Read part 1 here
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Julie cannot sleep. In the sweltering heat of the night, she has stripped to her panties and has taken a cold shower. But she still cannot sleep.
Somehow, she and Hannah had cleaned up their faces. Somehow, the three girls had sat at the kitchen table and done their homeworks. Somehow, Hannah’s mom never noticed that anything was wrong.
Back home, Julie picked at her dinner and escaped early into the refuge of her room. But sleep did not come. And sleep still has not come.
The agreement is that Hannah will tell her mom that she is fine. By all means, she is going to keep her nausea under control, so that her mom doesn’t have the same idea to give her a pregnancy test. Then, Hannah will tell Bode that she is pregnant. Then Lisa is going to help procure some pills from one of her classmates. This, she had reluctantly agreed to, after much begging from the younger girls. This is because she knows that her life will become so much harder if her parents find out that her younger sister is pregnant.
“Just four little pills. Put them under your tongue, and you’re done. Pregnancy gone.”
Julie had a mind to ask Lisa if she’d used them herself before, but the words wouldn’t go pass her throat.
Despite herself, Julie finally falls asleep, comes wide awake to the insistent sun at her window in the morning.
She and Anthony are waiting before their mom is ready, Anthony out of impatience to be at school already, and she out of an implacable fear that something is about to go wrong with all of their lives.
Hannah and Lisa are also waiting, and this morning, Hannah looks scrubbed clean and not so much sick. Julie is happy that she is keeping to the agreement.
And Lisa keeps to the agreement too, slipping a little pouch of pills to Hannah and Julie as they wait to be picked up in the afternoon.
“Mom’s going out this afternoon. I won’t be in either.” Lisa tells Julie. “So it’s best if Hannah takes the pills when she is in your house. Will your mom be around?”
“No. She has some presentations scheduled for this evening.” Both moms work, Julie’s for an insurance company and she sometimes has sales pitch gatherings in the evenings.
The cold fear grips Julie again. “But what if something goes wrong? Can’t you just stay? You’d know what to do.”
“Nothing can go wrong. It’s simple.” Lisa turns to her sister now. “Hannah, let the pills dissolve under your tongue. Wear some pads. You’ll bleed a little afterwards. Voila, problem solved.”
Hannah exhales, and so does Julie. Both squeamish, both scared at the sight of blood, they nevertheless know that Lisa has helped as much as she can. This is their problem now, and as Lisa has said, nothing can go wrong.
Something does go wrong.
The cramps hurt like a thousand hells, but Hannah cannot cry out because Anthony is in the living room watching a game show. She walks around Julie’s pink bedroom, will sometimes hang on to Julie for support, is sweating and crying silently.
“Shh. You’ll be okay.” Julie keeps saying, solemnly swearing off sex until she is thirty or married, whichever comes first.
In four hours, Hannah has used three pads. The fourth one is now completely soaked, and there is the need for a fifth one.
“This is not normal. Is this normal? Where is Lisa?”
When Julie goes to their house to check, Lisa is not yet back. In the next hour, she checks again four more times. But Lisa is nowhere to be found.
By now, Hannah is on the seventh and last sanitary towel. And the bleeding does not let up. And now she is in a state of pain that cannot be explained. She is lying on the floor of her friend’s bedroom, weakened by the hard work her body is doing, bewildered beyond belief.
“I am going to die, am I not?” She asks again and again.
“Should I call your mom? Or my mom? Do you want to go to the hospital? Is the pain very bad?” Julie is beside herself with fear and exhaustion.
“I don’t want to die.” And now, Hannah starts to cry loud tears. The cries explode out of her in boomerangs and weaken her even more.
Julie is crying too. She doesn’t want her friend to die. Nothing was supposed to go wrong, but obviously the pills are doing what they shouldn’t be doing.
Finally, she runs out of her room. In the living room, Anthony has fallen asleep as he usually does. Julie uses the rotary phone to dial her mother’s cell phone.
