Step into an unsettling yet eerily familiar world with this latest fictional short story submission. This gripping narrative explores a dystopian reality where personal freedoms and women’s reproductive rights are critically endangered. The protagonist’s heart-wrenching journey, shaped by oppressive legislation and societal pressures, invites you to grapple with hard-hitting realities.
I woke up drenched. My sweat was thick against my back. I kicked off the covers, rolled away from my snoring husband, and crept my way quietly into our bathroom.
I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked terrible. My face was ruddy – red and splotchy. Puffy from crying and drinking. My stomach which had previously been taut after years of exercise was protruding with a purpose – having gained ten pounds in just the last four weeks. My husband, the saint that he was, had spent night after night just pouring me glass after glass of wine. And letting me cry into it as we applied and applied and applied to no avail.
No one would take us. American refugees were flooding borders. Women fleeing with their children at record speeds. As things started to shift, everyone kept saying, “It’s the Handmaid’s Tale! This is like the book come to life!” Except it wasn’t. It was this slow creep of jarring revelations and boundary pushes.
Roe was overturned. That was step one. That one was the toughest. The most jarring. And it made way for the small, creeping, weedlike movements of what brought us to this moment. Of me, covered in sweat at 2 am, begging to leave our country, begging to leave our home.
I think what was most unusual was that none of my circle was going through this. My best friend is childless. So, while angry, (well, livid), she isn’t fighting to escape. My other friends never experienced miscarriages or loss like I did. Some were slow to get pregnant but were “blessed” with a baby from the first pee-stick positive.
In January 2024, a Republican took office. They took control of Congress. And the extremists, loud and belligerent, held the microphone in a way that even Donald Trump paled at. By February, small, complicated pieces of legislation were passed about abortion. But all of us had grown tired, and the noise that was so loud at first was dying down – people adjusting to the new norm. So, they didn’t notice when the first 6 states passed strict laws about abortion being treated as pre-meditated murder. It wasn’t quite worded like that. And things like that had been tried before. And when it passed across those states – it was quiet. Abortion medicine was still available via mail, and things were tricky, but manageable.
Then, came the first case. It was Tik Tok that brought it to me: a loud, raging short-haired woman, doing her makeup, screaming about how they had charged her friend for murder. Her friend had just miscarried her baby after 20 weeks.
She was found guilty.
And when the sentencing came through and she was sentenced to 15 years suspended and community service, we all collectively sucked in a breath. It was terrifying, but the judge’s dissenting view from the jury’s finding provided some relief. People were loud and it helped.
But the next woman, the one from Idaho, the one who had two glasses of wine. She was out with her friend. Ate a meal, drank, and drove home 3 hours later. She blew under the legal limit.
The accident was not her fault. And when she arrived at the hospital, a broken collar bone, and blood in her urine – they discovered her pregnancy. And before she could wrap her mind around it, while recovering in the hospital, she miscarried.
She was charged the next day, still bound to her hospital bed. And this time, the people weren’t loud enough. She got ten years for the death of the unborn baby growing without her knowledge in her own body. The white man who t-boned her car didn’t even receive a slap on the wrist for the wreck.
Then, in Florida. A woman and her wife got the news that their baby had something horribly, horribly wrong. Not something that could be fixed with time – a devastating blow to them. They held each other and wept. They wanted that child. They had prayed for that child. They left the state, found an abortion provider, and at 16 weeks, they left that doctor’s office with a hole where their joy was supposed to be.
And they were greeted at the border. She, and her wife, are serving 15 years a piece.
It started slow. Its insidious nature locked in short videos, Twitter posts, and from the mouths of screaming politicians and left-wing groups. All the while, people on all social media platforms were proselytizing about how to have an abortion without facing the judicial system. They would share their pickett signs and lawyers’ numbers. But it grew to be too much. Women lost babies too often – and the force behind the pro-life group was too strong.
Three months after the first sentencing – 348 women were behind bars for abortions and what were deemed “intentional” miscarriages.
And even then. The number was insignificant enough that it felt like a fluke that would right itself. This wasn’t the Handmaid’s Tale. This was real life. And we would fix this.
I knew something was wrong when an email pinged on my phone. A name I didn’t know popped to the top of my screen, I tapped it with the pad of my finger and it loaded. A man named Henry Villa had issued a subpoena on behalf of the U.S. Government for my medical records.
My blood went cold.
I called my husband that day in a frantic state. “What could it mean? They couldn’t charge me? They couldn’t prove it! How would they prove it! Maybe they are just subpoenaing every woman from that OB’s practice? I’m going to call some people. I’m going to call Leah. And Jane. They use this practice. I bet they got the email, too. It’s a fluke. It’s a fluke!” I gave him no space to beafraid, or calming, or practical, I bowled him over, my anxiety an ax I was wielding and swinging
But when I called Jane and Leah – they hadn’t gotten those emails. And I knew that neither of them had ever lost a baby.
But I had.
Charlie was what I named her. It was silly. I didn’t know if she was a girl. I just had this instinctive feeling. I would find out later that my “gut feeling” was wrong for each consecutive child I produced. But Charlie, she was a girl. And she didn’t make it to where she was supposed to. And she grew and grew and grew in my fallopian tube until excruciating pain brought me to the doctor. An emergency surgery later, and Charlie, who I had prayed for, who I wanted. Charlie, who I daydreamed about, who I created hopes and dreams for – was gone. And I was left with weeks of healing and a sorrow deep into my bones.
And they, the wielders of this fear-inducing erroneous mess were going to say that my body’s failing was my own. That I knew I was pregnant. That I caused it.
And then, the whispers. Five months had dragged slowly after that first woman – and there were whispers of women and their families seeking refuge elsewhere. It kept happening. The whispers stopped being whispers. Then, they were yells. And countries put up applications to fill out to seek asylum for birthing people.
And we applied. We applied every morning and every evening. We applied while I drank and cried. We applied while we watched our nine-year-old and seven-year-old play on our front lawn. And we prayed. And screamed. And hoped that our suppositions were so very wrong.
I shook myself. And peeled off the sweaty clothes drenched from another night of no sleep. I turned the shower on and waited for our old house to warm up the water. After I was washed and my clothes clean, I methodically cleaned our kitchen – quietly and slowly until I heard stirrings of my kids and my husband waking across the house. I pushed the rising panic, the panic that I had been dodging all the night before by scrubbing dirt into oblivion with the weight of a wine-induced headache, and made breakfast.
An abrupt knock sounded at the door which set our dog off in his flurry of increasingly anxious barks. It was only 7:45 in the morning. I walked slowly to peer (without being seen) into our driveway – and saw the lights before I saw the car. Blinking quietly while still managing to scream into my mind.
My husband, busy trying to put the dog away, saw the color drain from my face about three seconds before he clocked the figures at the door.
And I felt it. The dread. The heaviness. The pain. As I walked to the end of my life. As I stepped further and further away from the world that I cleaved to with all my might.
And opened the door.