The Daily Grind, Part II

This is another story set in my dystopian world that has banned abortion and contraceptives. I got the idea from my good friend and co-blogger at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, Ian Boudreau, who wondered what it would be like to be someone who enforces the laws in such a world, so this story is dedicated to him.  

Once again, I have broken it into two posts because I’m wordy as fuck. This is part two. Read part one here

“Ralph, honey, dinner’s ready.”  Sarah poked her head into Ralph’s home office and flashed him a nervous smile.  “Come eat while it’s hot.”

“I’ll be there in a minute, Sar.”  Ralph smiled fondly at his wife.  “I’m just finishing up the last of my paperwork.”  Sarah slipped out of the room and quietly shut the door.  Ralph returned to the papers in front of him and frowned.  He scribbled his signature three times in succession before stuffing the papers into his briefcase and snapping it shut.  He pushed his briefcase to the very edge of his desk and glared at it in distaste.  He closed his eyes for a minute before going into the dining room.

“Pass the salt, please.”  Ralph handed the shaker to Sarah so she could pass it to Leah, third of their five children.  The family ate in relative silence for several minutes, focusing on the stew and potatoes.  Sarah was watching the others eat more than she was eating herself, and when she saw Junior reach the end of his bowl, she poured half of her stew into his empty bowl.

“Ma, I’m fine,” Junior said automatically, though he began eating his extra serving even before Sarah was done pouring.  He was the starting quarterback for the Jericho Horns, and he never felt like he had enough to eat.  He didn’t complain about it, of course, because he knew that his parents did the best they could.  Still, there wasn’t a night in which he didn’t go to bed with a twinge in his gut.

“You’re a growing boy,” Sarah said firmly, her cornflower blue eyes flashing indignantly.  “You need it more than I do.”  She scraped out the last bit of beef from her bowl into Junior’s and placed the last piece of bread onto his plate as well.  The other four children studiously ate the food on their own plates and didn’t seem to notice the interplay between mother and oldest brother.

“How’s school, Christopher?”  Ralph asked his second oldest child who was in seventh grade.

“It sucks,” Christopher said emphatically, causing his mother to shoot an icy glance his way.  “Not good,” Christopher amended himself.  “We’re doing Noah’s ark in creationism class.”

“Again?  That’s the third time this year.”  Ralph set his spoon down in concern.  He was glad his kids were studying the Bible, but this was ridiculous.

“New teacher.  Miss Gravestone was fired for moral turpitude last week.  This is Miss Stevenson’s first job.”  Christopher peeled a banana and ate half of it in one bite.

“I’ll call the principal in the morning,” Sarah said with a small sigh.  Ralph knew she hated making a fuss, but she would do it for their children.  “This is really unacceptable.”

After dinner, Ralph went back to his home office to unwind.  He didn’t ask for much, but he demanded one hour of alone time after supper – it was sacrosanct.  He liked to joke that if someone wasn’t dying and bothered him during that hour, he would remedy the former in a heartbeat to make it a true emergency.  Therefore, he was unhappy when there was a knock on his door less than half an hour after he had entered his office.  Before he could say anything, Sarah opened the door and slipped inside.  She stood submissively before Ralph, her head bowed.

“I’m sorry, honey.  I know how much you hate being bothered during your downtime hour, but we have to talk.”  Sarah tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear and sat down on the couch.  She fastened her eyes on the floor and waited for Ralph to speak.

“It’s OK, Sarah.  Let’s talk.”  Ralph was concerned because while Sarah was a mild-mannered girl for the most part, she wasn’t usually this timid.  Ralph sat next to his wife and put his arm around her shoulders.  He tried to pull her into a hug, but she resisted.  She turned her body slightly so she was facing Ralph.  She took a couple of deep breaths and then blurted out the news.

“I’m pregnant.”  Sarah went rigid in Ralph’s arms as if she were waiting for physical blows.  Ralph had never even thought about hitting his wife, but he had to admit that his first reaction was one of sheer dismay.

“How did this happen, Sarah?”

“I don’t know, Ralph!  I’ve been so careful in my counting – you know I’m very regular.  Maybe I miscounted.  I must have missed a day.  I don’t think I did, but….I really don’t know how I could have let this happen.”  Sarah burst into tears, her thin body shaking in Ralph’s arms.

