Chapter Four

 

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When Sara Stern covered the women’s clinic on TV, the public reacted immediately

 

Her own dinner was nothing like the one that Juana was serving to The Man, Lyn reflected some time later as she and Wendy worked in the kitchen. While Lyn peeled the broccoli and sliced it thinly before steaming it in the microwave, Wendy put the rotini pasta on to boil and toasted the pine nuts. When the pasta and broccoli were done, Lyn would toss them together with the toasted pine nuts, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and two tablespoons of olive oil. 

“What are we going to have with it, Mom?”

“Let’s have the rest of that carrot soup we made yesterday. And for afters, we can have those red pears.”

Wendy had been a vegetarian since the age of nine; after Philip died she had begged Lyn to join her. “Please, Mom. It’s better for your health, you know that, since you’re a doctor. And think of all the animals whose lives will be saved if we don’t eat meat! We should never eat anything that has a face.”

“All right, sweetie. If you feel so strongly…I’ll at least give it a try.”

Becoming almost completely vegetarian had not bothered her at all; in fact, it was a natural progression because some time in her forties she noticed that she could no longer tolerate certain foods as she once had. Once in a while, when she was out of her daughter’s sight, Lyn ate fish in restaurants if there was no vegetarian menu available, but for the most part she went along. Anyway, getting rid of most of the animal fat in her diet meant that she was less likely to drop dead of a heart attack.

“Let’s go to the computer room,” Wendy said after the dinner dishes were scraped and stacked inside the dishwasher. “I want to show you what my friend Jeff taught me today at school.”

Upstairs, in the spare bedroom that Philip had used as his office, Lyn sat beside her daughter at the computer desk. Wendy flicked the switch on the surge protector that controlled the system—the system unit itself, the monitor, and the printer—which whirred and thrummed softly through its initialization routine. “Look, mom, this is the startup menu for the communications program. Watch what I do next.”

Watching as her daughter entered the telephone number that her friend had given her, Lyn marveled at Wendy’s apparent ease with computer technology. It was true that when Philip was alive she’d been constantly in this room, watching her father as he searched the online legal database. Pleased by her interest, Philip had taught Wendy the basics of the operating system and some of the applications software. Lyn herself knew enough to call up the word processing program for writing letters and the money management program she used to keep track of the household accounts, but Wendy had surpassed her long ago.

“Look, Mom. The modem is calling the telephone number.”

Lights flashed on the external modem as it emitted a series of beeps and electronic groans. 

“Now what’s happening, Wendy?”

“We’re connected. Look.”

The name of the electronic bulletin board suddenly appeared on the monitor. “This is the Math Path,” said large red letters as they scrolled across the screen. “Please enter your sign-on name.”

“What is this, Wendy?”

Wendy typed her name, pressed the Enter key. “If I’m having a hard time with a math problem, I write a message and electronically ‘post’ it. Then other people signing on to this bulletin board will read my message, and if they know how to help me with my math, they’ll post a message on the board telling me the steps I need to take.”

“They’re not doing your homework for you, I hope,” Lyn said, suddenly anxious. 

“Oh, no. That wouldn’t be honest. They just tell you what you need to do to solve the problem by yourself. Really, Mom, it’s just like having a tutor, only an invisible one.”

“Well, okay. The world has certainly changed since I was your age.”

Not only had it changed, she and her daughter seemed to have reversed roles. She should have been transmitting old knowledge to Wendy; instead, her daughter was transmitting new knowledge to her.

Watching Wendy as she posted a message about her difficulty in solving a homework problem, Lyn wondered if there existed an electronic bulletin board for people who had strange dreams. Did she need an invisible shrink?

After her daughter relinquished the machine half an hour later, Lyn sat down to the bright blue word processing screen and began to write down everything she remembered. It still didn’t seem like a dream, even hours later; it was if her brain and emotions had been transplanted into the woman named Gwendolyn. 

