by Werner A. Lind, c. 2002
Nineteen-year-old Laura Tyler eased her small car onto the curbside parking space and cut off the ignition. As she undid the seat belt stretched across her swollen middle, her lip trembled slightly. Her boyfriend’s words replayed themselves in her mind: “I’m not supportin’ the brat! Ya have it, I’m gone. An the welfare ain’t payin’ for it neither, so what ya gonna do then?” She reached across her seat for her well-worn handbag, the rear-view mirror briefly reflecting her pale face and darkly undercircled eyes. Fumblingly, she replaced her car keys in the bag and drew out a small appointment card. “Pleasant Hills Women’s Health Center,” it read. “Three o’clock –Sept. 16th.” Opening her door, she rose awkwardly, her motion hampered by the weight of the growing life inside her. Across the sidewalk, the sign over the door of a huge brick and glass edifice bore the same name as the card. In smaller letters underneath, it proclaimed, “Pregnancy termination our specialty. ALL MAJOR CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED.” Beneath the sign, a young man in a trench coat walked up and strode purposefully into the building.
Trying to work some moisture into her suddenly dry mouth, the girl rummaged in her purse for a coin. She’d just dropped it into the meter slot when she felt a light tap on her shoulder. Turning, she looked into a pair of concerned green eyes over a freckle-spattered nose. The face belonged to a plainly dressed woman about thirty years old, shorter than Laura.
“Hi,” the newcomer said gently. “My name’s Jenny. I guessed why you’re here. Can we talk?”
Laura sighed wearily. “You’re a pro-lifer, ain’tcha?”
Jenny nodded. “I volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center on Market Street. We can do some things to help moms like you –adoption referrals, short-term financial help, shelter, things like that….” Two orange-vested men burst from the building and started to run toward the two women.
Tears began to form in Laura’s eyes. “You folks couldn’t afford as much help as I’d need,” she mumbled. “And I’m just too tired of fightin’ this. I can’t fight it no more, y’know?” She dropped her glance from Jenny’s face, then felt a small pamphlet put into her hand.
“Let me give you this, anyway –it has our address….”
Jenny’s soft tones were interrupted by a male bellow. “Leave her alone, ya crazy nut! We got laws to stop kooks like you from harassin’ decent people. Ya want I should call the cops?” The vest straining across the florid-faced speaker’s ample paunch read “Clinic Escort.” He snatched the pamphlet from Laura, ripped and dropped it. “Don’t worry, lady, we’ll protect ya.”
“I was only….” Jenny began mildly.
The other escort, a thin-lipped man with a tic under his left eye, snapped an obscenity. “Don’t back-talk us, jail-bird,” he added. “Get your rear outta here or I’ll make a citizen’s arrest. You hear me?” Grabbing the woman’s shoulder forcefully, he shoved her backwards a few feet. She staggered, almost falling to the sidewalk.
Frowning angrily, Laura opened her mouth to speak. But the one or two words she uttered were drowned out by an abrupt, explosive noise which came, she realized, from inside the clinic. The trench-coated youth burst through the door, smoke coming from one barrel of the sawed-off shotgun he held. “That’s for killin’ my kid, ya….” His shout broke off as he saw the orange-vested men in front of Laura.
As the girl stared, frozen, the weapon came up in a short, swift motion. She heard the fat escort’s choked scream, “Gun!” and his companion’s wordless screech; she saw the one man scramble for the cover of the mailbox on her right and the other break away to her left. And she heard Jenny cry out as the older woman threw herself where they had been, between Laura and the gun, just as it fired again. Laura staggered against her car as Jenny was hurled backwards into her.
Knocked off her feet, the dazed girl suddenly realized that her arms were thrown instinctively across her abdomen, shielding the womb that cradled her baby. Her next realization was that blood was leaking in a stream from Jenny’s shattered chest. Laura’s insides felt cold and sick as she took her protector into her arms, staring into the suddenly pale face. A siren was wailing loudly.
“For God’s sake, Jenny,” she blurted, “why? Why’d you go and do that?” The pain-filled green eyes focused on Laura’s blue ones as Jenny smiled faintly.
“I want you… and your baby to live,” she whispered. “It was worth it….” She shivered violently, and her head rolled back against Laura’s shoulder. Laura felt tears running down both her cheeks. She thought of praying, but had no idea of how to address her Maker. Footfall sounded on the pavement. The two escorts were returning.
“Oh, Jenny, don’t die,” she sobbed. “Please, you guys, help her….” The escort with the tic shouldered her aside, grabbing Jenny’s wrist to feel for a pulse. His partner, chortling with glee, bent over the motionless form as far as his belly allowed.
“I love it! I love it,” he wheezed. “One kook shot the other one.” Leaning on her car hood, Laura hauled herself to her feet. Behind her, a deep voice was droning something about a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney. She saw Jenny’s blood glistening on her fingers.
The squatting man dropped Jenny’s arm and stood, his face showing conflicting emotions. “Yeah, the bitch’s dead, all right,” he said. “But if that creep shot people in there, this won’t bring them back….”
The deep voice interrupted him. “Gentlemen, the lieutenant over there needs to take your statements now. And would you please not touch the victim any more? The paramedics will be here right away. Do you need to sit down, lady? You can wait in the squad car ‘til the lieutenant’s ready for you.”
His words hardly registered as Laura gazed down at the still face on the concrete. Her stomach felt like it usually did at the onset of her morning sickness. She rubbed it with one hand, hoping she wouldn’t vomit. Just then, she felt the pressure of her baby’s kick against her palm. Jenny’s last words echoed in her ears. At a sudden touch to her elbow, she turned to the uniformed policeman beside her.
“Ma’am, did you hear me? Are you all right?”
Laura took a deep breath and nodded. She bent quickly to pick up the torn halves of the pamphlet Jenny had handed her, leaving the blood-smeared appointment card where it lay by the gutter. “Yes, sir,” she said, straightening. “We’re all right –and we’re gonna stay that way.”