Red Stain on a Yellow Dress

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(Burak Kebapci / Creative Commons)

Editor’s word: In 2021, author Julia MacDonnell printed a set, The Topography of Hidden Stories, which included a narrative notably related at this historic second. Lately, she described this story, “Crimson Stain on Yellow Gown,” as a “fictional meditation on what younger ladies could have skilled within the epoch earlier than the passage of Roe v. Wade” and added a warning that the story is “gritty and bloody, the best way issues was. Perhaps you’ll weep whenever you learn it, the best way I did after I wrote it.”


“Inform me what you’ll be sporting, hon,” says the lady on the telephone. “, so I can spot you immediately.”

Serena, huddled in a telephone sales space exterior Woolworth’s, shivers regardless of the August warmth. Her fingers, clutching the black receiver, really feel as if she’s shoved them into snow. She has bother remembering her garments. When she does, she eliminates most of them immediately, her lengthy skirts and her bell bottoms, her floppy hats and beads and feathers.

“Hurry up, honey,” the lady urges. “I can’t wait all day.”

“Yellow, a yellow costume,” blurts Serena, then hears herself describing one she’d sewn not lengthy earlier than as a part of her plan to go trying to find a job as a receptionist or secretary. An A-line knit with cap sleeves and a jewel neckline.

“Carry money, $600 in small payments, 10s and 20s,” the lady instructs.

“Positive,” whispers Serena.  She has about $400 rolled up in a nylon stocking in her room at Maggie’s Farm.

“Your first title?”

“Serena,” she solutions, providing not her actual title, however one she’s given to herself, one she likes a lot better than her personal. Janine, or Janny, as her mom known as her, a reputation that wouldn’t do in any respect for the life she deliberate to have.

“Now, Serena, whenever you get there, you simply sit and wait. I’ll discover you, okay?” says the lady. “You’ll know me whenever you see me. Crimson hair and sun shades.”

On the day of Serena’s journey, Maggie’s Farm, a commune on a bend within the Connecticut River, may be very quiet. The hippies and the Trotskyists have left for the Democratic Nationwide Conference in Chicago and the skin demonstrations, the Competition of Life. Alone for the primary time in ages, feeling herself adrift within the unaccustomed silence, Serena sits on her mattress, holding the yellow costume she herself has sewn. Via the small-paned window, stubbled cornfields stretch for acres out to the brand new interstate. Quickly she’ll board a Greyhound that can carry her south alongside it.

Sitting within the dusty gentle, bare and nonetheless damp from her bathtub, Serena picks on the puckered seams of her costume, fascinated by her mom, a seamstress who specialised in clothes for household celebrations. This time of yr, August, when the First Communion, marriage ceremony and commencement rush was over, and the demand for vacation finery hadn’t but begun, she sewed cocktail clothes for herself, spangled wonders with spaghetti straps and low-cut backs, planning to get her singing profession again on observe. As soon as Serena caught her, decked out in a shimmering lame quantity, lip-synching to Sinatra in entrance of the full-length mirror in her stitching room. I’ve received the world on a string…

Fingering the yellow knit’s plain bodice, Serena remembers her mom hand stitching intricate patterns of seed pearls, rhinestones, sequins on bodices and veils, her fingers dipping into the glistening cups of beads, her needles flashing. The very first thing Serena herself had sewn was a pink cotton shirt with a Peter Pan collar. When she’d completed, she rushed off to indicate her mom, who examined the garment rigorously, then tugged on the tiny stitches, tugged till the items of pink cotton got here aside.

“Too weak to carry,” she mentioned, handing the ruined shirt again to Serena.

Typically, on this massive home by the river, Serena imagines she’s again in her mom’s stitching room, amid falling scraps of cloth, with Frank Sinatra singing on the hi-fi above the buzzing clatter of the stitching machine. I’ve received a crush on you, sweetie pie. All of the day and evening time hear me sigh…

Earlier than placing on her costume, Serena takes out her cash, the $400 saved from modeling for all times lessons on the college, the opposite $200 borrowed from associates she is going to overlook to pay again. She divides the money into two equal piles, rolls the piles, wraps them in rubber bands and places the rolls into her bra, one underneath every breast. When she crosses her arms underneath her chest, she feels the swollen lumps of money.

By the point Serena will get off the Greyhound, after using by the evening, she is within the state of dreamy numbness she equates with greater consciousness. She has reached her vacation spot, the nation’s capital, a lot too early, nevertheless it was the most effective connection she may make from western Massachusetts.