As she typed, Lyn was struck by the parallels between Gwendolyn’s life and her own: both midwives and healers, both mothers of daughters, both widowed. And Gwendolyn’s use of herbs reminded Lyn of the interest she herself had developed in herbal medicines during her Peace Corps days. The village shaman had showed her the uses of quite a few, she remembered, but of course she’d forgotten most of what he taught her. Her pre-med and medical school studies had treated the subject with the barest mention. It might be interesting to do a little research on the herbs Gwendolyn had used for her medicines.

That other life had been so real that she could still feel the grass beneath her bare feet, still feel the uneasiness that arose at the mention of Father Oswald’s name.

It had been less like a dream than a journey to another country. And as she tapped out her record of the experience on the computer keyboard, she wondered if she would ever journey to that other country again.

********

Lyn could sense the tension in the scene outside the Old Dominion Women’s Clinic when she arrived at eight-thirty the next morning. Ranged on the grass outside the front of the building were the five blue-jacketed Defenders, silent and watchful, who constituted the clinic’s static defense. Escorts, wearing orange vests over their blue jackets, stood at the street corners on each side of the clinic, watching for patients arriving on foot. Three Defenders, Stacey among them, walked up and down the opposite side of the street, where some of the antis had parked their cars in the lot adjoining a Mexican restaurant.

On the sidewalk in front of the clinic four anti men, two with camcorders and two with regular cameras, had stationed themselves in pairs at the clinic’s two driveway entrances. Patients were supposed to drive their cars into the first entrance and leave by the second entrance. This would put them in the correct traffic lane of the main thoroughfare that ran past the clinic. Ten more antis marched up and down, praying audibly and carrying signs.

As Lyn turned her car into the driveway, the anti men stepped forward to snap a picture of her at the steering wheel. One kept his camcorder trained on her car as she drove, fuming, around to the back.

“Good morning, Doctor St. John,” Darian said as she slammed the door of her car and slung the strap of her bag over her shoulder. Like the other escorts he wore an orange vest over his outdoor clothes. He also wore a knitted cap pulled low over his ears and sunglasses against the sharp-edged wind on this bright November Saturday.

“Good morning. How has it been so far?”

He walked the few steps to the door with her. “So far, everything is under control. One patient arrived at seven-thirty and one at eight.”

Lyn nodded. Patients were supposed to arrive at half-hour intervals to be prepped for the procedure.

“But I have a feeling that once O’Brien gets here and starts speaking, we may lose control.”

“We can’t afford to lose control.” Lyn looked up at Darian. She wished she could see his eyes behind the dark glasses, so she could judge whether her words were getting through to him. “As you know, Darian, the prime reason for the Defenders’ existence is to get the patients inside the clinic. Everything else is subordinate to that.”

He nodded.

“And Darian,” Lyn said as she paused on the threshold before going in, “no chanting. At least, until all the patients are inside. Check with Tillie, our receptionist, to find out when the last patient is scheduled to arrive. I personally get a kick out of the chants, but loud noises scare the patients.”

Darian nodded again. “I’ll make sure that Static Defense doesn’t chant. Once we deployed them all, Stacey decided to shadow Paul O’Brien. He’s supposed to arrive soon.”

“All right. Thanks for your help, and keep me posted.”

Darian gave her a casual salute, as if to assure her that her wishes would be respected, and went back to check for new arrivals. Lyn entered the clinic, waving hello to Tillie Rivera. Her 70-year-old receptionist possessed an unerring ability to detect antis who telephoned the clinic, pretending to be patients, to make appointments that they had no intention of keeping. This tactic, of course, would have prevented real patients from using the clinic’s services, but for Tillie’s infallible nose.

Five terminations were scheduled for this morning. Although the procedure itself took no more than a few minutes, it was preceded by extensive counseling, and followed by careful monitoring for at least a couple of hours afterwards.

