She was the bomb. It was an ugly metaphor at the best of times, but in the current climate, it was unforgivable. So she kept it to herself. But there was no better way to describe it. Both enabler and enabled, the cause and the outcome.
Ella sniffed and peered into her cup of tea. The murky liquid swirled lazily, taking her thoughts with it. She was the bomb.
‘I want an abortion.’
Richard jerked in his seat. She’d never seen anyone actually jump like that before, but his entire body spasmed. His tea spoon hit the edge of his saucer and the sound echoed around the cafe. Ella ducked and peered over her shoulder. At this time on a Sunday morning, the only other occupants were a pair of old ladies. They were perched up beside the counter, tucking into bacon sarnies, preparing, no doubt, for a day at the market.
‘I want an abortion.’
‘But…’ he trailed off. She almost smiled. But what? She wanted to ask. But exactly fucking what? He had no right to ‘but’ about anything. This wasn’t even his responsibility. They’d only been dating a few months. She’d told him because she had to tell someone, but he had as much right to her body as the vile man who’d pinned her down in the park and put the filthy thing in her belly.
She bit her knuckle and swallowed the lump in her throat. She could still feel his fingers. She could feel his hand against her cheek, around her throat. He’d been so hot, though the night had been so cold. She could feel every second of it.
‘We could keep it.’ Richard muttered, still staring into his tea. It was her turn to say ‘what?’
‘We could keep it. It’s all about nuture, really.’
He wanted to talk psychology to her. He wanted to claim that giving birth to a rapist’s baby didn’t matter, so long as you gave it a good upbringing. She snorted and sipped her tea. His face reddened and he shifted in his seat. She should, she supposed, feel sorry for him. It couldn’t be easy for him, not in any way.
‘I don’t want to keep it. I want it out of me. You don’t have to agree, you just have to be here. If you want.’
She winced as the words slipped out. She did want him here. His response to her being raped had been incredible. Once he’d finished combing the park with the hope of finding the man and killing him, he’d been super supportive. And the impromptu manhunt hadn’t exactly hurt his rep, either.
But the belief was an issue. She’d thought it might be. She could still remember his profile on FirstDate. She’d loved all of it except for three words.
‘Believer in Christ.’
She’d wondered about them. Had she been any less lonely, she’d have discounted him straight off the bat. But she hadn’t and not had reason since to regret it. But she’d known, deep down, that those words were the reason she’d been so nervous about broaching the subject this morning.
He wasn’t anti-anything, not vocally, not so anyone would notice. But he’d made comments about a friend of hers who’d got an abortion, enough for her to know what he thought about it.
‘I want to be with you. I just wonder if we couldn’t find an alternative.’
‘There’s no alternative. I’m not giving up nine months to bear a child I don’t want. I’m not giving it up for adoption, I’m not raising it, I’m not doing any of those things.’
‘It’s not an it.’
‘Right now, it’s an it. There’s no sex, there’s no personality. It’s just a bunch of cells. It’s an it.’
‘It has a soul.’
Ella rocked back in her chair and took a deep breath. The way he said it made her want to punch him. Actually, everything he was saying made her want to punch him. He didn’t understand. He’d been super supportive, but he didn’t understand. Though, hadn’t she just said he didn’t have to agree or understand? But she thought she could see the halo hovering around his head and it made her want to vomit.
‘I don’t believe that it has a soul. I’m sorry if you don’t like that, but I just don’t.’
Richard sat across the table, digging his spoon into his tea like it was ice cream too frozen to get out of the tub. He cleared his throat, cleared it again, then half rose from the table, before sitting down again.
‘I don’t think I can be here. I’m sorry, I just… you’re committing a sin, Ella, a terrible sin.’
‘How is it worse than what we did last night?’
‘What we did last night was an act of love.’
‘But we aren’t married. Aren’t we supposed to be married before I give you a blow job on the kitchen floor?’ she could hear her voice rising but what little control she’d begun the conversation with had blown away, out of the cafe and up into the slate grey London sky.
‘Be quiet.’ He sounded like her dad. How hadn’t she noticed that before? ‘The baby is a living, breathing thing.’
‘Like the burgers we ate last night, you mean?’
‘Animals don’t have souls, everyone knows that.’
Now he just sounded like a dick. She dumped her cup on the formica table and stomped from the cafe. She heard his footsteps behind but didn’t turn. She no longer had the patience. He’d been super supportive, all the way through, but now he was just being a dick and she didn’t have the time or the energy for that.
‘Ella, wait, please?’
His hand caught her arm and she yanked it free. He grabbed her again, harder this time, and she flashed back. For a second, she could feel his hands on her, yanking her jeans open, hurting her. She screamed and something burned inside, something red hot and searing.
She spun round, though whether he was pulling her or she was turning, she didn’t know. As she did, the heat in her gut seemed to burst out of her, spilling from deep down to reach the surface.
Later, when she tried to describe it to the police, the best she could come up with was like a tongue of flame that came when an oil-soaked log caught and flared up. A burst of bright yellow fire roared from her stomach and slammed into Richard. He flew backwards and crashed into the front of the cafe. The glass smashed with the impact and Richard disappeared inside.
Ella screamed, sounding nothing at all like herself, and stumbled away from the cafe. Smoke came pouring from within, rushing up into the darkening sky, but she barely saw it. All she could see was the man in the park, the man who’d held her down and taken everything she had.
Her memories of that night had been sharp, clear as day. She’d thought. But as the fire kept roiling round inside her gut, she saw other things, new things she’d buried so deep she’d thought to never see them again. Now, though, she had no choice.
She saw his face. She saw the dark eyes and narrow beard, the sharp nose. And she saw his tongue, forked and red. She spun and ran from the cafe, hands cradling her stomach like the bump was already showing. It would soon be showing. Soon, her body would tell the world what, in her shame, she’d been trying so hard to hide.
She was carrying a child of rape, but it was more than that. It was so much more than that. And she would bear it to full term, because she felt certain its father would come back for it. At least, she hoped he would, because she didn’t think she could raise what was growing inside her.
There was, at least, one thing she still knew for sure, one thing Richard had definitely been wrong about. It had no soul and it never would.