Clara’s story is the first of a three part series of Flash Fiction pieces that deal with three different pregnant women in three distinctly different socio-economic situations. All the stories are set in 1947 when abortion was illegal.
Her hand is shaking so hard. She wonders how she can possibly make it work. She breaths deeply and pulls out the cold metal crochet hook. Looks it over. The moisture coating it glistens in the morning sunlight that is bouncing around her bedroom. She sits up. Squeezing her eyes shut, she wills herself to stop crying, to stop shaking. She licks away the tears that have fallen on her lips. The remaining tears tighten the dark skin on her face as they dry. She knows she doesn’t have long before the others will return. This is her only chance for at least another week.
Taking another deep breath, she eases her mind by floating back in memory out of her current reality.
What year was it, she tries to remember.
1925, yes, that was it.
Sitting on the front stoop watching her big brother poking a garter snake with a sharp stick. Dry brown dirt flying around the snake which quickly transformed into an elegant S motion in an escape attempt. Her brother moved fast to get in front of it. His ebony hand holding the stick tightly as he poked at it again. Now, all these twenty-two years later, she imagines what it must have felt like to be that snake. Trying to escape. Fearful for its life. How did the stick feel poking its skin?
Don’t hurt it, Boon!, she yelled while trying to keep from crying.
Mama says they good cuz they eat mice, she added hoping to sound authoritative.
Boon stared back at her for a moment, considering his options. He was enjoying tormenting the snake and realized that he could also torment his sister, an even better game.
What’s it to you if I kill it? You gonna cry like a little baby? Huh? This here snake is gonna make you cry to see it die?, he yelled back at her.
With both hands, he raised the stick up high over his head. His skinny arms coated with the ever present brown dust were steady. He stabbed with full force into the yellow stripe on the slender creature’s back.
The snake remained planted. The stick punctured all the way through to the ground. Its body once struggling to wind away to safety was now anchored, pinned down. Forced to die in the bare dirt front yard of the two room shack they called home.
She remembers those tears as they flowed and she ran inside calling out, Mama! Boon killed a snake! The good kind!
Hush now, Clara, you’ll wake the baby! I need to feed little Sam and make supper before she wakes up. Pull yourself together, girl, her mama had scolded. I don’t have time for your nonsense.
Her mama. How old was she then? Born in 1900. Already six children in the family. Her belly was swollen with number seven. Her final swelling. A birth that would cause her to bleed to death.
Her mama. Her mama that scrubbed the dirt floor of the house with a broom. Her mama that scrubbed the potatoes and beans from the field and the bit of cotton they managed to bring in to sell. Her mama had scrubbed all the children’s tightly curled hair and black bodies. For all that scrubbing, she never could manage to clean away the hunger from their bellies.
Clara feels that hunger now. A hunger that left her belly after her mama died and moved straight into her heart. A hunger that keeps the shine off the world. A hunger that no matter how much love comes into her life always remains a desperate hole to be filled. The rainbows of life just a little less colorful than when she was four.
Her chest heaves. Expelling a loud deep moan at the thought of her children living with that same hunger. Maggie warned her about another baby. Maggie, a good midwife, trusted by the women in the Southside, she told Clara that her path would be the same as her mama’s if she had another one.
Clara’s mind wanders to the stories she’d heard on how to keep from getting pregnant. They all involved something you could get from one of those fancy doctors on the white side of Chicago. Expensive places that probably wouldn’t even allow a woman with her color skin in the waiting room unless to clean it.
How do you deny your man night after night? The light touch, the hugs in bed so often turning into need and desire. How do you deny yourself? He always withdrew yet somehow his seed got in.
Pull yourself together, girl, Clara says her mama’s words out loud. So now this is how I must do it, she tells herself, just like that snake.
Straight through is what her friend Rosemary said and Rosemary knows from experience. Straight through like Boon had done otherwise she could end up like that woman with her guts hanging out where the babies come through. While she may die today, she knows another delivery will be certain death. The need to live, to protect the children she has, begins to outweigh her immediate fear.
Letting out one more deep moan, she steadies her hand as best she can. She lays back down over the newspapers she’d used to cover her quilt in the hope they would stop the blood from staining.
Suddenly, it feels all wrong. Wrong angle, wrong place. Dragging the newspapers with her out through the tiny flat onto the cracked and faded pea green linoleum kitchen floor, she places an elbow and forearm on the kitchen table and goes into a squat. The ever present crochet hook, which now feels enormous, is in her right hand.
Yes, she thinks, my aim will be more accurate, more steady like this.
Blocking out all images of the new life within her, focusing instead on those already living whole outside of her, she pushes the hook straight up and through what she prays is her pin hole size opening deep within.