“Do you believe in God?” Jessie asked. They were lying naked under the blankets, holding each other tightly.
“I don’t know,” Jack said. “Why do you ask?”
There was a slight pause and Jessie shifted, making their spooning awkward. “Why do you think I’m asking?” Jessie asked annoyed. “We go to church every Sunday. Does it mean anything to you?”
“Yes and no,” Jack said, honestly.
“Yes and no?” Jessie asked, even more annoyed. She sat up and the sheets fell back, Jack’s focus became her bare breasts. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not really God that I have a problem with, so much as the church itself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, they’re all crooked liars.”
“Pastor Paul is not a crook,” Jessie nearly shouted.
“I’m not saying that he literally steals from people. Well he kind of does, but I mean, they just give it to him. But, I’m telling you, he said that the only place to find redemption was in that very church and that everyone outside was wrong.” Jack took a deep breath as Jessie looked at him in terror. “Listen to him. Really listen, Jessie.”
“So what’s your gripe with God?” Jessie asked.
“That if he’s real and he is God, why does he allow this idiocy to continue?”
Jessie sat quiet for a moment.
“I believe in being a good person,” Jack said. “Following the ‘Golden Rule,’ I treat strangers as my brothers. The way I’d want to be treated.”
“But what about God?” Jessie asked. “You have to show your respect for Him.”
“We’re in love, Jessie. What better way to show our love for God than by loving each other.”
Jessie burst into laughter. Jack looked at her confused. He’d been completely serious with his statement and didn’t see what was so funny about it. When Jessie finally calmed down Jack kissed her.
“What do you think about abortions?” Jessie asked later, as they lay in bed.
“I wouldn’t get one,” Jack said. “Would you?”
“Nooo,” Jessie said. “Abortions are just wrong. Unless there’s some kind of extenuating circumstance.”
“Like what?” Jack asked.
“Like rape. I don’t think a woman should be forced to have her rapist’s baby, that’s just fucking ridiculous.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “That is. Or if it’s life and death.”
“Yeah,” Jessie said. “Those are pretty much the only exceptions.”
Jack and Jessie made passionate love. Jessie was on birth control, so they didn’t use condoms. Jack thought if felt like heaven without a condom so he never wore one anymore. They looked into each other’s eyes, each thinking that the other feels and believes the exact same way as the other. Jack felt that he was more than just inside her, he felt like he was part of her.
It had been years since Jack had seen Neil and he waited impatiently for him, pacing his townhouse. Memories, long since misplaced but not forgotten, rushed to the surface of his mind, blotting out all the things he typically had there. For that long wait, Jack felt like a kid again, his whole life ahead of him, standing like a giant Everest to the sky. But, when Jack saw Neil pull the baby from the back seat, it all came back to Jack. He wasn’t a kid anymore. The surface of his mind began to boil with the image of Jessie as she came back into the lobby, shuffling her feet in short, painful steps and holding that spot between her belly button and her crotch, her face in a grimace that she tried to hold back.
“What’s up?” Neil asked, shifting his infant girl from one arm to the other.
It was a girl, Jack had suddenly realized, and he wondered what his own baby would have been. He wondered if it would have been as sweet a baby as the one he was looking at.
“You alright, man?” Neil asked.
“Yeah,” Jack said, shaking off the thoughts.
Jack and Neil sat on the back porch drinking beer and smoking cigarettes while Neil’s daughter slept inside. For the most part Jack was okay, even though he found his thoughts often wandering back to the abortion. He had so many questions, so many feelings, but they were all in vain, so Jack just took another swig of beer. There were thousands of questions and no one to ask. He could ask Jessie, but he knew she wouldn’t know. It would only tear open the wound in her heart as well, if it wasn’t already open like his. After Jack had had enough beer, he began to ask Neil the questions, but Neil didn’t have any answers, he didn’t know what to say.
“Do you still want to make movies?” Neil asked.
“Of course,” said Jack. “I’m working on a screenplay now.”
“Do you think you’d really be able to do that with a kid?”
“I don’t know,” Jack said, thinking real hard about it. “Not the way I want I guess.”
“Now you don’t have to worry about it, man. You don’t have that responsibility. You are free to do whatever you want right now, you just have to do it, man,” Neil said.
