Right To Life
All in all, it had been a very productive day, Edna Hemsley concluded, as she slowly braked her Ford Taurus to a stop in her driveway and stepped out into the cooling dusk. She left the car unlocked, as always, with the Stop Abortion Now! signs and her pamphlets in full view in the backseat. No one was going to take them during the night, she knew, or steal her car for that matter, because Laurelton, Indiana was one of the safest places in America. They had very few robberies, and there hadn’t been a murder there in years, at least to some people’s way of thinking. To her way of thinking, the Laurelton Family Planning Clinic on South Street, from which she’d just come, committed it routinely.
For most of her 67 years, she’d fought hard against the slaughter of innocents. During the last 33 of them, since the odious Roe v. Wade decision, she’d fought especially hard, and today had been a most gratifying one. She had personally convinced no fewer than five women, who’d been on their way into the clinic to kill their babies, to turn back. Five lives she’d saved today. Maybe more, if twins or triplets had been involved.
She had no children of her own. God had seen fit to deny her His most precious gift, providing her, instead, with an abnormality of the uterus. This had come as a relief to her late husband Blake, who confessed that he’d never wanted children anyway, and, moreover, had no desire to adopt any. Edna went through years of depression before she realized that she’d been placed in this situation for a reason. If she could not have children, then it was her life’s mission to try and save the children God did intend to be born.
She no longer thought about this consciously; it was as much a part of her as breathing. What she did think about as she approached her front door was that Mary Butterfield was supposed to call later, to tell her if her car had been repaired. If not, she’d have to pick Mary up again in the morning, on the way to the next clinic. Another thought, in passing, was that the tall bushes near the house were badly in need of pruning. They were becoming a jungle, and she’d have to call the landscaper tomorrow.
As she unlocked her door and began to open it, she thought she heard a rustling in those bushes. She’d barely had time to turn toward it when she felt a presence behind her, followed by a violent shove. It sent her stumbling into the house and pitched her sprawling onto the carpeted entrance floor as the door closed behind her.
She looked up, terrified, at the young man standing over her. His greasy blond hair was tied back into a ponytail, and he was smiling, a cruel, nicotine-stained smile. His eyes were shiny, as if he were either high on something or enjoying a private joke. In his right hand was a .38-caliber revolver. “Hi there, Mrs. Hemsley,” he said. “I’ve been waiting to meet you all my life.”
She stared at the gun. “Please,” she managed in a trembling voice, “don’t hurt me. You can have anything you want. There isn’t much money here, but—”
“Shut up.” He didn’t say it loudly. A movement of the gun was all it took to stop her in mid-word, her mouth open.
“Get up, sit over there,” he ordered, pointing at the couch. “And screw your money, Mrs. Hemsley.”
“Please don’t hurt me,” she whispered again, as she struggled to her feet and complied.
He reached for one of the small wing chairs, pulled it over, and sat down opposite her across the coffee table. In a crazy way, she couldn’t help noticing how filthy his jeans were, and that he’d get her chair all dirty. His white tee shirt had a brownish-red stain on it. There were spots of the same color on his tattooed arms, and she realized with a jolt that it was blood.
Following her gaze, he glanced down at himself. “Not too presentable, am I?” The cold smile flickered across his lips. “Sorry about that.”
“Please…” It was all she could think to say.
He gazed at her impassively. He had long eyelashes, and his eyes were large and a striking sky blue. She had the disjointed thought that he must have been beautiful as a child.
“I pictured you bigger and heavier, somehow,” he mused. Edna was a tiny woman, thin and barely five-two in high heels, which she hadn’t worn in years.
“First off, let me put your mind at ease. I’m not gonna rape you, if that’s what you’re concerned about. If you were a young, good-looking girl I definitely would, but I ain’t attracted to white-haired, dried-up, wrinkly old bags, so don’t worry.”
It was no reassurance. He wouldn’t have to rape her to hurt her, or kill her. “What do you want?” she asked, her voice breaking.