“Oh, baby, don’t cry.  I wasn’t blaming you.  Really, I wasn’t.”  Ralph pulled Sarah to his chest, and stroked her hair.  He tried to think of something positive to say, but he couldn’t.  He loved his children, but he was barely scraping by as it was.  Feeding seven mouths on his salary was nearly impossible, and while it wasn’t against the law for Sarah to work, it might as well be.  She had her hands full with the five kids, and there was a law mandating that no one other than the mother could care for her children – unless she was dead, in jail, or otherwise incapacitated.

Ralph had been wholeheartedly for the law abolishing most abortions as he believed that life began at conception.  However, he hadn’t been as easy with the subsequent laws passed, such as the banning of contraceptives.  He really didn’t like the law that got rid of all daycare centers; he had even wrote a letter to his senators and representative, not that it made a difference.  The law passed in the senate 99 – 1, with the one nay voter receiving death threats from outraged citizens.

As Ralph continued to soothe Sarah, he fleetingly wished that she would miscarry the baby.  Then he felt ashamed of himself for having such a ghastly thought and asked God to forgive him.  He loved his children; he really did.  He simply could not imagine feeding another mouth.  He ran through his options in his head and reluctantly settled on the one that made more sense.

“I’ll see if I can take on any more shifts at work,” Ralph said to Sarah.  He already worked sixty hours a week, but he would do what he had to do.

“I’ll leave you alone now,” Sarah said, rising from the couch and hastily wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.  She pasted on a smile before opening the door and disappearing into the hallway.

“Damn.”  Ralph uttered the curse word as soon as Sarah had shut the door.  Swearing wasn’t allowed in the house, but he figured he was owed one.  He would never say this to Sarah, but he really wish she would get her tubes tied.  They had the requisite two kids, so she could legally have the procedure done.  The one time he had broached the subject with her after kid number three, however, she had gone into hysterics and accused him of having an affair.  It took him an hour to get her to explain that she thought he was trying to tell her that he had no further use of her as a woman, that he was putting her out to the pasture, so to speak.  Ralph had been so horrified by making her feel that way, he had immediately dropped the subject.

Ralph pushed the thought to the back of his mind and tried to enjoy the rest of his alone time.  It didn’t work, however, so he gave up and brooded.  As much as he loved his kids, he just didn’t know if he could handle having another.  He tried to remember the last time he’d been happy to receive the news that he was going to be a father – it was when Sarah had told him she was pregnant the second time – three children and nearly fifteen years ago.  With each successive kid, he had been less excited and more concerned, even though he wouldn’t trade Leah, Esther, and William for anything in the world.

“I’ll love this new baby, too.  I will.”  Ralph nodded his head and headed upstairs.  He noticed that Sarah was already in bed, even though it was only nine.  She had her back to the door, but he knew she was crying, and his heart ached for her.  He put on his pajamas and slid into bed next to her.  “It’ll be OK, baby.  It will.”  Ralph spooned Sarah from behind, desperately wanting to comfort her.  At first, he thought she wasn’t going to say anything, but when she did, it was in such a soft whisper, Ralph had to strain to hear her.

“I hope it’s not a girl.”

 

——————————————

 

“Do you have any extra shifts for me, boss?”  Ralph was in Mr. Ziegler’s office bright and early the next morning, hat figuratively in hand.  Just two weeks ago, Ralph had turned down extra shifts because he wanted to have some life outside of work; now, he had to swallow his pride and ask for the extra hours.

“I still have the Last Supper shift three times a week.  It’s yours for the taking.”  Mr. Ziegler fiddled with the Star of David pin on his lapel; a nervous tic of his.  “Jefferson couldn’t hack it, you know, but I think you have what it takes.”

Ralph grimaced – he had never been on the Last Supper shift; indeed, he had gone out of his way to avoid it for the eleven years he’d worked for the State, but he was desperate for money, and the Last Supper shift paid double what an ordinary shift did.

“I’ll take it,” Ralph said reluctantly.  He turned to leave, but was stopped by a question from Mr. Ziegler.

“What made you change your mind, Stiller?  You were adamant about not working any more hours the last time I asked you.”