“That’s true,” Jack said. “But it’s a horrible thing to admit.”
“Why is that so horrible?” Neil asked, his eyes completely honest.
“Because,” Jack said, “it was a child and I killed it. It was my child.”
Everything was blue and silent under the streetlights. Neil looked at the ground, thinking hard and smoking his cigarette. Jack stared off into the parking lot.
“You’re not going to go to hell, man,” Neil finally said.
“I know,” Jack said. “I don’t even know if I believe in hell.”
“I’m serious,” Neil said. “Don’t put yourself through hell for this shit. Your life is better because of it.”
“How is my life better?” Jack asked, his voice sharp with pain. “I have done nothing with my life. I live in my brother’s townhouse. I have no job. No money. No girl and no kid. If I were to die tonight it wouldn’t matter. You and my family would be sad, sure, but it wouldn’t really fucking matter. No one’s life would change. If anything I’d be less of a burden to my family.”
“Fuck that shit, Jack,” Neil said. “You matter to a lot of people, man. If it wasn’t for you I’d have probably killed myself by now. Seriously. When I have problems I come to you, man, I always have.”
“I’m no one to take your problems to,” Jack said. “I need a beer.” He shook the empty can, a few last drops could be heard swishing around inside.
The bright light of the kitchen hurt Jack’s eyes at first, and the coolness of the fridge against his sunburn sent chills through his entire body.
“I told her it was okay,” Jack said, popping the top on his beer. “I told her I was okay with it even though I wasn’t and that bothers me.”
“But that’s what she wanted right?” Neil said. “It was her idea.”
“It was.” Jack took a deep breath. “She told me before we even went into the bathroom to take the test. And all I said was, ‘If that’s what you want then I’m behind you.’”
“That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Neil said. “It’s the woman’s choice. It’s the law, man.”
“It’s not just her choice though,” Jack said, his voice sharp again. “It takes two people to make a child. That fetus inside her belly was not her. It had its own DNA and all that shit. It was a separate person inside her. A combination of me and her. A result of our love. A symbol that will never see the light of day and all those feelings, world changing feelings, will never actually serve any significance to the world. That was supposed to be the thing that kept us together. We were still supposed to be together.”
“No, man. She was given a choice to keep you together or to separate and she chose to separate. Deal with it.”
For a moment both of them were silent as they drank and thought. They didn’t look at each other, they didn’t have to.
“I still fuck her every day just about,” Jack said.
“I thought she was dating some other guy.”
“She is,” Jack said.
“Does he fuck her every day?” Neil asked.
“No,” Jack said.
“How do you know?”
“Because she doesn’t see him every day.”
“Ah, I see,” Neil said. “So why doesn’t she just break up with him?”
“I think it’s all part of being with the ‘in-crowd’ at school, to be honest. He’s in a frat and shit.”
“That’s kind of fucked up, man,” Neil said. “I hope you’re at least banging something else on the side, too.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I’ve fucked a couple of girls, but I don’t have anyone steady. I can’t. I love Jessie too much.”
“Dude, let me tell you this,” Neil said, lighting a cigarette. “Your–”
Jack cut him off with, “What the fuck are you doing, dude? You can’t smoke in here.”
“Why not, man?”
“This is my brother’s place, go outside.”
“Okay,” Neil said. “But dude listen, your situation is not that different from anyone else’s. Stacy had an abortion. Remember her?”
“Stacy? From high school? The girl you wrapped your car around a tree for?”
“That’d be the one. It’s no big deal, man. I mean it is, but it isn’t. You can’t beat yourself up about it. Be glad you don’t have a kid, man, trust me.”
For a moment Jack saw a glimpse of release. Maybe it had been the right choice after all. From in the dark end of the living room came the sounds of a baby crying out ferociously.
The restaurant was slow that night. The old man was sitting at his favorite table, but that wasn’t Jack’s section that night so he politely said, “Hello,” and continued on his way.
“Jack,” the man said, as Jack passed. Jack spun around to face him with a smile and without missing a beat. “You look even worse this time than you did when you and Jessie broke up.”
“I’m fine, sir,” Jack said, still smiling.
