Editor’s Note: This is a story I wrote before I started writing a series of short stories set in a dystopian world that has made abortion and contraception illegal. It fits the theme, though, so I’m retconning it to fit in the world.
“Am I going to be all right?” The frail, big-eyed teenager asked Mahlea, her thin frame shivering out of either fear or fever. There was a puddle of blood spreading on the bed between her legs, but the teenager didn’t seem to notice.
“Of course, you are, baby,” Mahlea said with a smile as she held back her tears. She shook her thick black hair to hide her face as she patted the girl’s translucent hand; Mahlea had always been a terrible liar. “You’re going to be just fine.”
“I’m tired. I think I’ll sleep now.” The girl closed her cerulean eyes with a small sigh, her hand clutching a worn-out teddy bear. Even though she was fifteen, she didn’t look a day over ten. Mahlea fought the urge to punch the wall next to her as she wiped the sweat from the girl’s brow. Mahlea stared at the girl as the latter slept, willing her to keep on breathing. She was startled out of her brooding by the shrill sounds of her phone. “Bitch in Your Face” by Sharia’s Laws was playing – which meant Tyri with some bad news. Mahlea frowned. She didn’t like Tyri very much and usually let a call by Tyri roll over to her VM. Mahlea didn’t have the option this time, though, so she reluctantly answered.
“Tyri. Law 23, No Woman Left Behind, has passed. Amendment 34 was rejected, but Amendment 87 passed with a veto-proof majority.” Tyr’s voice thinned out at the end of her report, as was her wont. It made her sound as if she were whining, a trait Mahlea despised.
“I have another one. She’ll be gone in less than fifteen minutes, I’m afraid.” Mahlea kept her tone brusque so she it wouldn’t quiver as she delivered the announcement. You would think she would be used to it by now, but it still hit her in the gut when it was a child.
“Gaaaaawd, Mahlea, I’m soooo tired of this. I don’t know if I can do it any longer.” This had become Tyri’s constant refrain in the past two months, and Mahlea was sick of it.
“You know what happens if you leave,” Mahlea said, her voice hard. “You become persona non grata in the circle. Not just in this city, but around the country. If you ever need help—”
“Gawd, Mahlea, I know the drill as well as you do. You don’t have to be such a bitch about it.” Now Tyri’s voice was sulky, and it took all of Mahlea’s willpower not to throw her cellphone across the wall in frustration. Yes, Tyri was fifteen years younger than her own forty-five, but still. She dressed and acted as if she were fifteen. If she weren’t so good at the political shit, she would have been kicked out a long time ago.
“I gotta go.” Mahlea abruptly hung up on Tyri, suddenly fed up with the latter’s puerile behavior. Yes, their work was hard, damn it, but if they didn’t do it, who would?
Mahlea pulled out her micro internet access device (MIAD) and plugged into the matrix. Her eyes rapidly scanned the information she needed, and she groaned as she read the details. No Woman Left Behind was a bullshit way of saying no fetus was to be spared, of course. Any woman who dared break that dictum was now hit with a felony that was punishable up to life in prison. In special cases, the death penalty could be sought if the woman was found to have had the abortion ‘with malicious intent’. Mahlea didn’t even know what the fuck that meant, really. To the crazy forced-birthers, every woman who had an abortion did it with malicious intent. They considered it a major concession to have misdemeanor abortions at all, and they were reserved for women who were raped or pregnant as a result of incest.
Mahlea punched at the keys of her MIAD, growing angrier each second. She glanced over at the teenage girl lying on the bed. The girl was asleep, tears still dampening her cheeks. She reminded Mahlea of a sparrow with a broken wing, except, there would be no healing this particular damage. The girl hadn’t done her homework before having the procedure done, most likely because she had been out of her mind with fear. If her father wasn’t the one who had impregnated her, he certainly would have beaten her when he found out she was pregnant. That was the standard acceptable practice these days, as long as the father was careful not to induce a miscarriage, of course. If a mother dared to protest the beating, she would receive an equal or greater beating for her troubles. Mahlea wasn’t making this shit up; it was actually the law.
“Fuck.” Mahlea rapidly scanned all the new laws into her retinal memory so she wouldn’t have to save it on her MIAD. She read several articles about what impact these new laws would have on society, but she didn’t dare save those to either the MIAD or her retinal memory. If such info was found on her, it would mean an automatic twenty years in prison. Fortunately, Mahlea had an eidetic memory, so she could recall the posts to her mind when need be. Unfortunately, her talent was wearing down with repeated use and age, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to count on it for very much longer.
She closed her eyes and thought about life as it was when she was a child, before Abortion Prohibition, as it was known in her circle. She vaguely remembered how women could have careers and children when they were able to choose how many children they had and when they had them. Now, women pretty much had to choose one or the other because once a woman married and started breeding, that was pretty much all she was allowed to do. Single women were viewed as suspicious, of course, but as long as they had a veneer of asexuality, they were grudgingly accepted.
Mahlea snorted as she remembered trying to explain to her much-younger lover, Lawrence, why they couldn’t get married. He had been a starry-eyed idealist who proclaimed that he wanted an egalitarian marriage. She could keep her last name, and they didn’t have to have children. They would run off to Canada and live off the land. She had laughed in his face at his naiveté.
“Do you actually think we would be allowed to live like that?” Mahlea hadn’t meant to hurt Lawrence’s feelings by laughing at him, but she couldn’t help herself. “It’s time you fucking woke up and joined the real world, Lawrence. If I married you, I would have to take your last name, as decreed by law, and I wouldn’t be allowed to use contraception, also as decreed by law.”
