The receptionist at the front desk wore a long white lab coat, but Brittany doubted she was a doctor. Or a nurse. Or in any way related to the medical field. She carried a bit of weight in her stomach and cheeks, and she smelled like wildflower-scented soap. Her scent was much like that of Brittany’s grandmother, and it made Brittany want to throw up.
Just show me where to sign.
The clipboard rose over the counter like a starship and landed in front of Brittany’s trembling hands. She noticed her black nail polish had chipped on several fingers. She couldn’t remember the last time she had painted them. She also realized she hadn’t yet taken off Dorian’s commitment ring. The thin strand of twine had frayed at various points, and it made her skin itch. But for some reason, it was too much work to slide the ring off her finger and lock it away in a keepsake box.
The receptionist waited a moment until she had Brittany’s direct eye contact, and then she pointed to the clipboard, her voice barely a whisper. “Sign at the bottom.”
“Right,” Brittany mumbled. She picked up the attached pen – a black Bic pitted with teeth marks – and searched the single sheet of paper for the signature line. “Just one page?” she asked. Her voice seemed shrill, whiny.
Just sign the fucking document, she scolded herself.
When the receptionist didn’t reply to her question, Brittany looked up to find the portly woman staring at her with eyes full of something bordering sorrow and sympathy.
“Is it just this one form?” Brittany repeated. “Aren’t there more forms I need to fill out?”
The receptionist slowly shook her head. “No. Just the one.”
“Weird,” Brittany mumbled. Her eyes scanned the document, which was nothing more than a release of her rights to the clinic, and her permission for them to perform the procedure and do what they desired with the unwanted fetus.
She tapped the point of the pen to the signature line.
The clipboard was swiftly taken from her.
Brittany jerked her head up and saw the receptionist with her unsigned document. “I just have to make sure this is the only form,” the woman said.
“Well, let me sign that one and I-“
The receptionist waved her away as if she were an annoying gnat. “No, no. See,” she said, pointing to the top corner of the form. “See, this is last year’s release form. Let me get the most current one.”
Brittany huffed as the woman trudged off to a back room.
Brittany turned and looked out on the waiting room. Three young girls occupied the small area, each sitting in one of the uncomfortable blue plastic chairs, each reading a magazine or chewing on their nails or texting on their phone.
None of them looked visibly pregnant.
Why would they, you idiot? If the baby was that big, they wouldn’t be getting rid of it.
Of course, she replied to herself. Of course. What would Dorian think of me now? Would he approve of me killing this thing inside of me? This…this reminder?
Dorian isn’t here. Don’t worry about what Dorian would do or say or think. He’s at fault for this, and now he’s dead.
But his faith…
His faith is what got him killed.
The door to the hallway opened, and a tall, slender man in a white lab coat entered the waiting room. He went immediately to Brittany. His eyes, she noticed, were entrenched in dark shadows, and his lips formed a thin line, thin like a razor.
He extended a bony hand. She took it and shook gently, afraid she might shatter his fragile form. He pulled his hand away and shoved both into the pockets of his lab coat. “You are here to reclaim your life?”
Brittany nodded, absently rubbing the twine ring wrapped around her finger like a noose. Dorian’s death was senseless. Pointless. She wanted her relationship with him to mean the same.
He smiled. “Come with me, young one. We’ll make sure to take good care of you.”
Brittany nodded, following him through the doorway. The scent of alcohol hit her smack in the face. The smell reminded her of the times she visited her mother in the hospital, when she was fighting cancer. A battle she had lost.
The walls of the hallway were decorated with ugly paintings of flowers. Pink and yellow and grotesque brown. The carpet was covered in stains, most of them dark blotches that resembled something Brittany didn’t want to think about. She passed rooms with closed doors, and she could hear muffled screams and sobs from the other side.
The man stopped at the end of the hallway and extended his spindly arm, motioning for her to step into the room to his left. “This way, sweet one.”
She stood at the doorway of the dark room, something in her chest warring with her mind. The only sound she could hear was her heartbeat.
A cold touch pressed into her shoulder and prompted her to cross the threshold. She step/stumbled into the room. The light went on, revealing the interior of the small room. A chair took up the middle of the space. Instruments surrounded the dark throne, dingy and tainted in rust. Or blood. The scent of alcohol had fled, and in its place lingered the scent of copper.
Brittany turned toward the door, but the door was shut, and the slender man in the white lab coat stood before her, his long arms hanging from his side like lengths of meat in a deli. “Do not fear,” the man said. “You take a seat, you close your eyes. Then, you can go on living your life without a care in the world.” He laughed. “Well, that’s not entirely true. The concerns you will face will be the ones normal teenage girls will undoubtedly need to suffer: boyfriends, acne, periods.”
Brittany’s ears picked up on a slithering sound at the end of the word ‘periods’. Her stomach ached.
He pointed to the chair behind her. “Take a seat.”
Brittany closed her eyes, took a deep breath.
Get in the chair.
She shook her head. I can’t.
Get in that chair. It’s the only way you can move on. To be free.
She heard a clanging sound and opened her eyes to find the doctor examining the rusted instruments. “We will be gentle, my darling girl.”
She glanced at the closed door. She hadn’t signed any papers. She hadn’t given anyone any of her rights. She took three steps to the doorknob and turned it. It wouldn’t budge.
“Where are you going?” the doctor asked. “Come sit. I promise to be kind.”
