The Letter A

Hester peeks out the window. She fingers the sheer curtain hem between her forefinger and her thumb, loosening the threads. She is waiting for the UPS man. She ordered a white noise machine to help her sleep despite the taunts and vandalism outside her house. This time, the vandals have moved beyond throwing trash and have spray-painted a giant scarlet A on her front door. It was bad enough having to move through society with the scarlet letter A stitched to the broadcloth of her coat, but now her house has been marked. Hester sees the UPS truck stop in front of her home. The man carries a sizeable box, but it doesn’t look heavy. The delivery man stops in mid-stride. He’s looking at the large scarlet letter A sprayed on the weathered wooden door. He drops the box mid-lawn and retreats. Hester cannot determine if he didn’t want to get involved or if he was judging her. After retrieving the box, Hester drags out a bucket of Pine-Sol and a sponge to the front porch. She doesn’t have anything else to help her clean up this mess. It’s been ages since she’s been to the store, and she doesn’t think of things like industrial cleanser when she orders her groceries online.

Once Hester is outside with her mandated jacket on, she notices the words baby killer scrawled on the siding. Underneath the damnation lay the crumpled crocuses with their tender petals of white striped with red. If she doesn’t get this cleaned up, the Subdivision Committee will penalize her for being an eyesore, never mind it was her neighbors that created these acts of judgment and hate. Hester runs her hand over the scarlet A embroidered on her chest. Objectively, it is a beautiful, hand-stitched scarlet satin letter A, but its message is hideous. When she runs her hand over it, worrying it in a nervous gesture designed to cover it up, she feels tiny threads loosened from the embroidery like the hairs that stand up on her arms and the back of her neck as she cleans. Hester feels the eyes of her neighbors boring into her back, but she continues to scrub the door. Hester has nowhere to turn for relief.

The state issued abortions illegal, and those found guilty must bear the scarlet letter A for nine months over their heart, emblazoned on their chest. There was talk about enforced hysterectomies in the state senate, but that failed due to funding constraints. A small group of pro-choice advocates had approached Hester about an appeal to the Supreme Court, but the sentence of nine months was so short-lived that things never made it that far. Besides, once you had to wear the scarlet letter, you only wanted to distance yourself from it. No one wanted to be the poster child for reversing the punitive elements of the sins of abortion. Some previous wearers of the scarlet A had become the most prominent, loudest proponents for the punishment. Being a reformed whore was the fastest way to absolution. Being a defiant feminist was the quickest way to being a lifelong pariah. Hester still had four months left to her sentence, and she had no idea in which camp she would fall. It seemed like such hard work to keep fighting for the right to her own body. It felt hopeless.

“Being a reformed whore was the fastest way to absolution.”

She scrubbed at the bold red paint on her front door. It only made her hands raw with the effort. The door was beautiful and unusual this day in the age of steel and fiberglass doors made to look like wood. But every groove and grain of this door was real, hewn by a saw, sanded by hand, and cut to fill the limits of angular construction. Cut to fit the pre-defined portal making it an enclosure, giving her privacy. This was the door that kept society out, but now irrevocably marred with bright red, stubborn paint in the form of the letter A, it sealed her fate. It was marked by the violence of society hiding behind the moniker of “Pro-Life,” disguising their narrow-minded and reductive “altruism.” It was a blaring reminder of her shame.

But what about her life? What about her choice? What about her freedom? The ideology of the American way of life was vandalized. Her natural wood door, born of the land of the free and shaped to yield shelter and protection, was rendered an ugly reminder of the society that was breaking it down, splintering her right to liberty. Just as heavy oak doors had given way to the steel traps of other houses, her oak door would be replaced with the same. Even when the letter A was gone, it would still burn in Hester’s heart. She retreated inside and sat at her kitchen counter. She opened Google on her phone and typed, “professional painter near me.”

Written by Leah Holbrook Sackett – Saint Louis, Missouri, United States

Feature Photo by Photo by elifskies

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