Pamela York Klainer
Katie saw the doctor, discreetly, on a Sunday afternoon when the clinic was otherwise closed. He tried to talk with her gently about the enormity of the decision she was about to make, perhaps had already made. Katie sat stone-faced, just as she had with Loretta and with Father Leon. She remained stone-faced when the doctor went out and sent in a nurse, an older woman beloved by all of her patients and reputed to be able to break through the hardest of defensive shells.
“You know, don’t you, that your life won’t return to the way it was before? Even though this is an early abortion, it’s still ending a life. Tell me you understand that.” The nurse leaned toward Katie, who abruptly and visibly withdrew.
“I know what I’m doing. Please don’t treat me like a child. I want the procedure, as soon as possible. That’s all. I’m not going to talk about anything else but setting a date, not with you or the doctor or anyone else. I just want this to be over.”
Katie left with her hospital appointment, despite the profound reservations of both the doctor and his nurse.
The nurse spoke first, after Katie was gone from the office.
“She has no idea how hard this is going to hit her afterwards. And I’m afraid she won’t come back and ask us for help, or ask anyone.”
The doctor nodded. “Most of the time I feel as if we’re helping someone out of an impossible situation, and they know it and we know it. But I don’t feel that way here. I’m not going to second guess Father Leon, but I just don’t have good feelings about this patient.” He sighed. “That makes the risk to us much higher, doesn’t it?”
The nurse nodded. “You don’t have to do this one, you know. Not if you don’t think it’s right. What matters isn’t just the future of this young woman. You have yourself to think about too, and the rest of us.”
The doctor sighed again, more deeply and as if his job was suddenly too great a burden. “You know I owe Father Leon a lot, and I trust him. If he says this young woman should get the procedure, I’m going to go ahead. We’ll see what happens after.”
He didn’t ask the nurse if she supported him, or if she agreed. They’d worked together for a long time, and he simply assumed that she would defer to his judgment.
Sunday afternoon at the convent was a quiet time. Some of the Sisters were out visiting Sisters who lived in other convents, or out to Sunday dinner with family. Some were grading papers, or doing lesson plans, or polishing their black shoes, or writing letters. None were napping, or watching TV, or engaging in other kinds of frivolous pursuits. Religious life is a life of purpose, and that included Sundays and holidays, early in the morning and late at night, on one’s birthday, or any other time when the secular world might claim the right to be aimless.
Loretta was waiting quietly for signs that Katie was back and in her room. When she heard footfalls on the hard wood floor, she knocked.
“Katie, can I please talk with you?”
Reluctantly, almost brusquely, Katie opened her door and motioned for Loretta to come in. When Katie spoke her voice was flat, perhaps a little sullen.
“The doctor’s office is going to tell Mother Superior that I need a D&C to treat heavy menstrual bleeding and cramps. I have a date for this Thursday. I’ll go early in the morning, and stay in the hospital overnight, and be home the next day. I have to rest over the weekend and I should be able to go to work on Monday. There, is that what you want to know?”
Loretta shook her head. “No, it isn’t. I want to know if you want me to go with you for the procedure. I want to know how you feel about ending the life of a baby growing inside you. I want to know how you feel about still being a nun, when this decision will make you so different from any of the rest of us. I want to know how you feel about living for the rest of your religious life with this secret.”
Katie sat on her bed, folded arms across her chest as if giving herself an embrace. She bent over and rocked back and forth. Loretta thought she heard a low moan.
“Loretta, please don’t do this. I can’t think about what I’m doing. I just have to get through it. I don’t want you to come. I don’t want anybody to come. I just want to go, and get it done, and come back to my room and say night prayers and go to bed like everyone else and get up in the morning and go to Mass and then be a teacher for the rest of the day. I didn’t ask for this to happen. I shouldn’t have trusted Stephen. I’m not a bad person. I don’t want to kill the baby. But I can’t have it, not even if I decided to leave the convent. Where would I go, home? My mother would be so ashamed. And my father would be angry. I don’t know what they would do. Maybe they wouldn’t even let me come home. I don’t have any money. I couldn’t get a job; who’s going to hire a single teacher with a baby? I can’t say it’s Stephen’s. He’s not even here. The Bishop paid off that other family because they’re important people, and the father could make trouble. My father isn’t anybody. He’d go to the Bishop’s office and yell, all red-faced, and he wouldn’t know the right thing to say and they’d just throw him out. Or maybe he wouldn’t go and yell at the Bishop, maybe even my own father would say it was my fault, that I must have done something wrong to make a priest go against his vows.”
Katie stopped talking, spent, her body still bent forward and her eyes downcast. Loretta started to move toward her, and then stopped. She spoke softly.
“I wish you’d let me come with you on Thursday.”
“No. I don’t want anyone. It will be harder for me if you come. Mother Superior will assign two of our Sisters to be accompany me, the way she does for anyone who’s going to the hospital. I’d rather that, to have people who have no idea what’s going on. Honestly I would.”
Loretta relented. “Will you come to my office after school tomorrow? I won’t press you about my coming to the hospital, or about what you’re doing. I promise. We’ll have tea, and mark papers, and talk. That’s all. Will you?”
Katie said she would, and Loretta left.
Katie’s heavy bleeding started after midnight, when the heat in the convent was turned down and the tile floors of their communal bathroom were ice cold. All alone,Katie crept through the dark into one of the stalls, groaning with intense cramps, blood dripping down her legs and onto the floor. She got herself to the toilet and sat rocking back and forth, trying to stifle the noise. She thought she would surely die. She thought she ought to die, because she was about to do something evil.
Suddenly, inexplicably, Katie wanted her mother. Freezing and sweating at the same time, Katie thought of the simple game she and her mother used to play while folding the laundry or digging in the garden. Mother, may I…
Mother, may I come home? I want to come home. Please don’t be angry with me. I didn’t mean any of it.
Katie’s stomach twisted with nausea, and the cold metal stall began to spin. The voice in her head was not her own, but the baby’s.
Mother may I…
And then Katie passed out.