Following the directions of the lady on the telephone, Serena walks the size of the terminal—from her arrival gate to a bench dealing with the newsstand with a small American flag by the money register. Via the closest doorway is a shoeshine stand, not but opened, and subsequent to it, a blue mailbox, simply as the lady had defined. Serena, as instructed, takes a seat on the bench, and tries to give attention to the lady who will come for her, a girl with pink hair and sun shades. Crimson hair and sun shades. Crimson hair and sun shades.

As she had throughout the journey from Maggie’s Farm, Serena worries that the lady will fail to indicate up; that they won’t join; that she, Serena, might be left ready within the bus station endlessly, her physique swelling, her thoughts disintegrating, her life over. For days, in goals, Serena has imagined this lady coming for her. As soon as the lady was her mom, younger and vibrant, hardly older than she, Serena. One other time, it was she herself, Serena, who arrived, and the lady she rescued was a stranger, plump and pimply, alone on a terminal bench within the bus station of an unfamiliar metropolis.

Twice throughout the evening, Serena had thrown up, gagging over the bus’s stinking bathroom. Ready by the newsstand, Serena feels once more the urge to puke, however is afraid to go away the bench, to enter the lavatory, within the case the lady comes. She whispers the Hail Mary, Blessed artwork thou amongst ladies, blessed is the fruit of thy womb. The nausea passes however a corrosive fluid bubbles in her throat.

Then the lady’s there beside her, sitting and whispering. Serena turns and appears, sees the pink hair is a wig, stiff and glossy as a helmet. The sun shades are cat’s eyes, with rhinestones on the comers, so darkish she will be able to’t even see the define of the lady’s eyes. Her lipstick is blight pink, utilized in neat strokes past the sides of her lips.

“Serena,” she repeats.

Serena follows the redhead out of the terminal to a blue Valiant, parked at a meter a number of blocks away. The girl begins to drive across the metropolis and Serena turns into bedazzled by its buildings, majestic columned edifices, the White Home, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument. These nice constructions, which Serena is seeing for the primary time, are glistening within the morning gentle, without delay deeply acquainted and unreal.

The girl drives and drives and Serena begins to assume they’re getting into circles, passing the identical monuments, the identical intersections. They drive till Serena emerges from her state of dreamy numbness and desires to scream or soar out of the automobile. Then the buildings begin to change, rising darker, smaller, and ultimately, when Serena is not prepared, the redhead pulls over. In entrance of them is a go-go bar with a flashing pink neon signal formed like a bra. Subsequent to the Valiant on Serena’s facet, a flowered sofa tilts between the sidewalk and the gutter. Darkish stains streak its cushions. Serena, staring out the window, wonders in the event that they’ve reached their vacation spot; if the process is to be carried out right here, on the flowered sofa, in entrance of the go-go bar with the flashing neon bra.

“Have the cash?” asks the redhead. She lights up a Marlboro, pulled from a flip-top field. Serena nods sure, however has bother reaching down the neckline of her costume to get it. Lastly she manages by sliding low into the seat and undoing her again zipper. The girl ignores Serena’s wriggling. “You get what you pay for,” she says, rolling down her window, exhaling smoke by the crack.

“Heat,” she says when Serena fingers her the 2 neat rolls of money. The girl removes the rubber bands and flattens the payments out in her lap. She counts them twice, then places them into her purse.

“Don’t be scared, hon,” the redhead says. She places the Valiant into gear. “He’s an actual physician. He doesn’t make errors.”

Now the redhead leads Serena into the lounge of a small condominium. Its blinds are drawn, however no lights have been turned on. A number of different ladies sit within the twilight ready. Nobody turns when Serena enters. A small fan rotates on a espresso desk.

“How lengthy will it take?” she asks the redhead, her voice insubstantial within the nonetheless air. The girl shrugs.

“It takes the time it takes. He’ll be as cautious with you as he’s with all of the others.”

The girl disappears, however returns in a second. She fingers Serena a blue tablet and a paper cup of water. Serena, overcoming one other impulse to throw up, swallows the blue tablet with tepid water. Shortly, she re-enters her state of dreamy numbness, and a mist appears to encompass her. The opposite ladies flip into shadows, and one after the other they disappear. Serena retains pondering she is going to hear one thing. Weeping. Perhaps the gnashing of enamel. She listens rigorously, lids lowered, ears straining. She hears nothing however the whir of the fan rotating on the desk.

