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The muggy air feels heavy in Beth’s lungs as she walks to the clinic. She takes a deep breath. The smell of rain on the breeze gives her a split-second of calm as she reaches the door.
A bell rings as the door opens, and pleasant burst of cold air-conditioning washes over her as she enters the clinic, but it quickly turns freezing. The bell on the door calls the attention of the receptionist. She looks up, greeting Beth with a rehearsed smile.
“Hello, how can I help you today?”
Beth approaches the receptionist and taps her fingers on the desk. “Hi. Um...I called before about a pregnancy test.”
“Okay.” the receptionist replied, scanning Beth over her reading glasses. She sneers when she sees Beth’s naked ring finger. “Have you visited us before?”
“No ma’am.” Beth looks in the direction of the receptionist’s scrutiny, and sees she’s not wearing her wedding ring.
“Alright” the receptionist says, “You’ll just have to fill out these forms.” She hands Beth a clipboard with several forms and a pen attached by a ribbon printed with crosses. “Just give those back to me once you’re done, sweetheart.” Beth gives a slight smile and nod, takes the clipboard, and goes over to the waiting area.
The waiting area is squared off by two couches and two over-sized chairs. Religious pamphlets litter the cheap coffee table in the center of the square. Beth is aware of the assumption the receptionist made, and can feel her piercing glare. She sits in the chair that faces the receptionist, who continues to eye her, and starts her paperwork.
Name: Elizabeth P. Repens
Date of Birth: 1/16/1992
Reason for Visit: Pregnancy test.
Beth continues to fill out the forms. She pauses when gets to the section on contraception. Do you use contraception? Circle yes or no, and if yes, circle all of the methods of contraception used in the past and present.
Beth stares at the religious pamphlets on the table for a moment. She sees the receptionist smirking at her knowingly. Beth sighs and circles “yes”, then circles “condoms”, “birth control pills”.
What are your plans for your pregnancy? Circle one.
Keeping; Adoption; Abortion; Unsure.
She stares at the paper.
Beth looks up at the receptionist. She’s back to work.
Looking around the waiting room, she finds folksy wall art of Bible passages and posters of Jesus staring back at her with the same judgmental eye as the receptionist. Her eyes land on the pamphlets. One has an in-utero fetus on the front. The neon lettering of its title tells Beth “Abortion is NOT the answer”.
Beth rolls her eyes slightly, then catches the receptionist spying on her again. She snaps her gaze back to her paperwork. The question is still looming. She looks back and forth between the neon pamphlet and the question on the paper.
She circles “unsure” and double checks her paperwork.
Beth returns the clipboard to the receptionist, who promptly reads through the papers.
“Alright, just take a seat and we’ll be with you in a sec!”
Beth nods and goes back to her seat. By the time she sits down the receptionist is smirking at her again. Beth stares back, unamused. The receptionist gets back to work, still wearing the knowing sneer.
The neon lettering of the pamphlet is glaring at Beth. The conversation she had with her husband just before she left echoes in her head.
“What if it’s too late?” Davis asks nervously as he leans on the doorway of the bathroom.
“I’m only two weeks late.” Beth reassures him, as she finishes brushing her teeth.
“How long do we have?” Davis asks, still concerned.
“It’s twelve weeks before it’s not a choice anymore...” Beth moves from the bathroom to the bedroom and changes from her sweat pants to a faded pair of jeans (one of the few that weren't moth eaten), and exchanges her dirty t-shirt for a clean grey tank top. Davis follows Beth into the bedroom, pacing beside the bed.
“How are we going to pay for it?”
“It’s a free clinic. We won’t have to pay for anything today.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Let’s just take this one step at a time...okay?” Beth’s tone grows impatient as she looks through her limited selection of blouses. She didn’t want to look shabby, but what do you wear to take a pregnancy test?
“Okay…” Davis finally takes the hint.
Beth decides on a bright yellow shirt. Not fancy, but certainly nicer than anything from her collection of band t-shirts
“It’s just...” Davis can’t help himself, “...if we can’t even afford a test, how are we going to pay for--”
Beth snaps, looking Davis right in the face. “Babe! Please! We may not even have anything to worry about!” She sees his hurt expression, and her tone turns apologetic. “That’s why I’m going to the clinic.”
Davis’s hurt expression fades, but the worry is still there. “I guess, if nothing else, we can put it on a credit card.” Davis says. They hold each other’s gaze for a moment, then burst into laughter. Davis grabs his wife’s hand tenderly. She lets him pull her into an embrace; their laughter tapering.
