No one remembered Sally. Perhaps no one even knew Sally. Sure, people had heard of Sally. Her picture had splashed across the news in a dramatic end to a quiet life. A life cut short by desperation. A tragic death.
Sally stared at the mirror, forward, then sideways.
Can you see the bulge? Perhaps if I arrange my dress this way, no one will notice.
Her thoughts flitted like the sunbeams spilling through the window. Nervous. Excited.
Sally eased herself into the chair, hiding her belly by slouching forward. She stared at the papers on her desk.
The pastor walked by, and Sally averted her eyes.
“Hey, Sal. How are you? You know, I really need that bulletin done, and can you answer some of those emails, people really are interested in the church lately, and I need…”
The stream of words stopped as the pastor’s eyes moved from Sally’s breasts to her stomach. Sally winced.
“What? What? I really thought you were better than that.” The pastor slammed his hand on the desk and papers went flying. “Sexual immorality will not be tolerated in this place, do you hear? You are supposed to be a role model in this church.”
Sally cowered under the pastor’s outburst. Her mind darted back to that late night dog walk, the rush of fear, the piercing pain. Then the darkness. A long nothingness. Then a hospital room, an exam, a police report.
Sally breathed back her tears and looked down at her hands. Hands that should have protected her that night. Why did she not know better?
“Get out of here. You are done. I never want to see you again. All employees in my church must live their lives beyond reproach. Do. You. Understand?”
Sally could no longer hold back the tears. She whispered, “Without this job how can I ever pay my rent? Maybe there’s another way. Nobody knows yet. It’s still early…”
“Go get another job you sinner! Are you thinking about abortion? You deserve to burn in hell!”
Sally ran out the door, tears falling all over the new carpet.
Sally adjusted the dress suit. It was already small on her, it had been donated by a friend. Now it would never fit over that belly.
She breathed in deeply and walked through the glass doors. She sat down in the waiting room and smoothed out her resume in her lap.
A woman walked through the door, dressed neatly in pants and a white blouse. Her heels clicked on the floor. “Sally?”
Sally stood up to shake her hand.
She quickly looked Sally down from head to toe. “May I see your resume?”
Sally handed the paper over, her hands trembling.
The woman studied the resume for a moment. “I’m sorry, there are so few jobs right now. Are you sure that you don’t have any other experiences? Your resume is just so… bare. Have you tried the local restaurants? What about retail, fast food, anything?”
Sally bowed her head low. “I’ve tried everything, ma’am. I was hoping your agency…”
“Well, I’m sorry. The economy is tough for everyone right now. Check back in a few months.”
Department of Human Services.
Sally studied the sign on the wall. So imposing. So sterile, she thought. They always told me that only lazy sinners and takers go to this place. Am I lazy, God? Am I a taker? Maybe I should leave now.But where can I go? Doesn’t God care about my baby? Doesn’t God care about me?
She looked at the clock on the wall. 9:35. She looked down at the slip of paper in her hands. Appointment time: 9:30 am. Intake counselor: Linda.
“Are you Sally?” Sally looked up to a tired, grimacing face. “Come on back, I’ll see if I can help you.” Linda turned and walked toward the back of the office. Sally tried to keep pace with Linda’s fast step, fast stream of mutters. “Geez, when will this ever end? It will be so busy again today. I know bad economy and everything, but really. Can’t people learn to take care of themselves?”
Linda popped down at her desk. Sally eased her heavy belly into the chair on the other side.
Linda shuffled through the paperwork. “Now, Sally, I see that you are in your ninth month of pregnancy. We can open a new case for you. I can see you have little cash reserves, and your need is immediate.”
“Yes, ma’am, I tried to save, but it’s all gone now. Rent and everything…” Sally blinked back her tears.
Linda didn’t look up. “I can get you food stamps today, and I will put you in the pre-TANF program. You will have to let me know as soon as your baby is born. With a family of two, you can get about $400 month. How is your housing situation right now? I hope you don’t pay more than $200 rent. I can put you on the wait list for Section 8 housing, but it is a three or four year wait. You are not required to work right now, but you will have to start looking for a job when your baby is 6 months old.”
Sally stared at her hands and nodded. She thought back to the opinion article she read the day before. “Many people are turning to government assistance, using the economy as an excuse. Did you know that welfare recipients are not required to work in many states? The government provides everything for them. Do you know that they can even buy lobster with their food stamps? There are simply no restrictions. This laziness is spreading to the millions on unemployment as well. The Republicans are right to put an end to all of this and return to the principles of hard work on which our country was founded. The family is breaking apart and so many unwed mothers are causing poverty to rise…”
“I’m not lazy, am I?” Sally whispered.
Linda finally looked up from her paperwork. “What did you say?” she asked sharply. Sally shut her eyes in fear.
Linda looked back down and slid a paper toward Sally. “Never mind. Just write your social security number here and fill out this other form. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Sally moaned in pain. How much longer could this go on? How much longer could she be strong? The hospital gown scratched her skin as the contractions gripped her belly.
“Push. Push! You’re almost there!” The doctor stood by her legs, giving clinical orders. The nurse placed a cool cloth on her forehead.
Sally longed for a drink of water. At least she would meet her baby soon. Hope in a dark world. If she was a girl, Sally would name her Hope. A contraction blazed through her thoughts. Sally drew in her breath, found her last strength, and cried out as she pushed one more time.
“Congratulations! It’s a girl!” The doctor’s jubilant words were met with silence. The seconds ticked by. Under his breath the doctor whispered, “Come on, baby. Just breathe.”
“Sally, we are going to take your baby down the hall,” the nurse said as she rushed out of the room.
Sally was too tired to cry, too tired to feel. This baby was everything, all she had left in the world. She buried her face in the pillow and closed her eyes. God, You took my job, you took my house, you took my dignity. Do you have to take my baby? God, do you even exist? Why is the world so bad?
“I hear your cry, I feel your pain.” The answer came back in Sally’s broken heart. “I have prepared heaven for people like you. Hold on. I see the sin of the world, I see how people have hurt you, and I will judge. Sleep, little one, sleep. Your child is back in the arms of my angels.”
“I’m sorry, Sally. With no child, you are no longer eligible for TANF. You can get food stamps. You need to start looking for work.” Linda patted Sally’s hand, her demeanor softer than before.
“But where will I live? I was using all the money to rent a room. Now I can’t even do that.” Sally sobbed.
“Perhaps you can stay in a family shelter. Call 211 for assistance. I can’t do any more for you. I’m sorry.”
Sally left the DHS office. The wind whipped at her hair, and she could hear the sea gulls crying by the beach. They seemed upset at the weather change. Rain began to fall, mixing with the tears on her face.
Sally used her sleeve to wipe the water off her face. She looked at the clouds and then at the road in front of her. She stared at the bridge, not too far to walk. “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” she whispered.
The evening news splashed across the town’s television screens. “Woman’s body recovered in Cangey River. People passing by on the pedestrian bridge tried to stop the suicidal young woman. Rescue crews were sent, but it was too late. The identity of the woman has not yet been released. It was a tragic death.”