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NRL News
Page 17
January 2010
Volume 37
Issue 1

The Waiting Room 2050 A.D.

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 were fifty-five.

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 majority.

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.

A tall, military-looking man was called and he went into one of the examining rooms.  He walked straight, his face set.  He must have been 60.

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 they did.

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 particular.

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 time.”

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 left it.

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 home.”

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 celebrate.

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 empty apartment.