoré had a rash on her lip. “Let me look, Sweetie,” said Julia taking Honoré’s face in her hands.

The day before, I had pretended to wipe cookie crumbs off her lip. In fact, I was wiping on poison ivy oil that I had rubbed on my finger from a dormant vine that I had found on the back side of the pasture fence. Now my finger was also itchy, but not as blistered as Honoré’s lip. “I gave her some gas station cookies yesterday,” I confessed. “She might be allergic to the polyethylene glycol that’s in junk food. Sorry.”

Julia looked at me strangely and said the rash looked like poison ivy but it couldn’t be in the middle of winter.  “I’m going to put poison ivy stuff on it just in case,” she said heading to the medicine cabinet. 

“Let’s test it,” I suggested. I got an old deodorant stick that I’d bought in transit somewhere that contained PEG. While Julia was busy with her daughter applying the poison ivy medicine, I got that same vine, split it apart and wiped my fingers on the pulp. I touched Honoré’s wrist with the tainted fingers first, then smeared the deodorant on the area.

The next day, Honoré had another rash on her wrist.  She woke up scratching it and asked her mom for help. 

“Let’s put cortisone cream on it,” said Julia.

I went into the bathroom to watch the treatment being applied.

“It itches,” said Honore frustrated to tears.   

“My mom always said to take polyethylene glycol allergies seriously,” I said. “No more junk food for you, Kiddo.”

I suggested Julia take her daughter straight to my old GP—whose office was just down the hill—describe to him the test we had performed, and get the allergy confirmed.  Julia agreed, and that afternoon the pottering old doctor, unaware that polyethylene glycol was an ingredient in the safe & effective clotshot he’d been administering, recorded the allergy in Honoré’s record and wrote her a prescription for cream.

“Excellent,” I said, when Julia showed me the paper from my old doctor. It would appear to anyone reading the document that the doctor probably confirmed the allergy by a scratch test.  “Now you take this to her regular pediatrician in the city and ask for an exemption from the vaccine.”

“The vaccine has polyethylene glycol in it? Winston, did you fake that?”

“No,” I lied. “I didn’t fake anything.  I knew the shot has PEG in it, though. That’s why wanted you to get a record.”  I wiped my forehead. I wasn’t used to lying.

“Maybe this will convince the court,” she said hopefully. 

Relieved, newly optimistic, I said, “They won’t go against a doctor.”

“Thank you,” said Julia, closing her eyes and dropping her shoulders in relief.  Then she hugged me saying, “You said you would think of something.” She held me at arms’ distance and asked skeptically, “Did the wishbone make this happen? It’s too lucky that we discovered this allergy now.”

I refrained from telling Julia the truth so that she, great bullshitter though she was already, would seem even more convincing when she asked for an exemption for Honoré.

A couple of days later Julia went to see Dr. Dweck in the city, but it did not go as we hoped.  She called me afterwards uncharacteristically upset, “He said, ‘Writing exemption is not something I prefer to do,’ and then I said that a girl down the street died from the shot, and he scolded me, ‘That’s misinformation,’ he said, ‘and anyway we can have an Epipen standing by. Why don’t you bring her in?’ Can you believe that?”

“Really? I thought you knew him?” I asked.

“He’s gone crazy.  He started yelling, ‘You need to visit a Covid ward, you need to visit a Covid ward’ over and over. Everyone in the office could hear him. Hang on. I’m just getting into my Uber. Hi. Yes, the Public Library. Okay. Can you believe that?”

I said, “Well, we’ll have to think of a Plan B then.”

“They’re mad houses, all doctors’ offices, with their stupid blue masks and gloves. He was actually yelling, ‘You need to visit a Covid ward.’”

“You can still show the court the record from my GP.”  But I realized the court would probably scream like Dr. Dweck because they were all similarly insane.

“If I weren’t divorcing him, Paul would probably let me put her in a private school. If I could find one that didn’t require it.”
“A good yeshiva?” I suggested.

