A hundred plus years ago runaway slaves escaped to the North, pursued by their owners and the federal marshals. I was teaching my law students about the legal battles over the runaway slaves when I suddenly realized that this was what the world could be like if the Court overturned the abortion decision, and the states divided, slave and free. As the pro-choice majority of the Supreme Court has dwindled to a few old Justices, legal scholars predict a world eerily like America before the Civil War, with women fleeing anti-abortion states, the authorities a few steps behind. I wrote about that very real prospect in the Washington Post.
But there's nothing like fiction to engage the heart. What would it feel like to live in the world like the one the law professors coldly imagine? Starting with Lucy hiding in the claustrophobic confines of her brother's gem safe, and continuing every Tuesday and Friday until the heroine meets her fate, I will publish at this site an installment of her adventures and an imagined, terrifying, but not unthinkable America in the time after Roe. Chapter one is here.
The website said to wait in the garage under the Student Union. It did not say when someone came to check. Good thing that newly converted sister-in-law of hers slept so soundly. And the gutless wonder. She curled up in the blanket she had taken off the living room couch when she left and calculated how much food she had left. Enough for one more day. Running from her brother's house, she couldn't take much food. It was going to get pretty scarce soon. How often did they come through looking for runaways? Every day? Every week?
The gray Toyota was cold and smelled of fear. She bet a lot of desperate girls had sat in this car. It must be really old; they didn't allow new Toyotas in Virginia any more. But this one was probably one of those funny old ones that people could keep driving until they needed parts. She remembered her parents' Toyota. It hardly ever needed parts. No wonder there were so many of them still around. Sometimes it seemed there were just as many of them as the new Americars. Her stepfather's Americar was in the shop all the time, and god knows Arthur was important enough to have the best one they made.
Was that a car coming? She crawled down on the floor of the back seat and tried to make herself small. What a stupid place for picking up runaway girls - a public garage. Come to think of it, she didn't even know if it was a place to get a Guide. Maybe it was just one of those internet hoaxes. It was hard enough to get the internet these days; who knew what was real? Or, worse, a trap. But she couldn't stay at Reuben and Phyllis's - they were going to take her back to Mom. And Arthur. She wouldn't think about him. Not until she had to. If they caught her. And if they sent her back. Of course if they caught her, going back home would probably seem like a good alternative.
A car. She could hear it approaching even though she couldn't see it from where she was lying. She heard the brakes, and then the sound of the motor died. Door slams. Footsteps on the concrete floor. Maybe she should hide. Surely the Guides would know to look closely in the old Toyota. Anyone else would probably turn her in.
She tried to fit herself under the front seat, crawling into the tiny space where they used to keep maps and stuff when her family had a Toyota. Bottled water. Game Boys. Trips to the national parks. Reuben breaking chips of rock off ledges, she remembered. He was such a little scientist. How could he stand it? They didn't even teach biology in school any more. Now the pharmacist near the house won't sell drugs made from stem cells or something. Her "scientist" brother had to buy all their medicine for the baby from that drugstore chain in Baltimore.
Asshole. Going to get medicine for the baby was the perfect excuse for him to go across. That's why she picked today to try it, gosh, it was yesterday already. Because she heard him say he was going to Baltimore after work. Phyllis always went to baby movement classes on Tuesday evenings.
It was perfect. He could have taken her the minute he got home from work and found her. They wouldn't even have been looking for her yet. But no, he had to talk to Phyllis about it. Not that Baltimore was so safe. Still, she had found her friend Joanna there already, using the illegal cell phone she had been saving. She must have just caught the Blue Satellite as it came over Richmond. She felt so lucky. Reuben would take her to Baltimore and Joanna would have helped her get out of Baltimore and up to New York or somewhere further away. She was a little tall to fit under the front seat of the Toyota. She folded up her bony knees and waited.
The door to the garage clanged open and then shut. Well whoever it was, they were gone. Another car. Another. People coming to work at the University must park here. It should be starting time -- eight or nine, she guessed. After a while she stopped jumping out of her skin each time a car came. And then of course they stopped. Guess everyone's at his desk. She dozed a little. It was so warm and quiet under ground and she had been walking to the University last night while her brother the coward was asleep. She never thought he would betray her like that. He had been her best pal for so long when she was growing up. Her big big brother with the bright red hair.
