THIS IS NOW
"So you think you're pregnant."
"Almost certain, doctor." Her knees were shaking; so rarely had she seen a doctor since her childhood she felt intimidated by his imposing figure. And so she should be; the public health system, while offering all the miracles medicine has to provide, was now so overtaxed, yet so efficient, one only saw a physician when the need arose. Pregnancy was one of the few times you could visit a doctor quickly.
"How long since your last menses?"
"Six weeks? Something like that."
"Your card please. We'll just run this through the system and then I'll examine you."
The system. A pang of fear stabbed her heart. "Is that really necessary? I've had no unusual ailments, no illnesses at all as a matter of fact. I have all my shots . . .can't we do this later?"
"Now, Mrs., uh," he glanced at the card. "Ah yes, Mrs. Therriault, you know the law. It'll only take a moment." He passed the hollogrammed information over the scanner build into his desk. The doctor stared into a space one metre in front of his eyes where, although she couldn't see it, the information floated in mid-air before him.
His face remained coolly impassive, yet she knew what his response would be. She knew the rules. Blinking rapidly, she tried vainly to stifle the tears that would soon course down her cheeks.
"I regret, Mrs. Therriault, I am unable to service you. I must ask you to leave now."
"Wait! Please. I need you to look at me. I know I'm pregnant, and my husband left me a month ago. What will I do? You can punish me all you like but please, don't punish my child. It isn't even born yet, it's done nothing wrong."
"You are obviously fully aware of the law. I cannot, under any circumstances treat you, nor can I treat your child. Your record forbids it."
"What kind of life will my child have then? How could I even deliver it? If you can't help me, for the love of god, give me an abortion. Don't make us both suffer."
"You know very well I can do nothing of the kind. You are in perfect health according to your history, and while your substance abuse has made it impossible for me to treat you, I am not legally allowed to perform an abortion, nor would I. Your life is not threatened in any way, although, with your criminal record, I cannot vouch for the health of your child."
"Doctor, I know I have a criminal record - I've paid my price, spent my time in jail, I lost my husband, but surely you must realize that I used the contraband only once, and not nearly in any quantity to affect my functioning or have lasting effects. Believe me, I'll never do it again. I promise. How can you punish my baby?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he swivelled away from her, mouthed to the wall: next patient please. Before she had a chance to pick up her card, he placed it over the scanner and wordlessly handed it to her. No doctor would ever permit her entry into his office again.
She cried the long walk home, oblivious to the disdainful stares of strangers she passed by. When she reached her apartment, she placed her hand on the sensor; by midnight it would no longer accept her fingerprint data she'd been told the night before.
The door shushed open, snapped shut behind her. A fleeting thought struck her with a giggle - if I don't leave by midnight, does that mean I'm trapped inside? With visions of officials pounding on her door, she laughed as she placed what belongings her husband didn't take into boxes.
As she stood over her diefenbachia, her laughter turned to tears once more for there behind it was a little, dusty catnip mouse. She picked it up, brushed it off and cradled it against her cheek. Though she knew she was probably wrong, she thought she could smell just the barest hint of her cat Jeems. He was most likely dead now, put to sleep by the animal husbandry authorities; after all the paperwork, interviews, and the several years wait for a pet, who would want an eight year old cat? Another innocent victim in all this, she thought sadly. This led to: John, if I ever see you again, I'll kill you with my bare hands, I will.
By ten o'clock she was done. Surrounded by boxes of junk mostly, she ruefully admitted, she sat on the floor and surveyed the remains of her life. What to do now? She had nowhere to go. Her old friends were ashamed to say they once knew her; of her family there remained only her grandfather and it was he who was the cause of this.
She hadn't called him since the car - now in her husband's possession, the bugger - detected her use of an illicit substance, locked her in and alerted the police; after shutting itself off, of course.
Well, the plain facts were simply, he was the only human being in existence who would have anything to do with her. With two hours left and nowhere to go, did she have any choice? She had to call him.
Grandpa. He lives in a cabin in Northern Ontario, not far from where the tree line ends, a pristine place. He is an eccentric certainly, but freer than almost all these days. Now she thought she could understand, just a little anyway. Fortunately for her, his one nod to civilization was the telephone. His lifeline to the grocery store he called it. Her lifeline now.
It rang twice. "Grandpa?"
"Jenny? How are you? I've heard things . . .are you alright?"
Choking back tears she replied, "Not really. Can I come stay with you? I have to be out in two hours."
