Over the last few weeks, I’ve been publishing opening chapters from Unborn, my dystopian thriller about reproductive rights set in a near-future USA.
Chapter 3 takes us back to Kate, and plunges her life further into turmoil. But instead of giving you that chapter today (you’ll have to read the book for that), I’m going to introduce you to Grace.
Grace first appears in Chapter 4. She’s a mother of three with another child on the way and a husband who’s been arrested for a crime she knows he didn’t commit.
But things are about to get even worse for Grace…
Unborn, Chapter 4
Grace put her mug on the coffee table and lifted her feet up next to it. Her ankles were swollen and her neck felt tight. Charlie had been giving her trouble tonight—a nightmare about puppies, of all things—and she was tired.
She reached out for the coffee, instantly regretting not putting it on the side table. After three attempts at grabbing it with her fingertips, she gave up. She didn’t have the energy, and she could barely see the mug in the gloom. She’d stopped turning on the lights when she was alone, to save on the bills.
At least the remote was right next to her on the couch. She grabbed it and pointed it at the TV. A cop show. She flicked between channels—news, quizzes, more cop shows. She wanted something she could lose herself in.
She felt a twinge and dropped the remote. The baby was kicking. He didn’t do that so much. She put her hand to her stomach and felt for where the movement had been. Did she want to seek out a tiny foot, or would she rather not? It would only make things worse.
Another twinge sent her toppling to one side. She hadn’t had Braxton Hicks this bad with the other kids. She righted herself, pulling her back as straight as she could, and took a few deep breaths.
She thought of the doctor at her clinic yesterday. The way he’d avoided her eye after the ultrasound. The horrified look on his face when she’d asked about her options. “You do the best you can, Mrs Williams,” was the stilted reply. “With God’s help, you will find a way.”
Find a way. She wondered if that doctor had three hungry kids at home, a husband on remand for a crime he didn’t commit, and a job that was constantly under threat from school budget cuts. She wondered if he had to get up at 5.30am to get his kids’ lunch ready and parcel them off on the school bus before walking to his own job because his car radiator was on the fritz again and he didn’t have the money to get it fixed.
This baby would mean more struggle, more money, and more heartache. Especially now she knew it was going to be sick.
An incurable heart condition, they’d told her. It had shown up on the twenty week scan, a dark area in his heart that meant it wasn’t getting the oxygen it needed. He might live for months, or weeks, or days. He might die before he was born. There was no surgery available that would save his tiny life.
She plunged her fist into her mouth to stifle a cry. That contraction was a big one. Not even Sissy had given her this much trouble, and she had been a livewire inside the womb.
Grace tried to stand up. She put her hand against the back of the couch and pushed, closing her eyes with the effort. She could feel sweat breaking out on her chin. Damn air conditioning broken again. It would stay that way until Linton was released.
With every ounce of effort she could summon, she pushed herself up and forward until she was standing between the couch and the coffee table.
She needed a hot water bottle. That would help. There was one at the back of a kitchen cupboard somewhere.
She picked up her feet and plodded towards the kitchen. From upstairs, she heard Charlie’s voice—Mom! I can’t sleep—and her stomach dipped. She couldn’t do this.
At the threshold to the kitchen she paused to clutch the doorframe. Her legs were loose, her ankles swaying. The pains were coming at her now, clutching at her abdomen like a vice.
She knew this pain.
The baby was coming. She was twenty-one weeks pregnant; it wasn’t her time. But maybe the poor mite knew what she did, and had decided to give up.
She crossed herself and muttered a prayer. She scanned the kitchen to find her cell phone; it was on the countertop next to the stove.
She didn’t dare let go of the doorframe.
“Sissy,” she breathed. Her daughter was only eight but she was a good girl, she’d been drilled by Grace and her husband Linton. In an emergency, call 911. Tell them your name and where you live. Don’t hang up till they arrive. Despite what the authorities were currently doing to her husband, Grace had raised her kids to have respect. To trust.
She was glad they hadn’t been there when that doctor had dismissed her yesterday. He’d looked at her like she was unfit to cross his threshold, like she was an abomination.
She couldn’t call loud enough. Sissy was in her pink-painted bedroom, pretending to sleep. Watching videos on her big brother Boo’s phone, most likely. They knew when Grace was tired, and sometimes they took advantage.
She stared at the phone then let go of the door frame. She took a step forward, then another one. She was doing it.
Then she fell. She felt her hip crash against the refrigerator, her arm slam into the tile below her.
A gust of air blew from her lips as she hit the ground. Something splashed red above her and a bowl of strawberries fell off the countertop, almost hitting her head. It smashed next to her, smearing the floor in red juices.
She craned her neck to see behind her. Boo was standing at the foot of the stairs, his eyes wide. He was twelve years old and a good kid. Hard working, a baseball champ who’d been picked for county try-outs. He was going to get a scholarship, get himself out of this Godforsaken town with the shuttered stores and the closed-down businesses.
“Boo,” she breathed. “Call 911.”
“What is it Mom? Did you fall?”
Another contraction ricocheted through her. She bit down hard on her lip, not caring if it bled. “It’s the baby, son. Make the call, will you?”
He nodded, his eyes wide and his cheeks pale. He grabbed the landline on its table at the bottom of the stairs and dialed, not taking his eyes off her for one moment.
She nodded, trying to encourage him. Her leg was bent beneath her, twisted at a strange angle. She could feel dampness between her legs. This baby had given up.
“Uh, my name is Boo Williams. I mean Robert Williams. I live at—”
She pushed out a smile as he told them their address. Good boy, she wanted to say to him. That’s it. But her lungs were empty.
“It’s my mom. She’s pregnant.” A pause. “Uh, 20 weeks, I think.”
Twenty-one weeks, she thought. But it didn’t matter.
“She’s on the floor.” He turned to her, his eyes huge. “Mom, can you get up?”
She pushed against her palm, which was in the pile of strawberries. “No,” she whispered.
“No,” he said into the phone. “She’s real bad.” His voice broke. She wanted to reach out to him, to hold him and tell him it would all be OK, that Mom would be looked after, that he and his sisters would be looked after. She frowned.
Sissy appeared behind her brother. “Mommy! What happened?” She ran to Grace and lay down next to her.
Grace looked into her daughter’s eyes. “Sissy, honey,” she said, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. “Go to Veronica next door. Ask if you can stay there tonight. All of you.”
Sissy nodded. She paused to stroke her mom’s cheek, then stood up. She ran out of the front door, leaving it to slam behind her. Boo was still on the phone; the ambulance people were keeping him on the line.
She heard the distant wail of sirens and let herself relax a little. She would be OK, and her kids would be safe. The baby was probably dead already, but from what the doctor had told her, it wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks anyway. Maybe it was a kindness.
She closed her eyes and sank into unconsciousness as the sirens approached.
Unborn comes out on Friday 21 February. You can still pre-order it at a reduced rate, but on Monday 17 February, the price will go up to its launch price. So get it now!