Children at a Price
Stars shone through the occasional break in the clouds, wind bent the tree tops and rippled the surface of the lake. Turning off the road Helen drove into the car park and followed the small track. Only the distant street lights reflecting off the water showed the Yacht Club car park was empty.
She parked, waited, looked at her watch, ten o'clock.
'Where the hell is he.' She stared into the dark waiting for a man she had never met. Her fingers tightened on the phone, 'He's late.'
The walking track around the lake disappeared into shadow. A movement in the trees caught her eye. Anyone suspicious might be watching. She felt guilty. Was someone looking at her and calling the police right now. She sat in her car, waiting. There was only the one track, no place to run.
Headlights, she saw headlights.
Her heart beat fast, breathing quick as she focused on the lights. Was it a member of the Club coming to ask her what she was doing? Was it the Police?
An old yellow Datsun pulled up a short distance away, turned its lights off. Helen waited trying not to stare at the car as the seconds dragged by. She had to risk it. Helen opened her door and walked slowly towards the Datsun.
"Are you Helen," a man's voice said.
Helen looked in through the window, "I'm Helen."
"Got the money?"
"I was surprised when my friend said you were a right to lifer," she said, "and then told me it would cost money."
"Your child has the right to live, I have the right to survive," he said. "If they catch me I'm going to prison. If they catch you, well you know what they'll do to you. Do you have the money or not."
"How do I know these things will work?" she said.
"I'm on your side Helen. How long overdue are you."
She handed over the money, he handed over a box. "Ninety nine percent accuracy," he said. "There are two test kits in there, if they both come up positive you're pregnant. Good luck, God blesses you Helen."
The evening meal had been delicious, much better than baked beans on toast the night before. Somehow he'd been able to watch one of his favorite movies. Helen had been affectionate all night and David lay on his back with his arms on the pillow and a contented smile on his face. Perhaps he should encourage her to visit a sick friend more often.
"I missed you last night," he said. "How is Catherine?"
"Darling I have something to tell you."
She snuggled up to him and ran her hand up and down his chest, cuddled up close and whispered in his ear, "I'm pregnant."
Every muscle in David's body went stiff. His mind screamed. 'What,' he thought, 'What? Did she just say pregnant?'
The silence lasted a few seconds.
"I'm pregnant," said Helen.
No whispering this time, no sweet caress, just "I'm pregnant."
David knew he had to say something, "How on earth could you get pregnant."
The light was on now. She looked at him, her eyes begged him to say something and he wanted to. Finally he said, "What have you done… What on earth have you done?"
"I'm getting older," she said, "If I am ever going to have children I can't wait any longer. I know you want children."
"It is illegal for us to have children. My God you know that. How many times have we applied to have a baby, we don't have a household income of $60,000 a year and that's the threshold for one child. I work in that factory doing the same thing over and over again and you're a waitress."
"If I don't have this baby I'll never have another," she said, "God will punish us if we abort this child. I'll never get pregnant again, I never will, I know it."
"What if one of the neighbors sees you pregnant and informs on us?"
"We'll move to a place where no one knows us."
David shook his head.
"You're already in maintenance and repairs," Helen said. "They will select you for that training program. They will."
"We'll talk about it tomorrow," he said.
They tossed and turned, lay on their back, stared at the ceiling.
Helen imagined herself holding a new born babe, a little girl, at kindergarten, watching her grow.
Being led away in handcuffs is what David saw. Interrogation, locked up as papers were checked, medical records searched. After a judge declared the pregnancy illicit she would be taken to the operating theater. First offense meant she would not be sterilized.
He remembered the day he first met Helen, the day he realized he loved her, going everywhere together, making love. He gave up University, started work at the plant and married her. He'd stuck out the dull monotonous work, learned about the automation processes, slowly worked his way up. Without further education he saw himself going nowhere fast and any hope of promotion would vaporize if the authorities discovered Helen's pregnancy. Even worse he would be put back on the production line and there to stay. No children then, never.
At breakfast Helen didn't say a thing, her eyes said it all as did David's.
They moved to a small town and David had to commute to work which added two hours travel time to his day. The increased costs in rent, food and transport knocked them about. Helen began to show. The one policeman in town didn't take any notice of them. The town doctor and nurse didn't ask any questions but the stress wore Helen and David down. They argued a lot.
As time passed it seemed to be working and they began to relax. David received the phone call at work.
"Mr. David James Whitfield."
"Who is this?" asked David.
"I'm from the department of justice. Is that mister David James Whitfield?"
"Your wife has been detained at the hospital. We will be waiting for you there."
"What's this all about?" asked David.
"Immediately Mr. Whitfield."
At the hospital two plain clothed agents were waiting, they took him to his wife. He hugged her, she was in bed sobbing.
"It's gone, my beautiful darling little girl, I saw her for a second. She was so beautiful."
David took sick leave and stayed with his wife, tried to comfort her. When he wanted to embrace her, share her grief, she pushed him away. They didn't talk much.
At work he was put on the production line and they moved back to the city. One day he came home and Helen was gone, he couldn't find her. David stopped going to work, stopped caring what he looked like, started drinking.
Tears were running down Helen's face when she finally called, David heard her sobbing.
"I'm sorry David. I'm so sorry, but you are never going to be able to afford a child, I had to make a decision. I've found someone else. You'd be surprised how easy it is to find a man who can afford children. It seems I'm a rare breed, not many women want children these days, a lot of them scorn the very idea. I've filed for divorce, just sign the papers and send them back."
David flung the bottle against the wall, threw the phone on the floor, "Noo," he cried, "No."
The next day he cleaned himself up, went to the University and gained a position. The Government might be trying to contain the population explosion but they needed as many educated professionals as possible. They gave him a room, paid his University fees, and granted him an expense allowance and student living allowance for as long as he produced good results. He bought himself a computer, an ipad, downloaded the course requirements, texts and began studying.