He started to laugh, as if it were the funniest thing in the world. And then he got louder. Huge, whooping gusts of laughter came out of him. “What do I want?” he shouted, cackling. She cringed at the force and the shock of it. “What do I want?”
And then he stopped. There were tears on his face, whether from laughing or not she couldn’t tell, as he leaned in toward her. “I want to die.”
He fixed her with an ice-blue stare that she couldn’t meet. She closed her eyes and began silently praying to Jesus.
“And that’s exactly what I’m gonna do right here, in your lovely home,” he said. “But not just yet.”
No, he’s going to kill me first, she thought frantically, as she prayed even harder, her eyes tightly shut. He sat back in the chair. “Look at me, Mrs. Hemsley,” he said gently. “Please.”
Afraid not to, she opened her eyes. “My name is Kirk Miller,” he said. “I believe you were acquainted with my mother.”
She tried desperately to think. There was an Yvonne Miller, she recalled, long ago in high school. She started to ask, but he interrupted. “You didn’t know her name. It was twenty-eight years ago, but it could’ve been last week for all it matters. She wasn’t nobody to you, just one more person for you to put shame on. She told me you were real good at that.” He laughed again, not as loudly, and with no humor. “My ma was fifteen when she had me, and do you know who my daddy was?” He looked at her expectantly, and she could only follow his cue and shake her head.
“Well, that makes you and the rest of the world,” he said. “There were lots of people it could’ve been. Couple of the guys from the football team, either of her older brothers who used to take her behind the shed.” His eyes narrowed. “There’s a good chance it was my granddaddy.”
“Dear Lord!” she gasped, horrified.
The humorless laugh again. “I expect we can eliminate Him. But it didn’t matter who it was. As soon as she missed her first period, she went to the clinic over in Simmonsville, where nobody knew her. If her daddy and her brothers found out, they would’ve killed her, which was pretty funny. They didn’t believe in abortion either, like you.”
Edna felt her face reddening, even more so because he was noticing it. “That’s not fair,” she said, the words just coming out of her. “Those people were…”
“Shut up!” This time it was loud and startling. She saw his finger tighten on the trigger, and the words take me, Jesus flew through her mind. But he didn’t fire the gun.
“You’ll get your turn,” he said evenly, “but only when I say. You understand me?” She nodded meekly.
After a long moment, he sat back again in the chair. “That was where she ran into you, outside the place. You and the other nuts were stopping women who were about to go in, showing them pictures of aborted fetuses, calling them murderers. Is that what you think, that every woman who gets an abortion is a murderer?”
Cowed into silence by what he’d just done, she sat there. “You can answer me,” he instructed.
“Yes, I do.” She was surprised at how steady her voice was. “Life begins at conception, and if you take a life, that’s murder.”
He nodded. “Figured as much. I also figure, what with capital punishment, you’ve got a few million people to execute, but let’s get back to my mother. You didn’t recognize her that day, but she knew who you were, ’cause you and your husband ran the pharmacy downtown. Bet you didn’t sell any birth control pills or condoms, did you?”
She said nothing, not knowing if she had permission. “Don’t you get coy with me,” he said, an edge in his voice. “When I ask you something, you answer it.”
Despite herself, and from out of nowhere, a surge of anger ran through her. “Shame on you!” she said. “You have no right to come into my home and treat me this way.” If he was going to kill her, at least she’d give him a good piece of her mind first.
All he did was shrug. “That may be true, Mrs. Hemsley, but it’s not what I asked you.”
“No, we didn’t sell those things,” she practically shouted at him. “They encourage promiscuity, and nobody can force us to do that. Not in this country. There, are you satisfied? Did you figure as much?” She glared at him pugnaciously.
He smiled, but it wasn’t cruel this time. In fact, it might have been a nice smile once, before his teeth got so brown. “There, that’s more like it,” he said. “Speak your mind, Mrs. Hemsley, I encourage it. Just don’t interrupt me; that’s all I ask.”
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the insanity. That’s all he asks, indeed.
