Purpose (Full Version)

Women should remain silent.  They must not be allowed to speak, but must remain in submission….To the woman He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbirth.  In pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

–The Book

The chamber was much darker than the bright hallway from which Ciera had come, and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust. The walls stretched upward for what seemed like miles, coming together at the top in a small glass dome.  It was dark outside, rainy.  Fitting for this day.  Placing one foot in front of the other, the only sound she could hear as she moved to what felt like center stage was the clanking of chains that shackled her arms to her waist.  Stadium seating went from floor level almost all the way up the dome, and the seats were all filled with silent men staring down at her.  Her masters.

“Masters,” she thought angrily.  Ciera came to a halt a few feet in front of the judge’s bench and spit on the floor.  “I’m my own master.”

A thick black hood shrouded the judge’s head, but she knew it was a man.  Men were the only ones who were allowed to judge.    Imagining where in the shadow his eyes were, she looked up as defiantly as she could manage in her pathetic gray cloak and chains.

“Do you accept the charges against you?”  The judge’s voice thundered through the entire chamber.

Ciera blinked once before uttering a simple, “No.”

One week earlier, Ciera was running early for her appointment, and she wanted to take the long way around to the doctor’s office so she could take in the lakeside scenery.  There was a line of Authority cars parked at the head of the path, marked with the sign of the Church, and the uniformed men had a woman down on her stomach with her hands tied behind her back.  Dropping her eyes so as not to draw attention to herself, Ciera kept moving past the entrance and went straight to the complex where her doctor was.  It wasn’t worth it to challenge the Authority–it was a much safer bet to just continue forward and not give any indication of involvement in the woman’s troubles.

If Ciera were the woman, she would just take her pill.  It was small and red, and belted securely around her waist in a tidy little pouch.  If there ever came a moment when Ciera was really in trouble, the pill would save her.  They were hard to come by, but Ciera had been much craftier in her teenage years than she was now.  She wasn’t willing to let go of this one small sign of rebellion when she had worked so hard to procure it.

Early, she went one door down to the grocery store  relishing the cool air that encompassed her as she stepped inside.  The grocery store was crowded but still amazing.  She didn’t often get the opportunity to visit nicer places.  They were usually reserved for men.

Her craving of the moment was an ice-cold beverage.  Wandering around, she noticed that there were plenty of warm beverages but nothing cold.  The cold beverages were tucked away in a corner past the cash registers.  Plucking a strawberry-banana smoothie knock-off from the shelf, she got in line at the register to pay.

“Do you even have any money?” the cashier sneered.

“Oh, like you’re so special,” Ciera thought, wishing she had the nerve to utter the words aloud.  It was true that her dingy grey maternity smock did display her class; she was poor, but she wasn’t a thief.  She pulled two dollars out of her wallet and threw it on the counter before storming out the door.

Shaking the bottle as she walked, Ciera opened the door to the obstetrician’s office and slipped inside.  The waiting room was crowded and she was still early, so after she checked in, she folded herself quietly into a corner to read a magazine.  It was quieter behind the door to the actual exam rooms, and she sighed with relief when the receptionist finally called her name and she could escape the chaos.

She found herself in the same exam room that she had been in the previous week:  same pale green chair, same blackened monitor.,  same little white belt contraption to put around her and hook up to her belly.  The doctor had told her that the baby was a tad small, and they wanted to monitor his activity a few times a week.  Ciera was fine with that.  Patrick didn’t allow expensive air conditioning at home and she was always hot, so she was happy to come in and relax beneath the vent.

“Can you roll up your shirt for me, please?” the nurse asked.  A quick check of her name badge revealed her name to be Joanna.

Ciera obliged and pulled her grey smock up toward her breasts.  As she pushed down the waistband of her leggings, she thought about how terrific it would be not to have to wear maternity clothes anymore.  At least until the next baby  The Book said that women were only as good as their ability to reproduce, and when they couldn’t, they ceased to exist.  They were surplus, extra.  Purposeless.  Patrick and Ciera followed The Book to the letter.  Ciera was young and fertile.  She would be able to fulfill her purpose for many years to come, whether she wanted to or not.  It wasn’t that Ciera didn’t want to have children.  She wanted her baby more than anything.  She just wanted to have it be her choice, and no one else’s.  It puzzled her that the Church could have the right to tell her when she could and could not have babies, but she knew better that to outwardly question the decree.

