Romy re-read the booklet for what seemed like the thousandth time while she waited for Tara. She almost knew it by heart but almost wasn’t enough. There was too much riding on it. It reminded her of cramming for finals, and didn’t that seem like a long time ago. The oblivious person she’d been eight years ago would have laughed at her obsession now. But then hadn’t that always been the way. No-one ever thought they would change, when they were young.
“Hey,” said a familiar voice from somewhere above her and she turned towards it, a smile already forming as she jumped up from her chair and threw her arms around her oldest friend.
“I’m so sorry, Tara!”
Tara pressed her hands in an odd squeeze on Romy’s back, as if trying to pinch her, and held her body away from Romy’s as much as she could. Romy pulled back, feeling that she had misjudged the situation, but Tara’s eyes were soft even though she wasn’t smiling. “Don’t mind me, I’d love to hug you properly but I’d probably throw up.” The corners of her mouth twitched. “This is as much as I can even smile, just moving my face sideways makes me nauseous. But I’m happy!” she said, overbright, in case anyone thought she was complaining. “So happy.”
The waiter came over with the menus as they sat down.
“Oh, could we have the approved menus, please?” said Tara. “They do nice biscuits here,” she said to Romy as he retreated, “but don’t have the cake, it doesn’t taste of anything.”
“I couldn’t anyway. My appointment’s next month and I still have three pounds to lose.”
“The not-smoking doesn’t help with that, hey? I had the same thing when I gave up.”
“I really am sorry, Tara. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Tara grasped her hand. “It’s fine, it really is. It happens to everyone, but it all sorts itself out in the end.”
“I’ve found some people are OK with it. Danielle, remember her? She’s really good about not smoking around me. She doesn’t even smoke before we meet up! I’m sorry I wasn’t like that.”
“Please stop saying you’re sorry! It’s only been a few months.”
“OK!” Romy still felt bad about it though. She’d drifted away from Tara just because the smoking restrictions had been so… well, restrictive. What kind of friend did that?
“Uh-oh,” said Tara, as the little colour she had in her face drained away, “can you order me a raspberry leaf tea? I’ll be right back!” And she dashed off towards the back of the cafe, where the restrooms were.
Romy watched her go and hoped she wouldn’t have the sickness so badly when her turn came, that she wouldn’t be the one putting a brave face on it all the time, never able to vent about feeling terrible. But the alternative was too awful to contemplate. It had happened to a friend of a friend, she’d miscarried but they’d arrested her and her husband when she was still in the hospital. In the hospital! All because she’d been vocal about how she wasn’t enjoying being pregnant, and then her snake of a husband had sold her out to save himself, told the police that she’d wanted to end the pregnancy because it was making her so ill. And the punishment for infanticide was sterilisation so she’d never have a baby now. Romy looked at her booklet, at the words Remember abortion is illegal printed in red letters underneath the picture of the newborn on the front cover – as if anyone could forget, when the same words were on every damn page – and wanted to cry.
A month later, Romy sat in the family planner’s office, feeling as if her heart were in her mouth and somewhere below her stomach at the same time. Anywhere but where it was meant to be, in fact.
“Your blood tests came back clear and all the required antibodies are present,” said Dr Peabody. “Your test score is ninety-eight percent, but it was marked as a pass, well done.” Her voice conveyed no sense of congratulation at all.
“Ninety-eight? What… what did I get wrong?”
Dr Peabody unearthed the test paper from the inch-thick stack that had come from Romy’s file and scanned through it. “The maximum daily amount of Vitamin A for a woman your age is three thousand micrograms. You answered two thousand nine hundred, which is the limit for women under the age of nineteen. Still, because your answer was lower than the actual limit, it didn’t fail you.”
Romy could have kicked herself. She’d known that.
“Your BMI is at the upper limit of the acceptable range so you’ll be having weekly monitoring appointments to make sure it doesn’t go over. If it does, you will have to refrain from intercourse until it is back within the acceptable range, do you understand?”
“Yes. I’m planning on losing more weight, I’ve found a great online group -”
“That’s a good idea,” said Dr Peabody, not interested in how Romy obeyed the rules, only that she did. “I’m willing to approve this, but make sure you read the booklet again.” Romy nodded. ‘Happy’ would have been better than ‘willing’, but she’d take it. “Sign here.”
Romy took the form and the pen as the doctor passed them across the desk. At the top of the form were the words ‘Approval For Removal Of Contraceptive Implant’ and at the bottom it already bore Dr Peabody’s signature.
Last chance to change your mind! said a cheerful, brittle voice in her head that sounded a lot like Tara’s.
Romy’s hand hovered over the form before she signed it, but only for a second or two.
She wanted a child.
What else could she do?
Written for this flash fiction challenge – the prompt was ‘Bad Parents’.
Women being arrested for miscarrying is not, appallingly, something I made up: