Inside Out Page 64

The male doctor bustled from surgery, peeling off bloody gloves. “She’ll be fine. Thanks for your help.” He came over and examined the baby. “The mother doesn’t want to see her.” He took a small bottle from his breast pocket. Unscrewing the strange rubber-topped lid, he withdrew a thin glass tube. “Hold her still,” he instructed as he opened one of the baby’s blue eyes. He squeezed the rubber and a drop of liquid splashed into her eye.

She startled and blinked. The doctor quickly doused her other eye, and retuned the bottle to his pocket. He held out his hands. “I’ll take her now.”

As he settled her in the crook of his arm, she opened both eyes wide and gazed at me with brown eyes. I almost stumbled. He had changed her eye color! Is that what Domotor meant when he had said I had been born with my father’s blue eyes?

Doctor Lamont wheeled the woman from surgery, and I helped transfer the patient from the table to a bed. The woman cried in silence. Tears flowed down her temples and her mouth gathered into a tight grimace.

Lamont stroked the woman’s head and squeezed her hand. “It’ll be all right. The baby’s healthy. She’ll do fine.”

Nothing the doctor said eased the woman’s misery. When we returned to Lamont’s office, she collapsed in a chair behind her desk and opened a drawer. Taking out a small glass and a bottle filled with an amber-colored liquid, she poured herself a drink. She considered, then reached for another glass and poured another albeit smaller portion.

“Sit down, Ella. Your performance in surgery was exemplary.” She pushed the second glass toward me as I settled in the opposite chair. “Most people would faint on seeing so much blood, and to see the inside of a person’s body.”

I sniffed the contents of the glass. The fumes stung my eyes. “I tried not to think about what it meant. Just followed orders.”

The doctor sipped her drink. I copied her, and almost spat the burning liquid out. She chuckled. “Haven’t had spirits before?”

“No. My friend did once, but he wouldn’t let me try it.” Good thing, too, or I would have yelled and brought unwelcome attention.

“It’s an acquired taste. The burn down your throat and the numbing warmth in your stomach become a pleasant experience.”

Knowing what to expect, I swallowed the second sip without choking. The doctor rested her head on the back of the chair, closing her eyes.

“I do have a question,” I ventured.

Without opening her eyes, she raised her glass in a swirl. “Go ahead.”

“Why is the woman so upset?”

Her eyes snapped open and she fixed me with an incredulous expression. “You don’t know?” Seeing my evident confusion, she straightened. “Aren’t the women in the lower levels upset when they give their babies away?”

“Some are, I guess. But this is the upper level. You have families.”

Understanding smoothed her sharp features before lines of grief deepened. “Yes, we have families, but, up here the rule is one couple, one child. We don’t have enough room for more people, so if a couple has an accident and conceives another child, the child is sent to the lower levels.”

The unexpected information slogged through my brain. Had she just said the child was sent to be a scrub?

The doctor continued, “The woman is upset because the baby is her second, and the infant will be sent to a care facility in the lower levels.”

19

ONCE I UNDERSTOOD, THE DOCTOR’S EXPLANATION slammed into me, shattering my beliefs. “Uppers are only allowed one child?” The foreign concept refused to find an empty seat in my logic.

“Yes. We have limited space, so the Travas have made it a law.” The doctor peered at me in concern.

Perhaps if I broke down her information into manageable bits. “You mentioned the couple having an accident. How can getting pregnant be an accident? If you have sex, you’re bound to have a baby in time.”

“We have birth control, Ella. Women can choose if they want a baby or not. I’m guessing by your horrified surprise, scrubs don’t have that option.”

The revelation made perfect sense and yet made no sense at all. My mind grappled with it. It explained why Riley only saw his brother once, why he had said you don’t have to have a child, and it meant perhaps my mother hadn’t abandoned me. I could have been a second or third child—an astounding notion! Finally Domotor’s comment about my blue eyes made sense.

“Those drops?” I asked.

“Drops?”

“In the baby’s eyes.”

“Oh. To change the color so the babies blend in with the scrubs and don’t get teased for being different.”

It didn’t always work. I mulled over what she had said about birth control. Why not let the scrubs use birth control? With the overcrowded conditions getting worse every hour, why not limit the number of children born?

“Ella, are you all right?” Doctor Lamont stood beside me. She placed a cold hand on my forehead. “You lost all color in your cheeks. Take another sip of your drink.”

I gulped the spirits, welcoming the harsh sting as it ripped down my throat. I asked Lamont why scrubs weren’t offered birth control.

“Truthfully, I’m surprised they don’t. The uppers have assumed scrubs don’t cherish their offspring. That they keep having babies because they don’t have to care for them. Basically, we all thought the crowding in the lower levels was your own fault.” She returned to her seat. “Interesting how certain facts have been ignored in the computer. Or deleted.”

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