Sample Chapter (7)
For the past few months, Brenda enjoyed being the live-in babysitter for her aunt Lois, especially during summer vacation. It gave her a chance to be away from all the rules at home. While Lois and her husband, Marshall, worked nights at the Fisher Body Plant, Brenda stayed with their daughters, Sophia and Dawn, after they got out of school since Brenda got home earlier than they did. Her only gripe was that she had to go home on the weekends because Deacon demanded she return to attend church with the family on Sunday.
Lois sat quietly at the kitchen table, peeling potatoes and listened to the irritating sound of Brenda gagging and vomiting in the bathroom located just off the kitchen near the back door. She could hear Brenda sighing heavily each time she flushed the toilet.
With her eyes watery and red and her light complexion pale pink, Brenda walked back into the kitchen.
Lois paused and stared up at her. “Are you pregnant?” she asked bluntly.
“No, noooo,” Brenda replied assuredly.
“You don’t look well at all.” Lois stopped her potato cutting, planted her right elbow on to the table, and rested her hand under her chin.
“Maybe I have the flu or something,” Brenda said.
“Hmm,” Lois replied suspiciously. She eyed Brenda with concern, doubting that she had the flu.
Uncomfortable with her staring, Brenda turned away. She could tell Lois was thinking something. Lois had been pregnant twice, so she was familiar of all the telltale signs and symptoms.
Lois and Marshall were much younger than Deacon and Kadie and definitely not as strict. Still, Brenda didn’t want Lois to know that she’d relinquished her virginity, and the thought of ever getting pregnant had not crossed her mind until that moment. Having an irregular menstrual cycle, being weeks late or even a month late for her period was not unusual, so she hadn’t been concerned.
Now fear set in. She thought back on the one intimate experience she had with Karl weeks earlier.
I only did it one time, she thought. I couldn’t be.
She stood gazing out the kitchen window, her hands fidgeting, twisting the side seams of her plaid, pleated skirt. She tried hard to appear confident that her vomiting could only be from a stomach virus, but she could barely look at Lois.
Brenda occupied herself, removing the dishes from the counter and placing them into the sink. She could feel Lois gawking at her from behind. She cringed.
“I’m going to take you to get a pregnancy test tomorrow,” Lois said..
“For what? I’m not pregnant. I couldn’t be,” Brenda lied.
“Humph.” Lois rolled her eyes and resumed peeling the potatoes.
With no further response, Brenda continued washing the dishes.
The next morning, Lois drove Brenda to a medical clinic across town. After an hour wait, the nurse called for Brenda.
Brenda anxiously sat in a chair in the patient room, waiting for the results of the urine test the nurse gave her when she first walked in. She took a deep breath when the door opened and the doctor walked in.
“Congratulations,” the tall, slender doctor spoke. “You can go home and tell your husband that you are expecting.” Although Brenda looked like a teenager, the doctor didn’t question whether she was old enough to have a husband. In the sixties, it wasn’t uncommon for teens to wed, especially during the war.
Expecting? Husband? Brenda thought. She sat expressionless as the doctor’s words faded, and her face blurred as she imagined herself with a big belly, wearing an old pink bathrobe and run-over slippers. She quivered as images of her daddy with smoke blowing from his ears and fire from his mouth skipped around in her mind.
Without words, Brenda walked back into the waiting room in a daze. Brenda’s face said it all, confirming Lois’ fears. Together, they walked down the long hallway out the door in silence. To Brenda, the short distance from the building to the car seemed like miles. She had barely enough strength to open the car door. Her face crumbled into a whimpering cry as Lois helped her in the car and made her way back around to the driver’s seat. Lois drove home pondering on the situation, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Lawd have mercy,” Lois whispered to herself.
“What am I gonna do?” Brenda asked. “Mama and Daddy are gonna kill me. I’m only sixteen, and I’m pr … na … I can’t even say it.”
Back at Lois’ house, Brenda plopped down on the sofa, folded her arms, and rested her face on her lap. Lois walked around, looking just as worried as Brenda. She knew how disappointed her sister would be, but more so how angry her brother-in-law would be about his baby daughter being pregnant, out of wedlock. Lois thought about an abortion, but knew that was not an option. She knew the only abortion procedures around there were illegal ones done by somebody’s uneducated mama performing unsafe, medical procedures in a back bedroom on the low end of town. Lois had a friend who died during one of those procedures, so that was definitely out of the question.