Joanna fiddled with the monitor, and then with the printer, turning them both off and then on again.

“Not working?” Ciera asked.

“Yeah, it’s an old machine,” the nurse replied.  “Sometimes we have trouble with it.”

“They had some problems Monday when I was here too.  I had to hold the sensors down on my stomach to get good enough readings.  Try that again,” she suggested.

Ciera pressed down on both sensors as the nurse shifted things around, but they still couldn’t pick anything up.  “Hmm,” Joanna pondered.  “Let me get a nurse who has been here a little longer and has more experience with the older machines.  Give me one minute.”  She left to return a few minutes later with a woman whom Ciera had never met before.  The new nurse played around with the equipment in much the same manner as the first nurse had for a few moments; then a third nurse came in.  All three of them crowded around the apparently ancient machine, whispering things, things that Ciera couldn’t quite hear.  Despite Ciera’s resentment about women being the ones who had to do all the work, she felt like she could suddenly understand why nurses were female and doctors were male.  These three didn’t seem to know anything.

The last nurse to enter the room turned to Ciera, who automatically read her name badge: Tina.  “We’re going to have one of the doctors come in and do a quick ultrasound so that we can figure out how to better position the sensors.”

Ciera shrugged, somewhat tired but still unfazed.  She hated the thought even as it was crossing her mind, but perhaps it was better if a man were looking after her.  “Okay,” she replied.  “Is that normal?”

“Yes.  Sometimes we have problems with these machines.”

“Are you calling Doctor Wasserman?”  Doctor Wasserman was the doctor Ciera saw every time that she came in to the office.  She liked and trusted him, about as much as any woman these days could like and trust a man.

“No,” Tina answered, “we can just have the on-call doctor do it.  Wasserman is off today.  No reason to call him in for something so routine.  Someone will be back with you in just a few minutes, okay?”

Ciera nodded, wishing as the three nurses left the room that she would have brought in the magazine.  She pulled out her phone, looking around the room guiltily.  The phone was meant to be used only in an emergency, or to talk to her husband.  But she couldn’t call him for this.  If there was really something wrong he would be angry, and Ciera wasn’t in the mood to deal with his rage that day. She sent her good friend Kelli a message instead.  They seem to be having trouble “finding” him on the monitors.  Scary?

After several minutes, Tina came back in and started disconnecting the sensors from her belly.  “I’m going to take you over to the ultrasound room.  The doctor is with another patient right now, so it will be a couple more minutes before he can get to you.”

They walked down the hallway to a new room, and Ciera settled into a new chair, tapping her foot and trying to keep her nerves from overcoming her.  Routines were the best way to live life, and the safest.  It didn’t do any good to break routine.

Ciera tried Kelli again.  She was desperate for someone to talk to.  I’m starting to freak out a little.  Is this normal?  They’re saying it’s routine.  It doesn’t feel routine.

“So, what…” Tina started to say, but she was interrupted when the doctor entered the room.  He was a short Oriental man with a ponytail.

“I’m Doctor Yang,” he said.  “Let’s just take a quick look here.”

Ciera rolled up her shirt and Tina spread some of the cold gel on her belly.  The doctor placed the wand on her stomach and moved it around expertly with one hand while reaching up  with the other hand to angle the screen away from her, out of her line of vision.  Ciera jumped every time she heard what sounded like a heartbeat, only to be told it was just the uterine artery.  Tina whispered with the doctor for a few minutes, far enough away from Ciera that she couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Pulling out the phone again, Ciera frantically punched the buttons.  I don’t like this, she texted.  They’re still saying they can’t find him, and I don’t understand what that means.  Everybody here is giving me these ‘I’m so sorry’ looks and it’s scary and I think something is really wrong.

Looking up from the phone, she noticed that Doctor Yang had left the room.

“He went to go page Doctor Wasserman,” Tina explained.

Ciera nodded slowly.  “It isn’t routine any more, is it?”

Shaking her head, Tina replied, “It’s time to call your husband now.”

