If you have not yet had the opportunity to read Amanda Ching’s marvelous dystopian short story “ILU-486,” you need to clear ten minutes and do so. Now. A brief excerpt:
Rachel Saunders had three kids and two bedrooms. Both boys were fast asleep in the bigger one, and her oldest, Peyton, was bedded down in the other room. Rachel had given up a bedroom when Peyton had turned thirteen, and now she used the couch out in the living/dining room. Right now she sat in the kitchen window and stared out at the fire escape.
She’d gotten home about an hour ago, had a shower, checked to make sure the kids weren’t dead, and then paid a few bills. She watched about fifteen minutes of the newest report on the congressional hearing about the gallows proposal.
Rachel wasn’t sure what she thought of the gallows. It wasn’t like they didn’t already have the death penalty. And this seemed barbaric and horrible, displaying bodies for everyone to see. Wasn’t that something they used to do in the middle ages?
Senator Collux had appeared on the screen arguing for the gallows. “There’s a reason this technique has been around since time immemorial,” Senator Collux said, waving a hand.“In all of the states where it’s been initiated—Utah, Texas, South Carolina, Iowa—it’s been directly linked to a downturn in contraceptive smuggling and illegal abortion. If this is what it takes to preserve the lives of innocent Virginians who don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves, then I am all for it. And if it provides solace to the victims of other violent crimes, that’s even better.”
He used the example of the man who had raped and killed fifteen nuns with a ball peen hammer last year. He’d confessed. When they’d found the man, he’d been wearing a wimple with the nun’s face skin still in it. If there was anyone in this universe that deserved the public’s ire, it was this man. This monster, Collux argued, deserved to be humanely executed and displayed on the gallows for everyone to see. But only for three weeks. Any longer was in danger of spreading pestilence.
Rachel shrugged and turned the television off. Then she stared at the fire escape, biting all of her cuticles into ragged bleeding tears.
She was worried because she’d taken three large white pills a day ago, and while she was clotting and cramping and the like, if she didn’t get taken care of soon, she was going to have to explain the miscarriage to the police. They would find out. She didn’t know how they did, but she was already on warning. Sally swore they had detectors in the sewer pipes, but that sounded ridiculous.
The instructions said to wait. Don’t pack a bag. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t plan for childcare. Nothing bad will happen. Just wait. Pretend nothing is amiss. We come to you.
There was more, of course. She understood that she had taken mifepristone, and that if she hadn’t yet miscarried, then she’d need the second drug. More importantly, she needed to get rid of the evidence. Terminating a fetus in any way was a crime, even if it was an accident. According to the cop she saw last time, there were no accidents, only what he called “accidents”, with finger quotes.
Rachel hadn’t been sure what he had meant by that. What she did know was that she had three kids, a bad job, and an ex-boyfriend who’d thought condoms were the devil. He’d said that once, that condoms were the devil, and when she had laughed at him, he’d smacked her one across the face. She might have been happy, or at least okay with marrying him for the added income until that had happened. Then three days later, the bruise still fresh on her face, she’d taken the test, seen the pink lines, and thanked god she hadn’t used the local clinic for the free pregnancy test. Sure it was free, but the moment it was positive, you were entered in the free natal care monitoring system.
She’d done what she’d heard whispered about at work in the diner, put a red kerchief on her window sill and closed the sash, just letting it hang there, and after about three days she’d noticed it was gone. In its place was a little flowerpot with a little violet sitting precariously on the ledge. She’d found the packet with the pills and the paper inside the dirt, under the roots, and almost wept with relief.
Now, she waited for something to happen. Maybe the cops would come. Maybe it was all a set-up. Her kids slept on. She could hear her upstairs neighbor kick on his video game machine and load some game with a lot of machine guns.
There was a knock at her door, and Rachel felt her heart almost stutter. She plodded to the door. Maybe she could just ignore it and it would all go away. She was in the process of reaching for the doorknob when she was seized with a cramp and she had to freeze, suck in a breath. No, there was no going back, not since she’d swallowed a few pills the day before.
She swung the door open and was grabbed by the arms before she could even say anything.
“This won’t take long,” someone hissed in her ear. “We love you. Every part of you belongs to you.”