“Son,” the man said, “you look like your soul’s in jeopardy.”
“Really?” Jack asked.
“Is it?” the man asked.
Jack sat down and told the old man about the abortion. The man sat and pondered for a moment. Then told Jack about the abortion that his daughter had had, much for the same reason as Jessie. The man’s daughter remained nameless like her father, but she was very similar to Jessie, and if it hadn’t been for Jack’s already knowing Jessie’s father he would have thought him her father. She was in college and in love with a boy, she wasn’t sure about that love and her parents were very strict about abstinence, and at the very least being intelligent enough to use protection. Little did she know that her parents would have rather known about the child and been able to help raise it.
“But it’s past now. Nothing can be done about it. I don’t think it puts your soul in jeopardy,” the man said. “So you don’t have to worry so much.”
“Why doesn’t it though,” Jack said. “I mean that’s what we’re taught, but if I told my mother what happened, she’d say the same, even though she’d damn anyone other than her son who does it.”
“Well son, that’s called being a hypocrite but that comes with being part of a religion.” The man coughed a laugh. “Actually, I think that comes with part of being human. No offense to your mother, but we all do it,”
“Yeah,” Jack said, “we do.”
“Things aren’t that black and white,” the old man said. Jack noticed that the old man’s face was more red than typical, a flushed red. His beer was empty. It was one in the afternoon. “Things happen,” the man said. “It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” he reached for the glass and found it empty. “But you move on.”
“Does the pain ever go away?” Jack asked.
“The pain you’re having? Sure will. You’ll have worse pain. How old are you?”
Jack told him and the man smiled. “I suggest you try to let it go best you can, son. Dwelling on it will only make it worse. Hang out with some friends or something. Fuck a girl. The girl waiting on me’s pretty cute.”
“She has a boyfriend,” Jack said. “My friend Neil’s coming over tonight though. I’ll be alright.”
“Good,” the old man said. “That’s what I like to hear.”
When it was Jessie’s time she looked at Jack like she was just going off to her death. It was possible. People did die from abortions, but it was rare and Jack knew that. He knew it well. Still, he felt like she was going off to her death. The moment the white door closed behind her he began to worry and wonder what it was they were doing. He sat and worried, his legs shaking furiously. After a while he resolved to smoke a cigarette, despite the protesters. On his way out the receptionist looked up at him and smiled, her chubby cheeks shining in the lamplight.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“No I’m just going out for a smoke.” His hand was on the door.
“Are you sure you want to do that, sir?” the lady behind the desk asked. “You go on your own risk. I don’t know what those protesters might do.”
“They’re Christians, right?” Jack said.
“They’re people, and when people get upset they do stupid things. You go, you go at your own risk.”
When he stepped outside the protestors all perked up like lions about to attack, but when they saw that he was just standing there, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know what to make of this man who stood smoking a cigarette between them and the clinic fearlessly. Their expressions turned from the ferocious roaring of the lion to the confused and cocked heads of a group of puppies. Jack felt a sense of pride wash over him in a baptizing shower as he finished his cigarette. A protestor even returned Jack’s nod as he went back inside the clinic. While he smoked and watched the protestors he thought about what he had to ask Jessie after they left. He knew what she was going to say, but he wondered if maybe she might say something different, something that might change his mind.
“So,” he would say, “was it even my baby? Or was it his?”
“I don’t know,” she would say.
Jack’s blood boiled, he hoped she’d say something different, anything different. He knew it then, at that moment, it would be the beginning of the end.
Not long after that, Jessie came through the door holding herself, her face grimacing from the pain. He put his hand on her back to let her know he was there for her. When she looked at him, he knew she loved him, despite all the bullshit they’d put each other through. Jack hoped that maybe something had happened while he was smoking his cigarette, that something would keep the protestors from being so harsh with Jessie. The protestors attacked with full force when they opened the door. They walked fast down the sidewalk. Jessie kept her head down. Jack watched her the entire walk. Neither of them looked at the protestors, nor heard their words.
With a bachelors in English, Robert S Dawson is currently working diligently on a novel and saving up for an MFA. His first publication, Hyde, was published by ZombieCoffeePress.com.