Kelli tried to call buzzed in on her phone as Ciera scrolled through her few contacts to find Patrick’s number.  Sending her friend to voicemail, she summed up the details for Patrick’s answering service and told him to get there as soon as he could.  Closing her eyes for a moment, she worried about what his reaction would be.  His hand flying toward her face played like a movie on the back of her eyelids, but the thought left as quickly as it had come.  She hadn’t done anything wrong.  She had obeyed everything that he said; nothing was going to happen to her.  Hanging up the phone, she pushed another button to listen to the voicemail Kelli had left.  “Sorry, sweetie, I was in the grocery store shopping for Nathan’s work dinner tomorrow night.  You know how he likes everything to be just so…but anyways, I just got all of your messages.  I don’t know what’s going on but I’m praying for you and I know that everything will turn out okay.  Let me know as soon as possible what I can do.  We are praying for you.  Love you.”

Prayer.  The way they prayed didn’t solve anything.  It wouldn’t make this situation okay.  There was nothing in The Book that would tell her what to do.  The God Ciera had believed in as a child would love her no matter what, but the God of the Church was nothing more than a farce.

Doctor Wasserman appeared in the doorway just as Ciera lowered the phone into her lap.  In sweats and a t-shirt, he looked like he had come straight from the gym or an exercise class.  Ciera had a thought most inappropriate for the situation–that a woman would never be allowed to get away with that kind of clothing–but she pushed it away.  He grabbed one of the cheap plastic chairs away from the wall and spun it around so he could sit on it backwards.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, so quietly that Ciera could barely make it out.

“What happened?”  She bit down on the inside of her cheek.

“I really don’t know.  Everything was perfectly fine.  His heart rate was fine.  He was a good size.  Everything was formed.  We will do what we can to try to determine what happened, but sometimes you just don’t know.”

He kept on talking, but the words floated up around her into nothing.

Patrick appeared in the doorway and sat down, his eyes red.

“It sucks that this happened to such a good couple.  I’m so sorry, guys.”

“Thanks,” Patrick said.

“What happens next?” she asked absently.  What she secretly wanted to know, but was afraid to ask, was how soon could she try again?  Slipping her phone back out, she sent one more message to Kelli.  He’s gone.

“Well, we have basically two options.” Doctor Wasserman answered solemnly.  “We can send you on over to the hospital where you’ll be induced, or you can go home and wait for the labor to start naturally.”

Ciera’s phone vibrated against the plastic chair.  Oh, Ciera, I am so so sorry.  What can we do?  “So wait,” she said , plucking another Kleenex  and holding it to her eyes.  “Why can’t you just cut him out?  I have to wait?  I have to do all that?”  Her voice was rising, but she didn’t care about that.  She didn’t care about anything.

“If you want to have children in the future, it isn’t really good for your body to perform an unnecessary cesarean now.  It just isn’t a good option.  It’s better for you to do things the natural way.”

Ciera glanced sideways at Patrick.

“We have to have children.  You know that.” Patrick wouldn’t meet her gaze.  “I think we should go the inducing route,” he told the doctor.  “I don’t want to deal with waiting around at home.  And we WILL be having more children.”

“Okay.  We can go over there right now.  I’ll take you out to the garage the back way so that you don’t have to go through the waiting room.”

“My car is here,” Patrick said.  “I can drive her.”

Doctor Wasserman led them into the hall and slid a key card to open the back exit door to the parking area.  “When you get there, just go up to labor and delivery and tell them you’re a patient of mine.  They’ll be expecting you.  I’ll be over there in a little bit.”

“Okay,” Ciera nodded slowly, following Patrick.  Did she understand anything that was happening?

Patrick was on the phone with his parents as they drove across the street, but Ciera’s frazzled brain couldn’t process the conversation.  She dimly took in the words “dead, surplus, purpose…moving on.”  But it was all a jumble.  Nothing went together.  We are on our way to the hospital to be induced, she texted Kelli.

Kelli’s response was almost instantaneous.  Do you want us to come?  Nathan has a meeting until six thirty, but I’m sure he would allow it after that.

No, that’s okay.  She didn’t want her friend to get in trouble.

