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The Price of Silence (chap 7-9)

In 2028, a Christian-nationalist president is elected. The Congress, Senate, and Supreme Court are liquidated and replaced with like-minded officials. A new series of laws and policies are enacted, code-named Project Picket Fence, outlawing women's rights in favor of stay-at-home mothers who are mandated to have five children or face prosecution. Ronnie Dolhyris is a single, infertile woman forced into nursing elite clients...with a secret side-business that could get her executed.

By CD TurnerPublished 3 months ago 18 min read
1

Catch up:

Chapters 1-3

Chapters 4-6

7

I sit still like a statue in my chair. I am the dutiful nurse once more, sitting beside an ailing Senator. Senator Peters' flu has progressed to pneumonia. The doctors and I are wearing masks which seems to deeply offend him.

"Oh, come on. What's the point of you if I can't see your face?" he says before having a coughing fit.

I blink obstinately. His Adjudicator duo guards the doors, both their faces like stone. Unmoving, unemotional, unremarkable. I wonder if they, too, dissociate during their long patrols.

A new doctor works here now and he's very young. Usually, the doctors are in their 50s because they are the most old-fashioned and are used to this dynamic. This new doctor is shorter, standing at 5'6, approximately. He's also handsome. Objectively handsome, I mean. He has the facial symmetry and certain characteristics women would have found attractive in the Before days. His jawline leads to a cleft chin. His lips curve into natural smiles, punctuated by dimples.

I find myself staring at the doctor for far too long. This is the last place to develop a crush. Maybe it's the isolation. Maybe it's the urge to be reckless, something to break the monotony of my limited purpose. I don't bother with fantasies. They just make me more depressed.

This doctor is also oddly cheery. He embraces his work with enthusiasm and tries to talk with the patients. He also doesn't quite know the protocol in dealing with nurses. As in, he's not supposed to engage in small talk with us.

"Good day, so far?" he asks when I'm organizing files later in the day.

He hands me a thick patient file. I hold it with trepidation.

The doctors are supposed to redact any information I don't need to know on a copy of the patient's work-up chart. Women aren't permitted to read unless the material has been deemed acceptable by the Decency Commission. Very few books make it through their censors. For files and records at the hospital, the nurses may only know the patient's name, date of birth, vitals, and chief complaint.

This doctor does not follow the protocol. And if he's not doing so, I'm not permitted to read the files. Only I can't exactly tell him this because I can't talk to him.

"Something wrong?" he wonders when I hand him back the file without opening it.

I look at him, embarrassed, a blush creeping up my neck to my cheeks. I look to a nearby Adjudicator for assistance.

"Nurses are not permitted to speak unless it's relevant to patient care. You must make a copy of the patient files and redact any information not deemed necessary for her documentation." the Adjudicator extols robotically.

"Seriously?" the young doctor asks incredulously.

Is he being kind or is he stupid? How does he not know of protocol in this society? Does he think women steer clear of him out of consideration and not the obvious fear of being deemed intimidating?

"It is our protocol, Dr. O'Shea."

"Very well. I'll make some copies." he responds, his cheeriness vanishing.

I guess he finally realizes where he is. Just in time.

Still, throughout the workday, he always seems to be near me like an orbiting planet. I can feel his eyes on me. Strangely enough, it doesn't feel intrusive like it does when sick old men are eyeing me. He isn't undressing me in his mind. He's...curious.

I'm curious, too. There's the smallest flicker of warmth in the pit of my belly. It's pleasant, like the heat in your stomach after a shot of whiskey. I am unfamiliar with the nuances of crushes and romantic interest. According to scripture, the mere thought of such impropriety is sin. Women's bodies are inherently sinful. Even the smallest of gestures are penalized like batting our eyelashes or the wiggle of our hips when we walk. I remember some preacher from the Before days saying that women were walking pornography. Our bodies are eye-traps. Every curve of my body is a snare that could incapacitate a man. It is our duty to cover ourselves so that we don't become stumbling blocks.

Yet, here I sit, in an ankle-length navy blue skirt with matching shapeless long-sleeved cotton tunic covering my arms from shoulder to wrist. The neck hole is irritatingly tight but absolutely no hint of collarbone or shoulder must be visible. The blue kerchief must hold back every strand of my hair that is curled tight into a bun beneath the fabric. I am as sexless as can be.

