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.
Phyllis didn't hear a siren. But suddenly she was sitting up in bed, heart pounding. Knocking. There they were. Outside her front door, her house, her whole life -- her baby, her husband, her four bedrooms and her three baths. She listened for a moment, still in bed. Why was it so quiet? Had they stopped using the sirens, she wondered, her mind balking at any action. Was there no need for sirens any more? Were people frightened enough so that they didn't need to hear the sirens to know? Was the silence worse than knowing?
"Reuben, Reuben!" she shouted, turning to his side of the bed.
He must have already run down. She felt around for a robe and moved toward the stairs, making her way to the door, her feet touching the soft blue stair carpet. Fear flooded her home, rushing in from the front porch and lapping up against the walls of the colonial style entrance hall. More swimming than walking, she reached the door.
Where was Reuben? She stopped and stared at the door, feeling their presence, knowing they had heard her, too. Standing there. Waiting. When they had come to the library to check the computers, they had looked so tidy. Their clean shaven chins, neat dark suits and ties made them resemble more the Evangelicals who used to come around on Saturday than representatives of the gas chamber. Could they see through it? Could they see her? She touched the doorknob.
She couldn't. She could not turn it and let them into her safe and tidy world. Where was Reuben? She swirled around and ran back up the stairs. "Reuben!Reuben! Get up! There's someone at the door." Where was he anyway? It felt like the dead of night. She'd been sleeping peacefully, knowing the little bitch would be gone tomorrow. Too late. Here they were. A lot of good it would do her now - to say they were about to send his sister back to her mother and the scary important guy she was married to. Still. Maybe he could save them from the state once he got his stepdaughter back.
She reached the bedroom, whispering, screaming, Reuben. Why weren't they ringing again or just breaking down the door and rushing in. "What? What?" Their bathroom door swung open and he ran out. What a large man he was, tall and broad chested. She had always felt so safe with him around. But he could not save them now.
"They're here, they rang the bell. Didn't you hear? We have to let them in, Oh God, what are we going to do? Where is she? Is she still in the gem room? Tell them we were going to take her back. Tomorrow. Give her to them; maybe they won't come after us, just give her to them."
He went back to the bathroom and slowly put on his robe, seemingly lost in thought. She felt like she had fallen into a slow motion movie.
"Reuben, they're out there. We have to face them. What can we say?" Why wouldn't he answer her? Why wasn't the baby crying?
He put an arm around her. "Shhh. It will be okay. Just say nothing. I'll talk." They descended the stairs into the eerily silent foyer, shiny marble floor under the low light chandelier, barricaded from it all only by its flimsy wooden front door. He pushed the filmy curtain away from the side window panel an inch, and, gingerly putting his head to the opening he had created, gazed into the night. Then he reached out and slowly turned the little brass bolt upright and pulled the door to him.
There was no one there. No neat young clean shaven men in dark suits and narrow ties. No weapons considerately concealed beneath tailored jackets. No blue Americars parked in the driveway or on their tree lined street. No minivans for the screamers. No Tasers. No lasers. No one at all.
"I heard them, I swear to God, I heard the bell!"
"It's okay, sweetie, you're upset, it's understandable, it was just a bad dream. You probably heard me going to the bathroom."
"Reuben, I want you to take her back right now! Take her back to your mother right now. They could come at any moment. I will not risk my son's life for a whim."
"I'll take care of it."
"All right. I'll take her back to mother."
"I'm not going back to bed until I see you do it. Right now."
He walked slowly through the kitchen and put his hand on the gem room door. It swung open, not locked, not even latched. The room was empty.