There Will be Hope | A Short Story by Zoe Krauskopf
Zoe Krauskopf is the 1st Place Winner for Grade 11 in the 2015-16 Seton Short Story Contest
He left that morning. My only sibling — my best friend — my veritable father — left me for active duty in Afghanistan.
“Do you miss him much?” my boyfriend Liam asked me on the day after Dan left.
“I don’t know. I haven’t cried about it, but since he left, there’s been a giant hole in my heart. Everything seems so. . .”
“Empty?” Liam finished. I nodded. No more needed to be said.
We both sat, silently looking out over the porch railing — the railing that Dan helped Dad make seven years ago. We looked out at the garden that Dan worked as long as I could remember. We saw the treehouse that Dan’s strong hands helped erect for me. The rope ladder swung freely, waiting for Dan and me to climb it together. . .
“You know,” Liam ventured again, after a moment, “he left something for you. I should have showed you yesterday, but everything. . . Well, here it is now.”
It was a very short note. Well, it wasn’t really a note. It was actually just an address and a set of commands:
BOOTS ON. COAT ON. WEAPON IN HAND. MIND STEELED. NERVES STEELED. TACTICS PLANNED.
SATURDAY 0700. DON’T BE LATE.
“But what’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Your guess is probably better than mine. He handed this to me just before we said goodbye. I can only assume he wants you to go there.”
“Alli, I can’t help you with that. But if you want to check the place out, I’ll go with you.”
“I. . . I don’t know. I just need a minute to think, okay?”
“Anything you want.” And Liam left, calling over his shoulder, “Just text when you need me!”
I looked the note over with the reverence of one fingering a relic. This was the last thing my brother had written before going overseas to war — and it was written to me. I felt ungrateful for not understanding it.
It looked like a military summons. I mean, he was talking about gearing up and going somewhere with a weapon at seven in the morning. What on earth did he mean?
An hour’s worth of thought in the fading light did nothing to solve my problem. What it did do, however, was convince me that I had to go to this 8220 Warnock at 7 a.m. the next day.
I wandered up to my room. Immediately, I caught sight of the little plaque Dan had above his bed. Although I was too myopic to make out the actual words on the paper, I knew well what they said, for Dan would whisper them to me every night: Mama, I never said I was strong. Stand by my side; lead me aright.
Dan loved the Virgin Mary, though I confess that this was one point in which we differed. He was often seen looking at her image or fingering his knotted Rosary; he always referred to her as “Mama.” I, however, just couldn’t find it in me to love that woman — that picture upon the wall — as much as Dan did.
Tonight, though, felt a little different. Dan wasn’t there to recite that simple prayer for me. Somehow, I felt weaker and lonelier for not hearing it. I whispered the words to myself. “Mama, I never said I was strong. Stand by my side; lead me aright.” The tears which I had restrained since Dan’s departure now poured out freely.
The next morning found me up at five, texting Liam. He wouldn’t reply to me, so I called him. “What do you want?” he asked sleepily.
“Liam, it’s me. We’re going to 8220 Warnock today.”
“Not now. At seven.”
“Alli. . .” his voice trailed off. I prodded him to continue, but he was still hesitant. Eventually, however, he confessed, “I looked the place up. I don’t want you going there.”
“Why not? Dan knew what was good for me.”
“I know, I know. . . it’s just that. . . well, I don’t know if you’re. . . if you’re strong enough.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure I can handle it. He never gave me a challenge I wasn’t up to. Plus, I’ll be with you. You can give me whatever strength I don’t have. I trust you.”
“Thanks, Alli. I guess I’ll see you then,” he said, resignation heavy in his voice. I could tell that he didn’t honestly expect to change my mind.
I don’t know why, but I never thought to look the place up myself. I didn’t know what it was, but I had faith in my brother — he’d never lead me somewhere that was dangerous for me unless there was a good reason. Instead of checking it out for myself, I sat in bed and re-read the note several times, using it as my packing list. Of course I’d take boots and a coat — it was cold out. I didn’t own any kind of weapon but a pocket knife, so I took that, wondering all the while what use I’d find for it.
Then I set about steeling my nerves for the worst. All sorts of strange images came to mind, but I never for a moment believed that any of them were real. I trusted my brother too much.
Finally, Liam texted me, saying he was outside. I quickly grabbed up everything I needed and ran downstairs. There he was, waiting for me in his pickup truck.
“You don’t have to come,” he said feebly.