“My mother,” he continued, “was a scared, ignorant girl when she met you. All she wanted was to undo this sick thing that happened to her. But you told her she’d be a murderer if she did, and someone like you carries a lot of weight with a scared teenager like that. She sure as hell didn’t want to be a murderer, she knew that much, so what could she do?” He leaned forward, and she again felt that cold stare. “When you, in all your self-righteousness, stopped her from going into that building, you don’t know the pain you caused, and how many people suffered and died because of it. Well, Mrs. Hemsley, I’m here to inform you. If you’d left her alone that day, this wouldn’t be happening, because I wouldn’t exist. And my fetus wouldn’t have felt a thing, if you care about that, because it didn’t have a nervous system yet. But you’ve got it all nice and simple. You think everyone has the right to be born, don’t you?”
“I don’t think it, I know it,” she answered firmly.
“How about the right to be born to parents that want you?”
She’d heard that one before, and she was ready for it. “Then it’s up to the parents to want you. Or, if not, give you up for adoption to the millions of parents that do. If a woman is made pregnant, it’s God’s will. And we cannot go against it.”
“God’s will, huh?” he said. “Did you know that when they discovered the small pox vaccine, the churches called it sinful? They said it was God’s will that people got small pox, and we had no right to prevent it. What do you think of that?”
“I think it’s ridiculous. You can’t compare having a baby with getting small pox,” she said.
“So small pox wasn’t God’s will; is that what you’re saying?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth. God’s will is a mystery, and it’s not always known to us.”
“Ah,” he said, “so how do you know it wasn’t God’s will for my mother to have an abortion?”
Unaware she was doing it, she sat up straighter on the couch. “Because my faith tells me that abortion is a sin against God.”
“Oh, your faith,” he said, nodding his head in mock respect. “Can’t argue with that, can I? You’ve got a foolproof system there, you know. Believe you’re right and it makes you right.” He shifted the gun to his other hand and reached into a crumpled cigarette pack in his tee shirt pocket.
“I don’t allow smoking in my house,” she said futilely.
He put the cigarette between his lips, taking a butane lighter from his jeans. “I’ve been smoking since I was seven years old,” he told her. “And today’s the day I’m finally gonna quit. I’m also getting rid of a lot of other nasty habits, you’ll be glad to know.” He gave her a smile around the cigarette, the cruel one. “Or maybe you won’t.” He lit up and took a deep drag.
“Do you really need to point that gun at me?” she asked, thinking there was nothing to lose in trying. “I’m just an elderly woman; I’m no threat to you.”
“No,” he admitted, “you’re not. And I guess it’s a little overkill, no pun intended.” He thought for a moment. “Okay, if it makes you more comfortable.” He tucked the gun inside his jeans, still in plain sight. “No sudden moves, Mrs. Hemsley, okay?” She nodded.
“All right, then,” he said, flicking a cigarette ash onto her carpet, to which she staunchly refused to react. “My mother, still pregnant, thank you very much, took the bus back home, grabbed whatever she could carry, and got the hell out of there. She would’ve done it someday anyhow, if they didn’t get pissed-off drunk once too often and kill her first, but now she had to.”
He went on with his story, as Edna listened with a mixture of fascination, horror, and revulsion. He had no idea what his mother did for the next couple of years, where she went, or who might have helped her, but she somehow managed to have him, and then to take him along with her. His first memory was of living in a cardboard box in the back of an alley. Nancy Miller, that was his mother’s name, was very good at hiding him and at avoiding the police. She kept on the move, and they lived in a series of fleabag hotels and abandoned buildings. Her main source of income was prostitution, and by the time he was four, she was making him turn tricks as well. “Can’t tell you how many cocks I sucked, Mrs. Hemsley,” he said casually, as she turned crimson, “but it must’ve been in the hundreds, easy.”
He remembered being hungry a lot, and how he’d cry and cry, and then finally go numb, the only way he could deal with what was happening to him. Seared into his memory, because his mother said it time and again, were the words, “If you don’t like it, you can blame Mrs. Hemsley.”