  The towering hospital blocked out the sun as Ciera looked up from her phone.  Entering the hospital doors, she amended her previous response.  Well, you could come.  If it isn’t too much trouble.  You don’t have to.  But you could.

It’s no trouble at all.  Where are you guys?

Columbia St. Mary’s.

Okay.  We’ll be there soon.

They walked up to the desk at labor and delivery, and Ciera told the nurse who she was.  Another nurse came out and led them through three different sets of double doors, down an incredibly long hallway into a room.  She handed Ciera a green hospital gown and a strange- looking contraption that looked like a very large, very wide rubber band.  “I need you to put these on,” the nurse said.  “Also, there’s a catch basin in the toilet.  If you’re going to go to the bathroom I need you to try to make sure you hit that so we can monitor your urine output.”

Ciera held out the weird rubber band belt as an unspoken question.

“That goes around your belly and your lower area.  The top part holds the contraction monitor, and the bottom part gives you a little coverage in the lower regions.  You can’t wear underwear.  You will have to be checked down there too frequently.”

“But what if I have to use the bathroom?” Patrick asked.  “I’m more important than SHE is.  What am I supposed to do?”

“You can either go around it or call one of us to come take it out,” the nurse replied, as if she encountered men like Patrick every day.  Chances were, she did.

The nurse left the room, and Ciera went into the bathroom to change.  Sure enough, there was a large white contraption in the toilet.  It looked suspiciously like a measuring cup from the kitchen, with tiny blue lines and letters up the sides.  She stripped out of her clothes item by item, folding each up as carefully as if she would be receiving a grade on her folding techniques.  For all she knew, she might be.  Who knew what would happen to her now that the baby was gone?  What if she couldn’t have more children?  What did The Book have to say about that?

Sliding into the hospital gown, Ciera stared into the mirror and contorted her body in an attempt to tie the gown’s strings together.  Unsuccessful, she gave up and pulled on the rubber band belt before going back out to the room to have Patrick do the tying for her.  Crawling into bed, she covered herself up with the sheets.  She felt utterly naked.  “It’s super warm in here,” she commented, gazing at anything she could rest her eyes on , anything except Patrick.

Patrick wandered over to the thermostat and monkeyed around with the controls for a while.  He must have been warm as well; it wasn’t like him to be overly considerate of Ciera.  The nurse came back in.  “We need to insert an IV now and then I’ll need to ask you some questions.”  She had Ciera make a fist and tried to find a vein in her hand to insert the IV.  After several unsuccessful attempts, she called for another nurse to come in and try.

“I have really bad veins,” Ciera whimpered, squeezing the bed rail and looking down into the sheets so she wouldn’t have to watch the needle.

“Oh, I’ve seen worse,” the new nurse joked, trying again.

When the IV was finally in place, the second nurse left.  The original nurse showed them a little picture of a leaf and explained that it would be taped to the door to the room, essentially to tell hospital staff that they shouldn’t be happy and excited when they entered the room.

A new doctor neither of them had met before came in.  He held up a little pill, and explained to the couple that they would be placing it in the vaginal area to help move things along and start the labor process.  Then he had Ciera put her legs up in the stirrups and placed the pill with his freezing hands, telling Ciera not to get up for at least an hour.  It would be four hours until the next pill was placed.

After the doctor left the room the questions came, basic ones about allergies and such.  Ciera answered them all without really paying attention. The nurse asked if they wanted clergy to come.  “It’s customary in these situations for someone from the Church to come and discuss your options.”

That thought terrified Ciera.  She had spent her entire life avoiding crossing the Authority as best she could, but she had suddenly found herself in a very bad position.  What would they do to her?

“We have someone coming from our personal branch,” Patrick clarified.  “That’s okay, right?”

“Yeah, she said, “but if they’re coming after eight you need to tell them to park in the employee parking ; the main entrance will be closed.”

There was a knock on the door and Nathan appeared with Kelli trailing shyly behind him in typical wife-like fashion, making the parking comment unnecessary.  They introduced themselves to the nurse and she drifted out.  Kelli allowed Nathan and Patrick to take the seats closest to the bed, and settled into a seat across the room.  She wrapped her coat more tightly around herself, and it occurred to Ciera that she was trying to hide her own pregnant belly.  Kelli was her best friend, but that didn’t change the fact that Nathan worked for the Church.  He was the Authority, a fact that filled the room with an awkwardness so heavy it became difficult for Ciera to breathe.

