The Test (Part 1)


19 November 2006





Mary stares out the subway car window, lost in a mindless trance. Although it is only 10 in the morning, she is already tired from the long trip and they still have many subway stops to go. “The test, the damn test, it’s just so unfair,” she thinks, wiping her nose with a tissue and continuing to stare into the darkness of the subway tunnel. “Darkness, yes, she is lost in some darkness like she has never experienced before,” and pulls her arms in around herself and twists her legs together, tight.


She is stunned, almost as if she had fallen and hit her head, hard. “Yes, Mary,” the doctor goes on, “you must have heard about the new law?” “No,” she struggles to get out, “we do not use the HIS other than for the post and information searches.” “Well it is the law now and so before you become pregnant, you and Joseph have to be genetically tested to ensure any child you have, will not have a disposition to certain diseases. If your offspring do carry genes or markers of certain diseases, then the government will not sanction the pregnancy for government health care and you and Joseph would be financially responsible for your son or daughter’s health care their entire life.” Mary shook her head to try to clear it. It was as if she was numb and could not think. Here she was, in for a simple cold she could not shake and only in an off hand remark, had mentioned that she and Joseph were finally ready to start trying to have a baby and now this: this law, this test, this genetic test business! “Mary, I don’t think the law is just or right but now, today, it is the law. Without government health care, I am not sure who will be able to have a baby these days except maybe the very rich. I’ll bet you don’t even know how much this office visit is costing the government today, do you?” “No,” Mary says, looking out the only window in the room to a courtyard beyond.” “One thousand credits! Can you imagine the hospital cost of having a baby Mary? 100’s of thousands of credits and then if the child became sick with a serious disease: potentially millions of credits. You and Joseph would be in debt to the government the rest of your lives with no way to escape paying. No, you and Joseph will have to be tested and if your genes are clean, as it were, no problem, but if there is a problem, you will have to consider it long and hard. I mean, besides the economic burden, what if you find out your genes could result in a child with a very serious disease sometime in his or her life, would you still want to conceive?” Mary could not speak. This test business was all too much for her. Finally, she composed herself, “Do you do the testing here?” “No, you will have to go into the city to a special clinic. Mary, I don’t have it in your records. Have you ever been genetically tested before? If a prior test revealed something, then there is no reason for you and Joseph to make that long trip into the city.” “No, never tested and neither has Joseph to my knowledge: no need before. Doctor, I have to go,” Mary says, rising to her feet and then making her way out of the doctor’s office.


All the way home, Mary can not stop thinking about the test. “What if she or Joseph did have some bad genetics that meant their child might develop cancer or MS or some other horrible disease? Would she want to conceive anyway? Who was the government to tell them they could not have children? Well, they were not exactly telling them they could not, but they might as well be if the government was defining who got health insurance and who didn’t.”


Whe Mary got home, it is still early and hours before Joseph returned from work. She thinks about accessing him but then thinks better of it. Talking about the test is something they had better do together, here at home and not via access. Trying to forget the test or at least put it out of her mind, Mary gets busy with her daily chores but no matter how hard she tries, the test keeps crawling back into the bright spotlight of her mind’s central focus. “What will Joseph say? Does he know about the test? Although they did not use the HIS to keep up with the news, he was at least out and about and perhaps had heard something at work. Why would he keep it from her if he knew? If what if after the test they were not sanctioned to have a child, would he agree to go ahead anyway and for them to shoulder the child’s health care cost? She knew Joseph loved her and she did want a baby, but this might be asking too much. What if he says, no?” Her heart sinks. She wants a baby so much and now there is this damn test. Then the idea of not telling Joseph about the test and just getting pregnant crosses her mind. After he got used to the idea of being a father, she could pretend to learn of the test then. But no, she can not do that. She will just have to tell him straight up and they will decide together what to do. In the meantime, she fixes herself a cup of tea and tries to calm down by sitting out on the porch in the breezes of a delightful spring day and although her nose continues to drip from the cold, she does not care. It is nice on the porch, so peaceful, so quiet. When she and Joseph had moved here to be near his work, almost 7 years ago, it had been hard in the beginning: so far from anyone, alone so much but she had gotten used to it and now she often takes long walks through the surrounding fields and gathers wild strawberries or flowers for the dinner table vase.