But I feel his eyes on me. Persistent, cloying, dare I say, amorous?

I want to tell him it's pointless. I am barren, destined to live and die alone. He is to perceive me as used up, like overtaxed cars, chewed gum, and spoiled food.

I remember sex-ed in high school, the abysmal object lessons. Classes passed back bowls of individually wrapped bubblegum, all taken except for one piece without a wrapper.

"Why didn't anyone want the unwrapped piece?" the teacher asked.

Sexual purity is a piece of unwrapped bubblegum. True unspoiled girls wait to be unwrapped on their wedding night. Nothing more godly than clueless men fumbling atop uneducated virgin flesh, hoping they get the right hole. The reality of valuing a girl's hymen more than her bodily autonomy is the growing dehumanization after wedding rings are exchanged. She has been broken in, tamed into a dutiful wife.

Is this what the doctor is hoping for? Because it's bold of him to assume he can choose.

*

I change back into my gray attire after a grueling shift. For the first time in a long while, I crave a cigarette. I used to vape in the Before days and smoked pot socially. I had to stop around time of the pandemic because quarantine made it significantly harder to have smoke breaks. But now I saw no reason for them to deprive me other than cruelty. I know Titan probably has connections for getting his pills and booze, but that's one hell of a risk just for some smokes.

It's ridiculous but I want a big, fat bacon cheeseburger. Not from a fast food restaurant, from a corner-store market that also sells glass bongs and tends to be a meeting place for drug dealers and sex workers. The cheeseburger would be prepared by a big guy with a pot belly and the bag it came in would be dripping with grease. That was freedom back then, to eat awfully and die young from heart disease. Sure beats being healthy and living a useless life.

I walk back to the Compound in the uncanny silence. I miss the noise of the city. The cacophonous sounds of construction on roads that were never not being worked on. The drone of voices as people strode by on the sidewalks, going about their lives. The sound of kids jump-roping or playing street hockey, occasionally pissing off the septuagenarians enough to come screaming at them.

I'm halfway home when I notice something scratching the back of my neck. I'm sure it's not the tag because those are removed before they're issued. I put my hand back and discover that someone has stapled a note to the back of my shirt. Careful to keep pace and avoid Adjudicators, I detach the note, hiding it in my sleeve. I already have my suspicions on who the note is from.

I keep my cool as I'm admitted to the building. No rushing, no fleeting look of anticipation. I must appear to have no secrets. I insert my keycard into the door and enter.

The flag glares at me accusingly as the automatic lights pop on. I try to figure out the best place I can read the note. I'm not exactly positive if there are cameras, but I must err on the side of caution. I don't honestly expect them to monitor our lives so intently. That's thousands of people to watch and I don't see them wasting time on that. The war is still raging, they need soldiers to fight, not sit around watching a screen.

I decide to kneel in front of my bed, head bowed. There. I'm being a dutiful woman, praying before bed. I whisper the Lord's Prayer while I slip the note out of my sleeve.

It's a strange cipher of letters. A coded message?

Xovnvmghlm Fmwvikzhh

Uirwzb

Vrtsg Gsrigb

8

Somehow, I know that I'm dreaming. The edges of my vision feather outwards, like a blurred halo. I'm in the hospital once more though I'm in an outfit I once wore in college: A mid-thigh, crocheted turtleneck dress over galaxy-printed leggings.

Suddenly, I realize I'm not just in a hospital. I'm in an operational theater, one with tiered benches behind plexiglass. I lie back on an operating table as I gaze at the crowd observing me. I recognize some of the faces. The faces of Appointed Senators and several belonging to former Senators and House Representatives of the slaughtered American government.

AP Beau Garrison appears before me, sitting on the gurney near my feet.

"You did this to yourself." he says boisterously. "Idle hands are the devil's playthings, after all."

He has black pits where his eyes should be. His hand grips my thigh, the fingers elongating into talons. I don't struggle against him. I can't. It's like my body is paralyzed.

"I didn't do anything wrong." I answer. "I didn't have sex. I didn't get abortions. You still decided that I was worthless."

"You're not worthless."