“Liam, I can do this. I don’t know what you’re so upset about. It’ll be fine.”
We were silent other than that. Liam drove quickly, eventually parking on the side of some road I didn’t recognize. “We’re almost here. We can walk the last part.” He helped me out of the truck, and we began our solemn walk in the freezing darkness.
I had imagined countless possibilities, but none of them matched up to the reality, which I saw as soon as we rounded the corner: Dan had given me directions to the city’s abortion facility.
There it was: an old stone structure with a decrepit awning overshadowing it. In peeling letters were painted the words “EWM Women’s Surgical Center.” There were large windows in the edifice, but they admitted no look into the building — heavy blinds were drawn over them. There appeared to be only one door.
And then there were the people: easily fifty to a hundred of them on the cracked pavement. Some of them sported lurid orange “Clinic Escort” jackets. Others were wearing bright yellow vests, though these were fewer in number. There was one man standing on a wooden box and quoting Bible verses in an elevated voice. And there were people lined up all along the sides of the streets, holding Rosaries.
Liam and I came, hand-in-hand, just as a group of orange-clad escorts reached the door. They had formed so tight a ring around one girl that all I could see of her was her flaming red hair. A man in yellow was trying to speak to her, but one of the escorts shoved him out of the way and allowed the girl into the building. Just before she entered, the ring of orange broke, and she looked behind herself. Her large, blue, tearstained eyes came to rest on Liam and me.
At that moment, something happened which I will never be able to explain. Our eyes met and, although I most certainly didn’t know her, I felt that she was my best friend. For that instant, I felt all the pain that went with her decision. I felt that I had left her at this last, crucial moment. . .
She opened her mouth as if to say something but was pushed inside by an escort.
My knees were shaking. I knew why she had gone in there. I knew how many people entered — and how many would return.
I desperately wanted to run into that building. I desperately wanted to find that girl — speak to her — listen to her — take her out of there — take them both out of there. But I couldn’t. I was paralyzed with fear, and it was only Liam’s strong arms that kept me on my feet.
“We don’t have to stay,” Liam whispered. “You know what it is.”
He was right. I didn’t have to see this. I didn’t have to be here. I couldn’t help her or anyone else who went through those doors, so what was the point in staying? But I was too numb with cold and fear to speak.
After listening to the soothing tones of the small congregation repeatedly praying the Hail Mary, my nerves began to calm down. I still didn’t quite trust myself to stand alone, but I thought I’d be able to in another few minutes.
Then came the second girl. There she was, surrounded by those orange jackets. There was that yellow vest, shunted off to the side. There were those tears. There were the eyes, staring into my soul with an almost pleading look. There was the final step, followed by the slamming of the door. There was nothing more to do.
Everything swam before my eyes. The stone structure seemed to shudder and blur as I tried to focus on it. And the pavement beneath my feet rocked like an ocean swell. What was happening?
“Those kids can’t stay here,” I heard a gruff voice mutter to its partner, although the words had no meaning to me at first.
“What do you mean? I don’t want them here either, but at least they’re in a legal spot.”
“The girls. They keep looking right over at those two. And I’ve been in there — they’re talking about their guys.”
“Just ignore it. They’ll be next,” he said, malice in his voice. Then the two moved away.
It was right about this time that I was able to look around and comprehend everything again. Liam and I were sitting on the ground, and he still held me closely. One of the mini-congregation was kneeling beside us. “Are you two alright?” she asked Liam.
“Yeah, I think we’ll be fine. This is her first time, and it’s a little much.”
“I understand. I remember my first visit. . . here, take these,” she said, handing Liam two Rosaries. “You’ll find them useful. And you two keep standing right where you are. I saw those girls looking right at you as they come in. What a wonderful witness.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said respectfully, though somewhat awkwardly. By this time, I was able to stand up by myself, but Liam still kept his arm around me.
Four or five more girls passed by us before an hour was up. Every one of them looked right at Liam and me. Some looked away of their own accord, and some were forced into the building. Every time the door slammed, my whole frame quaked. Every time their gazes were taken from me, I was overwhelmed with a nameless feeling — guilt, I now realize it was. I felt as if I were failing each and every one of them. I was there — I was giving witness — but I failed to help them.
“Alli,” Liam said after an hour and a half, “we’re done. It’s over.”
“They’re closed now. Everyone’s leaving.”
A wave of relief washed over me. Our work was finished. There would be no more murders — at least, not today.
