Miranda never expected to end up here, at this dirty little clinic in the seedy part of town. But according to Aunt Josie, it was the only way for her to be truly liberated.
But Miranda's heart and mind were shackled with doubts.
"Am I doing the right thing?" she wondered aloud as she lay fidgeting on the bed, eyeing her swollen abdomen. It was hard to picture any good coming from this.
"Of course you're doing the right thing," said Josie as she motioned for the doctor to the room. "Remember, this is your choice, not theirs."
A sudden burst of gunfire from down the street collided with a wave of pain. Miranda gasped for air and tried not to panic.
"I knew this area wasn't safe," she moaned. "I knew I shouldn't have come here."
"And let them control your body?" said Josie, sounding angry.
"You're right," agreed Miranda. But inside her nerves were screaming, "You should be doing this in a crisp, clean medical center - not this dump!"
The examination, though quick, was agonizing. To escape the discomfort, Miranda let her mind wander, to a place she never meant to go. Now she was reliving it all afresh.
The dark nightclub. The forbidden dance. The whirlwind romance from the wrong side of the tracks. A turquoise engagement ring. A white wedding dress. Eduardo lying in a pool of blood.
The images exploded in her head like bombs.
We should have waited. Why didn't we? We were so in love, but oh so blind! A strain of violence runs rampant through his so-called "extended family." I should have seen it coming!
But she didn't. And now two regiments of opposing arguments were dueling inside her head.
"A drug in time saves nine long months of embarrassment."
"The fetus is alive from the moment of conception."
"It's never too late for a therapeutic abortion."
"It's a baby, not a glob of tissue."
"Oh what have I done?" she cried. "It's sure to come out sooner or later. And once she finds out, she'll kill me!"
Aunt Josie laid a firm hand on her shoulder. "Now's not the time to go missing in action!" She nodded to the nurse. "Wait here while I get help. And whatever you do, don't let her go anywhere. We can't let this get out of hand."
Miranda felt a new surge of panic. What if the freedom Josie was promising was actually a form of slavery?
She couldn't think, she couldn't breathe, she could barely remember her name. The next thing she knew a man was standing before her, dressed in black - like for a funeral.
He held out to her a cup and a piece of bread.
"The blood of Christ, shed for you. The body of Christ broken for you."
The sight of the holy elements drove Miranda to tears.
"Take that away!" she sobbed. "I don't deserve it. I just don't deserve it."
Though it was a gangster's bullet that killed Eduardo, somehow she always felt his death was her fault.
"Her mother is a condemning witch," explained Aunt Josie. "Pardon the expression, but it's true. For years she's waged a crusade to wipe children off the face of the planet. She'd never approve of her daughter's pregnancy, let alone her marriage. That's why we're forced to hide it in this back alley. How ironic is that?"
The priest's eyes were on Miranda. Holding forth the sacred symbols, he reminded her, "The chastisement that brought you peace was upon Him. He won the war against the voice of hate."
The wine swirled in the cup almost hypnotically. The bread, symbol of her savior's broken body, seemed to beamed stripes of holy light into her mind.
At last she'd found her focal point. A focal point that drew from her soul every fiery dart of blame. And helped her to forgive.
She leaned her head forward and took a sip of wine.
She took the bread.
At last! The conflicting thoughts inside her head were put to rest.
The news of her grandson's unwanted birth seven years later cut Athaliah to the heart. Never had she fathomed such treachery on the part of her estranged daughter.
Ten days later she had a stroke.
The Women's Health Care Abortuary never found a new director and was forced to shut down.
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