He had no idea what she meant, of course. But when he was six, in fact, the day before they finally caught up with her and he was taken away, she explained it to him. The meaning was still unclear in his mind, but as he grew older, he understood.
“They placed me with a whole bunch of foster families; I forget how many. You talk about the millions of loving parents who want kids; I never met any of them. These folks were in it for the money, although, to be fair, I was no bargain. I’d steal from them everytime I could, terrorize the other kids in the house, and mostly get the crap beaten out of me for my efforts. Didn’t stop me, though. Eventually, they’d give up and call the social service agency, who’d come haul me out of there and move me on to the next place.”
The years passed in this way, interrupted by the occasional stretch in reform school, until he was 18. “That’s when I first started killing women,” he said.
She gasped, and he chuckled at it. “Oh yes, Mrs. Hemsley, that too. Most of them were prostitutes, if it makes you feel any better, but not all. You should be honored. You’re the first person outside of myself who knows.”
“Please,” she begged him, “I don’t want to hear any more.”
“Sure you do,” he said soothingly, his tone raising goose flesh on her arms. “You’re a responsible woman, so I know you care about things you’re responsible for.”
She remembered the gun Blake kept in the night table on his side of the bed. She’d hated it but never got rid of it after he died, not for protection, but because she didn’t want to deal with it. It was right in the next room, but it might as well have been in the next county, even if she could bring herself to use it.
“The shrinks would tell you I was killing my mother over and over again,” he said, “and I guess they’d be right. But I was better than your average serial killer. I did it all around the country, and in different ways. There was never a pattern. Sometimes I shot them, sometimes I stabbed them, sometimes I beat them to death. I either raped them or not, depending on nothing in particular. Prostitutes disappear and die all the time, and you’d be amazed at how many cases are unsolved because nobody cares.”
Edna could only cover her face with her hands as she fought the nausea, a low moan escaping her throat. He seemed to take encouragement from this.
“I’d say that kind of talent must be hereditary,” he offhandedly opined. “You can learn all the skills you want, but there’s an instinct for being a criminal that you either have or you don’t. My mother had it, and if I ever had a kid, he probably would too. Good thing I’m never going to have a kid, right, Mrs. Hemsley?”
She tried the one thing remaining to her. “You can be forgiven,” she implored him. “It’s not too late. If you’ll only accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, no matter what you’ve done, He’ll still love you. You only have to let Him. You said you wanted to die. If you don’t receive Him, your soul will burn in Hell for eternity.”
He snorted. “Then it’ll be right next to Mahatma Gandhi’s. He didn’t do it either. Maybe you want me say hi to him.” He looked away and flicked another ash onto her carpet.
He stared sourly at it. “What they finally got me for was breaking and entering. It was a stupid thing that I won’t get into, but they put me away in Marion for five fucking years.” She reflexively winced at the word, bringing on the cold smile. “One good thing about it, the only good thing, was that I learned how to read in there. And I read a lot, Mrs. Hemsley, about everything we’re talking about. And the more I read, the more I knew how right I was.”
He took a drag on the cigarette. “A couple of months before my release date, guess who wrote to me? My mother; isn’t that sweet? She’d tracked me down, and now she wanted me to know she was sorry.”
It had taken him a couple of weeks, but he finally got himself under enough control to write back to her. He said he didn’t hate her, and that he thought about her a lot, and he missed her. He promised to come and see her as soon as he got out. “It made my stomach heave to do it, but I needed to find out your first name, and if she knew where you lived.” He gave a short bark of a laugh. “Turns out she’s practically a neighbor of yours, just a couple of miles down the road. You see that? You never really leave home, do you? There she was, she and her drunken boyfriend of the moment, living in a shitty little trailer, where, after I found out what I needed, I put them both out of their misery.”
She began to shiver, as if every bone in her body were trembling.