My head turns to see Dr. O'Shea sitting on the other side of the gurney. His face is in shadow but I recognize the voice.

"You barely know me. You don't know me at all." I whisper.

"I want to." he answers back gently.

I roll my eyes.

"I'm not a person here. There's nothing to know." I tell him.

"She's a dutiful nurse." AP Garrison commends me. "She lives to serve God."

"You serve man with the empty promise of God." Dr. O'Shea asserts to the preacher. "And you serve your own sick perversions."

Dr. O'Shea knocks aside AP Garrison's monstrous hand.

"Oh, and this young white knight rides in on a steed to save the fair maiden. You also serve your lusts, hypocrite." AP Garrison denounces him.

With one swift motion, Dr. O'Shea stands, slitting the throat of AP Garrison. He drops to the floor, bleeding out.

"This isn't going to happen." I tell him mournfully. "I don't get to have what I want. Or be who I want."

He smiles ruefully, sitting on the gurney.

"People don't fight to be someone. They fight to be free." the doctor reasons.

He kisses me. I'm shocked by the gesture but find my own lips responding in kind. It's invigorating, this wanton break of rules. I want so much more. I crave his skin, his weight upon my body, the touch of another human's flesh. It feels so real, so tactile, that when I wake up to nothing, I am solemn once again. The loss feels like starvation, even though I've never truly sated such hunger. Tears stream from my eyes as I miss something imagined.

It's the solitude that kills. Your mind becomes so desperate for contact that you believe a mirage, a semblance of another living soul. You begin crying out to the empty air for something, someone to touch.

Please...

Please...don't leave me here.

*

In my depressed stupor, I barely hear the beginning notes of the national anthem booming over an enormous PA system. They'd long abandoned Stars and Stripes for something far more suited to Draconian nationalism.

"Glory be to the Holy States,

From ash they rose uncharred!

God's judgment put us right again,

With burning faith in our hearts!"

It's the announcement for a State of the Holy Union Address from the dictator himself. I didn't have to move - the address would be piped down into my own stereo system I couldn't access or switch off. They had Union Addresses every couple of weeks to "inform" the public about the war effort. Sometimes resource shortages would be mentioned and certain rebel groups condemned.

"Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening my fellow Americans. May you honor God today with your praise." the voice of Holy Appointed President, Ezekiel Robbins. "I'm pleased to announce that God has blessed our trade routes, destroying the rebels who would deprive us of His bounty."

I snort humorlessly. I seriously doubt shaving cream and hemorrhoid ointment are of such priority when children are starving. But when have they ever actually cared about children?

I tune out the rest of the rambling. It's mostly about the war still raging at the borders of the Holy States. Likely, none of it is true or it's embellished with patriotic hokum to make it seem like this was a good idea in the first place. I know the economy is failing. What do you expect when you put half of the workforce on house arrest? This regime is more roughshod than it appears. It may seem functional at face value, but I see more destruction than development, more botched coat-hanger abortions than babies.

"Several underground rebel cells in Northern Virginia have been apprehended over the past week. Suspected parties are charged with dereliction of divine duty, aiding and abetting smugglers, and murder of the unborn."

My heart falls into my stomach.

Titan. The bunker. Any and all patients we treated. Someone must have ratted. We treat mainly lower-class castes, people who are hurt by the regime the most. On the rare occasion, we get a tradwife. One with an ectopic pregnancy who's husband is enough of a bastard to make her carry it to term, knowing it's impossible. But why would she narc? Does she think she's going to get commended for it?

I will know nothing about it. There are no phones, no text messaging. I know to come to the bunker by a sign Titan and I agreed on, a barely discernable red sticker on the wall in front of my apartment building.

I dig out the note again, pondering over it. I study each letter, trying to figure it out. It's hard to do this in my mind, but I'm not allowed to have pencils or pens. The Z in the third word could correspond to A...if that's true, B corresponds to Y. I apply this logic to the other letters. Soon, I get the word "Friday". Afterward, I reveal the rest of the message.

Clementson Underpass

Friday

Eight Thirty

Coordinates and a date.

