Callum’s mother, Helen, had not wanted to tell me about the abortion, but when the day of the procedure arrived, I ended up being hauled along. I gather that she had tried with some pills, but that these had failed and so she needed suction. The word “suction,” when applied in this context, has a rather unfriendly ring to it, and makes me imagine a doctor brandishing the nozzle-attachment of a vacuum cleaner and yelling “Geronimo!” I wondered whether I should rally Helen’s spirits by fooling around, or whether I could be supportive and sympathetic. It was unclear what I was supposed to contribute to this mission, and I felt a little like the baby brother taken on a fishing trip, just so that he felt included.
Yet it transpired that my services would be required. Helen fainted three times on the way to the clinic – we should not have taken the bus, and I only protected Helen from the attentions of the other passengers by glaring furiously at them. Helen could scarcely walk into the reception of the clinic. Once we arrived, I realised why I was there: the abortion would cost over thirteen hundred pounds. I almost said that I could have hired a hit-man for less, but the brakes came on in time.
Helen’s mind was swimming in terror, and when told to take a seat, she marched into the waiting room in the dopey, mechanical way that people walk when they are on fire. I wondered whether she would actually go through with the procedure, or whether I’d have to wrestle her towards the clinician’s room, whilst she hissed and clawed like a cat destined for a bath. Yet the waiting room was packed with teenagers, and there seemed to be a collective stoicism – an unspoken agreement not to exhibit any emotion – for fear of letting the team down. Everybody looked bored and flicked through newspapers, like commuters all waiting together for the same train.
The only decent magazine in the waiting room was “National Geographic,” but a girl was already reading this. I wanted the clinician to hurry up with her abortion so that I could have the magazine.
I caught a glimpse of the abortionist – a glamorous-looking man with silver hair and a bow tie. When collecting the notes of his next patient from the reception, he beamed at the waiting room like a movie star. I wondered what would happen if his wife fell pregnant with another man, and concluded that she would appear at the clinic wearing a burqa and faking an Arab accent.
Everything was going way too slowly. I fantasised about turning up at the clinic with a gang of men in combat pants, and introducing some military efficiency: Quick march! Quick march! Go! Go! Firing a machine gun over the heads of the girls as they raced towards the abortion room. I looked at my watch and saw that we had been sitting there for almost half an hour.
“I don’t think I can do this…” Helen whispered. I guessed that the little walk to the clinician’s room would be like jumping back through the centuries into a scene from the Spanish Inquisition, full of medieval tortures and horrors. Or perhaps it was greater and deeper. The hands of Death fumbling in the cradle of life, like the Devil reaching the top of a spire, and the thought of the tiny soul, unprotected and alone, its soundless cries, its tiny, fizzy pain and rage as the world was wrenched from its claws…
Stop it, I thought, groping for a magazine, any magazine. For a while, I studied photographs of celebrity nonentities inadvertently exposing their knickers at film premiers. Helen was still panting in my ears, but I put her from my mind.