Picture credit: Priscilla Du Preez

My heart was thumping loud enough for the whole world to hear. I was certain everyone already knew about the little plastic bag in my purse, including the man walking toward me, who must be a detective or a religious Nazi. But he didn’t stop me as I hurried through the door of the bar and tugged it shut.

The bartender, who had wavy blonde hair and looked like she was about thirty, greeted me with a tired smile. “Hi, what can I get you?”

“I’m Sally,” I said. She turned white and the smile evaporated. “Not here,” she whispered. “Not now.”

I’ve seen them get scared before. A lot. “It’s okay,” I said, keeping my voice level despite my jitters. “I’m going into the bathroom. Wait a few minutes and follow me.”

Luckily, the women’s was unoccupied. I leisurely brushed my hair until she dashed in, her eyes wide. I steered her into a stall and latched the door before handing over the bag of mifepristone and misoprostol pills, plus a card with instructions for taking them.

She shoved the bag into a pocket, whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” her chin dropping to her chest in relief. “I can’t possibly have it. I want to someday, but I’m working two jobs and can barely pay rent. I just got off food stamps.”

They always feel like they need to explain their lives, justify their choices, apologize for being women. “I understand,” I said. “You’re doing what’s right for you. Are you going to be okay?”

“Yes, and I really appreciate you coming here. I thought it’d the best place to meet, only it wasn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Did you see the waiter out there, the tall guy?” she asked, her voice almost too low to hear. “It’s his and he doesn’t know I’m pregnant. He wasn’t supposed to be working today.” She pulled me into a hug and left before I could remind her to read the instructions carefully. I put six miles between myself and the bar before texting LuAnn a thumbs-up. By the time I got home, the jackhammer in my chest had calmed down and my pulse was almost back to normal.


“People buy the pills in Mexico, where they’re cheaper,” LuAnn said when we first met. “They carry them across the border and send them to places that don’t have clinics anymore. Like us.”

We were in her office, the small second bedroom of a 1950s cottage, now occupied by a desk, an overflowing bookcase, and an orange cat sunning on the floor. LuAnn was probably several years older than me and was big, with chestnut-brown hair in a bun and oval glasses. I’d heard about this group from a friend who had a friend who needed the pills after last June. In the five minutes we’d been talking, LuAnn’s phone had buzzed seven times.

“Why don’t you mail them, too?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that be safer for everybody?”

She shook her head. “It could be dangerous if an abusive partner finds the envelope. Or the pills might not get there in time, or the mail might be tracked even if we take precautions. A personal delivery is best.”

This was the part I was nervous about. “What does the law say about it?” I asked, a little ashamed of myself for not knowing already.

“Performing an abortion after six weeks is a crime. It hasn’t been enforced against doctors, yet. But the language is such that anyone who ‘aids and abets’ could be liable.” She took off her glasses and looked me in the eye, like my mother. “If you don’t think you can handle it, that’s okay. Just tell me now.”

“I can handle it,” I said. “I really want to do something. I have to,” but I didn’t say why.

“Great,” she said. “Memorize these.” handing me a sheet of paper headlined “Talking points”. The pills are the same ones you’d get from a doctor. Be sure you understand the instructions on the card in the bag. Complications are rare, but these drugs are not risk-free. If you have heavy bleeding or any of the other symptoms listed on the card, call your doctor right away.


The next morning I made my first delivery. After getting the meeting time and place from LuAnn and texting the recipient that I’d be in a blue Civic, I drove cautiously through an east side neighborhood to Tony’s Family Market. The second I parked and rolled down the window, a short Black woman in a headscarf appeared, took the bag, and vanished without a word. I floored it home, forgetting to notify LuAnn until the phone buzzed All ok???

Another text sent me to a downtown park where a nicely dressed woman thanked me profusely as the sun glittered off her gold crucifix. After that came an older Latina in a fast-food booth, almost crying and showing me pictures of two precious little boys. “The birth was very hard with both of them,” she said, fighting the tears. “I cannot go through it again.” Then a terrified girl in a pub near the Tech campus, hardly able to hold the bag because her hands were shaking so badly.

