Chapter Four: Old Spice

Linda Hirshman

Red State is Linda Hirshman's fictional account of an imagined, terrifying but not unthinkable America if Roe v. Wade is overturned. In Chapter Four, Lucy, our heroine may finally be on the road to safety.

As the pro-choice majority of the Supreme Court has dwindled to a few old Justices, legal scholars predict a world eerily like America before the Civil War, with women fleeing anti-abortion states, the authorities a few steps behind.

But there’s nothing like fiction to engage the heart. What would it feel like to live in the world like the one the law professors coldly imagine? Catch up and read Chapters One, Two and Three. Continuing every Tuesday and Friday until the heroine meets her fate, I will publish at this site an installment of her adventures and an imagined, terrifying, but not unthinkable America in the time after Roe.

Old Spice. Her father used to have old spice shaving stuff. Even when he was away, doing polling and stuff, his side of their bed still smelled of Old Spice. Where was the smell coming from? She turned her cheek a little. What was this cloth, rough, yet so cool and smooth? Smelling of her father. From before. Her head hurt so much. What had happened? Was she dead? Was there really heaven? Was she going to see her Dad again if there was heaven? Did they kill her after they raped her? Did you still hurt after you died? That would suck.

She opened her eyes. It was still dark, but could she be dead if she still hurt and still smelled? Had they blinded her after they raped her? Where were they? Why did it smell like her dead father?

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She wiggled her arms. She did not seem to be tied up. But she was surrounded by that strange cloth. Some kind of funeral wrapping? Surely ferals would not treat their victims to death rituals. The bachelor packs were famous for their savagery. Too many men and not enough women. That’s what abortion does. Her stepfather harped endlessly on abortion. Once people could choose the sex of their children, they mostly wanted boys. People always wanted boys – boys got the good jobs, boys supported their old parents especially after Social Security got repealed. If you could only afford one or two children, it made sense to abort the girls and keep the males. Once everyone started doing it, of course, there were too many boys and not enough girls to go around.

Rich men got wives, but the poor ones and the ugly ones, like the three in the bathroom, roamed around in packs looking for unguarded girls to rape. Once you were raped you were hard to marry off, even in a time when girls were scarce. Sometimes your father would marry you to the feral, if he was someone you knew from school or whatever. "Better than no husband at all," Arthur said. "Better to marry than to burn." Arthur was always saying that. Wonder if he made it up.

You’d think with all the police around, cruising the streets making sure everyone was doing what they should, there wouldn’t be much opportunity for the feral gangs. But rape was a crime the new cops didn’t seem to care that much about. It certainly kept her and her friends from roaming around, looking for trouble, as Arthur would say.

"I think she’s waking up." The smell grew stronger. A faint light appeared behind a figure in the doorway. A man in the doorway. Another figure behind. Oh, no, were they back? The light grew stronger. Well he certainly couldn’t be a feral, not with that face. Maybe she was dead; he looked like an angel, if there was such a thing, with his perfect oval face and long black eyelashes over kind brown eyes.

"Can you hear me?" He leaned over her. With the light, she realized she must be in a bed. Sheets, made of some strange material, soft, yet firm and cool. Not a shroud. She tried to nod and briefly blacked out again. She felt a cool dampness on her forehead and opened her eyes.

"Don’t move your head. Just blink if you can hear me."

She blinked and felt her face make a little smile in spite of his injunction.

"You are one lucky girl. We normally make rounds much later after it’s really dark, but one of our people who works at the Union thought he saw someone in the Toyota when he left work, and he celled us. They were all over you when we arrived. Do you remember being raped? It didn’t look like it. We need to treat you if you were. The ferals are dangerous."

He didn’t say it, but at school they whispered "AIDS" whenever they talked about the bachelors.

"I don’t think so." She moved gingerly. "It doesn’t hurt there. Where am I? Who are you?"

A long silence ensued. Then, without a word, he turned and walked out the door of the room.

When he came back, there was a small, middle aged woman with him.

She pulled a chair up to the side of the bed.

"My dear," she said gently, "what were you doing in that garage at sunset?"

Oh God. Who were these people? She thought she was safe for a moment. Didn’t they talk about making rounds? She assumed they were Guides from the Road. Had she made a terrible mistake? Were they the State "counselors?" She looked a little like them, so plain and no makeup or anything. One of them came to school last year to explain to her class why the girls were "graduating" early. They seemed so nice at first. But in the end they would turn her in or at least send her back.

She did not answer.

The woman said nothing.

Time – it seems like about a thousand years – passed.

The woman’s pocket began to play a tune. She grabbed it and pounded on it. Too late. A cell phone. Even though cell phones had been forbidden for a while now, she remembered when they used to play music, and what’s more she knew that song — "It’s Raining Men!" The girls used to sing it in the bathroom before, and a few of the rebellious ones still did. They could not be from Virginia if they had the gay anthem on their cell phone. She began to hum the rest.

"Okay," the man said to the woman with the cell phone. Were you waiting to be picked up?" he said.

She nodded.

"You’re in."

She’s in. They really exist. She found them. The Rainbow Road to freedom, a long, multicolored path from Red states to Blue. People whispered about them in the toilet, but no one had ever met one — the legendary Rainbow Guides. Soon she would be gone. Gone from Virginia, gone to Baltimore to live with her friend Joanna. Or to New York. Maybe she could even go back and finish high school. If she could find work, she could send herself to college. Her dad always said she was very smart. She used to get really good grades. She could listen to Car Talk.

She threw up all over herself. The man ran for something, but it was too late. She puked up crackers and cheese from her brother’s house, the candy bars she had taken to tide her over until they came for her, a coke. Vomiting on the sheets in their nice clean bead, retching and retching until nothing was left. Crying and apologizing, her head throbbing from the motion, she finally fell back against the pillow.

They cleaned her up. They did not seem to be mad, but there was a difference in their faces and their voices. And they left without another word. What had she done? Surely they weren’t going to send her back because she dirtied their sheets?

When they returned, they had a sober look.

"What is it?" she said. "I’m so sorry I messed up your beautiful bed. Are you going to send me back?"

"Of course we’re not going to send you back. Not even for linen sheets," the man said in a tone of mild amusement. His voice darkened. "But we can’t move you until we find out if you have a concussion. Throwing up is a symptom of concussion. And we cannot locate the doctor who used to help us. We have nothing to do but wait. If I could have found him, I would have had him examine you hours ago."

That’s okay. She would wait. She would be happy to wait here forever. When they turned on the lamp she saw beautiful drawings on the wall. She never had linen sheets, even if she did barf them up. Who were these people?

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