Reviewing the contents of the patients’ medical history folders while she drank her coffee, Lyn found, as always, that the patients were a varied lot. As she read, a mental image of each of them rose in her mind. There was a pretty high school girl, aged 17, who after the examination and diagnosis had appeared sad but determined; a woman of color, in her late thirties, whose history of diabetes precluded her using a highly effective method like the pill and whose birth control method had failed; a woman in her forties who blamed herself for thinking that the disappearance of her periods had made her safe from conception, and who was determined to undergo surgical sterilization after her post-abortion checkup; a woman in her twenties, whose amniocentesis had indicated a fetus with severe mental retardation; and a case that wrung Lyn’s heart, a twelve-year-old whose own father had impregnated her. The girl had menstruated only twice before her father raped her. To Lyn, incest was too polite a term for what actually transpired. She considered it parental rape.

After she had performed the abortion on the woman who had believed herself to be menopausal, Lyn chatted with her quietly for a few moments. The woman had come through the operation well, with all her vital signs stable, and appeared to be in good spirits.

As she left the room, Tillie accosted her in the hallway. The silver curls Tillie wore piled on top of her head quivered with emotion as she told Lyn what was going on outside. “Doc, come over here to the window and take a gander. There’s a TV reporter outside with a sound truck and everything, ready to record what His Holy Ass is about to say.”

Tillie, known to have no great love for stupid men in general and Paul O’Brien in particular, always referred to the Reverend O’Brien as His Holy Ass.

Lyn looked through the window and groaned. “Give me a break. The TV people are videotaping the antis, the antis are videotaping all incoming cars, and now it looks like one of the Defenders is videotaping the antis videotaping the incoming cars.”

Opening the window, she could hear the usual hymn singing, the subdued roar-whush of traffic on the street outside, and the TV reporter shouting into a microphone as Paul O’Brien, climbing up a set of portable stairs that someone had placed on the sidewalk, took his own microphone in hand, and began to speak.

O’Brien was a man of such singularly undistinguished appearance that Lyn could only wonder at the size of the ego that drove him to seek the limelight. His slender, even rather weedy, physique no doubt made the softer-hearted among his congregation long to take him home and give him a decent meal. He wore his hair in an old-fashioned crewcut so short that the only way to determine its color was to eliminate the colors it definitely wasn’t: black, white, red, blond. Round, gold-wire-rimmed glasses magnified pale eyes in a pale face. Almost always, he wore a business suit and white shirt.

Grudgingly, Lyn admitted to herself that he had a charismatic, even thrilling, voice. She strained to hear what he was saying. The microphone, clearly of inferior make, swallowed some of his words so that she could hear only phrases.

“Brothers and sisters….love the Lord. What will you tell your children when they ask…. stop the babies from being murdered? Jesus in his infinite mercy loves all sinners, even these misguided women who kill their unborn children…tell their families what they’ve done…before they go in, try to pray with them and reason with them….Jesus will give you the strength to prevent these poor deluded women from killing their babies…ask God’s blessing on our efforts today…bow our heads in prayer.”

“Tillie,” Lyn said, not taking her eyes from O’Brien, “is the last patient in?”

“In and prepped half an hour ago.”

“All right. Then go tell the Defenders that since they’re all in and I’m more than half-way through the schedule, they can chant if they want to.”

By the time Lyn had finished for the day at twelve-thirty, all was quiet outside the clinic. “What happened?” she asked Tillie as they began preparations to close the clinic and leave for the day.

“After O’Brien’s speech, the antis started screaming and crying. The reporter—you know Sara Stern from Channel 14? She’s always been real careful to show our side as well as theirs—interviewed O’Brien. The crew was filming everyone the whole time, of course. The antis were pissed because they wanted to stay all morning, marching and praying and screaming, but the police came and told them to move along.”

Lyn paused in the act of putting on her coat, struck by a thought. “Did they have a permit for this demonstration?” 

“Apparently not. Stacey was shadowing O’Brien when Sara asked him that very question. O’Brien said that God’s law was higher than man’s law and that he and his people didn’t need a permit.”

“So what did they do, arrest him?”

“I think he’s going to be summoned to appear in court,” Tillie said. “At least that’s what Stacey says. She believes that the Falls Landing police are going to charge him with demonstrating without a permit, in the hope that the court will fine him.” Tillie gave a little shiver. “Stacey’s a nice girl, but she’s obsessed with the antis. She follows them around all the time. She puts herself on all their mailing lists and gets their literature too.”

