Red State, Chapter One: Safe


A hundred plus years ago runaway slaves escaped to the North, pursued by their owners and the federal marshals. I was teaching my law students about the legal battles over the runaway slaves when I suddenly realized that this was what the world could be like if the Court overturned the abortion decision, and the states divided, slave and free. As the pro-choice majority of the Supreme Court has dwindled to a few old Justices, legal scholars predict a world eerily like America before the Civil War, with women fleeing anti-abortion states, the authorities a few steps behind. I wrote about that very real prospect this week in the Washington Post.

But there’s nothing like fiction to engage the heart. What would it feel like to live in the world like the one the law professors coldly imagine? Starting today with Lucy hiding in the claustrophobic confines of her brother’s gem safe, and continuing every Tuesday and Friday until the heroine meets her fate, I will publish at this site an installment of her adventures and an imagined, terrifying, but not unthinkable America in the time after Roe.

"They’ll kill us. You know it’s forbidden to take a girl across."

She put her ear as close to the wall as she could get. What were they going to do with her?

"They’ll kill her if we turn her in," he answered. "She’s been gone for more than a day. Even if we take her back to Mom, he can beat her near to death, and there will be nothing she can do."

Lucy wriggled around in her small hiding place to reach under her shift and touch the scabs the last beating had left. The pain was gone now, but she still couldn’t believe it had happened to her, her father’s little darling, the Principessa.

She envisioned her brother and sister-in-law sitting at their tidy oak kitchen table, the reproduction arts and crafts light shining on their perfect little retro household, her nephew’s bouncy seat in its usual commanding position at one end, discussing her beatings.

"It won’t kill her to get a beating once in a while, and, anyway, that’s her problem. She didn’t have to run away. A lot of girls would be glad to be left with their mothers a little longer whether they like their stepfathers or not. Lucy was always spoiled. Your father spoiled her."

"You spoil John," her brother pointed out.

"This is not about spoiling babies," Phyllis retorted quickly.

Boy, was her sister-in-law a good arguer, Lucy thought. All that law school wasn’t wasted after all, even if she quit as soon as the baby came. If they weren’t arguing about her being killed or beaten near to death, she’d be downright impressed.

"If you take a girl to a blue state, it’s theft," Phyllis went on. And if they find out she’s looking for an abortion, you’re a murderer. In this state that means the death penalty! Don’t you read anything other than your Geology journals? Is she pregnant? I wouldn’t be at all surprised."

"That’s not fair. Just because you caught her listening to FPR doesn’t make her a whore."

"It doesn’t? Then why do they call it fornication public radio?

"Who are ‘they’? Free Public Radio mostly just broadcasts NPR, and NPR is still legal in half the states in this country. My god, Phyllis, you never used to talk like this. What has happened to you?"

"I’m a realist. Virginia is the state where your work is. NPR is not allowed in Virginia or they wouldn’t be bootlegging the broadcasts from across the line. I don’t know how your spoiled sister got it onto the computer. I don’t want their "freedom." We have a baby now. I am not going to bring the VBI into my house for some little whore. Even if they don’t kill me, I don’t want to have to marry your creepy brother if you get yourself killed for her. You’re a father now. Send her back to your mother and hope your hotshot stepfather won’t turn us all in to the state. At least we didn’t try to drive her to Baltimore or whatever you had been planning to do before I found out. It’s a miracle they haven’t come here looking for her already."

His voice was a whisper. "All right. All right. I’ll do whatever you want. But not tonight. I don’t want to take her back while "Daddy" Arthur is there. It’s late now. I want Mom to be alone. I’ll go there first thing tomorrow morning, after he’s gone to work."

She lowered herself carefully to the floor of her little safe house, drawing up her knees so that she could sit in the tiny space. Even though she had taken the shelves out and stacked them against the wall, the hiding place was pretty crowded. Funny thing, it had been a safe – for her brother’s rocks and gems and stuff in the old days. With all the police around, they didn’t need a safe so much. But she thought she’d be safe here with Reuben, just until he could drive her across when he went. Mom should be able to hold Arthur off with some story for a day. Reuben the scientist. The adventurer. Phyllis certainly turned into a believer awfully fast after the baby came.

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