Their Choice

Author’s Note: When I wrote this story more than 15 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how it could possibly become more timely as the years passed. And yet, somehow, here we are …

     Julie awoke to the semi-chaotic chorus of chants and jeers and deprecations that emanated from her front yard. Looking at the bedside clock, glaring the hour of 5:25 in its angry shade of red, she groaned in exasperation. They were starting earlier everyday–their own little game of psychological warfare.

     Rolling over the other way, she gently shook her husband.

     “Honey, it’s about time to get up.”

     Her husband groaned and rolled away from her–his before-six-in-the-morning way of saying “leave me alone.” Julie smiled.

     Climbing out of bed and donning her tattered blue terry cloth robe, Julie headed for the kitchen to put on coffee. Passing through the living room on her way, she gave in to the same urge that had overcome her, despite her best efforts to resist, for the past nine days. Walking over to the front window, she peeked through the white mini-blinds at her very own picket-line of devout believers in all things anti-her.

     “God,” she said, “there’s even more of them this morning.”

     Outside, pacing and chanting along her front sidewalk and lawn, and through what had once been her prized patch of tiger lilies, were twenty or twenty-five phantasmic figures, obscure and mysterious in the darkness of the pre-dawn. What was considerably less mysterious, though, was the nature of the large signs that hovered over each of the phantom figures like the rigid dialogue bubbles of a political cartoon. Though the dimness of the hour, and the fact that the picketers conveniently drifted just beyond the range of the security light above the front door, prevented her from being able to pick out any of the actual words from the signs, Julie knew all too well what they said. Silent though they were in the morning darkness, as day advanced the signs would again begin to scream.

     “It’s A Baby, Not A Choice!”

     “Don’t be selfish–Be a Mother!”

     “You Do Not Have The Right!”

     “Think of the child, not yourself!”

     The bedroom clock broke into the earsplitting shriek of its full-volume wake-up call, startling Julie out of her thoughtful observation. Five-thirty.

     Heading again for the kitchen, she put the coffee on and turned her thoughts to a hot shower. As she passed the bedroom she flipped on the light, causing her husband to groan again in disapproval and pull the pillows over his head.

     Smiling, Julie said, “I’m gonna take a shower now,” then playfully added, “and I’d love some company.”

     In the bathroom Julie watched herself slipping out of her bathrobe, tank-top nightshirt and cotton panties in the full-length, fog-free mirror that hung on the bathroom door. She smiled in satisfaction. Twisting back and forth, looking over her shoulders and running her hands over her breasts, stomach, and bottom, she couldn’t help but feel proud about the way she looked. She’d lost precious little of the appealing figure that she’d had as a cheerleader in high school. Nothing sagged that shouldn’t and her periodic bouts of fitness-consciousness, with their obligatory crunches and jogs around the block, had kept her firm in all the right places. She had to admit, if she were a man, she would want a woman who looked just like her.

     Turning sideways and rubbing her smooth, flat stomach, Julie tried to imagine it stretched to beach-ball proportions, swollen beyond recognition, fat with child. She grimaced at the image.

     “Protesters be damned,” she thought, “I’m not trading this in for nine months of bloating, cramps and mood swings. My temple’s fine just the way it is.”

     Just then the door swung in on her and her reflected image was replaced by the shuffling figure of her characteristically naked husband.

     Smiling broadly at his boyishly tousled hair and sleepy eyes, Julie said teasingly, “Hey there Johnny-boy, did you finally decide to come out and play?”

     “Oh yeah,” he returned with exaggerated gusto. Then, looking back at the mirror as he swung the door closed, and again at Julie, he asked with a smile, “What are you doing?”

     “Nothing,” Julie replied, her cheeks reddening, “just looking.”

     “Mmm-hmm,” John grunted, circling around behind her. His arms wrapped around her in a firm hug. His hands wandered up and down her body, caressing her gently, cupping her breasts, and stroking her hair and face.

     Kissing her shoulder softly he whispered in her ear, “It’s quite a view, isn’t it?”

     Reaching down behind her and taking him expertly into her hands she said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Just wait till we get in that shower.”

     “Let’s go then,” he said. She could feel him getting more excited by the moment.

     “Okay,” she returned, twisting around to face him and kiss him on the nose, “but first we have to brush our teeth.”

     The trip to the courthouse began as it had for over a week–since their address had been carelessly, and probably profitably, leaked to their opponents. The picketers crowded into their driveway, blocking the way, and John had to literally nudge many of them out of the way with the grill of his pickup while the crowd chanted, screamed, and slapped and rocked the truck.

