Parthenogenesis and Catastrophe

A poorly-kept secret among my colleagues at the ICE detention centers is that we force pregnant women who illegally cross the US-Mexico border to undergo abortions.

I’ve never been proud of it, but a job’s a job. National security is more important than my feelings.

Susan Dell is the doctor who performs the procedures at the camp I supervise. She loves her line of work. She’s a true believer of the whole Trumpian worldview if there ever was one.

I remember asking her early on if the whole abortion thing went against the pro-life positions espoused on the bumper stickers displayed on her truck.

“There’s pro life,” Susan replied, waving her hand inclusively between the two of us, “and there’s that.” She gestured at the throngs of detainees. “That’s not life. That’s something… else.”

And that’s how she left it.

Months later and countless abortions performed, I had no doubt about her convictions. Convictions, but also enthusiasm. If anyone loves their job, it’s her.

Last week, the first wave of illegals from the latest of those migrant caravans arrived at our center. They’d been scooped up at the nearest crossing. We did what we needed to do as far as identifying them, checking our databases, our allies’ databases, and all that. For the most part, everything was going normally.

At the end of the group, though, was a couple — a man and a much younger woman. A girl, really. Maybe 40 and 15, respectively. She was heavily pregnant.

“Probably cartel lifers,” one of the guards remarked. “No papers, no luggage, no nothing.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, and gestured at the pregnant girl. “She’s too far along for Susan, though. Gotta be at least eight months.”

The guard shrugged. “Dunno if that’ll stop her.”

I was floored. “What do you mean? She could probably be induced at that stage and deliver without a complication.”

Again, the guard shrugged. “Hell of a burden on the taxpayers if these camps turn into anchor-baby stations. Besides, I heard the doc gets incentives for every procedure. Incentives that come from all the way up top.” He jerked his head toward a photograph of the president on the wall.

“That can’t be right,” I said, mostly to myself. “I’ll talk to Susan about it.”

That evening, I visited Susan in her office. She was going over her schedule.

“Did you see the new girl they brought in this morning?” I asked. “She can’t be a day over fifteen.”

She nodded. “Which means that savage she came with got on top of her when she was fourteen. Even if she was asking for it, she’s still a child. I hope we can charge him with something.”

I didn’t disagree. The guards had been roughing him up since they’d been brought in. He denied over and over ever touching her, but that’s what they all say.

“So what’s on the docket for you tonight?” I asked. Over the last few days, we’d detained close to fifty women. Their physical exams showed three pregnancies.

“That very girl,” Susan answered. She didn’t seem perturbed.

I took a step back. “Wait, you can’t be serious.”

“Why not? She doesn’t get any special treatment.”

“But Susan, my God, she’s gotta be at least eight months.”

“Almost nine, actually. She’s a high priority for me because if she gets too stressed and ends up giving birth out there, that kid’s a citizen. I’m not about to lose my bonus this quarter.”

Susan stood up. “Come on Leslie, we’ll walk and talk. She’s getting prepped as we speak. You can observe if you want.”

I didn’t know what I wanted. Deep down, I agreed with her. And I knew her, and our, directives. But God, she’d be killing that baby. It was something we always accused the other side of doing.

I remembered Susan gesturing at the detainees when she delineated what did and didn’t constitute life. I was filled with waves of cognitive dissonance. We walked toward the medical center and she filled me in on what was going to happen.

“Once I fill out a particular form that designates the official beginning of an abortion, it terminates the legal recognition of that quote-unquote baby if it needs to be quote-unquote delivered during the procedure. There’s a window of thirty minutes between when I can fill out the form and when I can start, which makes it a balancing act. It was the best the lawyers could do — we got a lot of pushback. We induced this one right after she came in, though, and they tell me she’s ready.”

We reached the medical center. The girl was strapped to a table, nude and immobilized. She was sobbing, both with grief, and, from what I remember from my own two children, pain. A nurse was speaking Spanish to her, instructing her not to push. I positioned myself behind her so I could see Susan as she worked.

“It’s okay, she can start,” Susan directed, shooting an evil glare at the man the girl had arrived with.