Around 7, Mary sees the bus coming down the road and it stopping out front of their home. Joseph steps down and out and seeing her on the porch, throws up his man and waves. Mary smiles as she sees this gesture of affection, waves back and leans forward with her elbows on her lap. “Put a smile on for Joseph”, she thinks and brushes down her hair with her hands.


“And how was your day?” She asks, as Joseph comes onto the porch and kisses her on the forehead. “Ok, I guess.  Another long one and I’m tired and hunger. What’s for dinner?” reaching down and getting a hold of one of her hands. Dinner! Mary has completely forgotten about fixing dinner. Either it is the test or the cold medicine but either way, she should not have forgotten dinner. “Oh, I am sorry Joseph, I forgot. Must be the cold medicine the doctor put me on today. I will fix it right now. What would you like: something in a hurry or something that takes a little longer but is better? Still have 2 venison steaks that your uncle gave you.” “Oh, the steaks, yeah, go ahead and fix me one of those and I will take a shower and lay down for a little while. Tough day: dam new right hand programming has a lot of bugs in it. New kids: always think they know everything and then always forget the simple stuff. Cold medicine working, other than the fog you are in?” “I am ok, I guess. Sorry about dinner.” And with that, Mary rises to her feet and she and Joseph go into the house: he to the shower and she to the kitchen.


As she begins preparing the steak and baking potatoes for Joseph and herself, she tries hard to come up with the proper wording, so Joseph will understand about the test and how much she really wants to have a child. “What if he says that if they fail the test, he just can not support the health care of a sick child? Will he even go to be tested with her?”


When the steak is ready, Mary turns the heat down and goes into the bedroom where Joseph lays naked across their bed. He is asleep. “Just for a moment,” she thinks and crawls in beside him, curling up against his body. A few minutes pass until finally she begins to stroke the middle of this back. “Joseph, time to wake up, your steak is ready and there is something we need to talk about.” There it was, all of a sudden, slipping out, like she could hold it in no longer. Joseph arches his back where she is still touching, stroking him, opens his eyes and turning his head, smiles at her. She smiles back. “Something to talk about?” he says, taking one hand to his eyes and rubbing the sleep out of them. “Oh, it can wait until after dinner. Steak is ready.” “No, what is it? You brought it up and I want to know. Steak can wait,” taking his right hand and moving it down onto her thigh, just above her left knee and then slowing sliding it upward under her dress.


With Joseph asleep again, Mary rises, gets dressed and heads to the kitchen. “Steak is going to be lather, better get out here,” she calls out. Mary prepares his plate, then hers and sits down at the kitchen table. Joseph is not long in joining her. “So what is there we need to talk about?” Joseph says, taking up his knife and fork and beginning to cut up his steak. Mary pauses, takes a deep breath and begins, “Joseph, you know how we have been talking lately about having a baby, a son for you?” “Yes,” in between chews of steak and potato. “Well when I was at the doctor’s office today, I mentioned it in passing and he told me there is this new law.”


Joseph listens quietly as Mary tells him all she knows about the test, too quietly for Mary. Joseph, never stops her, asks a question or makes any facial expressions at all.  Finally, when she finishes talking, Joseph stands up, goes to the sink, leans forward and stares out the kitchen window to the darkness beyond. After what seems like forever to Mary, Joseph turns and in a loud, steady, emotionless voice, “Query.” “Yes,” comes a response from one of the functional panels in the kitchen ceiling. “All information related to government sanctioned pregnancy and genetic testing.” “10,000 references found. Shall I create synopsis?” “Yes, and display on kitchen wall, usual place.”


