Sandy says, talking to the host behind the long desk, looking into the camera: Some Janes say the woman’s name was Selina, but I was told her name was Glenda. One time I heard somebody say she’d actually used a coat hanger; another time it was a knitting needle. Truth is though, nobody in the Service knew what she’d done before she called us; she didn’t tell us anything. She just showed up for her appointment like everybody else.
She hadn’t told her counselor she already tried to do it – and she’d probably lied about how far along she was, too. There were always women and girls who lied or said they didn’t know, because they were afraid. They thought we wouldn’t do it if they said the wrong date – you know, the wrong number of weeks – too many weeks.
She, Glenda or Selina, even faked her temperature. They’d left her alone with the thermometer in her mouth, and she must’ve taken it out or shaken it down, so her infection fever didn’t register.
She was desperate, and desperation made her body so rigid they couldn’t get the speculum in; they had to massage her thighs and perineum for almost fifteen minutes. When she finally relaxed, a rush of thick yellow pus came out. The pus poured out of her vagina, down the speculum, all over her thighs, all down the plastic sheet. Then they knew. Even the sweat smell, before that, had seemed normal. I mean, they thought it was only fear, you know? Janes were used to that.
She was shaking while they cleaned her, sobbing and talking in that kind of whisper-shout you do sometimes with panic. They were telling her she had to go to the hospital, telling her Arlene would leave right then and take her, drive her right from there to the emergency room. But she just kept saying No. No. No. No. Her voice rasped when she said she couldn’t, could not, have that baby. She could hardly breathe. Her eyes and her crying were wild. She screamed, I brought money!
Arlene and MaryAnn talked about it that night, telling Sandy they were practically shaking when they took out the speculum and carefully, gently, washed her; how Glenda was trying to get up while they worked; how she pulled her clothes on and rushed out of the apartment; how they tried to but could not stop her when she ran down the stairs. They had the phone number she’d given, but nobody answered when they called. They called for two days and nights, and nobody answered.
Then, on the third night, somebody picked up the phone. He said, Miss Glenda’s passed. I’m so sorry to have to tell you like this. She’s gone. This is her pastor speaking. Would you like to talk to a member of the family?
Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books — including Grace Paley’s Life Stories, a literary/political biography; Announcements from the Planetarium, a recent poetry collection; and, now, Hello. This is Jane, a fiction collection, linked stories seeded by Judith’s pre-Roe underground abortion work in Chicago. Visit juditharcana.com.
Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.