Sunday 14 October 2018


by Keelan  LaForge

bitter coffee


Double blue lines came up in the window, like part of a bar code for something Lily couldn’t afford. Pregnant? She hadn’t believed it until the test window proved her wrong. It was Dom who had talked her into taking a test after finding her asleep on the sofa after work, every day for three weeks. She’d had no appetite either; Dom was perceptive about those things. He was her flatmate and their relationship purely platonic. Lily didn’t have a partner. Hell, she barely had a job or a solid plan for her future. Her boss was cutting down her work schedule daily, cutting back her hours quicker than she could cut cloth. She was a seamstress. She loved sewing, it was the one thing that gave her a sense of purpose. But it seemed that more and more people were going to furnishing chains for their curtains these days. Why repair a dropped hem when you could replace the entire thing for less than the cost of a spool of thread to fix it? It seemed that the business was slowly moving towards closure. Lily would have to reassess her options. There was enough on her plate without adding another helping of problems to it. Lily felt sick to her stomach, worry more likely the culprit than morning sickness.
So, how did she fall pregnant? She had met a friend of a friend at a party. He was the kind of guy who talks you round with kisses around your neckline. She had no romantic interest in him, but he’d plied her with compliments and drinks. He’d been a gentleman when it came to the refilling of her wine glass, at least. Lily hadn’t so much consented to accompany him to the bedroom as not made a forceful decline. He was the pushy type; the kind who didn’t take rejection well. She wondered if she had the opportunity to return to that night if it could have had a different outcome. It seemed unlikely without putting on a fiercer front. Lily was timid and loathed confrontation, especially behind a locked door. She put that night behind one in her mind too, compartmentalising it. Better to hide it away than to repeatedly revisit it, torturing herself. She would be forward-facing, she decided; that was her only choice.
Lily lived in a small town near Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. She was on the coastline, looking out of her little boxed-in town towards the expansive sea. Living in a different place would have opened her options up, she thought. But she couldn’t go to that dark place in her mind. She was pro-life, always had been. She’d protested loudly against abortion since growing up in a strait-laced Catholic family. She’d gone to an all-girls school where the virtues of abstinence were spelt out to her, in science, in religious education, in assembly, every day of the week. The girls’ skirts had to be below the knee and boys’ hands had to stay there too. Makeup and heels were banned; if you didn’t draw attention to yourself, nothing bad happened to you. Everyone in her vicinity thought pro-choice was pro-murder. She’d fought against the eighth repeal herself, spouting vehement venom to all who supported it. However, she realised, it was somehow easier to plaster a rule on a placard than it was to stick to it yourself. She’d never thought of the matter becoming personal; it was merely a concept with which she’d been taught not to agree. She had reacted instinctively, with the exact wording she’d grown up hearing. Lily suddenly felt a huge surge of sympathy for all the women who’d suffered at her expense, the ones she had vilified. Things were black and white in her small town; grey wasn’t allowed. Life had to be painted in sharp images with clear contrast between black lines and colour; blurred edges didn’t exist. If you were in the pro-choice camp, you were an automatic atheist.
Dom walked into the room, sitting on the sofa next to her. His eyebrows raised in surprise, his mouth puckering into a smirk.
“This is the first time I’ve seen you awake in a month,” he said. “Did you start drinking caffeine again?”
“Yeah I’ve had five cups of coffee today.”
He laughed.
“Seriously though, you were right. I’m pregnant.”
“Shit,” he said. His head snapped back like someone had smacked him.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said, tailing off. She really didn’t.
“I think you should ring that jerk and tell him,” he said. “It’s his fault you’re in this situation.”
Dom was her male confidant; he knew all the ins and outs of her love life. Lily hesitated, glancing at the phone. Maybe that was the answer: share the load so she could manage to carry her half of it.
She lifted the phone, scrolling through her phone-book for his number. She knew she had it stored somewhere but struggled to remember his name for a moment. She had blotted it out, with all other aspects of that night. She found it: Ben. She’d known it was a one-syllable name, like Dom’s name for him: jerk. The phone rang so many times she almost gave up on an answer. As she went to disconnect the call, he picked up. “Yeah?”
“Hi Ben, it’s Lily.”
“Lilly, Coleen’s friend.”
“Oh yeah, you were at that party at Coleen’s. We should hang out again some time. What’s up?”
“I just thought I should ring to share some news with you – I’m pregnant.”
“- So why are you ringing me about that?”
“It’s yours.”
“That’s ridiculous.”
“No, it really is.”
 “You’re wrong. Don’t phone me again.” The line went dead. Silence stood in front of her like a surgeon quietly waiting with a sharp scalpel.
“Well?” said Dom.
“Don’t ask,” she said. “He hasn’t changed my original opinion of him, I’ll say that.”
“You know, you could always get a you-know-what.”
She looked at him in disbelief, like he’d never met her before or heard her repeat her mantras millions of times.
“Well, what will you do if you keep it?” he asked.
Lily thought about her life and the little she had to offer a child: fifty pounds in the bank, a job she was on the brink of losing, a shared flat that wasn’t much bigger than a studio. She felt like the answer presented itself to her without her even posing the question. But, the judgement: that was what she feared most of all. Her town was small and stuck in the past, it didn’t have the open-minded outlook of a major city. She hoped no one would find out.
A week later, Lily was in the hospital bed alone. The room was utterly blank, like looking death right in the face. She lay with her feet in the air, held up by stirrups. The sheets were starched and abrasive under her bare legs. People said it was letting a woman keep her dignity, giving her the power to choose. Nothing in the room felt dignified. She felt open to public view. Surgeons and nurses passed in and out of the room like it was a thoroughfare. Metal implements lay on a trolley in front of her; a row of weapons. A doctor with a surgical mask came into the room. She could see his eyes; eyes that were hollow and desensitised to the whole experience. He didn’t have empathy for her either. His face would remain a mystery to her: like he didn’t know her as intimately as he did. But his eyes would haunt her forever. She shut her eyes tight until the whole thing was over. She couldn’t watch it unfolding or she’d run from the bed. Decision and doubt wrestled each other in her head, the pragmatic one winning out. She would deal with the latter later.
Lily walked out of the room a short while later, with a painkiller in her pocket and a pat on the shoulder from the nurse.
“You did really well, love,” she said with her soft smile. She looked at her like she was her star pupil, on her way to greater things in life.
Lily wondered if she’d be able to face the rest of her changed-life with the same bravery. Walking out the door of the hospital, the doors clapped closed behind her. She hoped they would contain the pain and her memories. Walking along the street, she passed a group of university students. She’d confronted them in a protest over the eighth repeal, just weeks before. Lily thought of their banners, worn-out and marked as the undergarments she’d worn that day. She looked at them with their fresh faces, untarnished by the truth that comes with time and experience. Now she could see that Pro-life wasn’t allowing women a choice, but Pro-Choice didn’t feel like one to her either. From then on, she made one choice: that she’d remain on the side lines, keeping her opinions to herself. 

About the author

Keelan LaForge is a mum of two and a writer. She writes for Terror House magazine and used to write for Vintage Life Magazine. She has a personal blog She has written three novels which she is working on getting published.



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