Every time, my own fear rose in my throat. I had hoped that doing this work would help me push it away, like ugly furniture left to gather dust in the basement. So far it hadn’t happened.


LuAnn’s precautions included not telling me who else was in the group. That made sense, but because I didn’t want to say anything to my friends, it left me with no one to talk to. Finally I decided I could trust my brother Dan.

Though he’d recently cut his shoulder-length hair, he still favored jeans and music t-shirts, like the Widespread Panic one he was wearing when we met for beers. After I hesitantly told him how I’d been spending my spare time, he whistled and said, “That’s really something. I just hope you’re being careful. You got a burner phone?”

“Umm, no.” Weren’t those for people like the Sopranos? “We are careful but do I have to go that far?”

“You’re moving contraband, Sal. It’s like weed. If the law’s got any excuse to bust you they will, sure as shit.”

“It’s not like weed at all,” I said, surprised and offended. “It’s medication. It’s legal in most places. Women have been using it for years.”

“I know all that and I’m on your side,” Dan replied. He moved his chair next to mine and leaned in close. “I don’t even smoke these days, let alone deal, but I learned a few things from my time in the trade,” he said in a serious tone. “Listen to your big bro for a minute.”

I decided I should.

“First rule is you trust nobody. Your best friend today might rat you out tomorrow, understand?”

I nodded, though I couldn’t imagine LuAnn betraying me.

“Second is don’t leave a trail. Get a burner before your next run. Delete the numbers and texts after every drop. Same for GPS and Google Maps. Always meet people in public.”

“We do.”

“Good. Wear a hat and dark glasses, and a mask. It protects you in more ways than one.”

“I do that too,” I said. Actually, all I’d ever worn was the hat.

Dan grinned. “Okay, last and most important rule. If a situation doesn’t look right, feel right, smell right, get out of there fast. Better to have a pissed-off customer than a cop’s gun in your grille.”


A rundown gas station, a woman with jet-black hair and a deeply lined face, looking old enough to be my mom but saying she was, “forty and dead-ass broke and got four already.” A young Korean-American in a hotel lobby, her face full of anger as she described how her parents constantly pushed her to have kids when she wasn’t even sure she wanted to stay married.

After a few more trips, I began to think Dan’s advice was pot-dealer PTSD. Then LuAnn texted Miller Park in Ashwood, picnic tables, 4 pm to my new prepaid phoneand my fragile sense of security melted. Ashwood was a mostly Republican, upper-middle-class suburb. My anxiety surged when a map showed the picnic area at the very back of the park, which had no rear entrance or exit. If a situation doesn’t look right, feel right…

On a late-winter afternoon, the place was quiet and nearly deserted. Driving past empty jungle gyms and dusty brown soccer fields, I spotted a car near the point where the road became a turnaround. A woman in a jacket and jeans sat at the nearest table. But not far away was a boxy black SUV with the engine running.

Who has a picnic at 4 o’clock on Wednesday in February? Instead of parking I drove into the turnaround, every cell and fiber screaming that the SUV was between me and safety. Half-expecting a hail of bullets, I passed it and got out of there as fast as I dared. I saw the woman in the mirror, waving her arms and yelling things I couldn’t hear. The black box stayed put.

Before I reached the gate LuAnn texted What happened? Instead of replying I sped to an abandoned restaurant I’d passed on the way in. Quickly and efficiently I wiped the phone, stomped on it several times, and dumped the shattered bits in a trash barrel. But before doing those things, I threw up in the barrel.


“She was really mad. She said she didn’t know who was in the black car,” LuAnn said from across the table in a coffee shop. I was afraid – reasonably, I thought – to meet at her house in case the police were surveilling me.

“I’m sorry, I can’t believe that,” I said. “Why was the car there?”

She shook her head. “Who knows? Maybe it was somebody fooling around or having a private conversation.”

