Twenty or so protestors holding picket signs rushed the car in which Annabelle sat. The signs read Baby Killer and Murderers go to Hell, the crowd chanting the words. Lumps as big as boulders clumped in Annabelle’s throat, perspiration breaking out on her forehead.
Her mother, Mary, shoved the automatic shift into park. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, holding it a moment before letting it out. “Don’t pay any attention to those fanatics, Annabelle. They’re troublemakers. Stay by me, and keep your head down.”
Annabelle looked at her mother and pressed her lips together. She, too, believed abortion murder, but her mother’s edict a few days ago left her no choice. “If you have this baby, you’ll be on the street,” she’d said. “I’ll put you out. Do you understand?”
“What if I give the baby up for adoption?” Annabelle had asked, crying.
Her mother’s brown eyes turned black. “No daughter of mine is going to flaunt around that she’s a whore.”
Annabelle had hung her head, tears dropping to the carpet. “But what you’re asking me to do is wrong. Daddy would tell us that. Just because I had sex outside of marriage doesn’t mean the baby should die for my sin.”
Her mother had grabbed Annabelle’s chin and lifted hard. “That’s not a baby you’re carrying. It’s a blob. It’s not human yet.” Mary dropped her hand. “My God you’re only sixteen. What could you have been thinking? Your father.... How could you?”
Annabelle opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Mary arched a brow. “Did you think people would look the other way? Well, they won’t. They’ll talk, and your father will be ruined.” Mary shook a finger at Annabelle’s belly. “That thing needs to be terminated.”
She spun then and headed toward the bedroom door.
Annabelle swiped the tears off her face. “But I don’t want an abortion.”
Her mother stopped and turned. “Your father doesn’t need this shameful deed on his shoulders. It’s your cross, not his. And there’s only one way to take care of this.”
Mary opened her car door, and the picketers mobbed her. “Don’t kill your baby! Adoption is the option!”
Mary pushed the door into them and got out. She shoved through them, around the front of the car to the passenger side, her jaw clenched. She opened the door for Annabelle, took her hand, and pulled her out. Arm around the teenager, mother used her body to block her child, barging them through the zealots toward the clinic’s front door.
Annabelle threw an arm across her eyes so not to see the protestors’ signs and angry faces. But she had no protection from the words they shouted. Someone shoved her from behind, and Annabelle stumbled.
“Keep walking, Annabelle!” Mary yelled, tightening her grip, moving the girl forward.
A nurse opened the clinic door the moment Annabelle and Mary got to it.
“Can’t you people call the cops?” Mary screamed, pushing her daughter inside.
“We did,” the nurse said, closing the door. “But we’re not a priority. You’re Mrs. Hudson, correct?”
The nurse gestured to the reception desk. “Your daughter needs to fill out some forms.”
Annabelle and her mother went to the desk.
The middle-aged woman behind it smiled at the mother and daughter and said, “We’ll need a sample of Annabelle’s urine.” She handed the teen a small paper cup and held up two packaged wipes. “I need you first to wipe yourself clean from front to back.” She handed Annabelle the packets. “Afterward, urinate a little first into the toilet and then into the cup. When you’ve finished, put the cup inside the little gray door in the hallway there.” She pointed.
“Then I’ll need you to fill out some forms.” She smiled again. “The bathroom’s the second door on the right down the hall.”
Annabelle walked to it head down.
The cold wipe gave her goose bumps. Finished with it, she let it go and put her face in the hand not holding the cup. God, I hope you can forgive me.
She almost forgot to stop in midstream and dropped the paper cup into the toilet. It landed upright and floated. She reached between her thighs, picked it out, and shook it.
“Yuck,” she said, and peed into it.
Finished in the bathroom, she walked into the hallway and put her cup behind the foot-high gray door built into the wall.
Annabelle went back to the receptionist, who smiled and handed her a pen and a clipboard of forms. Boulders clumped anew in her throat, but she took the clipboard and sat next to her mother, Annabelle’s heart beating hard enough to burst from her chest.
