Customer Appreciation (A Short Story About Abortion)

“Come on sweetheart, I’m due for my appointment.” She was putting together her outfit while waiting for her husband. It was hard to keep everything where it should be now that she was visibly pregnant. He walked to the front door slowly, looking vaguely ill. She watched him for a moment before inquiring, “Are you all right?”

He shrugged and spoke softly, “I’m fine, dear. Are you ready?”

“Of course, but you’ve forgotten your coat!” She walked over to the closet and retrieved it for him. “Here. Fine or not, you already look a little pale and I’m not going to have to get sick.”

He took it, muttered a thank-you and escorted her to the car. He drove mostly in silence, responding to his wife’s chatter with monosyllable answers. She was becoming moderately concerned about him, but she understood he simply had his moods sometimes.

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They reached the clinic and entered the building. The waiting room was bright and well-decorated, like most medical offices. She was still surprised that her husband had found a doctor with as dingy as office as he did, but he said he felt more comfortable there. The receptionist of the empty room, apparently eager for someone to talk to, gave them a quick, cheerful greeting. After signing in, they had some casual conversation with the receptionist as they waited for the appointment time.

“So,” the receptionist said with a tone of sympathetic regret, “it’s another girl, hunh?”

“Yeah,” the woman sighed, “but we’re determined to start our family with a boy. Someone who can look out for his younger siblings and take charge of things when we get older.”

The receptionist was nodding, “I understand completely. A lot of parents use our services to optimize their families like that.”

He coughed politely, “Well, actually, I was thinking it wouldn’t be so ba-”

The receptionist cut him off icily, “It’s her body and her decision. If she doesn’t want to start her family with a girl, she doesn’t have to.”

The man looked down, “I know,” he said quietly, “I was just thinking that having our first child be a girl wouldn’t be so bad.”

His wife patted his arm, “We’ve discussed this several times already, sweetheart. You know I want a boy first.”

“I know, just-”

“Stop pressuring her then.”

He turned away and sat down in the waiting room, a strange expression on his face. His wife and the receptionist continued their conversation until her appointment time came up. In the meantime, he had a nap.

His wife woke him up, and for an instant he was thrown by her missing belly. But then he remembered where he was, and how many other times they had been here, and the shock passed, replaced by a feeling of sorrow. She was finished, of course, with the miracles of modern medicine as they were, so they went to the receptionist to clear the bill.

“Oh, no, remember?” the receptionist began, refusing the payment, “you signed up for our customer appreciation program the first time you came here, this one is free!”

She smiled and thanked the receptionist. He paled even more than he was previously, and walked her out of the clinic and drove her home.

That night, after his wife had fallen asleep, once again confident that her family would proceed as planned, he sat for a long time looking through a scrapbook. Whenever he head his wife stir, he lowered the book to the far side of his armchair. He’d wait for a few moments, then continue flipping through the book, his eyes bright and watery.

At some point, a look of deep sorrow and resolution came to his face, and he got up. Clutching the book against his chest, he made his way to the garage. The sound of the car’s engine echoed softly throughout the house, but his wife only woke up to the sound of the garage door, for whatever reason.

And she slept through the night.

“I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” She sobbed uncontrollably in her therapist’s office. “Oh if I knew…”

Her therapist offered her a tissue, “It’s not your fault, no one can ever know why someone decides to take their life, but you couldn’t’ve changed anything.”

The widow broke down crying for a minutes before recovering enough to speak, haltingly, “When the police came and pulled him out of the garage, they found a book and his note on the inside cover.” She pulled the book from large bag she brought with her, and handed it to the therapist before repeating, “I didn’t know, I never saw these. I never wanted too.” A realization seemed to strike her across the face, leaving shock in it’s wake. “I did know. I avoided making it real. Oh god oh god oh god.”

The therapist took took the book, and patted her hand before opening it. On the inside cover was a brief note:

“My darling daughters. Please forgive your father for not protecting you. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do. I hope see you soon.”

The rest of the book was a series of ultrasound printouts, with each set labeled with a name; Rachel, Julia, Sarah, Amanda. She put the book down without finishing it. “He had no right to do this.”

“He had no right?” She responded.

After the session reached its end, the widow left the therapist’s office and went to clear the bill with the secretary. The secretary smiled and said, “Well, we were recommended to you by your friend, so your first appointment is on us, compliments of our customer appreciation program.”

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