He was on the other side of the room, bound, gagged, and held by guards. They were forcing him to watch. That I didn’t mind at all. Let the bastard suffer.

The girl moaned in pain and fear, all while offering prayers to “Jesús.”

Some time passed as instructions were given to the girl. Cries, sharp and muffled, came from the two detainees. I stared at the floor as Susan spoke to the nurse.

“Okay, she’s crowning now. Once the head is out, I have a choice of either entering the top of the skull with this, or waiting until the neck is exposed before cutting the spinal cord with these. I’m opting for the latter.”

My unease deepened. I told myself this was for the good of everyone else — that some ugliness in the world is necessary for beautiful things to grow later on.

A baby’s shriek echoed through the room, causing me to jump. My vision spun. I worried I was about to pass out. Something was wrong.

The room seemed too bright. Far too bright.

“What is that?” the nurse inquired.

“Someone fix the lights in here!” Susan barked, then, more softly, muttered, “what the fuck?”

The light intensified. The baby screamed and the girl prayed her single-word prayer, over and over and over. Still held by guards, the male detainee squirmed and tried to break free.

My curiosity was getting the better of me. I needed to see what they were talking about. Before I could, there was a dull crunch, followed the the sharp clink of two metal blades meeting one another. The baby’s scream stopped short, as if unplugged.

Instantly, the light began to fade.

There was a moment where nothing happened.

Underneath the wailing of the girl, Susan was murmuring to herself. I couldn’t understand her words. Before I could ask what she was saying, she bolted from the room.

The nurse was hot on her heels.

The guards followed them out with the man, still screaming behind his ball gag.

I was alone with the girl. She stared at the ceiling, mouthing her prayer.

The strange light was still there, but diminishing fast. I couldn’t help myself. I peeked at the area where Susan and the nurse had been working. It’s something I wish I’d never done.

A small circle of light hung above the head of the dead infant, his shoulders still inside his mother. The circle flickered for half a second, then disappeared.

A sensation of coldness beyond anything I can describe filled me. A violent shudder passed through the ground, shaking the medical instruments. Glass broke behind me. I didn’t look to see what had fallen.

The girl was whimpering. “Jesús. Jesús. Oh, Jesús.”

My mouth was dry. My throat felt swollen. A question wanted to leave my lips, but I worried I couldn’t get the words out.

When I spoke, it was barely a whisper. Barely an exhalation. “What are your names? You and the father… what are your names?”

The girl looked at me with blank, uncomprehending eyes. Dead eyes.

I tried again in the best Spanish I could recall. “¿Como…como se llaman?”

The girl’s mouth moved wordlessly for a full minute. When she spoke, her voice was death itself. “José,” she rasped. “José y Maria.”

© Max Lobdell, 2019. May not be reproduced in any format without express written permission.

11 Replies to “Parthenogenesis and Catastrophe”

  1. So many of your stories leave me with lingering feelings; wonder, sadness, occasionally nausea ;). This particular story has left me with a profound sadness tinged with emptiness. You have incredible talent to wring out those feelings with so few words.

  2. Beautiful! I’ve been waiting for an update from you. So glad another story’s been published. Been a while. I’m an avid fan of your works <3

  3. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I’ve made it through the entire Slough series multiple times without even flinching. I’ve read Sade and Emmy Smols. But this? This is the only thing you’ve written that has made me genuinely sick to my stomach. Why? Because it could be true. Not the second coming of Christ part, but the forced abortions. I was legitimately almost crying reading this. I’m pro-choice, through and through, but this is so beyond that. Anyways, welcome back Max. We missed you, you fucking monster. Hope to see more work from you soon.

  4. Took me a couple of reads to get. She gave birth to Jesus because her name was Mary and the father was josè who were Jesus parents

  5. I’m not exactly a bleeding heart but trump and his lackeys truly are irredeemable pieces of s**t. This tale was brutal and relevant. Vote blue, folks.

  6. The thing that’s horrifying about this one isn’t what happens in it, it’s the fact that it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility… Honestly, with the way it started, I thought it was going to be a true story for a minute. I could see this happening in real life. Wow, this is good

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