Brittany tried the handle again. Again, it refused to budge. “I’m ready to go,” she managed to say through shaky breaths.
“We’re not done.”
She heard footsteps. The man’s shadow loomed over her, but she was too afraid to turn around. His hands came down atop her shoulders, and for a moment, she felt as if he might push her into the ground, toward the center of the planet. “We’re not done.”
Her breath came out like air from a slashed tire. He pulled her into the room, and she could do nothing to stop him. His essence seemed to numb her body, to paralyze her senses. She couldn’t smell blood or alcohol anymore. The lighting in the room dimmed, and she thought she fell blind, but realized her eyelids were simply too heavy to open.
He placed her in the chair. She knew that much by the angle in which he bent her. The sound of the clanging instruments echoed through the room, and she suddenly felt warm tears running down her cheeks.
She wished Dorian were here.
Warm air slithered into her ear. “This may hurt a bit. Just a bit.”
“I don’t want to do this.”
“Now, now, young one. Of course you do. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life raising this – thing – that is currently inside of you? It is a remnant of something that no longer exists. It harbors your horrible memories, and it will do nothing but cause you pain the rest of your life.”
But her memories weren’t horrible. Dorian may have died, but did that mean every trace of him needed to die as well?
“Please, stop,” she whispered through trembling lips, her eyes fighting to open, to provide her release from this darkness.
“No. You’re not thinking right. Let your mind go at ease, and let me do what I do best.”
“Stop.” She felt something rise in her throat. Thinking it was bile, she opened her mouth wide, but nothing came out. “Stop!” she screamed. “Stop it!”
A force pressed her against the chair, pinning her into the dark throne. “You will be silent!” the old man shouted, but his voice had grown deeper.
Brittany fought to open her eyes, fought to move her hands, but the pressure was too great. Too powerful.
Dorian. He was dead. His sweet, precious face was gone. The car accident. The youth trip. He believed in his faith, in His God, and where had it gotten him? Because of her, he had broken his vows of celibacy. Because of her, she had new life springing forth inside of her, life he would not be around to help her raise.
She felt her hands go to her abdomen.
“Help me, Lord.” The words left her lips through a meek voice. She felt the pressure against her struggling body increase, but she fought back with every fiber of her being, remembering the faith she and Dorian had shared before that one fateful night of conception. “Help me, Lord!” The words came out stronger, louder. She wasn’t sure she would be saved. They had sinned, her and Dorian. They had broken a promise, not only to each other, but to God.
“Silence that tongue, or it will be the next thing we take from you.”
“Lord!” she screamed, her heart reaching out for rescue.
Light broke through her vision. She struggled to open her eyes, one lid at a time, as if they had been coated in thick honey that was suddenly thinning out. The room came into view. The doctor was on the floor at the base of the chair, choking. His dark eyes rolled up into his head, and the whites left behind were bloodshot and vile as they looked upon her.
The receptionist stood over the doctor, her arm extended toward him, fist clenched.
How is she doing that?
Moments later, the doctor stopped moving. His face blank, he lay on the floor, lifeless. A great weight left the room, as if an insidious evil had just been purged.
The receptionist opened her fist and let out a long breath. Brittany slid out of the chair, stumbling forward as the receptionist caught her. “It’s okay, honey.”
“No questions. Not yet. We need to get out of here first.”
They entered the hallway and took it toward the waiting room. Brittany stumbled into the walls as the receptionist tried to steer her. They reached the door to the waiting room, and the receptionist opened it. The three females who had been reading magazines, texting, and biting their nails, were gone. All that remained were ugly brown plastic chairs.
Brittany’s heart ached for those girls.
She found her balance and rushed side-by-side with the receptionist out the front doors. The weather outside was cold and dreary. Storm clouds filled the sky, suffocating the sunlight she had basked in before entering the clinic.
The receptionist led her to a beat up blue Toyota Corolla, unlocked the passenger door, and slid Brittany into the front seat. The receptionist took to the driver’s side and turned the key in the ignition, but the car wouldn’t start.
Brittany felt her heart hammering in her chest. “What just happened? What happened?!”
The receptionist turned the key again, but the engine refused to turn over.
Brittany looked out the window, at the clinic. The building’s brown paint was chipping off, and the sign, which read “Life Purge Abortion Clinic”, tilted at a hazardous angle. When she arrived, the building was blue, and the sign was straight and had read “Helping Hands Prenatal Clinic”.
White lab coats filled the entryway of the building as a crowd of doctors and clinic personnel filed out of the building. One of the doctors pointed toward the Toyota Corolla, and the others started marching in the direction of the vehicle.
The receptionist closed her eyes, whispered something incoherent, and then turned the key again. The car started. “Time to leave,” she said as she pulled forward and drove them out to the main street.
“Who are you?” Brittany asked as she clicked her seat belt.
“A friend. Yes, a friend.”
“I don’t know you. Why did you…save me, back there?”
The woman kept her focus on the road as they drove away from the clinic.
“Please. Who are you? Why did you save me? Who was that doctor? What were they-“
“You know what they were doing to you.”
Brittany glanced down at her abdomen. “They were trying to take…”
The woman nodded. “Don’t worry. You’re safe now.”
“Who are you?”
The woman cleared her throat, adjusted the rear-view mirror, and then let out a short breath. “Sharon. Dorian’s mother.”
“You’re not Dorian’s mother.”
“I’m Dorian’s…I’m his birth mother.”