“Just come home. Come home, please.” When she hangs up the phone, she finds that her legs can no longer hold her up. She kneels first, then curls up. The tears cannot stop shaking her body.
Julie’s mom tears into the house, the panic threatening to engulf her. Anthony is sprawled on the sofa and Julie is curled up on the floor in the foetal position. They must be dead, she thinks, they are dead.
For an insane moment, she is frozen in her tracks, the irrational thought that if she left and pretended Julie’s phone call never came through, everything would be fine. She’d go back, and when she returned in one hour as previously scheduled, she’d meet Anthony watching TV and Julie and Hannah in Julie’s room, giggling and laughing the way they always do.
Then she sees a shuddery breath escape Julie, then she is by her side, holding her up.
“What is the matter, Jules? What happened? Are you okay?”
Julie dissolves into tears and clings to her mom for life. She has not willingly hugged or kissed her mother in more than a year but tonight, she wants nothing more than the comfort of this woman’s arms, nothing more than to lose herself in the soothing warmth of mom.
“Is Anthony okay? What is the matter, sweetheart?”
“Hannah. Something’s wrong. She’s upstairs.”
Upstairs, Hannah is curled up the same way Julie had been. But this is where the similarity ends. She is not wearing her skirts, only her blouse and bloodied pants. In between her legs, a pool of blood. On the floor all around her, congealed and congealing blood. On Julie’s pink walls, bloody palm prints where she had tried to stand.
Julie stands by the door, unable to enter, watching her mother take in the scene. She hears her mom’s sharp breath intake, then her exhale. She sees the horror dawn on her mother’s face.
“What happened? What happened?” She is bewildered as she steps into a little pool of blood, the more so as she touches Hannah’s clammy skin.
Still by the door, Julie closes her eyes and prays for death. A quick painless one, nothing like the agonising one Hannah must have gone through. Nothing can go wrong. She remembers Lisa’s words. Well, everything has gone wrong, she thinks.
For the next three hours, they all wait in the hospital’s reception as they transfuse almost two litres of blood and try to surgically repair Hannah’s torn uterus.
For these one hundred and eighty minutes, Julie has told the story of what brought them to this point thrice, once to her mother, once to Hannah’s parents, and finally to her father who has been in a perpetual state of disbelief.
Julie’s tears are depleted, but her eyes would not stop hurting. They burn and ache and close uncontrollably. Lisa, the big sister who’d procured the abortion pills, has not cried once. Not even when her father slapped and punched her repeatedly. Not even when their mother had told her, “Pray nothing happens to Hannah, Lisa.”
“Can I see you in my office?” The admitting ER physician finally comes out and beckons to Hannah’s folks, and they follow him mutedly down the hallway.
When Hannah’s mom’s wail rends the still hospital air a minute later, they all know.
Hannah is gone.
There is no funeral. On an unseasonably hot June morning, they bury Hannah in a hastily purchased cemetery plot.
They live life the way they know how best to; Hannah’s parents in unbearable emotional pain and unable to sit in the same room with their elder daughter. The elder daughter in a cloud of uncharacteristic depression. Julie’s parents in subdued tones and unapologetically accusatory towards her. Anthony seemingly oblivious to it all.
And Julie in a catatonic state that would not lift. For several days, she would be sure that her heart was dead and couldn’t feel any hurt. Then a wayward memory would make her feel a heart ache so sharp she would think she was having a heart attack.
And nights are the worst, for she cannot lose herself in sleep. On her bed, in her now green room, she’d still see Hannah’s prints on the wall, her blood on the floor. When she finally manages to fall asleep, nightmares would shoot her out of the bed.
She is no longer in her room. She is sitting at the dining table, doing her math homework. And she is still making the same mathematical error, as the events of the past year unravel in her mind.
Her notebook is so rough now from the writing and erasing. She tears off the page and is confronted by a blank page. A new start, a chance to correct her mistakes.