“For now, I’m going over to Charlotte’s house,” Lois said. “She has those Quinine pills, and I have some Humphrey Elevens.”
“Humphrey what and Qui what?” Brenda questioned.
“They are pills that help you miscarry.”
Brenda’s eyes bulged with curiosity. “They have pills for that?”
“Well, a…a…just stay here, and I will be right back,” Lois replied.
She knew the pills were not medically designed for that purpose, but it was rumored women had success when they used these prescription drugs in efforts of aborting a fetus.
Lois grabbed her keys and rushed out the front door. Solemnly, Brenda sat on the sofa in front of the window. She noticed a young woman walk by pushing a baby carriage.
“Oh God, what have I done?” she yelled.
She felt anxious and jittery. She stood and paced the floor, weeping and mumbling to herself. All the things her mother said and her father preached over the years swam around in her head. The thought of her father finding out weakened her stomach. She rushed to the bathroom, barely reaching the toilet before she vomited. She gagged and cried all at the same time. Drained, she tried to revive herself, splashing cold water from the faucet onto her face. She grabbed a towel from the rack behind the bathroom door and patted her face. Exhausted, she sat down on the rim of the bathtub.
“Lord, I am so sorry.” She sobbed and sank her face deep into the towel and cried harder.
She pulled herself together enough to answer the telephone after the fourth ring.
“Hi Mama,” she said nervously, hearing Kadie’s voice. Her heart dropped and a piercing sensation flushed through her body, anchoring at the tips of her toes.
Oh no, does she know? Did Lois go tell her? Brenda thought.
The tension soared giving her an instant headache.
“I was just calling to remind you about the youth meeting at church this evening.”
“OK, Mama.” She exhaled slowly with some relief as she hung up the phone. Church was definitely the last thing on Brenda’s mind.
By now, her headache was so intense that she desperately needed to find some relief. She scrambled through the house searching for aspirin, looking in the medicine cabinet and the kitchen cabinets to no avail.
Brenda searched Lois’ bedroom, her dresser, neatly decorated with perfume bottles, fragrant powders, tubes of lipstick, and a large white jewelry box in the center of the dresser. Brenda pulled open the first dresser drawer. She noticed a brown prescription bottle with the inscription Humphrey Eleven typed on it. With the bottle in one hand, she paused, thinking. She remembered this was one of the pills Lois told her about. She was desperate enough to make her problem go away immediately. She figured since Lois had already told her she was going to give her the pills that she would go ahead and just take some without any instructions. Quickly, Brenda opened the bottle and poured two pills and then one more into her other hand.
“I have to do this,” she whispered.
She rushed into the living room and looked out the window to make sure Lois had not pulled back into the driveway. She dashed back into the kitchen, turned on the faucet, grabbed a cup, and filled it with water. Without hesitation, she popped the pills into her mouth and gulped down the full cup of water. She gagged a few times, but swallowed them all.
“God, please forgive me,” she sobbed.
Fatigued by the events of the day, she lay back on the sofa and pondered the situation before dozing off to sleep. She tossed and turned for nearly an hour as the pills began to take effect, elevating her body temperature. She felt light as if she was floating. To her, the sounds of kids playing outside, the traffic, and the neighbor’s dog barking seemed to be right in the living room. She felt the room spinning and turning, slowly then fast. Suddenly, she sprang up in a cold sweat. Wired, she rocked back and forth, biting her thumbnail. She wiped the sweat from her forehead then wiped her hand on her skirt.
Lois sped into the driveway and rushed in the front door. She stopped and observed Brenda’s condition. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Brenda answered, still biting her nails.
“You look dazed.”
Brenda continued rocking. “I have the Quinine pills. You’re gonna have to take this with gin.”
“Gin, you mean like alcohol?” Brenda asked.
Brenda’s eyebrows drew together with three creases on her forehead. The pills plus the gin were supposed to be part of the potion for a miscarriage. Lois went into the kitchen to pour Brenda a glass of Gorton’s Gin and came back.
“Here. I’m only going to give you two pills for now. Let’s just see how you take to them,” Lois said as she handed her the glass. Brenda still didn’t mention that she had just taken the pills she thought were Humphrey Eleven. She was willing to do whatever it took to get rid of the fetus. She took the pills, gobbled the gin fast, and let out a long sigh.
“I will give you the Humphrey Eleven’s a little later,” Lois said.