“Sarah’s pregnant again,” Ralph said, turning back to his boss.  He didn’t miss the wince that crossed Mr. Ziegler’s face at the announcement.

“I’m sorry.”  That’s all Mr. Ziegler said.  Ralph nodded his head once then left to do his rounds.

 

———————————————

 

“Now, remember, despite what you see, it doesn’t hurt them at all.”  Gordon Winters, the manager of the Last Supper shift, counseled Ralph on his first day.  “Studies have shown that death by medication is by far the most painless way to die.”

“Except naturally.”  The thought rose unbidden into Ralph’s head, and he sternly squashed it before he actually voiced it.  Ralph had never been in the Last Supper area before; indeed, he had gone out of his way to avoid it.  Now, he would be taking his place alongside the four other men who were strong enough to do this job.  Gordon Winters had been on the Last Supper shift since day one, and he had seen a couple dozen men who couldn’t hack it come and go.

“Dinah Fredericks is having contractions right now.  She’s nearly there.”  That’s all Winters said, but Ralph could fill in the blanks in his mind.  After Dinah had her baby, she would be given one last meal of her choice and then a lethal dose of barbiturates would be injected into her, and she would pass away.  Dinah had been in Isolation since she was admitted, so Ralph didn’t know her at all.  “Ready to observe?”  Winters caught Ralph off-guard with his comment, and Ralph couldn’t hide his dismay.

“I thought I would be starting at the beginning of a labor?”

“I find it better to throw newbies in with the lions, so to speak.  It’s easier to separate the chaff from the wheat that way.”  Winters’ pale blue eyes stared coldly at Ralph until the latter looked away.  “This isn’t a job for the weak, Stiller.  You either have what it takes, or you don’t.  I need to know that upfront.”  Without further ado, Winters opened the door to Dinah’s cell and strode inside.  A slight, haggard-looking brunette with a swollen belly was strapped down to a gurney, her legs spread as far apart as possible.  She had bruises of varying colors covering her thighs and breasts.  Her stringy hair was plastered to her forehead as she strained against her bonds.  Her lips were pressed so tightly together, they were white.  Half of the baby was already outside her vagina.  A doctor was between Dinah’s leg, but looked towards the door to nod at Winters and Ralph.

“Push, Dinah, push!  You’re almost there!”  A tiny blonde nurse chirped, her voice artificially bright.  Dinah turned her head slowly towards the nurse and stared hard at the girl barely half her age.  The latter squirmed under the scrutiny and fell silent.  Seemingly satisfied, Dinah glanced at the newcomers, her hazel eyes latching on to Ralph – who was shrinking behind Winters.

“You’re doing fine, Dinah,” Winters said briskly, donning latex gloves.  “Soon, your son will be born, and you’ll be able to eat.  Have you changed your mind about dinner?”  He paused, but Dinah didn’t respond.  She kept staring at Ralph, who was looking at anything but her.  He glanced in her direction once, but what he saw in her eyes compelled him to quickly look away.  “Dinah has refused her last meal,” Winters explained to Ralph.

“What?  Why?”  Ralph found himself sneaking peeks at Dinah, only to be disconcerted to see her staring back at him.  She hadn’t taken her eyes off him once since he walked in with Winters.

“Let me amend that.  Dinah hasn’t spoken in the three months since she’s been here.  When we asked what she wanted for her last meal, she didn’t answer.  Therefore, she forgoes her right for a last meal.  After her son is born, we will administer the barbs.”

“Jeez, Winters, do you have to be so blunt about it?”  Ralph thought, but he didn’t say it out loud since he didn’t want to show up Winters in front of an inmate.

“One more push, Dinah!  You can do it!”  The nurse was chirping at Dinah again, but the latter was too focused on Ralph to pay attention.  Ralph didn’t understand why Dinah was so fascinated by him, but it was making him uncomfortable.  He also didn’t like what was going on between Dinah’s legs as blood made him queasy.  Ralph hadn’t been present for the birth of any of his children, so this was an unpleasant experience all around.  He tried to think about Sarah and the kids, but that just made him think about the baby on the way and why he was in this room in the first place.

