A Short Story for Today

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.”

This entry posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 

11 Responses to A Short Story for Today

  1. 1
    Eva says:

    Comments are full over on the site! Nice work!

  2. 2
    Sebastian says:

    What a vile piece of hatemongery. It must be nice to live in a black and white world where you can tell an evil person by his gender. Oh, sorry, there’s a possible exception for gay men.

    As a man, I resent being told that everyone with an Y chromosome will:

    1. Oppose abortion rights.
    2. Betray any woman to an automatic capital punishment, even against his own self-interest.
    3. Condone rape as standard police operating procedure.
    4. Be casually abusive toward the closest woman in his life.
    5. Spend all time not dedicated to hurting women playing violent video games.

    You know, I have always been in favour of abortion rights. I am scared by the support obviously insane hatemongers get from Republican voters. I strongly suspect that too many pro-lifers are mostly motivated by the abject fear that a woman, somewhere, is enjoying sex and is not punished harshly enough for it. Hell, I even think that anti-utopian propaganda has its place.

    Still, reading this story made me feel exactly as dirty as reading some of John Ringo’s garbage. Of course, it did not make me any less sympathetic to the pro-choice side… but let me put it like this. When we were spreading the charitable donations last year, NARAL got quite a bit, despite my wife still being sore from the way they treated Hillary Clinton. If I were to see an official endorsement of the ILU drivel on the NARAL site before April, I would try to convince her to find some other pro-choice organization.

  3. 3
    Jeff Fecke says:

    @Sebastian –

    I think you’ve missed pretty much all the points of the story. I know, I know, it’s man-bashing because the women who have been forced underground to get reproductive health care aren’t sure they can trust men. But Jebus, in the world Ching paints, that would be the damn truth — maybe you could trust a guy, maybe he’d be altruistic — and maybe you’d be dancing to “Danny Deever” after you met him. I think she indicated that she knows men can be on the side of the angels toward the end — where some men were wearing their armbands in protest, as well as the women.

    Forgive me, but I think that if men stripped women of the right to control their reproductive health, women would take it rather personally, and would be a bit mistrustful. And I couldn’t blame them in the least. I’d be right there with ’em.

  4. 4
    Sebastian says:

    But Jebus, in the world Ching paints, that would be the damn truth — maybe you could trust a guy, maybe he’d be altruistic — and maybe you’d be dancing to “Danny Deever” after you met him

    Right, whereas someone untainted by the Y chromosome can of course be implicitly trusted. Even the youngest female character knows the signals for requesting birth control, abortion pills, and ‘forced’ abortion. The signs are pathetically easy to notice, get discussed in the schoolyards and around the cooler, but the male law enforcement remains unaware for at least nine months (probably much longer, but I am not wading in that sewer again) It’s bad men vs good women. But you are well aware of this, clearly:

    I think that if men stripped women of the right to control their reproductive health, women would take it rather personally

    Because as we all know, all pro-lifers are male, and all women are pro-choice. Franchesca Colton, Katherine McCormick, Carla Djerassi, Margaret Sanger, Luisa Miramontes, Gregoria Pincus were the women who made the pill possible, and it’s male legislators such as Pegg Lehner, Jean Riddle, Clorian Brown, Lindon Black, Shawn Entlichen who fight tooth and nail to limit the options of female families faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

  5. 5
    Jeff Fecke says:


    You seem to have missed the last third of the story.

  6. 6
    Sebastian says:

    You seem to have missed the last third of the story.

    Insightful and informative. I will slink away now.

  7. 7
    CaitieCat says:

    The phrase “if it ain’t about you, don’t make it about you” leaps to mind. The story is outstanding, chilling, and entirely too believable. That the point has been missed by someone with the privilege for it to be an entirely intellectual exercise is…sadly, unsurprising.

  8. 8
    KellyK says:

    This was amazing, horrifying, and well-written. I would’ve liked to see a sympathetic male character somewhere, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as misandrist as what Sebastian is seeing.

    The women talking about not trusting men are running an illegal operation that’s quite likely to get them arrested and executed. *Of course* they don’t trust people in the group that doesn’t benefit directly from what they’re doing and isn’t likely to fully understand it. Women aren’t painted as perfectly trustworthy either–it’s mentioned that sometimes they misjudge and a woman gives the pills to her husband or is setting them up.

    As far as every woman knowing, it’s always second-hand and hazy until they actually use it. It’s not like they’re trusting random women with direct information. Plus, you only see the characters that have heard something somewhere, because they wouldn’t tie into the story otherwise.

    I saw the complicity of most of the men in the story not as men being inherently evil but more as the ability of people who aren’t directly affected to turn a blind eye to evil. And I think that’s pretty realistic. Sad, but realistic.

  9. 9
    Dianne says:

    I would’ve liked to see a sympathetic male character somewhere,

    The cameraman.

  10. 10
    Elusis says:

    Wow, a whole two comments before derail… (don’t forget to include a soupcon of “You’re just as bad as they are”!)

    So, reading that story took me right back to early-90s Indiana, which is when
    – I first read “The Handmaid’s Tale”
    – I first read “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and saw that picture of the naked woman face down in a bathroom with blood between her legs in the chapter on abortion (the picture, supposedly a pre-1973 death)
    – Which inspired me to do performance art about my own abortion (there were laughs in it, I swear!)
    – And thereby became my campus’s unofficial “where can I get an abortion/how can I get there/how can I pay for it” conductor on the underground abortion railroad because our state had too few providers, too many waiting periods and parental notification laws, and too many “crisis pregnancy centers” for the needs of a medium-sized college with a lot of poor, first-gen college students and a Planned Parenthood that got regularly picketed despite the fact that they didn’t even do abortions.
    – I marched on the state capitol with Becky Bell’s parents protesting the parental notification law and had an Indiana legislator tell me “if girls can’t keep their pants on their parents ought to know about it so they can tan their hides and lock them in their rooms.”

    I cried a lot for a few years about what was happening to women’s rights. Then HIV really “broke” in the Midwest and I came out as queer, and got more involved in the second wave/third wave feminist debate than in reproductive rights, and we elected Clinton and put Ginsberg on the court and thought “OK we can breathe a little; those Falwell Moral Majority fucks are going to ‘diminish and go into the West’ and one of these days we’ll say ‘wow that all sucked! Thank god for progress.'”

    And yesterday Santorum says that separation of church and state is “not absolute” and arguing it is makes him throw up a little since it means “people of faith have no role in the public square” since as you know, Bob, Congress is completely dominated by atheists and agnostics and it is impossible to get elected President if you’re a member of a church.

    So when I read that story, I had a 20-year-old flashback to the time when I was really, really scared for myself and every other young woman I knew who slept with men. Which was the vast majority of them. Because we liked men, loved them in fact. But we could not be sure who would be on which side if our bodies continued to be battlegrounds.

  11. 11
    KellyK says:

    Dianne @ 9: Oh, yeah. You’re right, I totally forgot about him when I wrote that. And what he did was incredibly brave.

    So that takes me from “Okay, maybe” on Sebastian’s comment to “Nope, not at all.”