     After struggling to break free of their home-turned-prison, though–by slipping, tortoise-paced, through reluctant cracks in the fleshy prison walls of their angry peers–the drive became almost enjoyable. If not for the knowledge of their destination, it could actually have been a real joy–a rarity in John and Julie’s life as of late. The wide variety of trees, flowers, and darting birds that abounded in their far-flung, pseudo-rural suburb was always a pleasure for Julie to behold as John drove on in thoughtful silence. The ratio of homes to trees was decidedly in favor of the trees–a fact that Julie loved, and one that had clinched this neighborhood as the one to choose when they had been looking for houses after graduating from college.

     To Julie’s roving eye, though, the drive into the judicial district of the city was more than simply beautiful. In fact, it invariably ended up being just the opposite of that. But this transition from rural, natural beauty to inner-city decay never ceased to fascinate her, however depressing it might sometimes be. Their route took them through almost every stage in the life cycle of mankind’s dominion, and after four long years studying metaphor and hidden meaning as an English major in college, the symbolism inherent in it never escaped her.

     Their own neighborhood was modest by most standards, a sprawl of comfortable, single-story, single-family homes on soil as yet too infertile for the more ambitious seeds of man to take hold. Slowly, though, the mix of small homes and big trees dwindled. Closer to the city, but still far enough away to be secure, the homes began to outsize, and outnumber, the trees. Two, three, and even occasional four-story mansions sprung up from the earth before Julie’s eyes. The soil was richer here and supported the larger blooms of these man-sown seeds. Then, with a suddenness that always surprised her, Julie and John arrived in the heart-blood fertilized land of mankind’s ultimate dreams of cultivated artificiality–the business and judicial districts of the city. In every direction were skyscrapers that seemed always to be reaching higher and competing ever more fiercely for the far away sunlight that their ambitious growth denied to those trapped on the ground.

     All around the downtown area loomed the artificial darkness imposed by these artificial lives that stretched vainly toward heaven. All throughout the stifling darkness lurked the nocturnal beasts that the city dwellers had become–and the waste and death and villainy that is always the spawn of man-infested night.

     Seeing these things in the city around her daily reaffirmed Julie’s devotion to the cause that she was fighting for. Each day she passed through these festering caverns and saw how they twisted the people they afflicted. Each day she thought again of her belly swollen with child and how she could not bear to bring an innocent baby into a world so dark and depraved.

     So Julie arrived at the courthouse each day as stolid as every day before. And though John never really knew from whence her strength sprung, he drew on it, on her aura of determination, and fought at her side for the rights that they each felt they were–that Julie was–entitled to have. John, though, fought for reasons other than Julie’s, for reasons all his own. He fought for his love of freedom and his love of Julie and for all the logical and practical reasons for which men had always fought battles such as theirs, for reasons Julie mentioned only as afterthoughts to her own, more personal ones. 

     The courtroom, as usual, was cold despite the throngs of volatile spectators that filled it. Three times during the trial the judge had had to threaten to clear the courtroom when the onlookers had gotten out of hand. But for all their hate, harsh words, and hotly debated issues, Julie’s detractors were incapable of raising the temperature of the frigid courtroom even one degree. It was sad in a way, Julie thought, as she walked into the courtroom with John and her ACLU lawyers. She had held out hope that the hordes of self-righteous idiots that tormented her on a daily basis were good for giving off a little body heat at the very least.

     Today, though, her mind was on other things besides the room full of detractors. Her lawyers had just told her and John that the jury had finally arrived at a verdict. They’d arrived at it late the night before, the lead lawyer explained, but since court had already been adjourned for the day, and because of the lateness of the hour, the judge had thought it best to keep it quiet and hold the announcement until court the next day.

     The lead lawyer ended her news with a genial smile, the smile that was supposed to inspire confidence in her clients. John and Julie had come to believe in their lawyers’ abilities as a whole, but faced with the news that their ordeal was about to end, neither of them felt very confident. They knew they were right, that they were entitled to the rights they had fought so hard to secure and that no sane jury could find against them. But this whole fiasco had been somewhat surreal, barely sane from beginning to end, so they were unable to draw from their lawyer’s demeanor the sort of encouragement that she was trying to give. They were hopeful to be sure, but they knew that they had a very realistic chance of coming out of this losers. And if they did, Julie thought, what then? What was the next logical step after losing such a monumental and widely publicized battle as theirs?

     Mercifully, the judge entered the courtroom. As the formalities of the day’s session got rolling, Julie was able to retreat from her maddening and destructive speculation and refocus on the reality before her. Once settled, the judge wasted no time in getting under way.