Does this Dr. O'Shea seriously think I can just sneak out anytime I want to? There's a reason I have to wait for the red sticker from Titan. He and Ike have knowledge of the Adjudicator patrols and drones. Several conditions have to be met or it's too risky. Is it too cold, is there snow on the ground, are our foggy breaths and footprints going to give us away? Which Adjudicators are on tonight, the former Marine or the former stoner? Are there power usage restrictions in areas that could be used to our advantage?

I have the feeling Dr. O'Shea is a convert, manipulated into joining the regime by propaganda, because how can he not know the extent of our inequality? I'm angry with him, honestly. He could put my life in mortal danger.

I crumble up the note and go to flush it down the toilet. I stand before my reflection in the bathroom cabinet mirror. I look like a restless widow at a funeral in my gray cowl and matching eyebags. I never thought of my face as particularly attractive. I have a large nose and permanently pouting lips. When I was heavyset, my face was more rounded and I had a double chin. Now my face is oval-shaped with a pointed chin.

I have a headache from my tight hair bun. I pull my hair loose and scratch my head. I cringe as I feel my rough scalp and the crumble of dandruff. We only have one kind of shampoo and no conditioner. Women of color, specifically Black women, have to routinely shave their heads. The regime sees their hair as dirty and no longer produces hair care products for them. I find it just another way to dehumanize them. We have to keep our heads covered at all times, so why does it matter so much? The same regime also espouses that a woman's hair is her "glory" because it is a natural covering. I guess we are to assume it's a glory only for white women and a shame for every other race.

My hair does not feel glorious. It's long and heavy with split-ends. It looks tired like the rest of me, hanging limply like wet rags on a clothesline. I want to soak in the tub, but that's not an option. I only have a stand-in shower. The water only runs for fifteen minutes a day and is lukewarm. It's to make sure we aren't doing things we shouldn't be doing with our naked flesh.

I do take a shower, if only to get out of my gray prison clothes. My body is unremarkable. I'm no longer overweight, but still have a pouch of fat on my belly and thighs. My breasts are average-sized. I do a self-exam, feeling for any lumps or abnormalities. I doubt I would get treatment if I found something.

I had a libido once. Even if with no boyfriend, I had working parts. I remember exploring myself in my youth and in my nursing school days. I touched myself every so often. It was seen as self-care, even recommended by doctors and therapists. It was just something to do in your off time. There were many attractive guys in my health classes. I remember the time the fire department came over for a blood drive. I drew the blood of a hunky, blonde-haired, blue-eyed EMT who starred in my nighttime fantasies many days afterward.

My body is no longer titillating. If I rubbed myself down below, I'd feel dry, unused flesh. So I don't bother. I quickly wash and rinse my hair then clean my body with a bar of soap. I dry myself off and throw my old gray clothes down the laundry chute. I go to my closet and pick out a fresh set of identical clothing. I don't put it on, instead opting for the ridiculous nightdress. It's something infirm old patients wear in nursing homes. I don't wear it often, choosing just to sleep in the gray clothes, but I didn't feel like my putting my hair up again.

The lights go out and I stare at the darkened ceiling as I lie back on the bed. I'd probably find out tomorrow if the bunker was raided. I'll check if any of the bodies on the street are familiar. Possibly they'll interrogate Titan. He doesn't exactly owe loyalty to me. I doubt I'm worth the torture he'd face to keep his secret.

9

There are new bodies, but none of them is Titan.

Most of them are housemaids, all with bullet holes in their heads. They must have been shot execution-style, already deemed guilty by the color of their skin. I look at each face. No one I recognize. I'm not relieved. Titan could still be in custody. He's white and a doctor, he'll be given a trial.

I don't linger around long. I walk toward town, still thinking of the lives wasted. Maybe they escorted refugees to safehouses, though the president's report also mentioned "murder of unborn life." It wasn't a stretch to assume they performed back-alley abortion -- the only abortions available nowadays.