Liam and I began walking slowly back to the car. However, after just a moment, someone came running up and calling for us. “Excuse me?” an unfamiliar voice said. It was one of the yellow-vested men. “Excuse me, do you have a minute to talk?”
“Sure,” Liam said, after I nodded my assent.
“Great. Listen, I’m with Emmanuel Ministries. We’re the local pro-life group, and we’ve never seen you guys here before. Are you from out of town?”
“No,” Liam supplied, “first visit.”
“Excellent! We noticed that you seemed to have a great positive influence. Pretty good for your first time!”
“Thanks,” we both said uncertainly. I didn’t want to be reminded of those helpless stares again. They would haunt me for the rest of my life.
“Hey, we’re actually going to breakfast with some people here. Want to join us?”
“Great. Do you have a ride?”
“Yeah. We’ll follow you.”
The morning was wonderful. We went to a nearby restaurant and talked for hours. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone was friendly.
The man who invited us was named Michael. He had been involved in that pro-life ministry for five and a half years, starting when he was sixteen. The time we spent talking with him was filled with testimonies and stories — some depressing, some hopeful. Apparently, he had seen the saving of nearly a hundred babies in the time he had volunteered there. That fact alone boosted me the most — these children could be saved! There was hope for them!
“Would you be willing to come here next Saturday?” Michael asked as we were about to leave.
“I really don’t know. . .” Liam said, still nervous about me.
“Yes,” I said without faltering. For something inside made me certain that I had to return.
“Wonderful. I’ll see you then!”
“Bye!” we both said, taking our leave.
Mom was surprised when we got home. “Where were you two?” she asked, anxiety in her voice. It was only then that I realized I probably should have left some kind of explanatory note.
“We were out praying at the abortion mill,” Liam said, stating it better and more bluntly than I could have hoped.
This seemed to relieve Mom quite a bit. “Just like Dan used to. . .” she muttered. Dan used to pray there? How come he never told me? “But what took you two so long?”
Liam chuckled. “One of the anti-escorts invited us out to breakfast with his group. I think your daughter’s hooked on pro-life work now,” he smiled.
Mom was delighted at that prospect. Carrying on the tradition of my brother, she said. It made her proud. Still, she would have liked if we warned her or something.
I can’t believe it’s already been a year. I hope you’re doing well. We’re both at war now — me, overseas and you, downtown. Hope Mike’s group is treating you well. Things over here are rough, but we freed a POW camp last night. One guy lived, and he’s fighting with us now. He deserted them. You don’t need to reply.
Much love, your brother.
Liam was absolutely right — I was hooked. For the next year, every possible Saturday saw us preparing to face the cold or the heat, the storm or the sunshine, victory or defeat. Every possible Saturday saw the two of us standing slightly off from the rest of the group, in an almost direct line of sight with the front door. Every possible Saturday, we gave our witness in hopes that one mother might return with her child.
They kept looking over at us, those girls who entered. Gradually, the escorts saw us as a threat. They tried harassment (first verbal, then physical), but a well-placed police call ended that. Still, whenever an orange web came with its client trapped inside, three escorts stood directly in front of us, trying to block us from view. Yet this didn’t deter the girls — they would somehow find a way to look over at us. More often than not, they’d open their mouths as if they were about to say something. Yet they were shoved silently inside.
Dan was right: I was at war — a war for the lives of those who had never seen the light of day. I learned what he meant by “weapon in hand”; he was speaking of a Rosary. As a man who knew my brother commented, “Every bead on this string is a bullet fired directly into that building and at these escorts.”
I had actually never prayed a Rosary before I came to the abortion mill, although I had been Catholic all my life. Yet I soon learned, and it became one of the most vital parts of my ministry. Oftentimes, I felt that it was only the strength of those beads that kept me standing when one more young mother was cast into that house of murder. “When you hold those beads, you’re holding our Blessed Mother’s hand,” an elderly woman assured me.
Gradually, Dan’s motto (Mama, I never said I was strong. Stand by my side; lead me aright) became my motto as well. That woman, that mother of God, was no longer just a picture on the wall to me. Somehow, I knew she was standing beside me, closer even than Liam. She was always with me. Even when the day seemed unsuccessful, I felt that she was still at work.
In that first year, I never personally witnessed a girl change her mind and come out through those fateful doors. I never saw her tearstained yet triumphant face declaring that she chose life. A week afterwards, Michael and his friends sometimes had records of how many women changed their minds, and this was recompense for me; I didn’t need to see the change, so long as it happened.
