The waiting room chairs are an ugly burgundy color and most of them have unsettling stains. She doesn’t want to sit on anything, so she picks her seat carefully. She winds up directly underneath the only television, but that is alright because she has a clipboard full of paperwork to fill out. This feels like the millionth time this last month that she has filled out a demographic sheet. She barely needs to look at the labels under the slots to know what goes where. She could maybe do it in her sleep, if she slept much anymore.
The clinic is quiet. No phones are ringing yet. The receptionist is scrolling through her phone with the glass doors shut. Only one other woman waits to be seen, and she is clearly very pregnant. So pregnant that, to bend over when the nurse calls her, she must twist her body a little to be able to reach her purse that she set on the ground. Her purse is also large, and it is probably because she knows that her days of being able to pack lightly for only herself are over. From now on, her bag will be filled with toys, spare pacifiers, and crunched up granola bars that she will keep for afterschool snacks on days where she must stay late to talk to one teacher or another. The woman does not appear to mind this. She holds her stomach as she waddles away.
The other woman resumes her paperwork and feels a familiar cold sensation in her stomach. She does not want to hold it. She thinks she may vomit, but she does not want to do it in a public bathroom, so she closes her eyes and breathes deeply. On the television, she can hear a preacher talking before a large, live congregation. She places his accent in Texas and assumes that it would fit the crowd, the televised worship of God. She wonders if the people in the audience would go to a normal church. She does not think so. She does not open her eyes, but she can imagine that most of the people in the audience are thin, tall, blonde, and white, white, white. They wear ugly large hats that are placed on their laps and they probably drove there in a fancy SUV. The woman does not like SUVs.
“We must love one another,” the preacher says, intoning in the certain way that it seems only men of religion are allowed to without sounding stupid. “But as human beings. This does not mean we must like each other.”
He must have made a face during the pause, because the crowd laughs politely.
“But each life that God sets upon this earth is precious. Living must not be done lightly, but in the light of our Lord.”
The woman wishes that the receptionist would change the channel, but does not want to go and ask. Instead, she fills out the last two blanks on her paperwork and wonders if the preacher considers “on earth” to actually be suspended about three feet above earth for a lengthy period. She does not know how she herself feels about this, and she can feel her throat tightening, and indecision making her underarms bead with sweat. She walks to the front of the clinic and turns in her clipboard. The receptionist slides the glass back and takes the clipboard from her. Then she says that she may go sit down again. The woman retreats to her seat.
When the nurse calls her name, it is a relief because she is very tired of listening to the television. She decides she hates televised worship. She thinks that it’s cheap and the preachers probably have multitudes of affairs because they consider themselves celebrities. She hopes that none of them have children because they will be trapped. Trapped behind a static-filled screen in a clinic on a Monday morning.
She is weighed and she knows that she has lost too much recently for it to be healthy. As she had never visited this clinic before, the nurse does not notice this change and therefore does not ask her about it. She is led into a room with a light green exam table that is covered in the annoyingly-crinkly tissue paper. She sits as delicately as she can but is still started by the noise it makes. Her heart beat a little faster and she is worried that the nurse will hear it as she listens through her stethoscope. The nurse marks her vitals down on a small tab of paper and then asks her all the pertinent questions.
Has she ever felt depressed or suicidal?
Has she wanted to harm herself or anyone else?
Has she had a history of heart problems?
Has anyone in her family had a history or heart problems?
She wants to answer these wittily about the startling number of divorces in her family, but the nurse is already asking another question.
When was your last missed period?
“A week ago.”
“And you took a home pregnancy test?”
“Yes. It was positive. I took three, actually.”
She types the answers to these questions on a computer instead of writing them down. Then she tears off the piece of paper that the vitals are on and sets it next to the computer. She says that the doctor will be in shortly and then leaves. She closes the door and it is very quiet in the room. She can hear the electricity running. She looks around at the pamphlets on the walls about safe sex, birth control, sexual assault, and pregnancy. She feels as though she should take one, but she is not sure which one to select. Maybe she should select all of them. There are posters on the wall, too. Some are of male genitalia. Others of female. There are pictures of the stages of pregnancy within the womb. At less than a month, it looks like caviar. The thought makes her feel ill, and she thinks she might throw up but there are no vomit bags in the room. So she starts looking at the array of medical tools set on the counter by the sink. There are several glass jars that look like they ought to hold candy but instead they hold different types of cotton-coated instruments and popsicle sticks with no popsicles. There are several other objects on the table and she makes lame guesses at what they might be used for until the doctor comes in.
The doctor is short and matronly. Her gray hair is tied back in a frizzy bun and she wears breast cancer awareness earrings. They say hello and the doctor logs onto the computer and looks over the nurse’s notes. There is a brief and uncomfortable silence. Then her heart is listened to again, and the woman feels like the doctor must notice that it beats painfully slow and thumpy, like it has been handicapped. Her breath wants to catch in her throat.
“So it looks like you might be expecting a baby. How do you feel?” the doctor asks.
“I am not sure.”
“That’s a fair answer. Before we make any decisions about it, let’s give you an official test here and see if that’s really what’s going on.”
She is led out by the nurse who was waiting just outside the door. They walk to a small public restroom that has one of the little doors for sliding urine samples to the staff. The nurse explains what she needs to do to get clean results. The woman is nervous, and pees a little on her hand. She cleans up and takes her time because she figures it will take a few minutes before the results come back. When she is back in the room, she finds that the doctor has stepped out. She waits anxiously, hoping for something she knows will not happen.
The doctor comes back in “Looks like we’re still reading positive.”
“We could discuss options for you. Is there anything that you want to ask me?”
“I was a victim of assault.”
“I saw that in your file. I’ve seen other women in the same circumstance, and I’ve learned that it’s best to not talk about that part here. Not productive. Are you in counselling?”
“Then let’s talk about what I can do for you. Did you decline the day-after pill?”
“And now you are thinking you might have a change of heart.”
“I don’t know.”
“Then we can discuss what we can do for you here at the clinic.”
The woman was afraid of hearing the word abortion because it made her feel dirty. She also hated the word motherhood because right now it felt more like an infestation. She wanted to cry. She sat in the doctor’s office and listened for a long time about all the options, read the papers, and watched the doctor’s eyes glide over all the information like she was reading a teleprompter. The woman saw a pamphlet that said “Motherhood, the longest most devout career a person can have.” She was not that woman on the cover and she knew she couldn’t be.
When she left, she felt like smog. She was lighter, felt better, had her decision made, but she felt like poison as well. She threw up into an old grocery bag that was on the floor of her car. She thought to herself that she had made the right and only possible decision. But then she also thought that there had been other possibilities. There had been other choices. She had made the maybe-good-maybe-bad choice and would have to live with it. Live. Did she still live in the light of God?
Earlier that morning, she had thought about not going to the clinic. She had thought about driving her car to the downtown bridge and parking it in the middle, then climbing out and jumping off, soaring above the water for a moment, legs pumping like she was running, and then the descent like a rollercoaster, colliding with the ice below, a thin sheet, and then sinking to the bottom where she would be drowned and sunk in her heavy winter gear, the coat that was made to keep cold out which would soak up the water and weigh her down. She knew what God was supposed to think of something like that, too. What was worse? What was easier?
She felt ill and wanted a cup of tea. She wanted to go back to her favorite coffee house in Westport and look out the window into the foggy morning and listen to the relaxing music and the sound of the espresso maker. She wanted to enjoy her cup of mint tea and her scone, fresh made, that she would not feel the urge to throw up. She wanted to enjoy the local art which would never be purchased but was hung for display on the walls. She wanted to look over her sketchbook at the pretty men, nice, safe men, who did not approach her or ask to buy her a drink but simply bought their coffee and left.
So that was what she did. She did that, and then she went back to her apartment that she lived in all on her own, with her sister’s crappy pottery littering the window sills, and she took a nap. She dreamed that she was in the audience of that preaching program.
The chairs were cleaner and most plushy versions of movie theater chairs and on either side of her sat a woman who was pregnant, a blonde and a brunette, both beautiful and pregnant. They had a man sitting next to each them. One of the men was rubbing the blonde’s thigh, and she looked uncomfortable. She began biting her lip so hard that blood trickled down her chin.
The woman was afraid so she got up and walked out of the theater. She walked past two bouncers who wore fake halos and out into the reception area. There sat her doctor and the nurse. They were deep in conversation and the woman did not want to interrupt them. Instead, she walked past both, outside where everything was too warm and golden to be true. There was a park bench across from the exit and an old crone was sitting there. The woman went over and sat next to her. It was kind and pleasing and the light was bright. She looked up into the sun and it did not hurt. As she did so, the woman left her alone at the bench.
She knew she would make no friends there.
Hannah Kludy is a graduate of Northwest Missouri State University where she earned her BA in Creative Writing and Publishing. She has had work published in the Northwest Missourian, Medium Weight Forks and the upcoming issue of The Sucarnochee Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Broad Magazine, and The Red Mud Review.