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Living With Saints

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shit, thought Dymphna, the Women's Center has hired a Moonie. She
stared at the walnut nameplate on the desk that read "Pamela Craig,
Unitarian Chaplain" until the words snapped in her brain and she
remembered that Unitarian meant tambourines and Birkenstocks, not
the Reverend Moon marrying a thousand brides to a thousand

"Dymphna," Pamela Craig said, losing the chummy tone she'd invoked
while asking about her Saint Bridget's letter jacket. "I’d
like you to tell me how you feel about terminating your

Dymphna said, "Well, of course I feel sad about it."

Pamela Craig nodded.

Dymphna stared up at a poster of a girl kicking an oversized soccer
ball. Inside the white spaces of the ball were statistics on low
rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases for teenage
girls involved in sports -- outdoor sports, she thought,
enjoying her little joke until she realized she couldn't share it
with anyone. Another poster showed a twisted metal clothes hanger
spelling the words "Never Again." And then there was a photograph
of a naked girl screaming. A cluster of women had her pinned to the
ground, splaying her arms out, crucifix style. The caption below
the picture explains that the girl was about to undergo genital
mutilation, as was the custom in rural Somalia. Dymphna wondered
what sort of art-whore photographer would document a girl's terror
instead of helping her.

Was it the effect of the bulletproof glaze on the windows, or had
dusk really turned the say a sheer, sugary violet. The air in the
small office carried the smell of freshly glazed donuts from the
discount bakery next door. When footage of protesters picketing the
clinic played on the evening news, there was usually some slacker
off to the side, leaning on his sign and eating a long john.

"Why does it make you sad?" Pamela asked.

Dymphna had envisioned the Women's Center as a medical commune
where the staff gave massages, brewed herbal teas, and recited
poetry. But, no, brisk nurses and doctors had shuttled her in and
out of exam rooms and finally to this psychobabble torture

Dymphna said, "Well, it just, you know, isn't a super-happy

She felt teary and fought it, staring into Pamela Craig's plain
face, thinking that her pale lashes screamed our for mascara and
she needed cream concealer to smooth out her zit scars.

"Yes, Dymphna, it's a decision that women really struggle

"It sure is," Dymphna said, her face blank as a tablet.

"Do you feel guilty about your decision?" Pamela asked.

"I feel terrible," Dymphna blurted. Then she flipped her hair over
her shoulder and rallied. "Although I realize it's the best thing
for me right now."

"Do you think it's a sin?" Pamela Craig asked.

Dymphna posed dreamily, tucking her hand under he chin. If it
wasn't for the green felt cross piercing the B on her letter
jacket, if Dymphna had gone to Roosevelt High School, Pamela Craig
wouldn’t be asking that, and surely equal opportunity laws
made her question illegal. And what person under the age of eighty
talked about sin?

God was ancient and remote, but surely not beyond
understanding that she was seventeen, and had plans to go to the
University of Kansas, and then to France, to the Sorbonne for her
junior year. Sorbonne, she whispered to herself. If she
could forgive God, with his noted miracles, for allowing the
pregnancy test stick to show two lines, he could certainly forgive
her for having an abortion.

"It's not a sin," Pamela Craig muttered.

Why did she answer her own question? Why did this zitty Unitarian
think she was queen of the world?

"No offense," Dymphna said, "but, how do you know?"

Pamela laughed. "I guess you have a point, Dymphna. And somehow I
think you're going to be just fine."

Dymphna knew she'd passed this last hurdle and would be allowed to
get her abortion on Saturday morning. Still, she wanted to ask one
shameful question: How much does an abortion hurt? But Pamela Craig
was already leading Dymphna out of her office, saying, oh, she
hoped it didn’t rain because she hadn't rolled up her car
windows and bye-bye, nice meeting you!

Excerpted from LIVING WITH SAINTS © Copyright 2001 by Mary
O'Connell. Reprinted with permission by Atlantic Monthly Press. All
rights reserved.

Living With Saints
by by Mary O'Connell

  • Genres: Short Stories
  • paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802139264
  • ISBN-13: 9780802139269