“I don’t care what the law says, Melanie! I love you and want to make you my wife!” She used to love it when Lawrence called her by her real name because, sometimes, she was in danger of forgetting she was more than her mission, but in that moment, Mahlea had hated Lawrence. She hated him for his unwitting cruelty in envisioning a future they couldn’t have. She hated him for his privilege in thinking that nothing had to change once they married; they could just keep on keeping on with the added benefit of playing house She especially hated him because he reminded her of all the limitations placed upon her by her country, restrictions she fought against every goddamn day of her life. She had broken up with him that night, despite loving him for three years, and now, she stuck to one-night stands as they were much easier to control.
“Water.” The teen’s voice came out in a strangled croak. Mahlea rushed over to help the girl sip from a glass, and she was struck anew at how fragile the girl’s body was in her arms. She glanced down and saw that the bleeding hadn’t stopped; indeed, if anything, it had increased. Sorrow washed over her in waves because she had done everything she could for the girl, and it hadn’t been nearly enough The girl stopped drinking, closed her eyes, and quietly died. Mahlea was watching her face, and she could see the exact moment life exited the girl.
“Please,” Mahlea whispered, to whom, she did not know. For what, she knew even less. Please spare this child’s life? Too late for that Mahlea gathered the girl’s body and hugged her hard. With a start, Mahlea realized that she was weeping and that her tears were falling on the dead girl’s face. She tried to stem the tide, but doing so only made her cry harder.
Protocol dictated that she called her sisters-in-arm so they could plan an elaborate scene with this young girl’s body as the centerpiece of the tableau. Mahlea had done it countless times before without a qualm, but this time, she simply couldn’t. She cursed herself as she remembered she had told Tyri that this child would be a goner in fifteen minutes or less; Mahlea had to buy herself some time. She texted Ragnhild and said that the child had temporarily recovered, but probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Mahlea knew it sounded thin, but it was the best she could do under the circumstance.
Still weeping, Mahlea grabbed a shovel and a pail of quicklime, scooped up the child, and went out to her car. Year of carrying dead bodies made her current task effortless– and as she always wore black, she didn’t need to change clothes first. She drove to the woods, her mind numb. Her phone blew up with text messages; she ignored everything but the road ahead of her. She had shitty night vision, and it was all she could do to keep on the road, especially given her state of mind.
Mahlea screeched to an abrupt halt when she reached her destination. She opened her glove box and grabbed her gloves and goggles; she was already wearing her boots. She carried the girl, the shovel, and the pail of quicklime to an appropriate spot and began digging. She tried to focus on the task at hand, but her mind kept drifting back to the first body she had buried – her sister’s. It had been twenty-five years ago this week, and not a day went by when Mahlea didn’t think of her. Connie had been four years younger than Mahlea and in her junior year of high school. Mahlea had just finished her second year at college where she had been studying home ec. She had wanted to major in microbiology, but that was strongly discouraged for women. Mahlea had audited the classes when a professor would let her, but that ended when she dropped out of college right after her sister’s death.
Connie hadn’t cared about politics at all – she just wanted to have fun at school. She was a decent, if not brilliant student, which caused the elderly Tsais a considerable amount of grief. They would lecture her on how important it was for her to receive an exemplary education, and she would laugh and say, “Why? I plan on getting married once I graduate from high school and having a bunch of kids!” She was simply parroting the prevalent societal sentiment on the issue, so her parents really couldn’t say anything in response. That didn’t stop them from nagging her to study, of course, but they made little headway with their younger daughter.
Connie had several boyfriends, but none of them were serious. She was intent on remaining abstinent until she married, but she liked the attention she received from the boys at school – and from more than a few men as well. One of the men paying attention to her was her World Geography teacher, Mr. Andersen, and he spent several evenings tutoring her in his home after cheerleading practice. At least, that’s what Connie told her parents. It wasn’t until Mahlea received a hysterical call from her younger sister, two months later, that the truth was revealed – Connie had been having sex with Mr. Andersen, and she was pregnant. “We’re in love,” Connie tearfully told Mahlea. Mahlea, of course, immediately knew that was bullshit, which Connie reinforced when she added that Mr. Andersen had urged her to ‘get rid of’ the baby because it would put his career in jeopardy.
“Don’t do it, Connie,” Mahlea had warned her sister. While teenage pregnancy was heavily frowned upon, it was legal – abortions weren’t. Connie would face ridicule and shame if she kept the baby, but she would face imprisonment if she aborted.
“I have to, Melanie,” Connie solemnly replied. “I have to do it for Jimmy.” That was the second-to-last conversation Mahlea ever had with her sister. The last had been when Connie showed up at her apartment, heavily bleeding between the legs. Mahlea had done what she could for Connie, but as always, it had been too little, too late.
“Fuck.” Mahlea slowly exhaled as she dug deeper into the unforgiving earth. How many times had she done this? Too many fucking times; she had stopped counting after fifty because it just depressed her – and that had been over fifteen years ago. She dug in silence for another twenty minutes, grunting occasionally when her shovel hit a rock. Once she deemed the hole deep enough, she donned her gloves and goggles and started spreading the quicklime. Then, she tenderly placed the child in the grave and covered her with another layer of quicklime before filling in the hole with dirt. Once that was done, Mahlea plucked a scraggly lilac from a nearby bush and placed it on the makeshift grave, said a quick prayer, and left without looking back. She returned home just as the sun was rising on another bleak day.