One day, however, I was destined to see firsthand the fruits of my labors.
I was standing in my usual spot, listening to all the noise around me: the peaceful repetitions of the Hail Mary, the occasional honks from the street, the vulgar speech of the escorts, and the monologue of the preacher, who came once or twice a month. As each web of escorts passed, I looked for the woman inside. There she was, staring out at the two of us. There she was, about to say something. And there she was, shunted inside. It was a normal day.
An hour and a half came and went. The building closed, its work done. The escorts left, their gruesome volunteer shifts finished. And the faithful slowly trickled away, solemn-faced; we all knew that there had been no saves that day.
Liam and I began to walk back to the car. “You know,” he commented, “this is our one-year anniversary of beginning pro-life work.”
“Yeah,” I said listlessly. “And a great way to remember it. . .”
“Excuse me?” Liam and I turned around, expecting to see one of the people with whom we said the Rosary. But the woman we saw, we didn’t recognize.
Her face had an urgent, searching look. Her large blue eyes rested first on me, then on Liam, and then back again. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I remembered her from somewhere — where, however, I had no idea.
“You might not remember me,” she began slowly, still searching for some sign of recognition, “but I last saw you a year ago. You two were standing here. You were looking at me. You saw me go into that place. . . to have my abortion.”
Everything started to come back to me. I had seen her before! A year ago. . . a year ago. . . that was my first visit here.
She brushed her messy, flaming red hair from her face, and her piercing blue eyes met mine, giving me a clear view to the past. She was the first girl. She was the first one I had seen going in, whose tearstained face told of unnamed anguish in making her decision. She had been about to call out, as so many others had. But she was shoved inside — I never saw her come out.
Why was she talking to me now? Why wouldn’t she just bury that memory, as I had? Why was she confessing to me?
She saw recognition and received courage to continue. “That day, I learned something those people try to keep hidden: there’s a back door.”
She let that sentence sink in. I almost refused to believe the thought that forced itself to the front. There was no way. She couldn’t be saying what I thought she was. This couldn’t be happening.
But it was. She motioned to a nearby car and asked, her eyes glowing, “Would you like to see the baby?”
The girl, Hayley, had somehow escaped. Her pregnancy was troubled, filled on all sides with urgings to abort, yet she went through with the full nine months and gave birth to a wonderfully healthy girl. She named her child Hope, symbolic of “The hope you gave me in a brighter future.” Since Hope seemed destined to never know an earthly father, her mother offered her to her heavenly Father in Baptism.
When we found Hayley, she was living with a heavy debt over her head. At my family’s request, she moved in with my parents and me until her debts were paid. Pretty soon, she became a part of the family. And every possible Saturday, she and Hope accompanied Liam and me in our mission of life.
At the end of his tour, my brother came home. With him was the one POW he mentioned in his letter. He, like Hayley, made a hard choice, giving up all that he had stood for. He, like Hayley, was in desperate need of help. He, like Hayley, came under our roof temporarily. And each Saturday, he and Dan joined the four of us in our mission of life.
Hayley, Hope, and I moved out after half a year. We found a small apartment close to both our jobs. She enrolled in online schooling, and I continued my courses at the community college. Still, Saturdays always saw our group going out on our mission of life.
It has been eight years since I began pro-life ministry. Hayley remains single, praying every night for Hope’s earthly father, that he might one day claim his child.
I no longer pray at 8220 Warnock, for it has been shut down. Hayley, Hope, Liam, and I now face an hour-long drive in order to visit the nearest facility. Yet every Saturday still finds us praying on the sidewalk.
Dan’s motto is still my own, although I have adapted it some. I feel that my Mother is not only standing beside me, holding me up — no, she is also waging war right alongside me, guiding each Hail Mary into the heart of the enemy.
Mama, I never said I was strong. Fight by my side; lead me aright.
This is my word to you: life is a war. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re called to active duty, whether downtown, overseas, or in your own heart. There will be battles; there will be trials; there will be pain. But there will be triumph; there will be victory; there will be Hope.
About Zoe Krauskopf
Zoe Krauskopf is an amateur flutist, works at McDonald’s (“and am lovin’ it”), adores the Oxford comma, and is a diehard writer. She composes recreationally and competitively on the Seton Writers’ Club, an independent site founded eleven years ago by Seton students. In November, she completed the first draft of a full-length novel, A Midnight Summer’s Dream.