The process is carried out within the kitchen, on a desk that’s draped with white. Quickly Serena, too, is draped like a bit of furnishings, her toes strapped to the tops of kitchen chairs positioned backward on the desk. Mendacity on the desk, she will be able to see, by the window over the sink, a scrap of blue sky and wisps of cloud. The physician is bald and he wears bi-focals, a surgical masks, a short-sleeved seersucker shirt. He’s enormous, puffy, like a plastic creature somebody has inflated. His fingers are massive and pink. Serena has bother him, bother watching as the lady with the sun shades helps him placed on the surgical gloves.

“This might be a routine dilation and curettage, Serena,” he says, his phrases muffled by the masks. ”I’ll be opening you up and cleansing you out.”

He clears his throat, attracts Serena’s consideration to his instruments-the duck-billed speculum and the curette, a sharp-edged silver scoop. They glitter in his palms.

“It is going to solely harm for a minute,” he says. “Then you’ll be able to go away right here and go on together with your life.”

The physician places the fingers of 1 hand into Serena, probes the unripe fruit of her womb. Together with his different, he presses her stomach on the skin. He nods, making throaty noises. “You’re farther gone than you mentioned,” he says. “All you damned ladies lie. Why?”

He doesn’t appear to need a solution and Serena doesn’t give him one. The girl within the sun shades stands within the doorway watching.

It is going to solely harm for a minute,” he says. “Then you’ll be able to go away right here and go on together with your life.”

Now the physician disappears into the white-draped house between Serena’s knees. The speculum is chilly and it squeaks as he cranks it open. He provides Serena no anesthesia however she is numb there anyway. Ache gathers elsewhere, shivering in her hips and ribs, skittering by her arms and shoulders, encircling in her throat.

Serena hears the clanking of the devices and the low voice of the physician telling her what he’s doing, a voice she doesn’t need to hear. She doesn’t need to know what he’s doing, however she can’t appear to inform him. She can’t converse. Then she sees her mom’s stitching room, the furnishings and flooring draped with clear white sheets to guard the delicate materials she fashions into robes. She sees her mom surrounded by lengths of those materials: satin, tulle, taffeta, shantung; her mom, a tough brilliant factor, a stone, on this rainbow of luscious shade; her mom, so small, hunched behind the large machine that she appeared all the time to be hiding. Her mom, buzzing together with Sinatra as an alternative of singing phrases. The summer season wind got here blowing in from throughout the ocean…

With the physician hidden within the tent between her legs, Serena remembers how she used to cover underneath the stitching desk; how, if her mom had been engaged on a marriage robe, a ball robe, she’d drape the material so it felt like water to the bottom and Serena, underneath the desk, can be sealed right into a shadowy world of translucent cloth. Because the physician works, and ache tightens like a drawstring round Serena’s throat, she remembers her mom’s scrap bag, the sack into which she dropped leftover cloth, all of the items that didn’t match however had been too good to throwaway. Velvets, cottons, brocades in lots of prints and colours. Serena, hiding in her tent underneath the desk, would choose by this sack, in search of fairly bits and items, making patchworks on the ground.

Serena tries imagining a design of shimmering pastels, however the patchwork is not going to come collectively. As a substitute Serena sees her mom, sees her mom watching, hunched behind the large machine, but watching, her busy fingers working, her eyes as lovely and empty because the jewels she sewed on different ladies’s robes.

“It’s over, you’re achieved,” the physician declares, his masked face rising like a moon above the mountain of Serena’s knees. She is drenched with perspiration. Her legs and arms quiver as if the physician had severed some important little bit of wiring when he’d cleaned her out. She can’t catch her breath.

“It’s nothing, see,” the physician says, instantly standing very shut, holding out a metal pan, tipping it towards her. “See, it’s only a bunch of cells.”

Serena appears to be like away however not earlier than she’s glimpsed the puddled blood and clotted tissue shining within the silver pan. The girl within the sun shades comes and takes it. A second later, Serena hears a bathroom flush.

Serena continues to be vibrating when the lady tells her to stand up and placed on her sneakers. “You’re high-quality, you’ll be high-quality,” the lady repeats as she drives Serena again to the bus station. The journey is shorter this time. They don’t go in circles, however as an alternative head straight towards the terminal. Serena sees the smooth canine painted on its brick facet, physique outstretched, face and limbs straining in its race. Serena is questioning the place the canine is headed when the lady pulls up on the curb and tells her to get out.

