fiction by Karma J. Alvey
It was getting dark outside - a storm was creeping in from far west and I could tell the conversation would end about the way the night would - with a disaster. It never ended well with my mom anyway, but the subject matter made me question whether I might be subconsciously planning my own death. I had to tell her sometime, and I may as well have told her when there’s a chance a tornado could come wipe me out mid-sentence so I didn’t have to deal with her response.
“Mom, I’m having an abortion.”
She looked at me, her face as blank as the Devotional Journal she bought me for Christmas (to be honest, it had been collecting dust under my well-worn Kama Sutra guide).
“Mom, I said I’m having an abortion. Tomorrow.”
“I heard you,” she spoke softly.
I didn’t think she really heard me.
“No, no, I did, I was just processing.” She stared out into the street for a moment before speaking again, watching the droplets of rain race down the bay window. After the longest minute in history, she finally broke the silence. “Why so late?”
“The baby is unhealthy.”
“Oh,” she exhaled. Just oh. I knew I was about to get it. I went to the kitchen and got coffee for the both of us, and snuck a shot into mine to take the edge off.
“Here you go, Mom.” She took a sip and set the cup down on the coffee table, then smoothed the wrinkles out of her ugly, salmon-colored skirt, making the edges dance around her patent brown loafers. She had no sense of style.
“You’re at eighteen weeks, Salome. You know how I feel about abortion anyway, but this late, that’s more murder than anything. Is the baby really that unhealthy?”
To set the record straight, I wasn’t lying. I had found out earlier that week that my baby (endearingly, and admittedly disgustingly, dubbed “Chum” due to his unfortunate fate) had Niemann Pick Type A, and would die before his second birthday. He wouldn’t be a normal kid - he’d never learn to speak, or walk, and he’d barely be able to breathe, until his lungs just stopped responding to the instinct to rise. I couldn’t watch my child be in pain for all of his life, and I wouldn’t put him through that for my benefit of knowing him. He wouldn’t gain anything from knowing me.
We had made the appointment for termination the day before. I didn’t know a lot about medicine, so I listened to the doctors when they said things like “short,” “fatal,” and “suffering.” You see, I had decided to go to Stanford Law instead of Johns Hopkins for med (mostly because I wanted to be able to say I went to Stanford in a really posh accent with my nose turned up, but you get the point).
My mom didn’t like the fact that I went to school at all. She wanted me to be a Catholic housewife like her. Needless to say, she was displeased when I married a stay-at-home writer and started my own firm, totally reversing the roles of a traditional Christian family. Mom probably wasn’t surprised when I told her I didn’t believe in God, but that didn’t keep the resentment from showing. It really struck a nerve when I showed up to a funeral in pants, though. At least they’re tailored, Mom, I said to her, trying not to cackle at her expression. She didn’t care. I’m pretty sure she was more upset about my slacks than she was about Mrs. February’s fatal heart attack. But, for the most part, she tried to stick to the “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy, and I appreciated that.
I rolled my eyes. “Mother, why would I lie about that?” I asked, huffing.
“I just know you’re very busy with your firm, and you may not think you have time for a family right now, and this would be an easy way out,” Mother explained between sips of coffee. “I don’t want you to take the easy way out of this, Salome. It’s a person’s life we’re talking about.”
“I know, Mom, it’s my son. I know that good and well.” It was probably one of my smarter decisions to spare her my feminist rant about abortion and basic human rights. Now wasn’t the time, especially when I didn’t want to have an abortion at all. I sat down beside her and took her hands into mine. “He has Niemann Pick Disease, and he won’t live very long, and every minute of it will be painful. I can’t let my son live like that. We’ll try again in a few months.”
She pulled away from me, her lips forming a line tighter than her asshole during Lent. “You could give him a chance, you know,” Mom spat. “He may be fine.”
“He won’t be fine,” I said, feeling heat in my face, but trying to stay calm. “He’ll die anyway, and this way, he won’t feel anything.”
“He won’t go to heaven, you know, because he never received salvation. If you let him live, he could get baptized first.”
“Yes, because that will do so much good.” I knew I shouldn’t have pushed it, but she knew how I felt about God just as much as I knew how she felt about abortion.