“Well, I… I… I took some of those already,” she hesitantly admitted.
“What?” Lois sounded furious.
“I was looking for something for my headache and found them in your dresser drawer.”
“Oh my God,” Lois screamed.
The thought of slapping and choking Brenda raced through her mind. She squinted her eyes, tightened her lips, and gritted her teeth, standing with both hands resting on her forehead.
“You said you were gonna give them to me,” Brenda said, “So I took them since I couldn’t find any aspirin.”
Lois exhaled in frustration. A truckload of profanity swarmed inside her as she inflated her jaws with air and then released it like a deflating balloon. She controlled herself, realizing that the expletive expressions would be useless.
“First of all,” Lois chastised, “you had no business rambling through my drawers. Those pills are not Humphrey Eleven’s. They are pain pills I just put in that bottle. I wouldn’t have given you both at the same time!”
“I’m sorry,” Brenda replied.
“How many did you take?”
“I … took three.”
“Three? Oh my God. How are you feeling?”
“Well, I did feel kind of funny, and I was sweating.”
“That’s it,” Lois yelled. “I’m not giving you nothin’ else. The last thing I need for you to do is die on me. Your mama and daddy are gonna kill me, and you! I can’t believe I am even doing this for you. I’m gonna call Aunt Margie, and ask her what to do about this situation ‘cause you gonna give me a nervous breakdown. I’m gonna have to keep an eye on you. I don’t know whether I should get you to the hospital or let you sleep it off. Dammit, girl!”
Lois was real mad at Brenda, but she could understand what she was going through and how badly she didn’t want Deacon and Kadie to find out. Lois hated to lie to her sister, but she knew she had to come up with something to get Brenda out of having to go to a special youth meeting at church that evening. Lois told Kadie she and Marshall had to go check on his mother who was very ill and that they really needed Brenda to babysit for them. Deacon reluctantly agreed and took Maureen to church as usual.
Lois propped herself up in the corner chair in the living room with three pillows and a blanket as Brenda lay on the sofa. She sat there all night monitoring Brenda. She wondered if all the pills would have an ill effect on her. She prayed about it. She knew that if Brenda gave any indication that she was ill from the pills, she would immediately rush her to the emergency room.
“My back hurts, and I can hardly move my neck, sleeping on that sofa all night,” Brenda said, stretching and rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“How are you feeling, any spotting?” Lois asked.
“Spotting?” Brenda questioned.
“No,” Brenda answered, disappointed.
“I talked to Aunt Margie this morning. She told me not to give you any more pills if they didn’t work. She told me to take you to the doctor and have you tell him that your husband is coming home from Vietnam, and you messed around with another man and got pregnant.” Baffled, Brenda’s eyes widened and her mouth drew open. She couldn’t believe how fast her life had turned so badly.
Doctor Southgate was known among the black women in the community as a doctor that gave injections or prescriptions to women that wanted to end an early pregnancy.
On the way to Dr. Southgate, Lois prepped Brenda on what to say.
“Fix yourself up, girl.” Lois pulled her pressed powder and lipstick from her purse and handed it to Brenda. “And here. Put this on.” Lois took off her wedding band and tossed it to her.
Brenda paused, staring at the ring before putting it on her finger. She was still baffled about the whole thing and all the trouble Lois was going through to help her through it.
“Here goes,” Lois said as they entered the door of the small brick building.
Brenda was too nervous to look at the doctor. She fidgeted with the wedding band on her finger as she spoke in a quivering voice, telling Dr. Southgate word-for-word what Lois told her to say. He assured her the injection he would give her would deliver the result she wanted.
After the injection, he told her, “Now go home and sit in a tub of hot water.”
As soon as she got back to Lois’ house, Brenda rushed into the bathroom to fill the tub with water.
Later that night, Brenda got excited, and felt relief when she saw the small blood stains in her panties. She rushed into the living room where Lois was watching TV since she had called in sick that night.
“I’m spotting, I’m spotting,” Brenda shouted. She realized she’d been shouting and whispered,”I’m spotting.”
Lois didn’t really know how to respond. She felt guilty knowing her suggestions were not the most positive, but she wanted the whole thing to be over as much as Brenda did.
“Just go lie down and we’ll see what happens,” Lois said. She felt exhausted from working long hours and from the sleepless nights dealing with Brenda. Brenda went to bed in one of the girls’ twin beds and Lois waited on the sofa for Marshall to come home.