“I would if I could.”

“We can’t just get her a card, Honey?” I pleaded again.

“Because he’ll ask her and she won’t lie,” Julia said again.

I believed Julia would have to teach Honoré some of her survival skills.

I was lying to Julia, deceiving her child, even gave Honoré a poison ivy rash, on purpose. I was quite the miscreant.  It wasn’t that I had changed so much in character, but the rules of the game had changed and now I was on the other side of the law.  So be it then.  If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.

I decided, with fear haunting my heart and cold doubt racking my brain, that the only option was to take Honoré to Amil to get a “squirt”—medical freedom slang for dispensing the Pfizer on the floor and only pretending to give an injection. That would get Honoré a bonafide card.  Honoré would also get the needle in her arm (filled with saline), and she could tell her father that she got the shot. 

I would not tell Julia my plans so that she could not be held accountable. It would be my crime alone.  And I was also worried she might say no, and then what?  At least after Honoré had had the first injection, and everything had gone well, Julia might agree to go ahead—or Julia might leave me. But at least she would have a vaccine card to show the court that Honoré  had gotten the first shot. Even if Julia hated me for lying to her, she would be smart enough to use the card, I reasoned.  To act in a state of uncertainty is to gamble in a high stakes game.

Before making this decision, I had spent hours looking at Amil’s number, thinking about all the ways this could go wrong.  I went to a Lawn Chair meeting and had small talk with Amil, but I ended up not asking. I spoke to Booz about it, and he was no help. Booz said that Amil was sabotaging all the vials by leaving them out of the deep freeze too long and also shaking them vigorously. Chances are that the shots being administered by anyone at that pharmacy were inert. That was not good enough for me.  I couldn’t take chances with Honoré. I had to have a squirt, which required my asking Amil to more openly partner in my crime. Every hour that passed I could not believe that I had not yet done it. I’d made up my mind, but falling back upon my role as Hamlet, I couldn’t act.

Finally, I parked outside the pharmacy and waited for Amil to leave.  When he did, I caught up with him and walked him to his car.  After performing a charade of my request, he gave a thumbs up and let me know there would be five thousand dollar fee. We shook hands. The appointment was for the next afternoon. I told Julia that I would be running errands with Honoré, and on the way back, we would stop by the pharmacy to pick up a new card for Julia to replace the one that I had given to Ray.  Julia absorbed this information uncritically, said, okayseeyoulater, and asked me to pick up some article for her that I immediately forgot. 

Honoré and I arrived at the pharmacy and parked in back.  We crunched across the gravel parking lot, heading toward what she noted was an “old timey” looking store.  Honoré’s preternaturally erect posture as she walked, and the way she fixed her eyes on the horizon, made it seem as if she were always listening to something like the Seigfried lietmotif in her mind’s ear.  I never wanted anything bad to happen to her, ever.

She asked finally, “Why isn’t she taking me?”

Good question. “She can’t stand the idea of needles, that all.  Who can blame her.” 

“I’m not scared.”

“You’re innocent that’s why.” You haven’t learned yet that some adults will harm you in a heartbeat.

Honoré took this as a compliment with grace.

The door chimed as we entered the empty store. The shelves were sparsely stocked, like a pharmacy in the 1950s, before the age of plenty overstock.  We walked toward the back of the store where a hand-painted apothecary sign hung on the back wall. Amil was behind the counter filling an order.

“Oh, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“The chime rang,” noted Honoré.

“I guess it probably did.”

“Ready?” I asked.

Amil shifted his eyes left and right. He seemed to be glued to the spot. After a moment he wrenched his feet loose and came onto the store floor through a half door.  He carried a small zippered black bag. 

“Do you have the registration papers and a photocopy of her insurance card?”

I handed Amil the papers.

Without checking them over, he filed them in the plastic box on the injection table. 

“Here’s your vaccine card,” Amil said quietly. The card was already filled in with the injection information for the first shot.

