Doctor Westley tended to the women of the prison with a small rotation of nurses, and while Alice knew full well that she wasn’t the only pregnant inmate, she was the only one who was personally accompanied to each appointment by the warden – and that made her stand out. He was amiable towards her, in that stiff sort of way that hinted at being unfamiliar with friendliness on the job. The only exposure Alice had to the female population of the prison was a long and miserable walk down the corridor of cells as Hackett escorted her from his office to the infirmary, for a physical examination to confirm the pregnancy that she had claimed on her admissions paperwork. By the time she had reached the end of the corridor, she was terrified at what she had gotten herself into. A few minutes later when Westley pricked her vein to collect blood, the sight of it squirting into a tube had sent her into a dead faint.
Alice had come to with Hackett holding an oxygen mask over her face, and a nurse placing pillows under her feet. That night, Hackett took her up to her room in the tower, apologized for the dust but assured her that the sheets were clean, then locked her inside. She never saw the other inmates or the prison cells again, for which she was grateful.
When she entered the infirmary for her appointment, Dr. Westley smiled at her. “Would you like to find out the baby’s sex today?” he asked.
Alice’s heart thumped. “Yes,” she answered quickly, her hands moving to cradle her stomach. “I want to know right away.”
“Go on with the nurse – you know the routine – then we’ll get set up to find out.” He patted her shoulder. “Don’t be nervous.”
Alice nodded then followed the nurse towards the bathroom. After they finished up with the routine prenatal tests, she returned to the main examination room to find Hackett and Dr. Westley laughing together, though her presence meant their conversation was over. She had seen enough to know that they were good friends behind the scenes, but around her they always maintained the professional distance of coworkers. In a strange way it made her feel left out, even though she had no business trying to be chummy with either of them.
“All right, lets get started, shall we?” Dr. Westley motioned for her to sit in the exam chair. “Don’t be so nervous; ultrasounds don’t hurt at all. We’re just going to take a quick peak inside to see how the baby is doing.”
“And find out the gender,” Alice said, forcing a smile. She didn’t know why her heart was pounding so hard, and she silently reminded herself that practically every pregnant woman found out beforehand, now that the technology existed. But she was scared that she would be disappointed with the revelation, and only have herself for consolation once she was locked in her room once again. Despite the trappings of comfort, she was still a prisoner who had confessed to murder.
Hackett came to stand beside her, and brushed her hand with his fingers. He was watching Dr. Westley, so Alice wondered if the touch had been accidental. She shifted away, but his fingers gently touched her again, and she realized that he was trying to reassure her while maintaining subtlety.
I wish that he was the real father, she thought, then felt her cheeks grow hot with the realization of what had crossed her mind. No, she corrected herself, she wished that the baby’s real father was there, instead of the warden.
Dr. Westley had dimmed the lights, so no one saw her blush. She winced when the doctor squirted cold jelly onto her stomach, then placed the wand against her skin. The screen came alive with movement and strange shapes, and it wasn’t until Dr. Westley stopped the picture that Alice realized she was looking at a leg and a foot.
“Oh my god,” she blurted. “Is that my baby?”
“Sure is,” Dr. Westley murmured in reply, staring at the screen as he began to shift the wand around again. “Looks good. Looks good,” he mused quietly to himself, then finally turned Alice and smiled. “The baby is developing normally, so let’s get to the important part.” He shifted the wand around to the top of Alice’s stomach, and she held her breath as she stared at the screen, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to interpret the image herself but still searching for any tell-tale signs. Her fingers weakly grabbed onto Hackett’s as Dr. Westley said, “Let’s see … the baby is a … girl.”
“A girl …” Alice repeated quietly. “I’m going to have a girl.” Then she broke into a grin as she looked up at Hackett and joked, “Hopefully she won’t turn out like me, huh?”
He moved away, pulling his hand out of hers. “You’re still turning out,” he answered, but Alice didn’t understand what he meant by it.
After she was cleaned up, she said goodbye to Westley and the nurse, then followed Hackett through the winding path back to her room. She knew that he was deliberately leading her through the hidden passages that had been utilized during the prison’s former days as a castle, and it amazed her that he never got lost. If she ever tried to escape, she wouldn’t make it out of that maze.
“Hey,” she said slowly after a minute. “If people really can climb the trees and peek in at me, I’d like to put up some curtains.”
“What color?” he asked.
“Pink, for my baby.” She smiled as she cradled her stomach in her arms. “You’ll fight for me, won’t you? My baby is all I have to live for, and I’ll do everything I can to be a good mother for her. I’ll get an honest job, and I won’t ever have sex again, I swear.”
Hackett laughed. “I’ll do what I can, but ultimately it will be up to you on whether or not you keep her. I can get you enrolled in the education program in the meantime, since that will certainly help you find your feet. You can’t stay here forever, you know, especially with a baby.”
“I know.” Alice couldn’t help but sigh. “I kind of wish I could though. You’re my only company, but I don’t feel as lonely as I used to. I used to always feel like I was … pretending.”
They were quiet for a time, as Alice tried to understand what was going through her heart. Thinking about Damon, and the life that she had shared with him, hurt her in a way that she hadn’t expected. She regretted it, and wished that she could undo every part of it.
“I read a new book,” Hackett said. “I thought that you would enjoy it too.”
“Oh!” Alice exclaimed, surprised by the break in silence. “Good! It’s been a week since the last one, and I missed talking about books with you.”
Hackett patted her shoulder as he smiled. “You have more free time than I do. You should be recommending new books to me.”
“I can’t leave my room to find them.” Alice grinned back at him. “Go ahead and do that education thingy too. It’s not too late for me to get a GED, right? It might help me stop being so stupid.”
“You aren’t stupid.”
“Sure I am.” Alice looked down at the floor. “You don’t know what I was like before I came here.”
“I know that you have good taste in literature,” Hackett replied. He stopped and turned to face her, putting his hand under her chin to look her in the eyes. “I know that underneath everything, you have a good heart.”
He kept walking then, stopping a few feet away to motion for Alice to hurry up and follow.