I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, edited by Shelly Oria, is a multigenre anthology with a focus on the crisis of reproductive rights in the United States. The book’s international supplement features sixteen additional works of fiction, nonfiction, and art by contributors from around the globe. Order the book, and receive the supplement, I Know What’s Best for You All Over the World, free as an e-book. Editor and author Shelly Oria will be touring through the summer of 2022, joined by contributors to the book as well as many other writers and artists.
by Yamila Bêgné
We all had a telephone number when we were 15, 16, 17.
Or 20, 21, 22.
Or 25, or 31.
You got it from your friend.
Your friend got it from a friend.
That friend also got it from a friend.
So many girls, so many women, one number.
You had to call.
An answering machine would pick up.
And you would leave your own number.
Then you’d wait.
Numbers talking to numbers.
And not a single voice.
That’s one version.
We didn’t have a telephone number.
We were 15, 16, 17.
Or 20, or 21, 22. Or 25, or 31.
Or older. Or younger.
And we needed that number.
We had a different number:
a friend’s number.
And we would call her
or just to help another friend
who needed to help another friend.
I remember this:
my whisper on the phone,
asking for that number.
How silly, I think now,
whispering on the phone.
What difference did it make whether it was quiet or loud?
But the thing was
you could not speak the word.
You could not ask your doctor about it.
All you had was your friend,
who had a friend
who had a friend
who had a number.
That’s another version.
Maybe a lucky one.
We knew a place
up there, down there,
There would be herbs, parsleys.
There would be metal hangers
with their metal hooks.
No numbers. Not one.
Not even the number of women
who had come in
and never got out.
And another version.
We all knew how much an abortion would cost.
A safe one,
though there was nothing safe about an illegal abortion.
But we knew.
And we kept checking inside our brains
how to get the money,
just in case
we needed it.
This one is the luckiest version.
A white room.
A pill with no name.
An invisible procedure.
No choice. No voice.
And dead women.
A prohibitive law is a strange thing:
it pushes silence
It covers certain words,
turns them into whispers,
until you no longer can say,
so you no longer can see.
Weird things, words:
language opens language.
So we speak about this,
and minutes later
we are talking about that,
and about that other thing.
There’s a reason we can talk, I think.
There’s a reason we can write.
A cold day
with a little trespassing sky.
My friends, my sisters, and me.
Peculiar smiles on our faces.
Wider. Or simpler.
A smile from years ago.
A smile from the past
carried into the future.
Deputies at the House of Congress were voting the IVE1 law project.
And there were numbers:
129 in favor. 125 against. 1 abstention.
Things we sang on the street:
en el hospital.”2
“Abajo el patriarcado
se va a caer, se va a caer.
Arriba el feminismo,
Que va a vencer, que va a vencer.”3
It was a single voice
made out of many.
And then we all howled,
our hands covering and then releasing
A cloudy day, almost foggy.
Our green scarfs against all that gray,
like grass, like leaves.
The Senate was voting.
38 against. 31 in favor. 2 abstentions. 1 absence.
Sorrow can also be shared:
that we had already learned.
Sorrow as layers of concrete, as a thousand atmospheres pushing down.
Things we had to hear that year
from congressmen and congresswomen:
What happens when a dog gets pregnant? We don’t take it to have an
A pregnancy dignifies a woman without means.
I’m going to propose a cemetery for fetus victims of abortion.
Things we also, happily, heard:
I don’t want our young to be scared. I don’t want our young to be
scared of the future world.
They are penalizing women for exercising their freedom.
Whatever happens today, there is no coming back from this.
Our society is no longer the same.
We were able to find language for abortion’s deep and silenced
Almost New Year’s Eve.
It’s difficult to get together.
There is fear around us, a virus.
And yet women are out again.
How many voices does it take to form one?
Those of us who decide to stay at home follow the debate online.
It goes on all night.
Again, the things we have to hear.
Again, the things we are happy to hear.
And then, when the time comes to vote, it’s already morning.
A translucent sun, a lighter atmosphere.
There are, again, and at last, numbers.
38 in favor. 29 against. 1 abstention.
fn1. IVE: Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo (Voluntary Pregnancy Termination)
fn2. “Legal abortion, in the hospital”
fn3. “Down with the patriarchy, it’s going to fall, it’s going to fall. Up with feminism, it’s going to win, it’s going to win”
A new number now:
for information, for advice, for complaints, for public attention.
Instead of our own voices in an answering machine, rights.
Instead of a pill with no name, a word.
Instead of hangers and hooks, a grammar.
We are still 15, 16, 17.
Or 20, 21, 22.
Or 25, or 31.
Or younger. Or older.
Our green scarfs
still attached to our wrists,
still against all that gray,
like gardens, like nature.
But do we all have that new number?
Strange thing, change.
It appears to be immediate,
though there is nothing sudden about changing.
Fear. Or silence. Or whispers.
They tend to stay.
Walls we don’t fully see.
Women and numbers,
and a weird thing
It seems we have to keep counting
to fully see,
to fully scream.
And so, more numbers:
2020: 251 femicides.
How long does it take for digits
to become a full language?
Yamila Bêgné (1983) is a fiction writer from Argentina. She has published four short story collections and three novels. Her work has also been included in many anthologies. She received the Néstor Sánchez Scholarship from CUNY and UNTREF and was resident writer at the International Writing Program at University of Iowa.
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