“Government Order WAU-1287 announced in November of last year requires genetic testing of couples seeking to have government health insurance coverage of future offspring. Law is being opposed by many groups throughout the country. Most recent demonstration in New York resulted in riot with 3 deaths and 203 arrested. Shall I go on?” “No. Store current search results and synopsis,” Joseph says and sits down. Neither says a word until Mary can stand their silence no longer. “Joseph, what are we going to do?” “I don’t know take the test I guess, what else can we do?” “But what if testing says our baby could develop some terrible disease sometime in their life or that the government will not provide the baby with health care, what then?” Mary reaches out and places her hand on Joseph’s shoulder but he is cold, stiff and does not respond. “I know you want a child Mary and I love you, I really do and you know that, but to pay the health care costs of a child for his or her life, it could make me a slave Mary, a slave.” Mary withdraws her hand and Joseph picks up his fork and knife and begins to eat again. Mary knows that this conversation is over. She will get in touch with the doctor in the morning and have him arrange an appointment for the test.


Brilliant sunlight blasts Mary back inside the subway car and away from her thoughts. The city: she had only been into the city several times and never cared for it. Too much of everything from buildings too close together to too many people but here she is and they are almost at the subway stop where they need to get out. It is 10:30 and their appointment for the test is at 11. “Must hurry,” she tells herself and in a whisper to Joseph. “What?” he asks, not hearing her over the rumble of the subway car and the hustle and bustle of the city they were passing through. “Once we get off, we need to hurry. Building is still something like 4 blocks away and we can not be late.” “Oh, ok, sure. You do have all their information in your PDA in case we get lost, don’t you?” “Yes, I have it.”


The subway train comes to a stop, the doors open and as many people try to jump into the car as there trying to get out of it. “No, she could never live in the city.” Up the stairs and then on the street looking for signs to help direct them. “That way,” Mary says, pointing towards a very large building off in the distance some ways. “That’s the building.”


It does not take them long to walk the 4 blocks to the building and once outside, Marry stops and just stares at the double door entrance. “What’s wrong?” asks Joseph, taking her hand in his. “Just scared, that’s all. Seems so cruel to put us through this, I just want a child.” Joseph pulls Mary close to him and wraps his arms around her. “Like I said, let’s take the test and see what happens. No way to tell what your and my genes are going to combine into unless we take the test: it’s a random roll of the dice.” Mary looks at him with a stern, hard, look. “Dam engineer: so damn logical about everything.” She wants to cry but holds back the tears. “I know,” Joseph says, glancing up at the building and all its many floors towering above them. “Mary, it is almost 11. We better get inside and find the place we are supposed to be. You ready?” “No, not really but I guess we better” and as they finally step forward to climb the set of steps before them, a voice rings out. “You taking the test? Hey, you all taking the test?” Mary and Joseph both glance to the left and then to their right and there beside them, is a woman about Mary’s age standing almost on top of them. “Its wrong, just plain wrong what the government is doing with this new law,” handing them a pamphlet. Mary glances at the front of the piece of paper in her hand. Woman Against Government Required Pregnancy Testing. “Did you all know about the new testing law when it was announced? I bet not. Insurance companies in government health insurance pool must have paid some big bucks to someone:  you know how the government is these days. Don’t get tested. They got no right to require testing. What they going to do, deny health care to a child?”


Mary glances at Joseph. She does not know what to say or what to do. “Thank you for the pamphlet and I agree with you that the law is wrong but we want a child and are going to take the test and see what happens.” “You got any idea what they testing for?” the woman beside them says, handing out pamphlets to everyone walking by. “No,” says Mary. “That’s my point. They can test for anything they want and who knows if the test is even fair. Maybe rich people or government types, well their test results are always just fine and they get child health coverage and maybe the poor or me or you, don’t: just no way to tell right now. Don’t get tested.” Mary glances at her watch. They have to get inside and find the office they are supposed to report to. “Look, I agree with you totally and I will read your organization’s pamphlet but we are going to get tested,” and with that, Mary steps forward, surprising Joseph and almost pulling him off his feet. “Ok, suit yourself, but it is wrong. You getting tested is just telling them that what they did is ok!” Mary climbs the stairs quickly as she can no longer stand that woman’s voice. “No, she does not agree with the law, but they are here and going to get tested and that is all there is to it.”


Once inside, they find themselves in a huge atrium with several information desks and many, many people moving this way and that. A sign right in the middle of the atrium says: Testing in RM 1001. “That’s it,” again pulling Joseph along behind her.