She looked at the light blue walls. The color for a boy.
The protestors’ chants penetrated the building. Sweat trickled down Annabelle’s back.
Her mother tapped the forms with a pink fingernail.
Annabelle wrote her name in the top blank. Then her address. She wrote her phone number. Filled in her gender, age, and date of birth. Her church’s denomination. She came to the line that said the clinic would not be held responsible if her spleen were punctured and stared at the words. I could die. Oh, please, God, let my mother see that this is a mistake. Let her see that an abortion could kill me, too.
Mary elbowed her daughter. “Hurry up and finish,” she whispered. “What are you stalling for?”
Annabelle looked at her mother. “Do you see what this says, Mom?” She pointed to it. “I could die.”
“You’re not going to die. This is perfectly safe compared to the back-alley abortions when I was your age.” Her mother smoothed her already smooth skirt. “It’s the eighties, for crying out loud.”
Annabelle stood, and the clipboard slid to the tiled floor with a loud clack. “I can’t do this.”
The receptionist looked up from her paperwork, and a dark-haired female head appeared from around a corner down the hall.
“I can’t do this, Mother,” she said, louder, hoping for more attention.
But no one paid her any mind. They’d gone back to what they were doing.
Mary pulled on Annabelle’s dress. “Please sit down like a lady, and lower your voice.”
Annabelle slapped her mother’s hand off her dress. “I hope you burn in hell for this!” Annabelle shrieked, backing into the end table on the other side of her chair. The brass table lamp on it toppled into the wall and fell with a dull clang.
Mary jumped to her feet. “Annabelle Hudson, you pick up that lamp and sit right back down. Stop making a scene.”
“You can’t make me do this!” Annabelle screamed, her hands in fists.
Mary’s slap sent Annabelle sideways.
The middle-aged receptionist was on her feet and around the desk.
Annabelle held her cheek and sobbed.
Mary held a hand up to the receptionist. “It’s all right. She’s given to hysterics, and that’s the only way to right her.”
The woman looked from Mary to Annabelle. “Are you sure?” She put a hand on Annabelle’s back. “Would you like a glass of water?”
Annabelle nodded, and the woman left.
“I hate you, Mother,” Annabelle said through gritted teeth.
Mary’s lips went pin straight. “Annabelle, don’t make this any harder than it already is.” She grabbed her daughter’s wrist and pulled her into the chair. “Now stop acting like a brat. You have no choice in this. You got yourself into it, and you will see it through.” Mary picked up the clipboard. “Here. Finish filling out these forms, or you will have no home to go back to.” She reached across Annabelle and yanked tissues from the box on the end table. “And wipe the snot off your face,” she said, shoving the Kleenex into her daughter’s hand.
The receptionist came back with a glass of water and handed it to Annabelle. “Are you all right now?”
Mary smiled. “She’s fine. The theatrics have passed. They always do.”
The woman went back to her desk.
Annabelle sniffled as loud as she could, but the woman didn’t look up. She slumped her shoulders and signed the paperwork.
Mary took the clipboard and pen to the receptionist. The receptionist stood. “I’ll take these forms to Dr. Young. She will be counseling you and your daughter today.”
Annabelle brought her knees to her chest and rocked, her dress tucked between her legs, tears running down her face.
“Get your feet off that chair, and sit like a lady,” Mary hissed. “Are you trying to embarrass me?”
Annabelle hummed, rocking faster.
Mary pinched her daughter’s arm. “Stop it!”
“Ow!” Annabelle yelped, pulling away. She put her feet down.
“Thank you,” her mother said. “I hope that ends your childish behavior.”
A tall woman came down the hall, the receptionist behind her. The tall woman’s brown hair was pulled back and liberally streaked with gray. She smiled at Annabelle as she approached and extended her right hand. “I’m Dr. Young.”
Annabelle took Dr. Young’s hand. It warmed her cold one.