“You know we’ll figure it out, right?” Beth asks, as Davis kisses her forehead.
“Yeah hon. I know.”
Davis gives his wife a gentle kiss. Beth rests her head on Davis’s chest. Any hint of joy fades away as her worry shows through.
Finally, a young woman comes from the back and grabs the only file on the receptionist's desk. She calls out:
“That’s me.” Beth calls back as she hurries out of her seat and approaches the young woman who called her. “I go by Beth.”
“Alright, Beth.” the young woman smiles and leads the way down the hall to the next room. “I’m Vicky. Did Deedi tell you what our process is?”
Beth looks back to the receptionist. “No ma’am, she didn’t say much of anything.”
Vicky maintains her smile, but flashes a disgruntled glance toward the receptionist’s desk. She gets back to Beth, and leads her into a counselling room.
It’s a little den with a loveseat and another over-sized chair across from each other. Vicky sits on the loveseat, setting Beth’s file on the coffee table in front of her. “Well, with our first-time visitors we like to council for a bit before we actually get into taking the test.” She motions for Beth to sit.
“What does that involve?” Beth takes a seat in the chair.
“We just like to get to know our clients. This clinic is run by Trinity Christ Non-Denominational Church. We’d like for you to join our community, and use us as a resource during your pregnancy.”
“Yes. So, tell me about yourself.”
“I’d really just like to take the test.”
“It won’t take long, I promise. Just tell me a little something about yourself.”
Beth looks down and takes a deep breath. When she looks back up, Vicky is still smiling brightly, excited to get to know everything about her. She looks down again and spits out, “Well, I’m married; I just graduated with my Master’s degree in Education focused on Assistive Technology; I haven’t gotten a job quite yet; I have $35 in my checking account (I’ll have $10 once I get gas on my way home); and I may be pregnant.” She takes another deep breath and looks up. Vicky is still smiling, but it’s turned from animated to endearing.
“Well, it seems to be a stressful time in your life.”
“I have 4 kids. I was a teenager when I got pregnant with the first one.”
Beth stares blankly. Vicky continues “I mention that to say, there’s no ‘perfect time’ to have a kid, but you make the best of the situation. I was lucky: my husband stuck around, and we got married after our second kid was born.” Beth gives a short smile, then Vicky asks, “What about your husband? How does he feel about all of this?”
“I’m sorry, but why can’t I just take the test?”
“We just like to make sure our perspective mothers know all of their options.” Before Beth can protest Vicky asks “Now, what church do you belong to?”
Beth is surprised at the question. “I don’t belong to a church.”
“Oh, are you looking for a new one? I know everyone says they love their church, but the church that sponsors the clinic--”
“Oh, no. I’m not looking for a church. I’m atheist.”
“Where are you from?” Vicky asks perplexed. Beth cocks her head, curiously. “I know it says you live in the area on your form, but where were you raised?”
“I was raised in this area as well. Brought up in the Episcopalian Church.”
“So what do you believe?”
“I’m sorry?” Beth asks.
“I’m curious about what you believe.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m only here because you give free pregnancy tests. I’d like to just get that over with.”
Vicky is taken aback with Beth’s blatant remark. “If you just wanted a free pregnancy test, then why come here?”
Beth recoils a bit, realizing she’s insulted Vicky. “The closest Planned Parenthood is on the north side of Atlanta. I wasn’t about to drive two hours to get a pregnancy test when this clinic was only two towns over. I didn’t realize until I got here that it’s run by a church.”
There’s a brief pause, then Vicky tries to get them back on the right foot. “Humor me. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person. Tell me more about what you believe.”
Beth sighs, trying to keep herself from rolling her eyes, or offending Vicky any further. “I believe in being a good person for the sake of being a good person.”
Vicky isn’t satisfied with the answer, but can tell by Beth’s posture that that's all she’s going to get. “Well, I pray that you find your way, Beth.”
Beth bites her lip to hide her smirk, while Vicky digs in the basket next to her chair. She’s reclaimed her perky tone. “Now, on your form you said you’re 14 days late, so you’re probably about 6 weeks along.” Vicky sits back up holding a 3-dimensional chart of perfectly formed babies in incremental sizes to represent the various stages of pregnancy. “That means your baby is probably about this big.” She points to the 3rd smallest baby. Beth just nods.
Vicky’s tone suddenly turns serious as she looks through Beth’s forms. “I see you circled ‘unsure’ on your form. Are you thinking about terminating your pregnancy?”
“I don’t know what I would do if I’m pregnant.”