Lyn recalled Stacey’s remark about monitoring Christian radio. “Well, someone’s got to find out what they’re up to. God knows what awful things would have happened to us without the Defenders’ intelligence reports—and that bloodhound nose of yours, Till. I bet you could spot an anti at two hundred feet.”

“Could, and have,” Tillie said. “See ya Monday morning, Doc. Have a nice weekend.”

That evening Lyn watched Sara Stern’s report on the Channel 14 news at six o’clock. While meticulously reporting the point of view of both the clinic defenders and the antis, Sara did not flinch from the main point of her story: that the antis were invading the privacy of patients who supposedly enjoyed the protection of the Constitution of the United States. “Is this the end of privacy as we know it?” asked an earnest-looking Sara, tossing back her perfectly cut blonde hair. “Is this the end of the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship? Will people who need to undergo hemorrhoidectomy or get a vasectomy have their car license plates photographed and their private medical matters made known to whoever answers the telephone in their homes?”

Lyn laughed aloud at that. Wendy, always interested when the clinic made the news, asked, “What’s so funny, Mom?”

“Oh, just the idea of someone calling up and saying, ‘Did you know your son was at the abortuary today, murdering millions of his unborn children? He had a vasectomy. Did you give your consent?’ I can’t imagine that happening.”

The camera cut from Sara Stern to a long shot of the Defenders ranged in front of the clinic and the antis across the street, then zoomed to the signs the antis were holding, that read, ‘STOP the murder of the unborn’.”

The camera panned back to the Defenders, now roaring, “A baby’s not a baby until it comes out! That’s what BIRTHDAYS are all about!”

Lyn liked that, but her favorite chant was the one the Defenders struck up whenever Paul O’Brien appeared:

Two, four, six, eight,

You can’t make us procreate!

Seven, eight, nine, ten,

Why are all your leaders MEN?

As the national news followed the local news, Lyn realized that she had forgotten to tape the broadcast. For some reason she felt impelled to record what was happening: perhaps it had begun with the decision to keep the answering machine tape cassette that contained the death threat. Well, it was possible that Channel 14 would repeat the story on the eleven o’clock news.

Channel 14 did so, and this time Lyn was ready. As she watched the story once more, she was surprised to hear the news anchor comment on it. 

“There’s an interesting footnote to the story we ran on our six o’clock broadcast,” intoned the news anchor, a dapper middle-aged man with gray hair. “This station received an unprecedented number of calls, including one bomb threat, about the story. Of the one hundred fifty calls we received, one hundred and twenty condemned the actions of Mission Deliverance in videotaping the license plates of patients entering the Old Dominion Women’s Clinic. Twenty-nine praised the actions of Mission Deliverance, and an unknown caller said that a bomb would be planted at our broadcast station for our coverage of the story.”

The camera switched angles and the anchorman turned in a different direction, assuming a grave expression as he said, “Let me assure our viewers, on the behalf of management and the entire news team, that we strive to report the news fairly and accurately. As you just saw, we interviewed both sides on the events that transpired at the Old Dominion Women’s Clinic today. We were unfortunately unable to interview the doctor who owns the clinic—”

Lyn froze. She suddenly had an inkling of how the antis might have obtained her telephone number. With a sickening lurch of the heart, she realized that they must have done the same to her as they did to the patients: they must have photographed her car license plate number. Only yesterday, Stacey had mentioned that the antis had an “in” with someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

If they knew her unlisted telephone number, what else did they know? Her credit card numbers? Her bank account numbers? Her medical history? Oh God, if they knew all about her life…but no. How could they? It was too long ago. Uneasily, she stopped the tape, turned off the television, and went to bed. Tomorrow morning she’d think of some way to deal with this.

But when she woke up Sunday morning, she discovered that the most pressing matter to deal with was the present the antis had left her overnight: hundreds and hundreds of tiny white crosses, planted in long rows in her front yard.

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