“Oh Salome, please don’t start with the attitude!” She crossed her legs forcefully, kicking her cup over and spilling Folger’s all over my nearly-new, cream-colored carpet in the process. Instead of cleaning it up, she sat there, watching the stain spread. I rolled my eyes and ran to the kitchen for a towel.
While I tried to sop up the mess, I can only assume she was silently formulating her next move. I went to get some carpet cleaner and came back to her subconsciously bouncing her foot into the stain.
“Don’t. You’ll make the stain set,” I commanded. She continued, like a child. “If you keep doing that I’ll make you get down there and clean it up.” If she was going to act like a child, I’d have to act like a parent. She stopped.
Mom shook her head. “You know my knees are bad.”
“Yeah, well I’m pregnant.”
“Not for long,” she snapped.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I spat in response. “Now get out of my house, please.” She stood up and hobbled toward the door, acting older than she was. I followed her to the porch to make sure she actually left, and ended up locking myself out, with only five feet of awning separating me from a violent downpour.
When my “good-for-nothing” husband finally got back from the grocer, and I got inside, I needed a cigarette, so I had one. I needed a drink, so I had four. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about giving Chum fetal alcohol syndrome or something else horrible. I figured I could quit smoking again later.
My main concern at the time was getting the damn coffee stain out of my fairly expensive carpet. I tried everything: 409, vinegar, white wine, kitty litter. I even tried rubbing it out with some good ol’ human tears, but that didn’t help anyone except for the cat, who liked the taste of sadness so much she was nearly licking the saline out of my eyes before it had time to roll down my cheek. All I could think about was how much I wanted Mom to understand this. I didn’t want her to be angry, and I didn’t want her to judge me, because I wanted this to happen so much less than she did.
At about four in the morning, I gave it up and decided I would have to live with the stain, and the fact that I probably wouldn’t ever be able to make my mother understand. I went to bed, but didn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was that coffee, like shit smeared across the back of my eyelids. But time rolled on, like that fucking mug off the coffee table, and before I knew it, we were on our way to kill our first born.
I spent the next day in the hospital all for them to suck out my insides in 45 minutes. It felt like a much bigger ordeal than it should have been for so little - like my sixteenth birthday when my parents threw me a party in the church basement and, in the grandest of notions, presented me with a purity ring instead of a Volvo (joke’s on them; I lost my virginity in the back of a Volvo six months before that anyway). I think the fact that they drew it out just made it that much harder to handle. I had too much time to think about all the morning sickness, the onesies in the closet and the moment we found out we were having a little boy, and I just couldn’t get over how much I just wanted the baby. I knew I was making the right decision, even though it was the hardest one, even though I wanted nothing less than an abortion. I kept thinking about the fight with my mother and the coffee and how I wished she knew just how much I didn’t want to do this.
After I had cried everything I had in me out, and the doctor had, in his words, “removed the fetus” (which made it feel like he thought it was a tumor or something), and I had thrown up three days worth of meals because of the anesthetic and the anxiety and the guilt, I was finally discharged. They wheeled me out, even though I asked them not to, because it also felt extremely unnecessary. I didn’t know what to think when I saw my mother standing in the parking lot beside her Taurus station wagon. I prepared for the worst, but hoped that maybe, just maybe, she felt as bad as I did about the whole situation and had come to be supportive. I smiled sheepishly at her and took in a breath to speak, but she cut me off.
“I’m sorry,” Mom popped off, speaking quickly. “I bought you a rug.” She handed me an envelope with the word “SORRY” written in big cursive letters.
“What?” I was a little confused.
“For the stain. To cover it. I got you an area rug. I just felt so bad, because I ruined the carpet, and I upset you, and I do know this was really testing you.”
I smiled a little. She was trying. “Thank you. And thank you for the rug. You can come over later and we can talk, okay? Right now I really want to go home and rest for a bit.”
“Okay,” she replied, and got in her car.
On the way home, I opened the envelope, expecting a cheesy Hallmark card with a picture of a field and some well-meaning message printed over it in Cursiva.
Housed inside the envelope was not a Hallmark card, but a pamphlet with clipart of two doves and an olive branch on the front. Printed across the top in big, bold letters, were the words JESUS FORGIVES!
God damn it Mother.