“How does your husband feel about this situation? I can’t help noticing that you didn’t answer when I asked how he feels about your pregnancy.”
“Neither of us are sure. We just need to know. We’ll take it one step at a time from there.”
“I see.” Vicky gives Beth a concerned glance. “Do you think he or your family would pressure you into any kind of decision?”
“No. They would all want what’s best.”
Vicky maintains her tone. “And what would be best?”
“In all honesty, not having a kid would be ideal, but if I am pregnant, and we keep it, we would have support.”
“What if you decide not to keep it?”
“Our family would support our decision either way.” Beth’s eyes dig into Vicky.
Vicky awkwardly stares back. She tries to air the tension. “Well, the church offers a great adoption program. We vet the potential parents very thoroughly, so you can be confident that your baby is going to a good home.”
“If I am pregnant!” Beth snaps.
They sit in a loud silence. Vicky checks her clip board.
“Well, I think we’ve just about covered everything. We can get to your test now. Follow me.”
Beth follows Vicky through a door on the other side of the room. It leads to a strange little bathroom. It’s complete with a shower, and has outdated wall paper fading on the walls. Vicky opens the cabinet under the sink. She pulls out a paper cup, an eye dropper, a set of latex gloves, and a pregnancy test. She sets them neatly on the counter one by one. She turns to Beth. “So, I’ll just need you to put your sample in this cup. Once that’s done I’ll come back in and do the test with you.”
“I know it seems odd, but it’s procedure, so we can give you as accurate a result as possible. Just knock on the door when you’re done, and we’ll get it started.”
Vicky walks out of the room, closing the door behind her. Beth takes the cup, and fills it with her “sample”.
Once her pants are back on, and her hands are washed Beth apprehensively knocks on the door. Vicky opens the door a crack, and sticks her head in. “Ready?”
“Alright.” Vicky comes into the bathroom. She promptly puts on the gloves. And takes the test out of its plastic wrapper. It’s a strange rectangle with a circle at one end, and an oblong shape with a pink line next to the circle. Vicky takes the eye dropper and dips it into the cup. She carefully drips a few drops onto the circle. She then empties the rest of the sample into the sink, and washes it down the drain. Almost reading Beth’s mind she says, “We get these tests donated to us.”
“Ah...” Beth nods sitting solemnly on the closed toilet. Vicky takes off one of the gloves, and sets a timer.
“It will take about five minutes to get the results. Two pink lines means that it’s positive.”
Vicky attempts conversation. “So--”
“I would prefer to just be quiet now.”
“Alright.” Vicky respects her request.
Beth sits folded over, holding her head in her hands, as they sit in a trying silence waiting for the short time to creep by.
Then the timer finally beeps. Vicky picks up the test with her still-gloved hand. She tries to hide her smile, as she shows the test to Beth. “It’s positive!”
Beth goes numb as she sees two pink lines on the test. Vicky’s voice sounds muffled when she speaks next.
“Of course you’ll want to follow up with your doctor.”
Beth manages a nod, but can’t make eye contact with Vicky. She gets up and starts walking out.
“Hold on sweetie, I’ll get you some pamphlets” Vicky disappears around a corner. She comes back with two heavy handfuls of pamphlets. She thrusts them to Beth, who is too dazed to refuse them. She makes her way to the front door, Vicky talking to her all the way, and Beth hearing none of it. Deedi’s knowing gaze is judging Beth as she absently shuffles through the door.
“Bye then, have a good afternoon!” Vicky calls after her as she leaves.
Beth doesn't stop the pamphlets from falling to the ground as she walks back to her car. The humidity weighs heavily all around her now. She tries to take a deep breath, and the stormy air almost drowns her.
As soon as her car door closes she lets out a sob. Another follows. They go at a steady pace as tears stream down her face. She lets herself have this moment, then inhales deeply, filling every space in her lungs. Once they are about to burst she lets the breath out.
Beth takes out her phone and pulls up her husband’s number. It stares back at her for a moment. She fills her lungs to bursting again, then hits send. Davis answers right away.
“Hey babe. How’d it go?”
Beth tries to let the words come out, but the lump in her throat is too big.
“Beth? Are you there?”
Beth swallows the lump. “Yeah hon, I’m here...”
“So, what’s the verdict?”
“Turns out you were right to be worried.”
The words. Hearing him say the words… it guts her.
“What are we going to do?”
“Well we still have a few wire hangers, don’t we?” Beth feigns a laugh, but it’s not returned.
“Really, Beth. What are we going to do?”
Beth whispers “I don’t know, babe...”