“I’m afraid I got my clothes a tad soiled in the process,” he said, glancing down again at his blood-smeared tee shirt. “But now, Mrs. Hemsley, at long last, here I am.”
The phone rang in the bedroom. It gave her such a start, she thought her heart would burst from her chest. He didn’t react to it at all, didn’t even look toward it. “Let it be,” he warned her.
“It’s my friend, Mary Butterfield,” she said, a sudden, vague, frantic plan taking shape in her mind. The phone was on the night table, the gun was in the drawer just beneath it. “She knows I’m home. If I don’t answer, she’ll think something’s happened, and she’ll call the police.”
“It’ll be too late for that,” he said, stubbing out his cigarette on the coffee table. He stood up and took out the gun from under his belt.
She closed her eyes, clasped her hands together, and started to pray, more fervently than ever before. He reached for her with one arm, took her tiny wrists in his hand, and pulled her off the couch and to him. The close smell of cigarette smoke, sweat, and his bloody clothing made her gag, but she kept her eyes closed, prayed, and waited for her moment of death.
The phone rang again.
“God makes mistakes sometimes,” he whispered in her ear. “It’s right there in that Bible you believe in. He thought the job was finished after He made Adam, but He was wrong. Well, if He was wrong about that, imagine what else He didn’t know. Maybe God learns from mistakes and moves on, like we’re all supposed to. Maybe we’re just God’s rough first draft. That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?”
She tried to blot out his words, tried to think of Jesus and pray to Him to take her soul. But in these final moments, something strange was happening. An anger was building inside her, a simmering fury that was interfering with her prayers. And it wasn’t at this man, this animal who was about to kill her; it was at something she’d forgotten long ago. But now, at the end, here it was, a stunning realization, rushing back.
Blake had ruined her life. He’d lied to her about wanting children, and didn’t care how devastated she was when he finally admitted the truth. And then he’d died, but not for so many years, not until she was too old even to adopt, and it was too late.
She never knew, until this moment, how much she hated him. For what he did to her. And for living so long afterward. All those years she’d devoted to her cause, was it really for the sanctity of life? Or to cover her guilt, for the endless times she secretly wanted Blake to die.
The whispery voice intruded, curdling in her ear. “They say the Devil can quote Scriptures, Mrs. Hemsley, but I believe he can do more than that. He can come to Earth and make people think he’s the Son of God. And that’s just what he did, two thousand years ago.”
The phone rang again. She tried to ignore what he was saying as she struggled in his grasp, her prayers in mortal combat with this rage, that was growing. That was overwhelming her.
“All those women you scared away from the clinics, you never knew them. You didn’t care.” He tightened his hold, as she suddenly understood what was happening. He was forcing the gun into her hands. “I’m just one. How many others, Mrs. Hemsley? How much more death and suffering? You say you’re doing it for Jesus? I say you’re doing it for Satan.”
The gun went off.
The recoil would have knocked her onto the couch if his hands hadn’t gripped her wrists an instant longer. Then he released her and staggered backward, a bright-red circle expanding on his tee shirt, soaking into the darker blood. He looked down at it and then at her, bemusedly. He smiled, the nice smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Hemsley,” he said softly, “for finally aborting me.” His blue eyes glazed over and his expression went blank, as he turned away from her and crumpled to the carpeted floor.
She stared at him in horror, and then at the gun in her hand. He must have forced her to squeeze the trigger, she thought desperately. But she saw, to her wonderment, that the trigger guard was too small for both their fingers. She’d done it herself.
The phone was still ringing in the bedroom. She walked toward it in a haze, holding the gun at her side as she moved around the bed and lifted the receiver.
“Edna? Edna?” Mary Butterfield sounded on the verge of panic. “I thought you’d never answer. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Mary, dear,” she said quietly, her voice sounding far away to her. “But I can’t talk right now.” She started to put the phone down but stopped, and put it again to her ear. “And you’ll have to find someone else to drive you tomorrow. There are a couple of things…I need to sort out.”
She lowered the receiver, then slowly and gently placed it back in its cradle.