“I’m so sorry, guys,” Nathan said.  “This is really hard.”

Patrick shrugged, and Ciera looked away to the hills and valleys formed by her sheets.

“The church leadership would like to extend their condolences for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Patrick answered politely.  “There’s always next time, right?”

Ciera flinched, but then forced herself to hold her stance and keep the expression on her face neutral.  No matter what she thought of Patrick’s comment, she wasn’t allowed to show it.  Especially not in front of Nathan.

Patrick and Nathan made conversation for a while.  Ciera kept watching Kelli out of the corner of her eye, trying to figure out a polite way to get the men to leave so that she could talk to her alone.  It wasn’t customary for women to spend a lot of time alone together.  It bred trouble.

Nathan gave her an opportunity when he asked, “Is there anything I can do for you guys?”

Ciera knitted her hands into the sheets, grabbing fistfuls as she said, “I think I’d like to talk to Kelli alone for a little bit if that’s okay.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Patrick replied.  “Maybe it would be best if–”

“Labor,” Ciera blurted out, the first thing that came to mind.  She knew that the personal topic would make Patrick feels uncomfortable, and she played on that.  “I need to ask her about labor.  The blood.  The baby.  What happens.”

“Maybe we could go grab something to eat,” Patrick conceded, just as Ciera thought he would.  “For a few minutes.  But we’re coming right back.”

Nathan nodded in agreement.

The four of them prayed together, and then Patrick and Nathan went off down the hall in search of food.  Kelli crossed the room and settled into the chair that Patrick had vacated, taking care to keep her coat drawn around her stomach.  They stared at each other in silence.

Ciera thought about what she wanted to say, twisting the words around inside her head as she tried to sort it all out.  “So…” she started after several minutes of quiet, “what…what’s it like?”

Kelli rested her hand on top of Ciera’s at the edge of the bed.  “What is what like?  Labor?”

“I don’t know.  Labor.  Having the baby.  What’s it like?  We didn’t take the class yet.  It was supposed to be downloaded to our computer next week.  I don’t know what to do.”  It occurred to Ciera as the words tumbled out of her mouth how stupid a thing it was to say, but she didn’t really care anymore.

“Honestly?  It didn’t teach me much,” Kelli answered.  “I think that your body just sort of knows what to do.”

“Oh.  I think I’m sort of hoping…in the back of my mind…I’m hoping that they’re wrong about him.  Maybe he’s still okay in there and they just can’t find him.  Maybe it really is important that I know what to do because they will all be expecting that he’s going to come out dead, and I know that that’s wrong, and I’m the only one who knows the truth.”  Ciera looked up from the sheet mountain that she had bunched together with her hands to see tears streaming down her friend’s face.

“I’m sorry, sweetie.  I was trying not to cry for you.”  She squeezed Ciera’s hand, and Ciera squeezed back as tears streamed down her own cheeks.

“I was trying not to cry for YOU,” Ciera whispered.

Kelli grabbed a Kleenex box off the window sill and plunked it down on the bed between them.  They both dug into it for a while, sniffling.

“Is it going to hurt?”

“Yeah, probably,” Kelli  nervously played with the edges of her jacket, avoiding Ciera’s eyes..

“I mean, I was prepared for it to hurt, but I expected it to hurt and then to come out on the other side of that hurt with a baby.  You know?”

“Yeah,” she whispered.  “I get that.”

“I just really wanted to be a mom.  It’s my purpose as a woman, you know?  It isn’t fair.  I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now.”

“You’ll always be a mommy.”

“How do you figure?”

“It’s different for you.”  She hesitated for a minute, seemingly sorting out what she wanted to say.  “You have a connection to the baby that Patrick doesn’t have.  You carried him, you felt him move.  You did everything you could for him.  So you’ll always be a mommy.  You’ll always be his mommy.”