“All right, young lady. You’re awfully brave, aren’t you?”

“Why, what’s wrong? What does he mean, Winston?”

“I don’t know. I told you it’s nothing. You won’t even feel it,” I said cheerfully.

“Have a seat at that table over there.”

Honoré sat down at the table and started swinging her crossed feet.

Amil seemed to be waiting for something. I looked around. The other pharmacist was occupied. I pulled out the cash envelop from my manbag.

“It’s for my legal fund you know,” said Amil quietly.

“I would pay even if you were just a profiteer, to be honest.” 

“Right,” Amil said.

“Can I just see the injection bottles?”

Amil took out two vials from the zippered bag. “Here’s the child’s formula.” That vial had an orange seal. “This is saline.”

I read the labels and nodded. 

Amil sat beside Honoré. He inserted a needle into the vial and drew out the child’s formula.  My heart panicked, but then as Honoré looked away he squirted the contents on the floor, then took another needle to draw from the vial marked saline. Honoré pulled up her sleeve. Amil put his hand on her arm.  Honoré was watching the operation with interest. It was in. It was done.

A terrible racket of crackling radios and shouting erupted as the store was filled with men in black vests. Honoré took off like a rabbit toward the exit. She screamed as a cop grabbed her from behind and held her up as she kicked and flailed. 

She cried, “Mommy, Mommy. Make them stop, Winston.”

Meanwhile, I was already horizontal with an big oaf on my back. “Honoré, it’s going to be okay Honoré,” I called out as calmly as I could. “Mommy will come get you soon.  Don’t worry Honoré.”

A cop kicked me in the face I felt my lip split.

Honoré screamed louder at the sight of my blood. 

“Stop terrifying the child for Christ’s sake. I’m not moving.” At that, a boot stomped me, and I heard Honoré’s high-pitched shriek fade as she was carried out of the drug store.

Amil was on the ground too beside me. His wrists were already zip-tied.  The other pharmacist stood with the cops and watched. 

My wrists were tied and I was hoisted up like a cat by the back of my collar (by a giant, presumably) and shoved out the back door and into the parking lot. I saw a female cop talking to Honoré, who had stopped screaming. 

“Tell her to call your mom,” I shouted. “You know the number. Call your mom!”

Honoré stared, eyes and mouth wide in terror.

I was pushed into an empty cargo van. The cop attached the handcuffs to a rail and put duct tape over my eyes. At the first turn out of the parking lot, I fell over and hit my head hard on the metal floor.  My ears rang.

“Hey keep down the noise back there,” laughed one of the cops. “That was the sound of his watermelon smashing.” They both laughed.

“Where are you taking the little girl?”

“She’ll go to the station. They’ll call the mom.”

“You could have let me stay with her until she came.”

“You know what? Shut the fuck up.”

They both laughed.

“You didn’t tape his mouth,” said the driver.

“I like to listen to them ask us to be reasonable,” said the other.

They both laughed until they wheezed.

We drove for about twenty minutes. I felt the van climb a long winding hill. After a few maneuvers the van parked and the side door slid open.  Three men grabbed me silently and pushed me this way and that until they had me lying down and strapped on what felt like a gurney and wheeled me through what smelled like an underground parking garage.

I heard metal doors open and my abductors pushed the gurney through.  I could sense, by a change in air pressure, that we had had entered a tunnel. I heard a rhythmic clunk as we rode over section joints in the concrete and I felt a slight decline in elevation, then an incline. When we emerged from the tunnel, bright lights penetrated the duct tape blind fold and I saw the red of the back of my eyelids.  We rode a clunky old elevator and went a short way down a hall and turned. I heard a door close and lock behind me.  The straps were undone. My legs were shoved off the gurney and I was pulled to my feet. The blindfold was ripped off, along with my eyebrows. I crumpled to my knees.

When I took my hands from my eyes—my hands were dotted with blood—and looked around I recognized the main administration building of the old Wassaic School for the Feeble-Minded.


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