Janine's tale

By all accounts. I should be dead.

I feel the pains crawl to me, pushing through my abdomen. My waters break! It's coming. It's coming.

I remember what the Aunts told me if we knew that the child was ready- we had to learn it as part of every day lessons- drilled into our minds like the rain falling onto skin. Not much, painfully simple. I've done it before . . . I cry for help.

Help. SOS. Mayday. All terms used in the past, all words I used in the past, now it seems almost forbidden to utter such words- especially the last one. The wife bursts in half-shouting but I can't hear her or I don't want to, but it doesn't matter. It's the same ritual, same beginning, same ending. With a sudden pang I'm thrown back and a yelp escapes me. I hate myself.

The Aunt across the room wakes with a start. She instantly starts to bark out orders as if I am in any position to do them. Calm your breathing; take slow deep breaths like we practised. I comply as always, we have been practising these last few weeks on what to do when the child came. She calls in the two other women and pulls me to my feet. Does the wife know? My feet are being almost dragged across the floor on the way to their room.

Being rushed along on a bed on wheels, white walls, voices and faces moving by to quickly for me to identify. The big double doors at the end open up like a creature swallowing its meal

My mother would've died of shame if she had ever cried out in pain. She was made of "sterner stuff" and I often admired her for it. Oh how I wish she was here.

What's a girl like her doing here? I don't know. Why would I enter such a circle of self-hate? It's because they tell me too. What else can I do? Fight, fight for what. I have lost everything worth fighting for and I've already battled death once I didn't fight all that just to die of nuclear sickness. Another pang- this time more painful I know the birth mobile is coming and I know the wives will hang about downstairs comforting, congratulating her. The contraction hurts like a knife in the ribs.

They attach wires to me; the room is cold and metallic. Voices that seem from far away tell me to calm down, get ready they say then PUSH . The pain draws attention to my abdomen, I hear a cry.

Red. The colour of blood and passion, strange how one thing has two meanings. Blood is everywhere now, I can taste it, smell it. The pains are worse now but I feel detached. Am I dying? The birth mobile is here, the handmaids file in, a sea of red. My mouth is moving "are you alright dear?" "Call an ambulance, call an ambulance" I'm fine, I'm alright- what am I saying?

Here, hold her they say. I take her in my arms, she is still covered in blood and her eyes are closed.

The pain is growing, like a knife in the ribs, like finding you carry a rapist's child? Being told it was your fault? The look of disgust on others faces? No, nothing could hurt that much.

I hear the voices, of the others chanting a mantra, like a warped version of a choir, their voices like tidal wave, like the wind and I must bend to their will. I am trapped by their words growing like walls around me. It would be easy to just lie here and forget what happened-forget what I did.

Some one rubs oil onto my stomach while two other people hold onto my arms but I can't see them, I don't care. This is how it should be done. They press onto my stomach, it is better this way.

The child is coming; the child will live in a world where it will be safe, protected, loved. I see faces but I can't identify them. My mind slips like sand in a sieve . . . slipping, slipping.

I have to go the can. They drag me to it and I sit there, limbs weak like a puppet. Praying, hoping.

The child will come, it will be healthy, and I have done a good thing. Someone will tell me I did a good thing. The aunts will tell me I did a good thing. Aunt Lydia. Another contraction, more painful and longer than others, I scream.

They drag me to the birthing chair and I know the wife will come in, I don't see her but I know that she will. It's happened before. The pain is worse and keeps growing until, until.

The child comes. A red, slimy creature enters into the world.

I do not see it, I can barely hear it. Where is the fruit of my labours?

They will have a child and I will have done all that is expected of me. They will smile at me and congratulate her. Those smiles with their perfect white teeth, their rehearsed voices so sweet, it reminds me of the Aunts.

A wall of red surrounds me so I'm blocked from seeing the baby, it doesn't matter though. I'll see the child soon enough and hold it- but I will not be able to name it. That's her job, her privilege. We're supposed to feel sorry for those women who can't bear fruit of the womb.

The wall of red disintegrates, but my eyes don't follow them. I raise my head to see the child. I can't bear it leaving the child here, alone with her. I hear a whimpering and soon she is standing over me, the baby in her arms. A look of disgust on her face.

"Her name is Angela".