Without letting go, Dr. Young seemed to study Annabelle for a moment, the doctor’s blue eyes kind and her expression gentle.
Annabelle wiped her face with the balled-up tissues in her other hand.
Dr. Young let go and grabbed more tissues. She gave them to Annabelle. “This was a hard decision for you,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
Dr. Young smiled. “Well, come with me, and we’ll have a discussion.”
Annabelle and Mary followed Dr. Young to her office.
The doctor sat behind her desk, mother and daughter in two of the chairs facing her. A pink, six-inch high replica of the vaginal area sat on the front of her desk. Mouth agape and gulping air, Annabelle stared at it. Shiny, stainless steel instruments that looked similar to dental tools lay in a tray beside it.
“Annabelle?” The doctor said, her voice quiet.
“Um, yes.” Annabelle looked from doctor to the shelves of books behind her.
Mary thumped her daughter’s thigh with the back of her hand, and Annabelle jumped. “Yes, ma’am.”
Mary let out an audible sigh.
The doctor picked up the pink model. “As you know, this is a replica of the vagina.”
Annabelle felt her cheeks flush, and she looked at her lap a nervous giggle escaping her.
Her mother flicked the side of Annabelle’s leg.
The girl flinched and brought her head up.
Dr. Young gave Annabelle a gentle smile. “You needn’t be embarrassed. Everyone in this room has one.” She got up, the model in her hand, and walked to the front of her desk. She leaned against it.
Annabelle tried to look interested. Oh, God, please save my baby.
The doctor picked up one of the shiny instruments and inserted it into the reproduction part of the replica.
Annabelle’s eyes glazed over. Please God, make this all go away. Looking past the doctor’s shoulder at the shelves, she counted books. One…two…three…four….
…two hundred two.
“Do you have any questions, Annabelle?” Doctor Young asked, returning to her desk chair.
Annabelle stared at the doctor. “But.” I thought you’d want to know if I really wanted to abort my baby. Why didn’t you ask me?
The doctor smiled. “Yes?”
Mary back-handed Annabelle’s thigh.
Dr. Young walked mother and daughter into the hall. “Make sure Annabelle eats and drinks nothing after nine p.m., Thursday, Mrs. Hudson, and have her here by eight-thirty Friday morning.”
The light on Annabelle’s bedside table popped on.
“It’s time to get up and take your shower,” her mother said. “You have an appointment to get to.” Mary opened Annabelle’s closet and pulled out a dress. “Wear this.”
“Mom, I can pick out my own clothes. I’m almost seventeen, thank you.”
“Don’t start the morning smarting off to me, please.” Her mother laid the dress on the bed. “It’s already six, so don’t dilly-dally. We have over an hour’s drive, and there’ll be commuter traffic.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“You’re going, and that’s final.”
“You can’t make me.”
Mary pulled Annabelle out of bed by her wrist. “I can make you do anything I want, young lady. I brought you into this world. Remember that.”
Mary let go.
Annabelle sat on her bed, knees to her chest, and face in her hands, crying.
“I told you to get up.”
Annabelle dropped her hands. “And I told you I don’t want to go.”
Mary seized her daughter’s shoulders. “You get yourself into the bathroom. Now.”
Annabelle shook off her mother’s hands and stood. “I hate you,” she said and pushed past her.
Mary followed. “You should be thanking God your father’s at one of his conferences this week, and we can take care of this quietly.”
Annabelle slammed the bathroom door in her mother’s face.
“If I were you, I’d be grateful he’s away,” Mary shouted through the door. “I wouldn’t want my father humiliated because I couldn’t keep my panties on.”
Mary leaned against the door, dropping her head, and stifled a sob.
Annabelle sat on the closed toilet, head down, tears falling into her lap. Dear God, please save this baby.
A white van sat in the clinic’s parking lot. Over a dozen people were on their knees in the gravel, heads bowed over folded hands. Mary parked as far away from the van as the space allowed. A man holding a bullhorn stood.
