Dear Reader:

On August 20 I was scheduled for outpatient surgery at the University of Illinois Hospital on Taylor. My mother and I arrived early, but since I was the last patient scheduled for the operating room I had to wait for several hours. As the time crept by I became more and more apprehensive, and I frequently went outside to smoke. On one trip, a guy in his early 20s dressed in dirty shorts and T-shirt asked me for a cigarette. My growing anxiety and my weariness of forking over spare change and cigarettes must have registered in my face even as I was tapping a Kool out of my pack to give him.”I lost my baby,” he said. “Huh?” I responded. “I lost my baby,” he repeated. He put out his palm, on which rested a snapshot of an obviously injured infant, bruised and raw, comprehensively hurt. Its mouth gaped open unnaturally wide, and a tube ran from its nose to somewhere beyond the edge of the picture. Beside the picture lay a plastic hospital ID bracelet. “I’m sorry for you,” I said. I gave him an extra cigarette. I looked for him the next time I went out, and every time after that, but he was gone, and I wondered if he was just another hustler who had gotten his hands on a couple of props.

My mother said it was probably the only picture of his child he had.

–Mark Mann

Dear Reader:

The platform at Belmont was crowded one sunny afternoon, indicating a train hadn’t passed through for quite a while. But in the distance the faint glow of train headlights grew steadily brighter. At least one group of passengers would soon be on its way.

The train grew closer. The engineer tooted its horn. But wait! This train was bright yellow. A sign identified it as a snow clearer.

Alas, we weren’t transformed into a beer commercial, magically whisked to the ski slopes laughingly drinking and romping in the snow with the Swedish bikini team. No, this train just tootled past, faithfully clearing the summer snow from the tracks.

But come some freezing, gray January day, as another crowd huddles on the platform, the Oak Street Beach Express will be pressed into service.

Won’t it?

–Ethel Fenig