     “Madam spokesperson,” the judge intoned, “has the jury arrived at a verdict?”

     “We have, your honor.”

     The courtroom exploded in a frenzy of gasps and whispers. Several people jumped up and dashed out of the room–reporters anxious to be the first to make it into America’s homes with the news of the verdict, as well as a few well-wishers anxious to fill in the crowd on the courthouse steps and flaunt their own good fortune at being present when it happened. Most people, though, stayed glued to their seats. They talked and moaned and gasped, but very few were willing to miss the potentially historic moment that was unfolding before them.

     Angrily, the judge gaveled down the disturbance, bellowing the all too familiar threat of clearing the courtroom should another such outburst occur. Immediately, the courtroom fell silent. No one in attendance wanted to be cleared out now. Then, turning to the jury again, the judge continued.

     “Madam Spokesperson, will you please read the verdict?”

     The spokesperson shifted in place uncomfortably.

     “Actually sir, we were hoping that you would read the verdict, sir. It’s . . . well, it’d be more appropriate, we think . . . your honor . . . sir.”

     The judge glared at the spokesperson for a moment, increasing her already obvious discomfort, then motioned the bailiff to fetch him the verdict.

     “Very well, Madam, you may be seated,” he barked gruffly.

     Then, taking the paper from the bailiff and skimming it quickly, he began to read.

     Julie, suddenly noticing just how tense her body had become, looked at John and her lawyers. They were transfixed, rigid, their anxiety and anticipation etched on their faces. John, without looking at Julie, or even seeming to know that she had looked at him, interlaced her fingers into his own and squeezed too hard. On her other side, their lead lawyer’s eyes shifted to glance at her as she patted Julie’s hand, her confident smile conspicuously absent.

     Julie’s pulse suddenly quickened as she realized that they expected to lose.   

     “We the jury,” the judge began, his voice powerful, almost booming, “realizing the potentially historical significance of this case, have carefully considered every pertinent piece of information provided us during these proceedings.

     “Not least in our consideration were the outstanding personal qualities of citizenship exemplified in the defendants. Their personal integrity, demeanor, and attitude are worthy of emulation by us all.

     “What’s more, the level of education achieved by each of the defendants is enviable, as are the associated financial and job security, insurance protection, and accessibility of amenities.

     “Their health, both mental and physical, is impeccable. The genetic examinations of both of the defendants and their respective families has returned the most favorable of results.

     “Finally, the involvement of the extended families of each defendant in their lives, and the familial stability demonstrated to exist throughout, as well as the virtually non-existent crime rate and accessibility of excellent childcare resources in the defendants’ area of domicile are as desirable as can be realistically expected. 

     “Despite all of these things, though, the jury has not been remiss in considering the defendants’ own desires in this case. But this case is less about the defendants’ desires than it is about the rights of the child whose very existence hangs in the balance here today. A child could ask no more of life, or of its parents, than it has been demonstrated by these proceedings that the defendants are capable of offering. And it is primarily for this reason that we the jury have come to the verdict we have.”

     Here the judge paused, seemingly for dramatic effect. Julie’s mind was racing, John’s eyes were riveted to the floor in front of the judge’s stand, her lawyers were shaking their heads, their eyes locked on the emotionless face of the justice before them. Across the aisle, the special prosecutor who had brought all of this misery down upon her glanced at Julie with a faint, knowing smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

     “We the jury,” the judge finally continued, “in the case of The People versus John and Julie Benaker, find in favor of The People, and hereby deliver the task of implementation of this decision to the court, in whatever way it deems most efficient and appropriate.”

     Again the courtroom exploded. In spite of his previous threat, and the fact that it took a full five minutes of gaveling and shouting to resettle the spectators, the judge did not clear the room. Instead, upon regaining control of the situation, he turned his attention to Julie’s table, but mostly to Julie herself. Julie, though, was virtually insensible to the stern, emotionless eyes that had so withered the jury spokesperson only minutes before. Julie herself was withered, crushed, broken, but not because of the judge. The verdict, the insane, silly, must-be-some-sort-of-cruel-joke verdict had laid waste to her faculties, drying her up and sapping her strength like a burning desert wind stinging through her body, leaving her barely able to stand before the judge’s gaze and barely able to comprehend the words that he was now saying to her and hers.

     “In light of the jury’s decision in this matter, the court hereby orders the defendants to commence copulation at the earliest possible time. The court further orders the defendants to continue this course of action as often as is possible within the limits of public and social decency until such time as a child is conceived. Facilities will be provided for determination of conception and will be utilized by the defendants, by court order, at least once a month until conception is in fact achieved and verified . . .”  

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