“I suppose.”  Ciera rolled her head to the side, taking in the darkness that pressed against the window over Kelli’s shoulder.  “I just…I don’t know how I’m supposed to go back to things.  It’ll be like nothing happened.  Like he was never really here.”

Kelli stared down at her lap.  “I…”

“What?” Ciera asked after a moment.

“I’m not sure you can go back.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You k…know,” Kelli stammered.  “I mean, if it is true, if he is really gone….”

She didn’t have to fill in the rest.  Ciera knew what she meant.  The Authority would want to come and talk to her now that the baby was gone.  Women were around only to work for the men and to reproduce–and take care of their families.  It was the main focus of The Book–women should honor their husbands and Masters, produce many children, and take care of their families.  Ciera was a failure; her baby was dead.  And if she couldn’t have any more children?  Not being able to have babies was a termination-worthy offense.  There wasn’t enough room in society for someone who couldn’t carry her weight and fulfill her duties, and both of the women knew that.  Ciera didn’t deserve to live anymore.

“The guys have been gone for a long time,” Ciera said by way of response.  She didn’t know what else to say.  There weren’t any words left.  There was no script.

“Probably just giving us space.  I can go get them if you want.”

Ciera bobbed her head up and down.  “Yeah.  It’s probably time for you to go.”

A long hug later, Kelli got to her feet.  She crossed the room and had her hand on the doorknob as she asked, “Will you be okay by yourself if I go to get them?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

“I love you, sweetie.  Hang in there.  Maybe it will all be okay.”

Minutes turned into hours.  It was almost three o’clock the next afternoon.  Ciera drifted in and out of a hazy sleep, and time felt like it had frozen solid.  Doctor Wasserman came in to visit briefly, reassuring her that he would be around when the baby came and would be there for the entire rest of the process, but he disappeared before Ciera could even register fully that he had been there.

A dull pain started in her right side, helping to draw her back closer to reality.  A nurse was next to the bed, holding the printout with the rate of contractions on it.

“It hurts,” Ciera whispered.

“Where?”

“Right side.”

“We can try rolling you onto your left side to help the medication distribute better, and then we can call the anesthesiologist back to adjust the levels if that doesn’t help.”  Ciera held onto the bedrail as the nurse helped her to roll over, but then started as the woman gasped, “Holy cow.  Your baby is coming.  Right now.”

A gigantic wave of shock washed over Ciera.  “What?  What do you mean?  Doctor Wasserman isn’t here.  I want Doctor Wasserman.”

The nurse pushed buttons on the wall behind the bed.  She came around and guided Patrick into a chair, apologizing for not knowing.  A man in blue scrubs entered the room, but Ciera had never seen him before.  “Where is he?” she sobbed.  “I don’t want you.  I want Doctor Wasserman!”

“We can’t wait,” the doctor informed her.  “The baby is coming right now.”

“We paged him, but he’s getting ready to do a c-section on another patient,” the nurse added.  “Nobody thought it would be this soon.  I’ll have to do the delivery.”

“He promised!” Ciera screamed, finally releasing the anxiety that her plagued her for the last twenty-four hours.  “He promised he would be here!  I won’t do this!  We have to wait!”

The strange doctor guided Ciera’s legs back into the stirrups as the nurse asked, “Can we try to get him again?”

“There isn’t any time,” the doctor said.

“We have to do it now, honey,” the nurse said soothingly.  “We can’t wait.”

The door banged open and Doctor Wasserman suddenly appeared, clad in scrubs and a scrub cap.  He pulled on a pair of gloves and nudged aside the strange doctor to take his place at the foot of the bed.  “Made it just in time.”

Everything moved very quickly.  There was a flurry of activity at the foot of the bed, and suddenly Doctor Wasserman was holding something in his hands.  “Cut it,” he quietly told the nurse.  It was twenty-five after three.

“Do you want to hold him?” she asked.

Ciera nodded, crying quietly.  As the nurse moved to place him in Ciera’s arms, Ciera was worried she wouldn’t know what to do.  It all seemed to come naturally, though, once he was settled against her chest.  It seemed she had barely held the baby before she had to pass him to Patrick, and Ciera fought against the irrational feeling that she was the only one who could hold him.  She knew it was wrong, but she was worried that the baby would be scared, or cold, or….He was hers.  She should be the one to hold him.