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” he shouted into it. “For lo, children are an heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is His reward.” He pointed his finger at Mary’s car. “God forgive them, for they know not what they do in sacrificing their unborn children to the pagan god Molech.”
Annabelle met the man’s eyes, the butterflies in her stomach going into a frenzy.
“Ignore those fools,” her mother said, turning off the car’s engine.
“Mom, I can’t do this. It’s wrong. You want to kill your grandchild.” She looked at her mother. “How could you?”
Annabelle thought she saw guilt in her mother’s eyes, but it passed in a blink.
“It’s a blob. It’s not even a human yet.”
Mary sighed and opened her car door. “Come on, Annabelle, we have to do this.” Her voice sounded tired, but she got out, pushed the door closed, and walked to the passenger side.
Annabelle punched the lock and crossed her arms.
Her mother knocked hard on the window. “Annabelle, now is not the time for your antics,” she said loud enough to be heard through it and jammed the key into the keyhole.
Annabelle grabbed the door handle and pulled it toward her. “No!”
Her mother pulled from outside. “Stop your nonsense, Annabelle Hudson!”
The man with the bullhorn shouted into it, “In the name of Jesus, stop this killing today! Stop this killing, Lord!”
Mary yanked the door open, Annabelle’s hand too sweaty to keep a grip on the handle, and pulled Annabelle out by her arm.
Annabelle dug her heels into the gravel and screamed, “I hate you, Mother!”
Mary jerked her daughter away from the door and kneed it shut.
“God will repay you for your sin!” the bullhorn blasted.
The teenager turned toward the man, his eyes cutting into her soul.
Upon entering the clinic, Annabelle tripped over the doorsill.
“Pay attention to where you’re going, young lady,” Mary said, pulling Annabelle inside.
The middle-aged woman at the reception desk greeted them and went down the hall.
Mother and daughter sat on the same chairs they occupied Tuesday. Annabelle bounced a foot and bit on a nail, tears falling down her face.
Mary reached across her daughter for the tissue box and pushed it into her chest. “Quit the nonsense, and wipe your face. You’re dripping snot.” After a moment, she looked down and said gently, “This is the only way, Annabelle. We’ve discussed this. It’s the best thing to do.”
Annabelle ran a handful of tissues across her cheeks and blew her nose. A minute later, Dr. Young walked down the hallway toward her, a young woman in green surgical scrubs following.
“This is Debbie,” Dr. Young said, smiling when they reached Annabelle. “You need to go with her. You’ll change out of your clothes, and Debbie will give you further instructions after that.”
“Can I go with her?” Mary said.
The doctor looked at her and shook her head but smiled. “You’ll have to stay here.”
Annabelle wiped her cheeks and nose. She stood, head dropped and shoulders down, and walked with Debbie to a back room with four small cubicles, their curtains opened. Annabelle still held the box of tissues.
Debbie handed her a folded gown. “You need to remove all your clothing, including your bra and panties, before putting this on.” She directed Annabelle to a cubicle and pulled its curtain across the front. “If you need any help, let me know,” she said through the curtain. “Call me when you’ve finished gowning. I’ll be right here.”
Annabelle clutched the gown and tissue box to her chest. She sat on a bench-like ledge built into the back wall and prayed, Dear God, please save my baby, I know I did wrong having sex, but please make a way for my baby and me to escape.
Annabelle tossed her used tissues into the small wastebasket under the ledge and took off her clothing slowly, wiping tears and blowing her nose four times in the process. She put on the medical gown and tied it closed. “I’m done,” she said to the curtain.
Debbie opened the curtain. “Then let’s take you to the procedure room.”
Annabelle climbed onto a padded table, a blue-cased pillow and folded yellow blanket at its head.
Debbie smiled and rubbed her back. “You’ll need to lie down.” She picked up the blanket and opened it.
Annabelle laid her head on the pillow and looked at the ceiling. Pink for girl.
