Void first visited Beddy in the fall of second grade, the day after she accompanied her mother to the clinic.
It was a long walk from their house, and Beddy trailed behind.
“Ma, how much further?”
“As further as it takes. Brian’s at work, otherwise I’d have him take me. It should really be him.”
Ma had never learned to drive. She made do with rides from Dad, neighbors, the bus when she had to, and now boyfriends like Brian, but often she and Beddy hoofed it where they needed to go – groceries, the cleaners, the mall. Her older daughter Ona was fond of complaining that they were the last family on earth still “running” errands.
“Why do I have to come with you? I could stay at home just fine.”
“I leave you anywhere, you’ll find a way to hurt yourself. You’ve got a knack for it.”
Beddy wrinkled up her face. Ma still gave her heat for when she opened up her scalp on the coffee table and required thirteen stitches. No one believed her story that the table had bitten her, and so didn’t understand her hesitation to be alone in the room with it, or why she kept dragging it out into the yard.
“Besides,” Ma said, “the last time I left you alone, you didn’t stay there.”
Beddy tugged at her scarf, undid the top buttons of her jacket. It was the time of fall that could be winter on a whim, so she was equipped for cold, but overdressed for such a hike.
The leaves were crisp and broke into shards beneath her feet. It was a satisfying sound, but she wondered if they could feel anything once separated from their tree.
They walked until the houses became storefronts and strip malls. The clinic itself looked like a house, a nondescript dark brown single-story with a manicured lawn split by a cement walkway. A group of ten or so picketers occupied the left lawn strip. Some stood, and a few sat on the curb, looking bored, their picket signs resting next to them. One of the men standing perked up when Beddy and Ma approached the building via the right lawn strip. He wore a camo sweater with “GOD IS MY GENERAL” written down the center of his chest. His sign was by far the largest, and it wavered on the end of his picket.
“GENESIS 1:2,” it said in livid red marker. “AND THE EARTH WAS FORMLESS, AND VOID; AND DARKNESS WAS UPON THE FACE OF THE DEEP.”
Beddy could read every word on the sign except for “VOID.” Did it rhyme with asteroid? As if sensing this, the man stepped towards her over the walkway, reiterating his message.
“Genesis 1:2 proclaims ‘The earth, it was formless, and void! And darkness was upon the face of the deep.’” His sign wobbled. “That void has returned! Recant, and repent! Recant, and repent!”
She cut a wide arc around him. She didn’t like being shouted at, either by him, his sweatshirt, or his sign. There was also something terrifying about his eyes, red where they should be white, dark pockets beneath.
“Look at your child!” he bellowed at Ma. “You are sowing the seeds of her Judgment!”
Empowered, a woman in a shapeless dress and wild curly hair stepped over the walkway in front of them. “Children are a gift and deserve to be born,” she said. “This could have been born.”
She drove her picket into the grass in front of Beddy, so deep that the sign was at her eye level. It was a close-up photo of what looked like a baby next to a dress button, but they were the same dimensions. Letters at the top read “Actual Size.” At the bottom, “Actual Life.” Surrounding the baby and the button was red goo, flecked with strange meat-like shapes.
“Is that an arm?” Beddy said.
Ma smacked the sign back with her palm. “Get the hell out of my daughter’s face.” “God’s will above ours! Choose life!”
This roused the rest of the picket clan, and they rallied into a gauntlet along the walkway, driving their signs into the grass, chanting “Choose life, choose life” as Ma pulled Beddy through by her arm. Then they were inside.