Elena Schauwecker

“Are you sure you’re all right?” As I struggle to climb out of what Alejandro has amusingly dubbed his “prehistoric vehicle,” faded leather seats groaning characteristically beneath me, he reaches out and grasps the fingers of my left hand, hindering my effort to leave. One foot in the street, the other balanced precariously in the car, I sigh in exasperation, turning back to face him.

Ay, Dios mío, Alejandro! I’m fine. I have told you a hundred times. I have been working extra shifts at the restaurant, trying to help out my family, and I’m tired. That is all, I promise you. I have to go now. I will see you later.”

I try to pull away from him, but he tugs on my fingers once more. “Wait!” he cries, as though there were a dire emergency he had only just remembered.


He grins at me, that stupid grin he makes when he is about to say something adorable, where he crinkles his nose and those brown eyes shine with a mischievous glint that has carried over from his childhood. “Te amo.”

I roll my eyes, but I can’t help smiling as he kisses my fingers one at a time, giddiness fluttering into my stomach and stirring uneasily with the guilt it met there. I cannot tell him. It will break him. He will not be able to handle something like this, is what I think, but all I say is “I love you too,” and lean in to plant a quick kiss on his lips before turning and heading up the driveway.

Despite my preoccupied mind, my feet guide me up the steep driveway, unconsciously stepping over treacherous cracks in the pavement and around deep depressions in the path that have caused countless twisted ankles over the years. I travel around to the back, running my fingertips over the crumbling brick and mortar, opting to climb up the fire escape rather than enter the front door and trek through the cloud of weed smoke that is the downstairs tenants’ apartment. Turning the corner, I jump, startled to see my little brother, tossing a basketball at a hoop he had fashioned out of a laundry basket. “Mateo! ¿Qué estás haciendo? You’re not supposed to be out here! It’s not safe, you need to go inside.”

Being only five years old, he can’t possibly understand, and it is unfair for me to be upset, but with the day I’m having, I have no patience to worry about him. “I’ve been inside all day!” he whines as I take his small hand and drag him up the rickety stairs after me. “It’s boring!”

Glancing back over my shoulder, I see a small gang lurking against the barbed wire fence behind us, smoking and surveying the neighborhood. I pry open the window, shoving my griping hermanito in before following myself. Inside, a deep inhalation fills my nose with the scent of peppers and onions, and I greet my grandmother in the kitchen with a smile. “Hola, Abuelita. Dinner smells amazing.” After giving her a hug and a quick kiss on the forehead, I retrieve the mail off the counter, sifting through bills and junk mail. “Any green cards in here today?”

“No more than there have been for the past fifteen years,” she sighs in her heavily accented voice.

I try to hide the disappointment behind my eyes as I toss the envelopes onto the table. “I’m going to go change.”

As I move across the living room toward the bathroom, a single cold water droplet taps my head, and I grab the bucket in the corner, placing it on the already water stained floor to catch the leaks. Little squeaking sounds cause me to look up, watching as the little feet of my squealing brothers and sisters patter across the floor. I remember each of their births, my mother lying upon the very floor upon which I now stood, screaming in agony while the other children huddled frightened in the corner. Even if we had ever been able to afford it, we did not dare set foot in a hospital. It would mean certain deportation for people like us; our entire existence was illegal to the people in this country. A lump forms in my throat as the image of my mother bleeding out resurfaces; I had wanted to call an ambulance, but Abuela had said no, nothing could ever be worse than going back to the warzone we had come from. So my mother had just died.

I shut the bathroom door behind me, opening the cabinet and reaching all the way to the back, where I had carefully hidden my secret. I stare down at the little white stick clenched between my fingers, its outline blurred by the tears brimming in my eyes as they threaten to spill over. I clutch the test so hard my knuckles turn white, and the muscles in my arm begin to tremble, sending the rest of my body into a fit of uncontrollable tremors. How could this have happened to me?

The astronomical consequences of the situation swarm my mind like a whirlwind. I had allowed myself a fleeting instant of weakness. I had only wanted one single moment of mindless passion in this hell that was my life, something to alleviate all the stress that left me curled up at night with pounding migraines. I had just wanted something normal, just wanted to feel like a human being for a moment. But whatever cruel force is controlling the universe has decided I don’t deserve even that. Because now I’m pregnant.

I utter the word beneath my breath over and over, until it loses all meaning and becomes gibberish on my tongue. Emotions are washing over me in waves, billions of possibilities flashing like little movies through my mind. The one I like best—the one that is hazed by a sort of rosy glow, as though my mind were trying to ensure I knew it was idealistic and impossible—was that I had the baby. I would go tell Alejandro, and he would be delighted. Visions flash behind my eyes—visions of tiny shoes and tiny fingers and tiny smiles—and my heart lurches. Dry heaves begin to rack my body, so I sit with my back against the sink, gasping for air. I try to return to that wonderful fantasy, but it’s too late; cold, bitter reality is already seeping in through the cracks of the dream, and I see things the way they are. There are no backyards or swimming pools or playgrounds in which children can play, not here. There are no safe public schools. I will end up like my mother, bleeding to death on the floor. And then a worse thought arises, a thought which sends shivers down my spine and makes me realize with sudden, horrible resolve what I have to do. If they discovered that my whole family was undocumented, they would send us all away. All of us except my baby. My baby would be torn from my arms, thrown into the foster system like an orphan, and spend the rest of her life thinking that her mother abandoned her. And I can’t let that happen. I just could not live knowing that my infant was in the arms of strangers, unsure whether she was safe or even alive.

Life. Pro-life. That’s what these people call themselves, these people who would stand in angry mobs before me as I get shakily to my feet to go retrieve my keys off the table. “But what about my life?” I whisper, grasping the doorknob and leaning my head against the door. “What about my baby’s life?” Tears streaming down my cheeks, I released my grip on the pregnancy test, letting it fall into the trash on my way out the door.