“Too much competition. Besides there’s no scholarships for cheerleaders. I just want to be there in the stands to root for his team.”
“It’s a big school. Lots to do there.”
“Yeah, Ryan’s already pledged to Sigma Pi and so if I want to see him at the mixers I’ve got to get into Lambda.”
“Oh it is. And I don’t know if my grade average is going to be good enough to get into State.”
“You’ll do fine,” Johnny tried to reassure her. “Besides, even if you don’t go Ryan will be home every weekend. It’s not that far away.”
“That’s what you think,” the tone in Taryn’s voice went down a register. “He’s already talking about dating other women. He wants to play the field and not just the one between the goal posts. I don’t know how I can hold on to him in a big place like State.”
“It’ll work out.”
A block before the hardware story Johnny and Taryn were stopped by a crowd that blocked the sidewalk. Protesters surrounded them and shook their signs like weapons. As Johnny and Taryn attempted to continue on their way a man and a woman stepped forward holding a large glass container which they raised up, shaking its contents and shouted. “It’s a child, not a choice”.
“Let’s get out of here,” Taryn turned to Johnny as they were encircled by the mob.
The leader of the group stepped forward and held up his hand, pointing a finger at Taryn and Johnny. “My dear young sinners, we are here to save your souls and prevent you from committing a crime against our Lord Jesus Christ.” He then turned, faced his flock, raised his fist, and shouted a rhetorical question. “What do we want?” To which the assembly answered in a practiced unison. “Life.” “When do we want it?” “Now.” Johnny and Taryn were petrified. “Whose way?” “God’s way!” And finally, “What matters?” “Unborn life matters”.
“That thing, that thing,” Taryn screamed, pointing at the man and woman as they shook the bottle in front of her face. “Get that thing away from me.” The left arm of the fetus moved as though it was waving to her. Johnny shoved the man to the side, causing him to stumble and the jar fell out of his hands, shattering as it landed on the cement. The glass went in every direction. The formaldehyde cast a stain across the sidewalk. The human fetus slid out into the world like a newborn, helpless and naked. Then another scream filled the air, much louder than the one emitted by Taryn. The woman’s voice beseeched Johnny, demanding justice for her loss. “Look what you’ve done. You’ve killed my baby, my baby, my little man is dead.”
With their way to the hardware store blocked, Johnny took the only avenue of escape that was available and whisked Taryn into the lobby of the medical clinic. There they were met by a man wearing an orange vest that read “Escort”. “Everything will be alright,” he assured them, shaking Johnny’s hand and touching Taryn’s elbow reassuringly. “We’re here to help.”
“Did you see that thing in the bottle?”
“Take a deep breath my dear,” the man advised. “We generally have our clients come in through the back door to avoid those Bible thumpers.”
“They scared me to death. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“They are very aggressive. But let me just start by welcoming you to Westside Women’s Health. My name is Harold Sanderson, Clinic Coordinator. Do you have an appointment?”
Taryn took a deep breath and looked around trying to forget the chaos just outside the door. The lights in the lobby were dimmed and there was a barely audible melody piped in from a speaker in the ceiling. On one side of the room a couch sat before a glass topped table with a bouquet of flowers in the center. Two paintings hung on the wall, one of a young woman in a broad brimmed hat, holding her head in her hands, the other of a seascape with a wave surging over the rocky shoreline. “So your clinic is just for women?” Taryn observed. “Hope you don’t mind that I brought my boyfriend along?”
“That’s the way we’d prefer it,” Sanderson nodded.
“We’re on our way to the hardware store,” Johnny tried to explain. “For a class assignment.” Taryn kicked Johnny in the shins as she smiled, confidently taking advantage of the situation. “We don’t have an appointment but we’d like to learn about what you do here.” Intoxicated by Taryn’s perfume, Johnny could offer no objection.
“That’s fine,” Sanderson led them into a small conference room. “Please make yourself comfortable. Let me start by asking your names.”
“I’m Beverly Duncan. And this is Tony Metcalf.”
“And what services are you interested in Miss Duncan?”
“It’s been two months since my last period,” Taryn divulged. “And I want to get a pregnancy test but I don’t want my parents to know.”
“Easy enough,” Sanderson looked over the top of his glasses. “We have the usual kit, it’s called First Response, but, like all of these over-the-counter products there is the possibility of a false negative or a false positive, so if you would like a more certain determination, we could collect a urine sample. You could get the results by the middle of next week.”