I remember watching women's rights eroding year by year leading up till the regime. State legislature passed stricter and crueler abortion bans. Miscarriages became illegal. A lawmaker told a 10-year-old girl straight to her face that her unborn rapist's baby should be seen as an "opportunity." The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

As a nurse, I was so fucking pissed off. I had to watch as doctors told women their stillborn fetuses couldn't be removed. I absolutely refused to chart miscarriages as "spontaneous abortions," knowing these stupid evil men in power would only see that one word and decide to ruin women's entire fucking lives. Doctors couldn't even operate on women with ectopic pregnancies even if they were circling the drain.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but my compassion fatigue broke me. In effort to pick myself back up, my anger became a tough armor. I became permafrost and steel, unmelting and unbending. I opted to work on the psych ward because the patients were too out of their mind to care about the state of the world. I stopped watching the news for a time in an irrational hope that things would start improving if I stopped worrying about it. I had no friends, no lovers, no family. I think I isolated myself on purpose. Nobody to love means nobody to miss when they're taken from me.

I coped by vaping too much and eating junk food. Some people's vices were gambling and meaningless sex, mine was Kandypens and Fritos. It's hard to give a shit about your life when the government obviously doesn't.

My only coping mechanism now is helping the helpless. Maybe I'm trying to balance karma by treating as many good people as I do bad. But bad people can hurt thousands of good people just with one stroke of their pen on a dotted line.

***

Dressed in navy blue once more, I sit beside the patient of a tradwife. It's rare to see them here. Usually, they have midwives and Appointed Wives at their house as part of a big celebration. They only have a doctor if it can't be avoided. This tradwife is on the older side, though maybe that's just the rapid aging typical of women who have five children in seven years.

Officially, she's here for a stomach ache but my nostrils flare when I glimpse the instrument tray I have to prepare for a surgical procedure. They are all tools for performing a dilation and curettage. I deliver the tools with a stony face, boiling inside with rage.

This pampered bitch in her expensive silk robes and terry cloth slippers gets to have a procedure denied to millions of women because of her status. I want to choke her. I want to rip her open myself and give her an infection, because that's what poverty-stricken, minority women die from thanks to her bastard husband.

I am not okay.

This is not okay.

"Nurse Douglas, can I see you in my office a moment?" Dr. O'Shea asks, frightening me out of my almost-breakdown.

What? He has an office?

He looks at me pointedly. He wants me to follow him.

This is risky and stupid. I barely know this man. This isn't a high school party where we can escape the pot smoke and music and hang out in his dad's old Camino. But I'm not sure what I'll do if I stay here in the room with the hypocrites performing a technically illegal abortion.

So I do. I follow him.

I'm suddenly being led down a hospital wing and into the storage areas near the cafeteria. There's a loud cacophony of machine noises that almost hurt my ears. This is where the generators and boiler are kept, both working at maximum efficiency and volume.

He gazes at me again and suddenly starts to scream at the top of his lungs. What the hell is he doing? We're going to get caught! Then I realize...I can barely hear it over the din of the machines.

Oh.

I feel foolish but I take a deep breath and let all my rage out. It's exhilarating to air out the grievances within me, even if I'm only screeching at the top of my lungs. I scream into the void of noise until I'm hoarse and gasping for air. I feel lighter, like I've expelled a weight of burden off my soul.

I lock eyes with him again. His expression is tender, his smile genuine. Soon, I'm smiling, too, like it's contagious. Only there's something more. His eyes are a swirl of whiskey brown with a gleam of mischief. His lips look soft and before I realize it, I'm leaning in, dangerously close.

Our foreheads touch. There's want. Oh, yes, there's want. It's in the air between us as we consider the repercussions. The Decency Commission will name us as lustful adulterers and sentence us to death. Well, me anyway. He's a man so maybe they'll show him some leniency. They'll say I led him astray from his walk with God by my evil feminine curves. Call me Jezebel, call me Lilith - I am now the snake in the grass.

The flesh is weak, after all.

He's the one to close the distance. His mouth presses against mine and the taste of him is more sinful than an evil apple. His tongue plays with mine in an erotic dance. My first kiss is probably going to be my last, so I'm in no hurry to break from him. Let him corrupt me or vice versa. Let us corrupt each other.

But we do part from one another, realizing the danger. We stare at each other with forbidden lust.

"My name...is Veronica. Ronnie." I tell him in a whisper.

I leave him in the generator room, gasping for breath.

LoveCONTENT WARNING
1

About the Creator

CD Turner

I write stories and articles. Sometimes they're good.

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  • Flamance @ lit.2 months ago

    Amazing story sir

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