"My door is always open; you know that. I guess you don't still have the car. How will you get here?"
"I don't know."
"What about your things?"
She looked at the boxes; detritus of her marriage. "I don't care if they burn them. I'll leave it here. I've got a bag packed. That's all I need."
"Do you think you can get to North Bay?"
"Yes, if I sell my ring." She twirled it around her finger; it meant love once. "I think I can. In fact I'm sure I can. That'll be enough."
"Good. Mark'll come get you then. He'll meet you at the station. There's a commuter that gets in at six a.m. Do you think you can make that one?"
"Sure. Thanks grandpa. I can't thank you enough."
"Sweetheart, you're family. I love you. I'll see you shortly. Goodbye now."
"Bye." A tear slipped down her cheek. She swore it would be the last one.
She packed her favourite sweaters and jeans, and finally, the catnip mouse. At a quarter of eleven, she turned her back to the remnants of her former world and moved on.
The man at the pawn shop gave her just enough for the bullet train and an orange juice for her ring. But, as her grandpa says, beggars can't be choosers, so she took the money and boarded the train at three a.m. Moving north the world passed by in liquid black, city after endless city, until finally, North Bay.
She slept as they drove; Mark didn't mind. He understood hard times, having been in jail himself and damned proud of it, thank you. By noon they'd arrived at her grandfather's, and with a kiss on the cheek he bundled her into bed. She vaguely remembered him saying, "Sleep well, little one," as she faded into dreamless sleep.
She awoke to the strains of old time music, playing on the old turntable, at 33 1/3. "Come writers and critics/Who prophecies with your pen/And keep your eyes wide/The chance won't come again/And don't speak too soon/For the wheel's still in spin/For the times they are a-changin'"*
She washed her face and joined her grandfather in the livingroom, who, with fire burning in the wood stove, sat puffing on a cigarette, blue smoke curling to the ceiling, nursing a home brewed beer. He smiled when he saw her, gestured her to the sofa with a pat on the seat cushion. "Well, how's my jailbird this evening? You look a little green around the gills. Have a sip of this, it'll fix you right up." He passed her his mug of beer.
She shook her head, no.
"Take it," he said, "it's full of vitamin B and yeast. Do you good . . .No 'buts'. Just take a sip." She did, and handed it back to him. "There now. That's better. I don't see you turning into no werewolf or screaming banshee. They can throw me in jail too if they want, but I still say an innocent beer is a good thing. Now I'm not sayin' you should become a rummy on the street, but a sip of beer never did nobody no harm at all." He took a swig, wiped his lips, belched. "Good, but no Moosehead this. There's lots I miss; my girl I wish you knew. But that was then and this is now. There's some stew on the stove. You hungry?"
She shook her head. "I feel sick. Grandpa, I'm pregnant."
"Well good for you! Anyway, if you want something to eat, it's all right there. Just help yourself." He patted her hand. "Don't you worry. Your place is here and I'll do what I can for you. You'll soon wonder what you saw in your life before. Trust me. And one more thing - don't worry about the baby. I've friends here, you know. We'll take good care of you. And that's a promise."
Jenny broke down and wept, her head in the old man's lap; as she cried, he stroked her hair and told of the time when he was young, when girls had long hair and miniskirts and they spoke of love and peace and in the States they staked their lives on ending a foolish war. All the while he played his music, songs by people named the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Stone Ponies. When she'd done crying, her shudders stopped, eyelids heavy, he kissed her head and apologized for everything his generation had done when they put aside their dreams and learned that money was king, that you could legislate anything you didn't like into law against it.
- - -
A lusty cry howled from the bedroom. His nibs had awakened. Jenny laid down her pen to attend to his needs. Grandpa, his long white hair braided this morning, rested his hand upon her shoulder. "No child, all he wants is a hug and a clean diaper. You keep on writing. I'll see to it."
As she wrote, her grandpa's words played softly in her mind, egging her on: "In the sixties we thought love was the answer. But that was too simple a thing for a world where hate is a living thing. No, the answer is the young, and the artists, the writers, the dreamers for they hold the key that speaks to the millions and to the one. Write girl, tell them for me, for your son too: love one another and remember that love means accepting that with which you disagree. There comes a time when a law will get passed that hits you also. You know what? Someday, someone will say the right thing and it will be: 'ease up'. And the world will follow. Write, girl, the printed word is a powerful thing. Please, for all of us, write."
And so she did.
*Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin'.©
Catherine M. Harris Davies, 09/90