“You’re high-quality, you’ll be high-quality,” she says once more. “It is best to cease bleeding in a few week.”

Serena finds her method again into the terminal. She realizes she’s ravenous, and nonetheless shaking with the unusual palsy. She searches by her purse for change, finds sufficient for a sweet bar. She buys a Milky Approach, eats it in a single swallow. Then she has to pee, a necessity that says itself as painfully as her sudden starvation. She rushes into the women room. All of the stalls are locked with coin containers. She is standing there transfixed when a girl’s voice turns her round.

“Woman, look there. You gotta blood stain in your skirt.”

A matron in a blue uniform is pointing behind Serena’s dress-.

Serena twists, trying backward, reaching for her hemline. The matron takes maintain of the skirt, tugs it ahead, till Serena herself can learn the Rorschach.

“You bought one thing to vary into? Or a minimum of a pad? You bought a pad, lady?”

Serena appears to be like at her. The matron shakes her head, places some cash right into a field over the sink and fingers Serena two sanitary napkins.

“Go clear your self up,” she instructions, utilizing her key to open one of many stalls. Serena obeys, her legs and fingers twitching. Nonetheless she can’t converse.

When Serena finishes in the bathroom, the matron tries to assist her wash the stain out within the sink. Serena stands near hcr, half-backward to the sink, watching pink watcr splash by the yellow knit into the white porcelain of the sink. The define of the stain stays, pink as Hester’s letter.

“Received your self into some mess, huh, lady?” the matron says, wringing out the skirt, rubbing it with paper towels.

“It’s simply my interval,” Serena lies.

“Uh-huh,” the matron solutions.

They take a look at each other within the mirror, however Serena sees herself someplace far past them: in a room by the river, hidden in a silky tent, the delicate cloth billowing round her. Once more, Serena wonders what her mom would have instructed her if she’d been inclined to talk. However she can’t think about. As a result of her mom hadn’t been inclined to talk, solely to maintain her fingers shifting, her silver needles flashing, whereas she hummed together with Sinatra singing on the stereo.

Throughout the evening, on the best way again, the Greyhound’s ventilated air blows like a mistral round Serena, chilling her whereas she sleeps. It gusts towards the home windows, whistles up from vents across the flooring, slips by the crevices between the seats. Serena goals that she is misplaced in a coastal storm; that every little thing she cares about has blown away. She wakes up chattering and shuddering. She wonders what it was she’d cared about, however no clear pictures stayed along with her from the dream.

The bus is sort of empty and she or he is sitting close to the entrance. A transistor radio is hooked up with duct tape to the dashboard. The driving force is listening to the information. Tons of of protesters arrested exterior the conference in Chicago, then hauled off to jail.

“Need my jacket, doll?” the motive force asks her. “I can’t do something about that air.”

Serena doesn’t reply him. She doesn’t acknowledge that he has spoken to her. He pulls into the following relaxation cease and brings her his jacket anyway. She doesn’t thank him, however he doesn’t appear to thoughts. As soon as the bus is underway, she curls up contained in the jacket, its lining chilly and slippery as water. It smells of tobacco and sweat. Serena attracts up her legs, pulling them underneath the jacket. She feels blood spurt onto the Kotex and hopes the pad will maintain. The jacket’s lining warms towards her pores and skin, and Serena pulls it nearer.

The buzzing of the Greyhound lulls Serena, however she doesn’t return to sleep. Nor does she hearken to the information of rioting on the Democratic Nationwide Conference. As a substitute, by the Greyhound’s large windshield, glistening with mirrored gentle, she watches the pink taillights of the automobiles in entrance of them; the headlights of these touring in the other way. The passing panorama is blackened, lightless, as in the event that they’re boring by a tunnel, a whole lot of miles lengthy.

Serena’s going again to Maggie’s Farm however not for lengthy. The place, after that, she doesn’t know, nevertheless it doesn’t appear to matter. As a result of she is aware of now that it’s over. Quickly she is going to cease bleeding. She will go on along with her life.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether or not you your self have had an abortion, or just stand in solidarity with those that have—to let the Supreme Courtroom, Congress and the White Home know: We is not going to surrender the suitable to protected, authorized, accessible abortion.

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