“It’s too big a coincidence. A lot of cops use those SUVs. I found pictures.” I thought researching the enemy might calm me down but it didn’t. “They have my license plate number. Next time they’ll grab me as soon as they see it.”

“Sally, I really think you’re worrying too much,” LuAnn said, her tone firm though not judgmental. I knew my pre-existing fear might be fueling my emotions. However, I wasn’t about to share all of that now.

“All right, I’m not sure,” I said. “I just think the signs are pretty strong. They might have your phone number too.”

Luann looked startled. I sipped my tea, a voice in my head raging at me to quit while another one begged me to stay. After a minute she asked, “Can you get me one of those phones, burners or whatever you call them?”

“That’s no problem. But–” and it all came out at once. “I’m really scared and I can’t get arrested. I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

“I worry too. About you and the others and all the people we haven’t helped yet,” LuAnn said, taking my hand in hers. “You’re very important to me and to them. Take some time away and if you still feel you can’t continue I’ll understand. But I hope you’ll reconsider.” The next thing I heard from her was Need you desperately can we talk.


The text came to the old phone I’d been using again since our meeting. I’d made a few other changes too, like focusing on my job during work hours instead of thinking about deliveries, and passing police cars without getting the shakes.

I’m still not sure why I did it but I took the prepaid from its hiding place deep in the closet. “Thank God,” LuAnn said, hoarse and short of breath “I’ve got a woman who’s completely freaking out. She might hurt herself.”

“Can’t someone else do it?”

“Nobody’s around. I can’t because I have Covid. She’s out in the country and has absolutely no one to turn to and neither do I.” Almost gasping, she added, “Please, Sally. Please.”

“All right.” It was anything but all right.

“I’ve got to get back to her and work out a meeting spot,” LuAnn croaked. “I’ll let you know.”


Her name was Carla and she lived in a depressed town forty miles away. I tried to beat the darkness down the interstate, but the street lights winked on before I reached the crumbling brick courthouse. The clock in the tower seemed to be ticking in my head as I checked the directions: turn left and go three blocks, then right and half a mile to the discount superstore and park by the garden center.

I waited in the half-empty lot, edgy and feeling like an obvious target, until someone rapped furiously on the passenger window. I lowered it to give her the pills but she grabbed the inside handle, opened the door, and jumped in. “Go, go! Fuckin’ drive!” she hissed. One eye was purple and both were as big as saucers.

Before I could react she ducked below the window, breathing hard. Walking up the next row of spaces was a man with a shaved head, tattoos all over his arms, and pure anger on his face. I hit the gas and made a screeching turn out of the lot, then slowed down and took a good look at my passenger, slumped in the seat.

Carla was smaller than my 5’ 5” and thin, her faded blouse loose on her shoulders and little scars up and down her forearms. The tangle of pink and blonde streaks in her hair made me think she might be eighteen or nineteen, probably no more than twenty-two.

“Hey,” I said. When she didn’t respond, I said it louder, touching her lightly. She screamed and jerked away. “Where are we?” she demanded.

“We’re on Meyers Road,” I replied. “What’s going on?”

“You got the pills?”

“Yes, but are you – are we in danger?”

A near-hysterical laugh. “That guy back there, he said he’d kill me. He tried once before.” A giggle. “Maybe twice. Dumbass me, I hung around. Didn’t have no other way to get high.”

“Are you high now?”

“The hell you think?” Carla snorted. She shut her eyes and exhaled before saying, “Look, I’m goin’ to rehab but they won’t take me if I’m pregnant. I can’t have no baby anyway ’cause it’d be fucked up like me. Can I have the pills?”

I knew I should hand them over and leave. LuAnn always said our job was to help women end their pregnancies safely, and nothing more. “We’re not doctors and we’re not counsellors,” she told me. But an old gash had reopened in my heart.

Carefully I said, “There’ll be bleeding and cramping afterward. It’s important that you be in a safe place. Do you have one?”

“I’m goin’ home. I got nowhere else.”

“You said that man wanted to kill you!”

