By Shaeden Berry
My phone vibrates with a notification.
I’m proud that my fingers don’t shake when I pick it up. Proud and somewhat concerned, because bodies are supposed to reflect what’s happening inside—and internally, I’m screaming the sort of scream that would rupture my eyes with sheer force as it clawed itself out.
But my fingers are steady and my face impassive when I hold the phone up for the recognition software. The phone scans my face, snaps a photo that I know will go to a database somewhere, unlocks the app that notified me. Candy colors with bubble writing—PERIODTRACK!—greet me. A little red blob with cartoon eyes and a smile pops onto my screen and tells me I’m due for my period today and asks, did I start?
I’m not sure why the government decided on this mascot for their period tracking app. There’s something grotesque about a red blob with a fixed grin monitoring the ins and outs of my body. Perhaps it was a decision made in haste; a quick design meeting before the app was rolled out, installed overnight without our permission—the government suddenly in my womb inspecting my eggs and flow.
Checking if I’m pregnant.
I click “PERIOD CONFIRMED” on the app. The red blob seems excited by the prospect of my menstruation and asks me a series of invasive questions. Have I had any cramps, how heavy is the flow, any discharge? Every answer is zinged into some government database where an employee will check them for inconsistencies, all the while probably contemplating their next coffee and how long until lunch, because to them the intricacies of my body are just another day at work.
I feel sick. But it’s regular for me to feel mildly nauseous lately, so it’s nothing to do with the app. Or everything, depending on how you look at it.
I check the time. In one hour, I need to be in a café down the road. I am, according to my Facebook messages, buying an iPad from a girl named Jess. It will cost me $200. We haggled this down from $250.
Every single word is fake.
Because I am pregnant and the woman I am meeting is actually helping me to organize my illegal abortion.
Two years after Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion became illegal across the United States.
Then the app rolled out and they introduced mandatory GP visits every four months for a doctor to stick a scissor jack inside and wind us open, check our engines are running smoothly and that we aren’t trying to conceal a pregnancy.
I wait in the café and think about how I didn’t attend any protests, though I posted about them on Instagram, retweeted support on Twitter, then deleted all that in the aftermath when jail sentences started being tossed around along with the words political agitator.
“Danni?” a woman has approached the table. “Are you Danni? I’m supposed to be selling an iPad to a girl named Danni?”
I give myself a mental shake, smile in a way that suggests I’ve forgotten how to, and say, “Yes that’s me.”
I call them the Mary Jane Collective.
I don’t think they have an official name, because to name something is to give it credibility and existing as a vague concept serves them better.
My name is not original, merely a riff on the underground abortion network of 1969 to 1973, the Jane Collective. I like the name Mary Jane Collective, not just for the homage to their predecessors, but because I envision them all in chunky-soled shoes, the ones we call “Mary Janes.” I imagine punkish people who stomp on preconceptions and kick down barriers.
It is Ginny who tells me about them—my co-worker at the call center whose sister was at the protests, and whom she visits every second Sunday at Bayview Correctional Facility. There they sit across from each other and Ginny clenches both hands in her lap to keep them from clutching at her sister’s.
“I ask her what it’s like in there,” Ginny says to me at lunch one day, “She never tells me. I think that’s worse. Silence is always worse.”
I wonder if that’s a jab at people like me, who sat back when it all went down and, as ever, let the burden fall to the marginalized, the people of color, the LGBTQIA people to push for resistance. The ones already with years of law-making imprinted on their bodies who kept looking at us like: it can’t just be us this time, this affects you too.
“I’m sorry,” I want to say to them now. “I didn’t know.”
But I retweeted that protest tweet, didn’t I?
Shortly after it came out that Facebook was selling our data to police, Ginny tells me about the Mary Jane Collective. It’s a news story on the television that sparks the conversation, about private messages being used in a trial against a 35-year-old mother of three who received an abortion.
“That’s so horrible,” I tell Ginny that day.
I say it low because the world is a hotbed of whisper networks. We all throw around jokes that Big Brother is watching us, interspersed with asking if we’ve watched the latest Big Brother episode, and there’s a cognitive dissonance in that that makes me want to scream.
“There are better ways to do it. Where you don’t get caught. Marketplace,” Ginny whispers, “Electronics. Look for a number in the text, sometimes as a serial number, sometimes an IMEI. Sometimes just randomly thrown in. 2255263.”
(Four months later, Ginny will stop coming to work. Some days, I will tell myself she got a new job. Other days, I will be more adventurous and tell myself she joined the Mary Jane Collective.
In the dark of night, I will know that she gave information to the wrong person and she has most likely joined her sister behind bars.
I hope she knows it wasn’t me.)
I use 2255263 as the pin code on the iPad when I get home. Once unlocked, I go to Google Maps, and bring up the favorites list. There is only one address listed and I write it down on a piece of paper.
Then I do a full factory reset on the iPad to wipe it clear.
The original Jane Collective reached people through signs posted in the city: “Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane.” They placed ads in underground newspapers. They would have people meet them at an address they called “The Front” and then bundle them into a car, driving them to a second location for the abortion.
I worry the piece of paper between my fingers.
This is the address for one of the many apartment complexes that the Mary Jane Collective rent out. Usually, they are positioned near a café with an Instagram-worthy dessert or drink. That way, if we’re questioned why we went to that address, we can tell them we were visiting the café.
I was just doing it for the ‘Gram, officer.
It’s cold outside of the apartment complex. I have bundled myself into a large woollen coat and am staring at my phone screen.
When I look up, there is a woman peering at me.
“I thought it was you!” she says. “My brother was friends with your brother, Josh, in high school! Do you remember? You look exactly the same!”
She leans in for a hug. I am frozen. I have not planned on being recognized by some stranger. I feel dizzy, until there is slight pressure and I realize she has slipped something into my coat pocket during the one-sided hug.
It hits me.
She is the Mary Jane Collective. This is a pretend interaction. I do have a brother Josh; they have done their homework. It’s both reassuring and alarming.
She pulls back. “We must catch up sometime! I have to run now—but definitely add me on Facebook! Good to see you!”
And then she is gone.
When I get home, I take the package from my pocket. It’s wrapped in brown paper. When I tear through the wrapping, it’s not a blister pack that greets me, but two small plastic bags, one with a single pill, the other with four. On the back of the brown paper someone has scrawled instructions.
“1 pill—take first. 4 pills, take 24-28 hours after, place in cheek.”
There is something about the pills being in plastic bags that turns my stomach. The absence of a blister pack—of something that indicates legitimacy—spikes panic in me.
What if these are not abortion pills?
This could be anything. I’m alone in my apartment. No one can know what I’m doing, because I don’t want to drag another into my mess. If something happens…
I think, and I think, and I think.
And then I open the first pill bag.
Shaeden Berry is a writer with a degree in English/Creative Writing, currently midway through her Master’s program in Writing. She lives in Boorloo (Perth), Western Australia with her partner and two cats.