Debbie covered her, smiling. “Everything will be okay,” she said, her gloved hand stroking Annabelle’s hair. “In a few minutes, someone will be in to give you nitrous oxide. About five minutes after that, Dr. Young will come in and give you a local in your cervix to relax you more.”
Annabelle said nothing. She stared at the pink ceiling, tears rolling down the side of her face.
Debbie pulled tissues from the box Annabelle held and wiped Annabelle’s cheeks. “The procedure is fast, and you’ll only feel a pinch of pain for an instant.” Debbie smiled. “Okay?”
A woman dressed in blue surgical scrubs entered the room and after closing the door, wheeled a red tank to the left side of Annabelle’s table. She put a clear plastic mask over Annabelle’s mouth and nose. “You need to relax and count to ten,” she said.
Annabelle’s mouth tingled, and her head went floaty.
“How do you feel?” the woman asked.
Annabelle blinked a couple of times and nodded. Debbie stroked her hair.
A few minutes later, the door opened again, and Dr. Young came in. She sat on a stool at the foot of Annabelle’s gurney while the other woman wheeled over a small table holding surgical instruments. The woman switched on a lamp standing at the doctor’s shoulder.
“You need to scoot your bottom down toward me,” Dr. Young said.
Annabelle scooted down. The doctor pushed Annabelle’s gown up and took her ankles. The souls of Annabelle’s feet touched cold metal, and her knees fell to the side. A draft of air chilled her exposed parts.
“You’re going to feel a pinch.” Dr. Young said. “I’m going to give you a local anthestetic in your cervix. When you hear the aspirator, I’ll insert a tube into your cervix. We should be done in about five minutes.”
Annabelle felt a pinch the doctor promised and winced.
A thundering, world-rocking boom came from the doctor’s right, and the wall blew in, knocking Annabelle’s table over and ripping the mask from her face. Annabelle landed against the opposite wall, the table at her back. Women screamed. A second enormous boom brought the ceiling down, pushing the gurney into her. Full of nitrous oxide, Annabelle floated but had enough presence to mumble, “I think I need help, God,” before everything went black.
Gravel dug into Mary’s right cheek, and she coughed up dust. Pain shot from her left leg up her side. She thought she was having a nightmare and fought to wake herself.
Sirens. Tires on gravel. Running feet. Voices.
Mary opened her eyes and lifted her head. Annabelle! But the pain in her leg took over, and her head fell back to the ground. Vivid pictures of the morning pulsated in her brain, and she lifted her head again. This time she got her hands under her, she yelped, but pushed up. The pain nearly made her vomit. She looked behind her. The clinic blazed, flames and black smoke against the blue sky.
“Annabelle!” she screamed, tears gushing from her eyes. “Annabelle! Oh my God, Annabelle!”
Mary pulled her good leg under her and started to push herself up on it, but the world went almost black, and her arms collapsed.
A hand touched her back. “Ma’am don’t try to move. Help’s here,” a woman said, squatting beside Mary.
Another hand at her waist. “We’re going to turn you over. We’ll be careful, but it’s going to hurt.” A man’s voice said.
Mary shot back up on her hands. “No! Leave me! My daughter! She’s in there! Get my daughter!”
“What part of the building was she in?”
“Where they do the abortions.”
The woman talked into a hand-held radio. “There’s a girl still in the building wherever they do the abortions. Do we know the layout? Over.”
Static, then, “Yeah.”
The woman put a hand on Mary’s shoulder. “They’ll find her, ma’am. It’ll be all right.”
Mary dropped her head, sobbing, her arms quivering. “You don’t understand. It’s my fault. I made her abort her baby. I was ashamed. Oh, God, what have I done? I’m supposed to be a godly woman. Oh dear God, forgive me, and save my daughter.”
Everything went black.