She shrugged. “Gotta take my chances. It’s two days ’fore I can go to my rehab.”

“Carla, you might not get there. He could do worse than a black eye.” I debated whether to say something else I was thinking. “Or you might decide not to go after all.”

“That ain’t happenin,’” she snapped, glaring. “I wanna get clean. I have to get through it this time.”

“You don’t have to be around him. Please let me help.” I pulled over and took out my phone, typed the name of the county into Google and added women’s shelter. She looked skeptical. “Try it,” I said.

Carla dialed the number. “Hey, I need somewhere to stay… yeah… he sure did… that’s right… no, I got no family… Okay.” She jabbed at the screen and said, “They’re full up.”

What I said next was crazy. It broke LuAnn’s rule and shattered every boundary I had built for myself but she needed me. “I know another place.”


“Carla. Carla?”

She blinked and rubbed her eyes. “How are you feeling?” I asked.

“I was still crampin’ last night but I think I’ll be okay.” She yawned. “Guess I better get my butt in gear, huh?”

I nodded. “It’s almost nine. And the traffic might be bad.”

“Gimme a minute and make that coffee real strong,” Carla said, standing up from my couch, where she’d spent the last two days. She took the pills as soon as we arrived and got through the aftereffects with help from soup and Motrin. I’d worried that she’d be craving something illegal, but she was apparently too wiped out to care.

An hour or so later we headed west, going opposite the morning backup, to a town near hers and a facility called Green Meadows. Thinking the tattooed guy might come after her, I asked if the place had security.

“Oh yeah, there’s guards,” she said. “Mostly to keep us in but to keep the bad folks out too.” She fell silent for a while, then said, “Listen, I want to thank you for everything. It’s been a real long time since anybody’s been this good to me.”

Touched, I replied, “I couldn’t leave you there. And somebody had to help you with the pills.” A moment later I blurted, “No one should have to go through that alone,” and immediately wished I’d kept my mouth shut.

But Carla looked back at me with a gentleness I didn’t know she possessed. Very softly, she asked, “You mean like you had to?”

The road signs blurred as my eyes flooded. I tried to speak, only the breath was trapped in my throat. With Carla waiting quietly and the mile markers flying past, I gathered my strength and began the story I had never told a soul.


“When I was in college I got stupid on spring break, I mean really stupid. I hardly knew the guy, I was about to graduate and didn’t have a job yet, and my parents would have been furious. So I went to a clinic in the nearest big city.”

Seven years vanished as the memories poured out, as raw and scalding as if it had all happened yesterday. “My appointment was early in the morning. I sat and sat in the waiting room under these horrible bright lights – it was like I couldn’t hide. It was winter, and I was wearing my heavy coat, but when I left I couldn’t stop shivering and shaking. I’ll never forget that.”

Carla’s blue eyes were full of sympathy as I came to the end. “There were no complications and my parents never found out. It’s why I try to help other people now. I just get sad and scared when I think about it.”

“You did what you had to, like me,” Carla said, her hand on my shoulder. “I wish I hadn’t made all them rotten choices, but if you hadn’t been here I’d’ve made more. That’s what I won’t forget.” She glanced at a sign. “Our exit’s comin’ up.”


Outside Green Meadows we hugged and promised to keep in touch. “You got this,” I said. “You are going to make it.”

“You too, girl,” she replied. “You’re stronger’n you think.” My vision got blurry again as I watched her walk inside. Then I drove through low hills to the highway, my own journey altered in a way I never dreamed was possible. The road, the trees, and the sky were unchanged, yet I’d traveled a great distance to a place I had known long ago. To a life in which fear was no longer a consuming fire. A world where peace could live alongside pain.

At home I straightened up the sofa, wondering what to say to LuAnn. My last message had been short and vague, confirming I’d made the delivery, not mentioning the rest. I decided someday I’d tell her everything, from the parking lot to Green Meadows, but for now I just needed to get back in touch. I texted Hey.

Hey yourself! You ok?

Fine, been busy. Need anything today?

David Swan

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