Room 1001 is only 2 rooms down one of the main corridors off the entrance atrium and as they approach, they see many couples standing in a line. “Oh no,” thinks Mary, "we're late," but as they approach the room, a man wearing a white shirt, tan slacks and a black bow tie calls out their name. “Yes, here, we are here,” Mary responds, waving her hand in the air. “Good, good. Not good to be late. Must keep to schedule. Many, many tests today. Please follow me,” and with that short introduction, bow tie leads them into a large room and then down a hallway where they are told to wait in a very small room. “It will not be long,” bow tie says, pulling the door closed behind them.


Mary and Joseph look around their tiny room. No windows, only one door, 2 chairs and a small medical equipment cabinet on one wall. “Sure is homey,” say Joseph, trying to break the bleak mood. “What was it with that lady out front? I mean I understand handing out pamphlets, against the law and all but trying to talk us out of getting tested? What gives her the right?”  Mary only looks at her hands that are now in her lap.


The door opens and in walks a white, lab coated woman, mid-thirties, pretty, but not too pretty. “Hi, I am Lucy and I will be administering your test today. Nothing to worry about as I have done this thousands of times. I do know folks are a little upset about this new law, but I am just like you, I did not make the law, I am only a nurse.” Mary looks at her and manages a small smile. “She is a woman and thus must understand about having a child.”


“Will you please state your name for identification purposes.” After each speaks, a voice from a ceiling panel confirms that they are the people they say they are. “Good,” Lucy says, “You know early on in testing, some people paid others to take the test for them. Back before genetic test results were shared among qualified medical and the government health insurance company pool, people would find out they had good genes and get paid like big money to take the test for others. Not anymore, of course, as we have too many identification checks now, like when you walked in. Did you notice a scanner in the atrium? No, well one is there and it matches your face to our databanks. You would not have even gotten out of the atrium if you were not scheduled for today and who you say you are. No, no fooling the system now.”


“A lady approached us outside,” Mary says looking into the eyes of this talkative nurse. “Says that there is no way to ensure tests are not rigged for Senators or rich people!” “Oh, I would know about that, I just administer the test. Ready?” Joseph, quiet the whole time Lucy has been talking and moving about their tiny cubical, turns and smiles at Mary. “Yes, we are ready.” “Ok, all done,” Lucy says straightening the cap on her head. “But you did not do anything?” Mary blurts out. “Aren’t you going to take a blood sample or something?” “Nope, don’t have to. Laser scanned you when you sat down. Just needed your identification to be correct and you to confirm you wanted the test done.”


Joseph looks at Mary. “I don’t know,” says Joseph, “I have never heard of laser scanning for DNA before and I keep up on engineering and science as it is my job.” “Oh, it has been around for years apparently but only used by the military. Now we have it and a select few other government agencies. Honestly, your DNA has been scanned and right now is being placed in the queue for computational analysis.”


“From what I understand, it might take several weeks before we get the official results,” Mary says, standing up, still not happy about blood not being drawn or the nurse not even touching her. “Yes, that’s right. You will get a post. If  the test confirms that you have the kind of genes the government approves, then you will receive a certificate to conceive and have exactly one child.” “One child?” Mary has never thought about it. She just assumed that if their genes were found to be “clean” that they could have as many children as they wanted. “What do you mean, only one child?” Mary asks, stopping her movement towards the door. “Oh, a lot of people do not seem to have gotten that aspect of the new law. Must get tested and a couple can only have one child covered by the government sponsored health care pool of insurance companies.” Joseph just shakes his head and says in a very loud and irate voice, “Are we done here?” “Yes, all done,” Lucy responds smiling, showing the most impeccably white teeth.


Neither Joseph nor Mary speaks all the way home. Finally when they do reach home, as they are entering the house, Mary turns and faces Joseph. “Joseph, I want you to get the results of the test. As I understand it, there are 2 parts: sanctioned or not sanctioned and if not sanctioned, genetic disease disposition markers are defined. Joseph, I don’t think I want to know what sort of diseases our child might eventually suffer from, so no matter what, never tell me, please.” “Of course, Mary, I understand. I will get the post when it comes, I promise.” Then leaning down, he kisses her slightly on the lips and they go inside, both tired from the long day.