Slam! People were streaming through the garage door. Could she have slept until quitting time? Just as well. They certainly weren't going to make a pickup while the garage was full of people and cars. Once it got good and empty she'd get out of the car and look around. Maybe there was some sign about what to do, where to go.
The sounds slowly died away. She opened the door a crack. The garage seemed so huge. And cold, even in the warm summer night. God it was clean for a garage. Everything was so clean these days. Except for the cigarette butts. Seemed so funny to see people smoking. Nobody had smoked when she was little. They were even making Virginia Slims, cigarettes especially for women again. Her stepfather said Kentucky and Tennessee needed to sell tobacco. They didn't make anything much there since the all the Japanese car plants moved away.
Virginia was lucky because it had so much coal. Coal was Reuben's specialty. She remembered when he showed her how coal became diamonds. He even had a pretty big diamond to show his students, back when he was teaching geology, that he was so proud of. She put her hand in her secret pocket. She probably shouldn't have taken it. It was a memento for him. Then she remembered how he was going to take her back to Arthur.
Might as well look around now. Where would a sign be? Wonder if the garage has a bathroom. Signs used to be on the bathroom doors. "Rape Counseling." "Eating Disorders. Call so and so for treatment."
"Ladies." Ah there it was. Ladies. She was only seventeen, did that make her a "lady?" Maybe she'd never be a lady. That's what Phyllis had said after she caught her streaming Free Public Radio on the old computer in the attic. Old busy body. What was she doing in the attic anyway? It had always been Lucy's special hiding place. After her mother moved to Richmond with Arthur, she stayed up there for days. All she was looking for on the radio was a little music to listen to for a while. But it was such fun to find NPR again after all these years. She remembered it from before, listening to Car Talk with her Dad on Saturdays. Wonder when they started broadcasting it into the Red States - what a cool idea. Does it violate the Agreement to send radio sounds across?
Even the ladies room was clean. Boy she hadn't been in a public rest room in a long time? She hadn't even been anywhere much for weeks before she ran away. Now that girls left school at sixteen, she had no place to go. In the year since "graduation," most of her friends were married off or gone to the coal towns or working in the textile factories further south. As if Arthur would let her go alone to see her old friends anyway. All he would let her out for were those word processing classes at the secretarial school he sent her to after she couldn't stay in high school any more. Got to the point where being married off seemed like a good idea in comparison to being a secretary and living at Mom's with him.
She opened the first stall door. It was completely blank. Scrubbed clean. Might as well use it as long as I'm here. She swung the door to the toilet stall open and lifted her thin green skirt. She had to give them credit - skirts did make it easier to pee. But even though it had been, golly, four or five years already since the dress laws - "sumptuary" laws they called them at school -- she just could not get used to them, after living in jeans all those years. Maybe skirts make you a lady, though, she thought, remembering the "Ladies" on the bathroom door. And they were cooler than jeans in the hot Virginia summer, even these long ones.
"Ah lahk it when their skirt's already up."
She looked up. Ferals.
Three of them standing in the stall door. Now she knew why bunnies froze when the dog walked by. Trapped. A runaway girl. In a remote toilet room. In the empty garage. After everyone had gone home. Her urine still flowing into the toilet. With three feral bachelors, one of them already unzipping his fly. He grabbed her legs and pulled her off the toilet. She felt the warm piss staining her skirt. "Ugh, you filthy slut." He slapped her face so hard the room began to reel and dragged her across the stall floor into the larger outer room. She felt the raw concrete on her bare back side. Then she felt his body on her front, squirming, and trying to stick his erect penis into her while she twisted and turned. She stared at his pockmarked skin. God, why were they so ugly?
She reached a knee up and pushed as hard as she could.
"Goddamit, hold her down," he screamed to his companions behind. "You'll get your turn soon enough."
"Can't you wait for anything?" The second one grabbed the first from behind. "Someone could come in any minute. We'll take her home. Then we can have all the time in the world."
"I don't want any more time! Just hold her legs and let me get it in. You take your time if you're so nicey nice. Maybe she wants some flowers or candy. I want it in! I want it in now!" He tried to shake his companion off, and she felt his erection start to go down. He must have felt it, too, because he grabbed her hair and slammed her head against the floor.