“And let’s say if we decide to have an abortion,” Taryn asked. “Can you help us with that too?”
“Well that’s another matter, and will require that you meet with a counselor.” Harold Sanderson handed Johnny a clipboard and a pen. “Here’s our intake questionnaire.”
“Maybe we should do that just in case.” Taryn took the forms and the pen from Johnny.
“Let me go see if she’s available,” Sanderson pronounced as he stood up and left the room.
“What are you doing?” Johnny looked into Taryn’s eyes. “Are you really pregnant?”
“I don’t think so. I mean maybe, I mean I hope not, but I am a few weeks late.”
“Maybe we need to cut this short and get down to Bolema’s.”
“And besides,” Taryn started to fill in the blanks. “This is a lot more interesting than going to a hardware store. And what if I am pregnant? A girl needs to know these kinds of things.”
“We’re wasting their time. Beverly and Tony? And why are you leading him on this way?”
“To tell you the truth,” Taryn put down the pen. “I’ve been thinking about getting on the pill but didn’t want my parents to know. Do you mind?” After a few minutes there was a knock on the door.
“Can I come in?”
“Sure,” Taryn responded at which point a woman entered the room and Johnny gasped, swallowing his gum.
“Why Johnny Teasdale,” the woman addressed him directly. “What a surprise to see you.”
“Well hello Mrs. Whitfield, let me introduce you to Taryn Avery. Taryn, Mrs. Whitfield is the wife of the minister at my mother’s church. First Methodist.”
“What a coincidence, I was just talking with your mother this morning.” Taryn handed the clipboard to Mrs. Whitfield. “I see here that you two are using an alias. Not uncommon in this business but let me assure you that nothing you tell me will leave this room.”
“So, if you’re the minister’s wife,” Taryn thought out loud. “How come you’re inside the clinic and not outside with the protesters?”
“Good question. Let’s just say there’s more than one Christian denomination, and a wide range of opinion. It’s all about access to health care,” Mary Whitfield paused and smiled at Johnny. “So let’s get started. Mr. Anderson tells me you might be pregnant and have some questions about our services.”
“We’re on our way to Bolema’s Hardware,” Johnny began to explain.
“My dear, what in heaven for?”
“For our Econ class. To interview Mr. Bolema.”
“Well you certainly got side tracked. Now, Miss Avery, let’s start with your condition. Why don’t you step into the bathroom down the hall and provide a sample.” She reached into a drawer and handed Taryn a collection cup and a brown paper bag. “Second door on the right.”
“Now Johnny,” Mrs. Whitfield continued as Taryn left the room. “She’s a pretty girl, but both of you are so young.”
“It’s not what you think,” Johnny insisted. “We’ve got this assignment.”
“But my boy, you need to be more sensitive to this young woman. You may be a father soon, and really too soon. The child in her womb is part of you too. It’s a tremendous responsibility.”
Johnny’s head was spinning as Taryn returned and handed the brown bag to Mrs. Whitfield. “And Taryn dear, Johnny was trying to explain why you need to get to the hardware store, but I’m here to help you two through this difficult time.”
“Johnny and I are going to skip the hardware store,” Taryn announced. “Perhaps we can do our Econ project about the clinic and we could interview you. I don’t care about that creepy Econ Don, maybe if you explain how your business works we could share that information with the rest of the class.”
“That’s a wonderful idea. Westside Health is about more than just reproductive rights. For instance we are dedicated to reducing sexually transmitted disease and also have a program for women who can’t afford mammograms and PAP smears.” Over the next half hour Mrs. Whitfield answered all of Taryn’s questions while Johnny collected handouts and brochures, searching for information that might satisfy Mr. Halstead.
“Good luck to you two,” Mary Whitfield smiled as she led them out the back door. “You can call Mr. Sanderson next week for the results of your test.”
Casey Bush is a long time Portland poet whose collection, Student of the Hippocampus, was published by Last Word Press in 2017. Casey is known to hunt mushrooms, throw the yo-yo, and push pawns. For many years he was a senior editor of The Bear Deluxe Magazine, exploring environmental issues through the graphic and literary arts. He currently writes reviews of avant-garde jazz for Audiophile Auditions. His poetry has most recently been featured in Oddball and Mad Swirl. His essay “Marcel Duchamp Gets Mugged by a Street Hustler” appeared in The Decadent Review (March 2021) and was translated into several languages. Casey recommends Chess for Success and SMART Reading.