Sarah had cried herself to sleep every night ever since she told Ralph about the latest pregnancy, and nothing he did or said comforted her.  He would hold her, massage her shoulders, and tell her everything was going to be all right, but to no avail.  She would only sob harder, curl into a ball, and refuse solace.  On a purely selfish note, they hadn’t made love since that fateful announcement a week ago, either.  Ralph was used to getting it twice a week, if not three times, so he found the current situation almost unbearable.  While Ralph felt bad for Sarah, he couldn’t help thinking about how he was the one working overtime to support the family.  He didn’t ask much of Sarah, and he couldn’t help resenting the fact that she had cut him off.  The one time he had approached her about the topic, she had burst into tears and locked herself in the bedroom.

“You did it, Dinah!”  The nurse squeaked, clapping her hands together.  “You now have a healthy baby boy!”  Dinah didn’t say anything as she continued to stare at Ralph, who was wincing at the nurse’s cheerleader attitude.  Who the hell decided she would be a good nurse for the Last Supper unit?  Ralph thought it was probably Winters, but for what reason, he couldn’t fathom.

“Well, that’s done,” Winters said briskly, rubbing his hands together.  “You change your mind about that last meal, Dinah?”  No reply.  Dinah kept her eyes focused on Ralph, and he was beginning to sweat despite the air conditioning.  He felt that Dinah was trying to tell him something, but he had no idea what it was.  “Last chance, Dinah.  If you don’t answer me in two minutes, I’m going to take it as a no.”

The next two minutes were the longest of Ralph’s life.  He felt compelled, for whatever reason, to hold Dinah’s stare as the seconds ticked away. He wanted to say something to her, but he didn’t know what.  The darkness in her eyes warned him to hold his tongue, and besides, he didn’t want to appear weak in front of Winters.

“Time’s up.” Winters nodded at the three men who suddenly appeared next to him.  Ralph jumped as he hadn’t heard the men enter the cell.  Two men stood and watched as the third approached the gurney.  He hooked Dinah up with an IV, injected a series of syringes into the IV, and then stepped back.  Ralph couldn’t keep his eyes off Dinah – who was still watching him intently – as he waited for something to happen.  He wasn’t sure exactly what, but he braced himself for it, regardless.  Dinah didn’t blink as she stared at Ralph through hooded lids.  With Ralph watching, Dinah’s eyes started glazing over.  She tried to maintain eye contact with Ralph, but she gave up the fight several minutes after she had been injected with the barbs.  A minute later, her eyelids fluttered shut.  The man who had injected the syringes into the IV checked her pulse, then nodded at Winters.

“We’re done here, folks,” Winters announced.

“That’s it?”  Ralph asked, his eyes still on Dinah.  Irrationally, he hoped to see her wink at him, to let him know that she was just pretending.

“Yup.”  Winters took the baby from the nurse and cradled him in his arms.  “Welcome to the Last Supper, Stiller.  Next up is training to inject the barbs.  We rotate every time.  Then you’ll truly be one of us.”

Ralph raced from the cell as his stomach started to churn.  He barely made it to the restroom before unloading the contents of his lunch – gumbo, two biscuits, and collard greens – into the toilet.  Once he was through, he reached up to flush before hugging the toilet bowl.  He couldn’t get Dinah’s eyes out of his mind.  One minute, she was alert and staring at him intensely; the next minute, her eyes had gone flat as she died.  She was dead, and her son would grow up without a mother.  She was dead, and her husband would have to raise his son and who knows how many other kids alone?  There was a law that mandated that the husband of a three-striker couldn’t remarry for two years and his mate had to be chosen by the state.  Dinah was dead because of a law that declared a fetus to be more important than—Ralph shook his head to rid himself of his treacherous ideas, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the sheer futility of what he had just witnessed.

Ralph stood up unsteadily, his legs shaky beneath him.  He closed his eyes briefly to say a prayer, but he couldn’t feel God’s presence at all.  He left the stall, washed his hands, and exited the restroom.  Instead of going to his office or to Winters’ office to receive his training, however, he headed for Eve’s cell – that’s where he really needed to be.

2 Responses to The Daily Grind, Part II

  1. A friendly suggestion: cut out the adverbs and see whether the piece is stronger as a result. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

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