“Legacy Waste” by Diane Lefer (excerpt)

There was her daughter, pregnant, being taken into custody. According to the article
accompanying the photo, the Catholic Workers of Las Vegas had joined tribal elders
to protest expanding the old gold mine that would send cyanide into groundwater
and destroy the sacred mountain of the Shoshone. According to the email from her
ex-husband accompanying the link, he hadn’t known anything about Shelley’s latest
activities either.

Pregnant? Catholic? Las Vegas?

Shelley was supposed to be in Los Angeles, getting a Masters at UCLA. You could be
in fairly regular contact and still have no idea.


Michael, her ex, was on every progressive mailing list, and that’s probably why he
was the one to see the article. Dulcie—Dr. Doris Zwick—did her part. She flew to South
Dakota every other week for a day to perform abortions which local doctors refused to
do fearing the repercussions. Aside from that, she had a lucrative OB/GYN practice in
Scottsdale. She power-walked in the cool hour before dawn and swam at the club twice
a week. Though she had a pool in the backyard, she liked going for the water aerobics
and the intermittent company of other women she would never actually want as friends.
She enjoyed her margaritas and singing with the HighTones. Dulcie had perfect pitch.
And she hated being called Dulcie. I am not sweet, she growled, but—you and your dulcet
tones. She’d heard that ever since junior high, and the name stuck.

She would have to keep those tones loving and nonjudgmental when she phoned
her daughter. Her pregnant, unmarried daughter. Shelley, who was certainly not
ignorant of contraception and, in the event, termination. She stayed calm when she got
voicemail. When she left one message. And another. Day after day. She thought about
flying to Vegas. Maybe Shelley needed bail? Not unless she’d been in jail for months—
unthinkable! The article was dated April and it was already July. So instead, exhausted
after a two a.m. delivery, she flew to Rapid City and that’s where she was when Bennett
called her cell.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” he said. Bennett. Michael’s ex. One of them. Drug
addict, compulsive gambler. And please, God, not the father. “You’d better get out here.”
Please, not a turkey-baster Bennett baby. July. It might have been born.

She stayed by the workstation long enough to send Michael a quick email. Have you
heard from Bennett? From Shelley? Even now, decades later, she preferred email. It was still
too hard to hear his voice. I’m going to Las Vegas. Do you have any idea what’s going on?

“She’s ready,” said Tracy.

This would be number fourteen of the day.

“General? Local?”


Sometimes Tracy, after giving the required spiel about adoption, gave them no
anaesthetic or sedative at all. They didn’t want any, she said. Dulcie suspected the nurse
intentionally hurt them with the dilators and withheld pain meds but there was no time
for chat, let alone confrontation. It was like those assembly-line animal charities that
spay cats. It shouldn’t be this way, Dulcie thought, one after another. She washed her
hands again. Frightening how many doctors no longer subscribed to the germ theory of
disease. She pulled on new gloves. Ten minutes for the procedure at most, then on to the
next. If anyone was going to offer comfort or kindness, it would have to be Tracy but
instead she gave them attitude. She was particularly cruel to the Indians, whether from
town or come all the way from Rosebud or Pine Ridge: “I thought Indians didn’t cry” or
“Haven’t you had enough genocide?”

Today, it was all as usual: the girl crying, the room smelling of wipes and latex and
Surgilube. Dulcie wished away a bitter fantasy of brave uncomplaining little cancer
patients on a pediatrics ward, inspiring everyone around them instead of this endless
parade of weeping girls and silent, tired women. They came from hundreds of miles
around, from the Dakotas, from Nebraska, all for Dulcie’s visits which would soon come
to an end, their only chance.

When it was over, this girl sniffled. “Did it have ten fingers? Did it have ten toes?”
and Dulcie was irritated enough to answer, “It had fins and gills and a few tail feathers.”
Then regretting her sarcasm, she took the girl’s hand. “You did the right thing,” she said.
“If my own daughter were pregnant, I hope she’d make the same choice.” But Shelley

They kept coming. Straggling into the waiting room complaining of the heat. If
it was that hot out, Dulcie hadn’t noticed. From airport to cab to clinic, she’d hardly
stepped outside. Two toddlers were climbing over chairs and shrieking, their young
mother repeating I’m sorry I’m sorry, there was no one I could leave them with I’m sorry.

The routine for almost two years now: Sky Harbor Airport before dawn, connect
through Denver. Arrive at the clinic by ten, all done by five. When flights were delayed,
she stayed as late as necessary. But now they were insisting the women meet face-to-face
with the doctor at least twenty-four hours before the procedure. That was asking a lot
of a volunteer who waived her fee and paid her own way. The OB-GYN who let her use
the space on his day off, along with the services of Tracy and Sally the receptionist, was
getting threats now. He wanted out of the arrangement. More restrictions pending in the
legislature. One way or another, her South Dakota days were done.

And today, a change of routine. “I need a flight to Vegas. I’m visiting my daughter.”
Sally said, “Sorry, Dr. Zwick. Denver flights are canceled and there’s no connecting
flight but standby till morning.”


(Spring 2013)