When she finally got him back, Ciera held her face against the baby’s.

“Do you want to keep him here a little longer, or no?” the nurse asked quietly.

Ciera looked at the clock.  It hadn’t seemed like that much time had passed, but in reality it had been almost an hour.  After a moment, she bit her lip and whispered, “You should take him now.  If I don’t let you take him now, I’m never going to let you, and I’m going to try and take him home with me.”

The nurse reached down and gently removed the baby from Ciera’s arms.  Ciera began to sob as she wrapped the baby up, burying her face in her pillows.  She knew that she would never see him again, and she closed her eyes and drifted into a sleep that she almost wished would last forever.

When Ciera woke up the next time, she tried to roll over but there was something wrapped around her wrist.  She opened her eyes, squinting against the harsh light of the room, and felt her way up to the bedrail.  Handcuffs.  She was handcuffed to the bed.

Patrick was sitting next to the window, quietly flipping through a magazine.  He didn’t acknowledge her.

“Patrick?”

He blinked once in her direction, and then went back to his magazine.

“Patrick?” Ciera pulled at the bedrail, but she couldn’t get her wrist free.

“Something went wrong.  You won’t be able to have any more children,” he informed her, closing the magazine and getting to his feet.  “This was it.”

He sounded as if he was reading a story from a news magazine.  As if he didn’t care about it.  As if it were happening to somebody else.

“What?” she gasped, tears springing involuntarily to her eyes.  “What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said.”  Patrick looked down at the floor.   “I’m sorry, Ciera.  I really did love you, I…at least I thought….”

“Patrick…”

“I can’t be with you anymore.  I have to move on to someone else.  It’s better this way.  You understand.”

Ciera didn’t understand at all.  “Patrick!” she screamed, yanking again and again at the bedrail as he walked out the door.  “I lost him!  I lost him too!”

Ciera’s screams resounded through the entire room.

It was over.  Suddenly, just like that.

It was all over.

A sound of thunder broke into her consciousness.

“Young lady,” the judge bellowed.

“I don’t,” Ciera said defiantly, sticking her chin in the air.  “I won’t.”

Murmurs filled the room from floor to ceiling.

“You can’t just make everything so black and white,” Ciera said, biting her cheek to keep her voice from shaking.  A single tear trailed down her cheek, but she didn’t care who saw her.  She didn’t care about anything anymore.

“Do you understand what a serious offense this is?”

Ciera shook her head.  “Do you?  I lost my son, and now you’re treating me like I’m the one who did something wrong.  Men are the only ones who are allowed to judge, and you judge based on what’s on the outside.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  He just died.”

It seemed that the judge was stunned into silence, but then he suddenly spoke again.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Maybe this would end up going in her favor after all.

“But we can’t use you anymore.  It is the purpose of the women in our society to serve their men, to bear their children and take care of the families…to keep our society moving forward.  You won’t be doing that now.  You can’t.  And it’s unfortunate, I grant you, but it is what it is.  The charges stand.  You are now considered surplus, and all surpluses must be terminated.”

“That isn’t your choice!” Ciera cried, unable to control her sobs.  “It isn’t right!  You aren’t God.  You don’t get to decide.  You don’t get to decide who lives and who dies.  You don’t get to pick a person’s purpose.  It isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.”

The judge nodded at the guards, who in turn stepped up to stand on either side of Ciera.  “It’s the law,” he glared, not offering anything else by way of explanation.

“I won’t go along with it.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

Ciera pulled against the chains to feel up under her smock shirt.  The pouch was still there, wrapped tightly within its belt against her stomach.  They hadn’t taken it from her.  They couldn’t take everything.  This last decision would be hers.

Pulling out the red pill, careful to not draw any attention to what she was doing, Ciera clutched it between two fingers and stared directly at the judge.  Her tears had stopped flowing.  “You can take my son.  You can call me a failure.  You can say that I have no purpose.  You can take everything.  But you can’t take this.  Only I get to decide when I die.”

Ciera popped the pill into her mouth and swallowed, knowing as she did so that it meant the end.  It would be her end, though, her choice–not theirs.  And she would be with her son for all eternity.

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