The Waiting Room
By Dale Francis
Editor’s note. The
following short story is reprinted from “Handbook on Abortion,”
1972, Dr. J.C. Willke.
When they had walked
into the waiting room together, holding hands to give one another
courage, the other people had looked at them and she felt a
necessity to explain.
She sat there with
her husband, looking around at the others in the room, then she
turned to a man beside her. “My husband and I are exactly the same
age, born the same day, that’s how we happen to be here together.”
The others looked at
them, smiled, then turned inward to their own thoughts, having had
the mystery solved.
One of the most
terrible things about The Waiting Room was being there alone,
without someone who loved you and cared about you. She thought to
herself that she and Franklin were among the fortunate ones, the
only ones who had the same birthdays of all the couples she knew.
It was the second time in The Waiting Room for both of them. They
The first time was
the hardest of all. It was the dread of a new experience. Not that
she doubted the wisdom of the government decision.
There were too many
people, everyone knew that, too many people. It was only reasonable
to insist that people who did not contribute sufficiently to society
should be--she hated to even think the words--be put to sleep.
The truth was the
population hadn’t really grown all that much. But, well, just as
once a half century ago she and the boy who became her husband
belonged to the youth majority, now they belonged to the elderly
It was as one of the
senators had said, today’s young people are too few to support a
society that is predominately aged.
But fifty didn’t seem
at all old to her. She could understand why it was necessary to put
all people more than 75 to sleep but fifty was only middle-aged.
That was the age the government had decided on for the first of the
Fives, though, and there was very little good that could come from
arguing about it; one wouldn’t want to be reported as uncooperative.
The first Five, when
they were 50, was bad because it was first. But it was rare that
anyone failed the first Five, only criminal elements, the drunkards,
the disruptive, the uncooperative. The second Five was different;
there were more who didn’t make it and for lesser reasons.
That was why she
worried about Franklin. He wasn’t really doing very well at his
job, he never had quite gotten used to the new computer equipment.
His quality ratings
hadn’t been high, partly because Mr. Holden didn’t seem to like him.
Ruth worried more
about Franklin than herself. She was a volunteer worker at the
24-hour-a-day child care center and she was good with children. One
of the sadnesses of her life was that they never had any children.
There had been diabetes on Franklin’s side of the family, that had
meant they never were able to get a license to have a child. A
child had been conceived but when she reported this to the doctor
after six months, government officials placed her in the hospital.
One of the nurses had told her the baby was a little girl. In her
mind she had named her little girl Rita, her favorite name. Rita
would have be 25 now.
The irony was she
would be needed now, the government no longer required abortions and
young people were encouraged to have children. But 30 years ago it
was different. After the death of Rita--she never could think of it
as anything but death although abortions were no more registered
than appendectomies in those days--Franklin had been sterilized and
she had been sterilized, too; it was one of the penalties for
conceiving a child without a license.
military-looking man was called and he went into one of the
examining rooms. He walked straight, his face set. He must have
She remembered the
procedure. Three officials sat there, the record before them. They
asked questions, more to perceive alertness than for the answers.
One of her questioners had been a woman who was very kind to her,
who spoke softly, comforting her in her nervousness.
When the interview
was finished the chairman of the committee nodded, either to the
door behind them or to the door back to The Waiting Room. The woman
had smiled and she knew they would point to The Waiting Room, and
A heavy-set woman was
called. She looked as if she was only 50 and she laughter nervously,
and said, “Well, here goes nothing,” speaking to no one in
They called Ruth’s
name first. She held Franklin’s hand. He had been sitting very
quietly, his thin face set. There was the hint of tears in his eyes.
“It will be all
right, honey,” she said.
There were two women
and a man on the board, one of the women was the chairman. She
looked at the record before her. “Are you nervous?” she asked. Ruth
tried to speak but her mouth was dry and no words came out. She
swallowed, “A little, I guess.”
“Your supervisor says
you are excellent with children. Did you have children yourself?”
Before Ruth could answer, the chairman said, “Oh, yes, I see. No
children.” Ruth thought of Rita again.
The man spoke. “I see
you do not live at the center.” Ruth answered quickly. “I live with
my husband. But I never have missed a day’s work. Not one day in
nearly 10 years. My husband sees that I’m always at the center on
They sat before her
quietly. She knew they had already decided, they always decided
before you came in for one of the Fives. The chairman, who did not
smile, spoke. “That will be all.” She pointed to the door leading
back to The Waiting Room. Ruth felt a surge of happiness, another
five years, another five years.
She stepped back into
The Waiting Room. With a start she saw Franklin was not there. But,
of course, his name was called right after her own. The room was
empty except for a man who had gone into the committee room as she
Franklin would be
coming back soon. She sat down and waited for him. The time moved
slowly. The man came back in The Waiting Room, smiled happily. She
waited for Franklin. The clock on the wall moved so slowly. She
continued to wait.
Then a brisk young
woman came into The Waiting Room, saw her and looked surprised.
“Were you waiting to be called before the committee?” she asked.
“Oh, no,” Ruth said. “I’ve been in. I’m waiting for Franklin, my
husband, we have the same birthday, you know.”
The young woman
looked at her, sadly, almost as if she was going to cry. “I’m
sorry,” she said. “Everyone has gone. Perhaps your husband went on
“Oh, yes, Ruth said.
“Of course, he went on home ahead of me. Of course, that’s what
happened, he went on home ahead of me.”
She left The Waiting
Room. She would stop at the supermarket. She would buy shrimp,
Franklin liked shrimp. What a dinner they would have. They would
celebrate, another five years for both of them, they would
She kept thinking of
the celebration, allowing no other thoughts into her mind, right up
the moment she turned the lock on the door and stepped into the