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You’re not scared. You’re terrified. Because it’s been over forty years.
You’d found them in a charity shop. Black. Immaculate condition; even the laces looked new. Good for walking. Good for marching. You had boots like this, once.
You’re here for Emily, your granddaughter. A bright, sparky little eleven year-old. Her whole life ahead of her. Nothing else would have dug you out of your little flat in Bristol where you live peaceably with your cat Benji and your grumpy, potty-mouthed parrot, Elvis. But on this hot summer’s day in July 2032, home is a hotel in central London.
The room is cool and quiet, all dove-grey walls, crisp white sheets and soft lighting. You feel safe in here. For now.
You can’t face breakfast. No appetite. Your legs ache with tension. But you won’t let her down.
Because today, you will join the march to Westminster to defend the right of women to access abortion.
You’d known ten years ago that this day might come, when America overturned Roe versus Wade, prompting the closure of abortion clinics across Indiana, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas. People said, ‘It could never happen here.’ But you’d seen it all before; how often the roots of change in America find fertile ground in the UK. Not always, but often enough for you to pay attention. And you have paid attention. Your career as a journalist focussing on women’s issues kept your ear close to the ground. You still write the occasional piece. It keeps your hand in. Keeps you watchful.
And as you’d always known, the roots were here all along, just waiting to break ground.
So that when politicians here, emboldened by America’s stance, began questioning in Parliament the right of pregnant women to exercise autonomy over their own bodies, you were watching. And when an ardent pro-lifer was appointed Health Minister, you were alarmed, but not surprised.
The chronology is as predictable as it is chilling. In 2025, when Emily is four, the time limit for abortions is reduced to eighteen weeks. In 2027, when Emily is six, it is again reduced - to twelve weeks. In 2030, when Emily is nine, the criteria to determine whether an abortion may take place at all are substantially narrowed. And the unthinkable is looking increasingly likely. You still hold out hope it won’t happen, but you are less and less inclined to take it for granted.
You still remember the girl in the bed next to yours at the clinic. Eighteen, like you. Desperate and frightened, like you. She’d come over on the ferry from Dublin, alone and in secret. Said her family would have thrown her out, disowned her, had they known. She cried all night. When you tried to comfort her, she said, ‘It’s not regret, it’s relief.’ You understood. Like her, you were there because of one brief moment; one silly, drunken mistake with a boy at a party that threatened to send your dreams spinning away into the abyss. You’d been so grateful to get the help you needed; so relieved when your mother scooped you up from the clinic to take you home. So sad to see the girl from Dublin climb into a taxi, alone.
It’s going to be a hot day, and there won’t be much shade. You have brought the sort of hat that speaks more of the garden centre than demonstration, but you put it on anyway; elegant silver earrings your only concession to vanity. At sixty-nine, a very different face greets you in the mirror from the twenty-seven year-old who marched into the poll tax riots of 1990. You weren’t terrified then…you were angry and bold and fearless, until mounted police charged, and in the chaos and panic that followed, you fell. But the crowd kept running; a thunder of feet around you, then over you.
You came to in hospital. You still have pain in your left leg most days, along with a terror of crowds and confined spaces that you’ve never really overcome. In the years that followed, you found other ways to fight for the causes you believed in, marching in demonstrations too daunting a prospect to contemplate.
The noise in the street below is rising steadily. People are on the move. You pull back the blind, your eyes smarting in the sudden flash of sunlight. Mounted police in high viz jackets flank the route of the march. Your heart is pounding. You perch on the bed, take some deep breaths.
Your phone rings. It’s Emily. ‘Hi, Gran,’ she says. ‘Mummy says you’re in London. She said to tell you you’re very brave and to remember to take your tablets.’ You smile. Emily’s voice was just what you needed to hear. ‘I will, sweetheart, I promise,’ you say. ‘I’ll see you very soon.’
You don’t want a fight. You don’t even want to change anybody’s mind. People are entitled to their beliefs. But that’s the point. All you want is for Emily, for all women, to have the right to decide for themselves what happens to them.
You lace up your boots.
Sunblock. Water. Hat. Courage.
And then for Emily, you swallow your fear, along with painkillers the size of a small pizza, and you march out through the lobby and into the sunshine. A woman extends a hand in greeting. ‘Nice hat,’ she grins, and you link arms, and you are propelled forward on a wave of solidarity that is exhilarating, despite your sadness that even now, in 2032, women are still having to fight for the right to choose.
You lift up the placard that you’d painted with Emily just the day before - ‘My Body, My Choice’.
And you march.
Elaine Miles is a writer and performance storyteller. She has performed her work at numerous events in the South West, including the Bath Literature Festival, and a number of her short stories, monologues and comedy sketches have been broadcast on BBC Radio Bristol as well as Bath Radio. You can find out more about Elaine at www.elainemileswrites.com