Brenda barely slept that night as she constantly went back and forth to the bathroom, checking her underwear for more bloody evidence. She rubbed her stomach, anticipating the painful menstrual-like cramps that Lois told her to expect, and waited and waited.
At six a.m. the rain came down hard. The broken rain gutter continuously slapped the aluminum siding at the rear of the house. To Brenda, each whack felt like it was beating her own the back. She was stressed and worried. Since Dr. Southgate told her to give it at least twenty-four hours to see some results, she waited well into the next afternoon. She had made at least fifteen trips to the bathroom, but there was no more blood, not even a drop, and no abdominal cramps. All she had was a “no sleep” headache and tattered nerves that made her fidgety.
Lois’ bedroom was right next to the bathroom. Once she went to bed, she heard Brenda going back and forth, opening and closing the bathroom door all night, but she was so tired she didn’t bother to get up. She knew Brenda would get her up if anything significant happened.
Lois pulled herself out of bed late to get her morning coffee. She met Brenda in the hallway. She noticed that Brenda’s eyes and nose were puffy and red.
“Well?” Lois asked. Brenda shrugged and hung her head as she rested her back against the wall. She didn’t have to say anything. Lois knew.
Gently, Lois took Brenda by the arm and escorted her to the kitchen.
“What are we gonna do now?” Brenda asked as she sat down at the table.
Lois turned on the water faucet and filled the kettle.
“We ain’t gonna do nothin’,” Lois said as she placed the kettle down on the left front burner. Lois knew there wasn’t anything else she could do, or wanted to do, especially if it was going to jeopardize Brenda’s health.
Brenda’s eyes watered, as she sniffled and wiped her wrist across her nose. Lois reached for the matchbox on the wall shelf and lit the pilot on the gas stove and swayed back as the flame blew up fast.
“Looks like you’re gonna be a mother,” Lois said.
Brenda squeezed her eyes shut and allowed the tears to roll down her cheeks. Her heart pounded to the same beat of her father’s footsteps whenever he rushed down the basement staircase. Her stomach fluttered like an ocean at high tide. She felt the need to cry out loud, but she held it deep in her gut, afraid she would wake Uncle Marshall and the girls.
“Ain’t no sense in crying now. Sometimes life takes us on a train ride that we don’t ask to go on, but we have to ride it to get to the next stop.”
“But why did this have to happen to me? I should have never …” Brenda stopped mid-sentence thinking back to the intimate session with Karl.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I do know things happen for a reason, especially if you do all you know how to change them and they still don’t change. Then that’s just how God meant it to be.”
“This can’t be what God wants for me. It just can’t be,” Brenda said firmly as she stood in front of the table.
“Well what else you thinking about doing?”
“I don’t know, but I got to do something.”
The hail of tears that she fought to hold back finally gave way. Simultaneously, the kettle whistled and Brenda let out a howl, waking the sleeping girls and her uncle. She covered her face and tried to muffle the sounds of her tearful frustration.
“Is everything all right in there?” Marshall yelled out from the bedroom.
“Everything is fine,” Lois yelled back. “Sit down,” Lois said to Brenda, pulling the chair out to the center of the kitchen. “You better pull yourself together. Your daddy will be here to pick you up so that you can get ready for church tomorrow.”
Brenda dreaded the thought of going home. “I’m not going to church tomorrow, and I’m not going home either. Please, tell him I’m sick or something.”
“Huh?” Lois frowned.
Sophia and Dawn ran into the kitchen happy and energetic like they did every morning. “Ring-a-round the rosy, ring-a-round the rosy,” they chanted as they circled Brenda sitting in the chair.
“Go play, girls, go play,” Lois said, shushing the girls out of the kitchen. When the girls ran off, she added, “I am not gonna lie to your daddy. He’s so holy he’s liable to see right through me. And I’ll get struck down right in the middle of the lie. No missy, you gone have to face your mama and daddy.”
Brenda sunk her face into her hands and cried more. “I can’t go through with this.”
“It’s nothing you can do, but deal with it. You gone have to tell Kadie.”
A few hours later, Brenda pulled herself together and got dressed. Deacon pulled up and honked his horn. Brenda took a deep breath and exhaled. She looked over at Lois sitting in the kitchen chair and Lois shot her back a look.
“You’re going to be OK, Brenda.”