A month-old baby girl slept snuggled in a pink-ribboned white carrier full of blankets. The organ music coming from the sanctuary didn’t wake her. The song ended, and a new one began. A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
Annabelle stood beside the carrier and looked at the usher standing at the double doors to the sanctuary. The usher nodded at Annabelle and opened the double doors, smiling. Annabelle lifted the infant from the carrier. She kissed the sleeping child’s cheek and whispered, “Thank you one more time, God.”
Annabelle walked into the sanctuary and down its center aisle between the filled pews, only some smiling or nodding to acknowledge her.
The man on the raised dais smiled and descended the three steps to the sanctuary floor, his arm extended to the woman who walked from her seat in the front row to him with the aid of a cane. She, too, smiled.
“Daddy,” Annabelle said when she reached the front of the church.
Pastor Hudson kissed his daughter’s left cheek. Mary kissed Annabelle’s right before handing her husband her cane and carefully taking the sleeping infant into her arms.
“Today,” Pastor Hudson said, taking the baby from his wife’s arms and returning her cane, “is a good day to celebrate forgiveness and new beginnings.” The bundle cradled in his arms, he looked out at his congregation. “And today is a good day to dedicate this precious little one to God.” He blinked away the tears forming in his eyes. “Today is a good day to tell my wife and daughter how important they are to me and how much I love them. And to publically ask for their forgiveness.” He looked from Mary to Annabelle. To his wife he said, “Mary, I haven’t been a good husband. I seldom made it home for family dinner and I’ve given little of myself for too many years. I’ve not been on hand to support you as the mother of our daughter. And I’ve been too busy with the church to pay attention to what’s been going on in our home.” He took her hand. “Can you forgive me?”
Mary’s mouth quivered, and her eyes filled to spilling. She wiped one cheek with a handkerchief, and her husband wiped the other with his thumb.
Mary said, “Yes, Don, I do.”
He turned to Annabelle. “I put you off too many times when you wanted to talk or wanted me to go somewhere with you or needed help with your homework. I wronged you by putting my work before you, and your Mom. “Do you forgive me?”
Annabelle nodded. “Yes, Daddy, of course.”
Pastor Hudson held his granddaughter up, his hands cradling her head and bottom. “Today, Father, in the name of Your Son, we thank you for your grace and ask you to keep us ever mindful of it.”
He brought Annabelle’s baby to his chest, rocking her a moment, and said to his congregation, “It’s a good day to remember that our Lord Jesus Christ taught forgiveness, that
He came to offer us forgiveness, and that as believers, we have First John One-Nine with its guarantee of not only God’s forgiveness but the equal guarantee of a clean slate thereafter. A chance to start over, with its every use, our lives anew.”
He dropped his head.
When he lifted his head, everyone could see the tears sliding down his cheeks. “I, your Pastor, have not treated my wife and daughter as I should. Intending, if my hands were free, I’d use air quotes here. In spending all of my time doing God’s work I neglected my most important job, which is tending to my family.”
Murmurs and the sounds of people shifting in their pews filled the sanctuary.
“I want to say something, too, Daddy. Can I?”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
Annabelle turned to Mary and took her hand. “Forgive me, Mom. I love you.”
Mary put her arms around Annabelle, tears running down her face. “Oh, Annabelle, please forgive me. I love you so much, and I’m so sorry for the emotional pain and grief I caused you and for not being a good example of how a mom should be under … circumstances.”
Pastor Hudson smiled and raised his granddaughter to his congregation. “I ask that everyone extend your right hand to this beautiful little girl as we dedicate her to our God.” He looked heavenward. “Dear Father, in the name of Your Son, we as a family dedicate Samah Ronit Hudson to you, Samah meaning forgiveness in the language of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have all sinned, Father and You are a great forgiver. And Ronit, meaning rebirth or new beginning. We thank You for those new beginnings. I thank You for a second chance with my family and ask that Samah Ronit walks with You as she grows and that Your Hand of protection will be upon her. We also pray that each one of us here today will live in Your service and help Samah Ronit in the way she should go. This we pray in Jesus name.”
Amens filled the sanctuary.