The Final Delivery

The rides she gives the women are dangerous, but she likes it that way. Life is danger, after all, especially if you’re a woman, and danger is a healthy outlet for her anger. Her father’s small boat, what he calls his party barge, is meant to host no more than ten people on a leisurely fishing trip, but she regularly carries twenty or more, the weight of their fear-soaked bodies and small plastic bags of treasure—clothes, usually, and photos and cash—forcing the ass-end of the boat to dip below the water’s surface. But more dangerous is their destination and that they travel without running lights.

Eva has a full load tonight of twenty-four, and four men have brought their women to the boat slip. This is a dangerous moment, too, as the women say goodbye and load up under the shield of giant oaks and hanging moss. Eva tries to be random and choose secluded meeting points, but she worries about the noise, especially for the women fresh from delivering. They won’t be able to run if they’re found out. Eva can’t run, either.

So as the men weep and whisper fervently to the wives or sisters or daughters they have brought to Eva, she wills them to shut up and leave. They’ll see each other soon enough, when the men get word that their women arrived safely and they can now pass through the border wall on a “day trip” or take a “vacation” to Cuba, because Eva always delivers the women safely. Always.

One thirty-something woman, well-dressed and carrying a shopping bag from Nordstrom, endures a hug from her husband. She winces—probably recent surgery somewhere on her torso—but pats his back and whispers to him with a decided nod and tight smile. Eva doesn’t know her name. She doesn’t know any of their names. It’s better that way, just in case.

The man looks up, directly at Eva where she sits in the captain’s chair, and she tenses, waiting for his look of disgust or dismissal, but he gives her a slow, solemn nod. I’m trusting you, it says. Do right by her. “Miss,” he says and then turns to leave.

One of the other men, what appears to be a brother or friend to a very young woman who probably only recently filled out her selective service form, cringes when he looks up at Eva, but her appearance seems to be a reminder of why they’re all here on a private dock in the middle of the night. Women never cringe. They never respond at all.

When they’re finally free of the clinging men, the last of the women steps aboard, and one of the men tosses the line onto the boat and shoves the back end with his foot. The boat drifts only a few seconds before the engines roar to life. It’s so loud out here, even with the ocean waves crashing to a shore not far from this inlet, and Eva hopes there are no curious neighbors watching an overburdened boat haul ass out of this cozy, watery hollow and into the void beyond.


“I’m Stella,” says the rich one with the Nordstrom bag. Some of the women look away, refusing to respond. A few others offer their names in return, though they have to yell over the engine struggling against the load. Eva is glad they waited until they could no longer see the city lights behind them before they started talking. She checks the GPS and turns south, and then she scans the horizon for lights. She shouldn’t see any until she gets to her first destination, a rendezvous. If she does, it could mean trouble.

Stella yells out, “I have extra hair bands.” She holds out several, and a few women gratefully pluck one from her fingers. Stella’s hair isn’t flying around much, but even in the dim light of the waning moon, a few loose tendrils glow silvery blond. She looks fashionable despite the circumstances.

The woman offers a somewhat sheepish and grateful smile to the others, but then she grimaces and sits back on the bench.

Eva scans the horizon again and checks the GPS once more. Fifteen minutes, probably, until the first stop. Assuming, of course, the first relay is there. Behind her, one of the women sings. It’s an old tune, something about girls wanting some fun, and it sets Eva on edge.

This is her least favorite part of the journey, when uncertainty dogs her, and she’s forced to consider whether she has enough gas to get the women where they need to be should she not be able to offload at least half the weight at the first stop. They’re less than a mile from their rendezvous point, but nobody is there, and she sees no lights. She isn’t worried yet. They’re a little early, and the relay might only be another runner like her. Sometimes, it’s a yacht. Sometimes, it’s no better than a raft with a tiny motor and no business being in the middle of the Gulf.

She cuts the engine and allows the boat to drift. It won’t go far, and now she can listen for approaching vessels. Though they’re in international waters, it’s still dangerous. The Coast Guard and even the Navy patrol here. They have for decades, since women who decided they didn’t want to be life-givers took their bodies—property of the State—out of the country permanently. It’s even dangerous for some of these women once they get where they’re going. They’ll be better off if a man meets them there, since extradition is much more common in nearly every country for women without men. And if they end up back in America, the remainder of their shortened lives will be spent in a Women’s Hospital, giving life continually until their final delivery.

The passengers are aware of the danger. Some of them whisper behind her in private, tense conversations. This is what usually happens, but Eva keeps her ear tuned for the voice of panic. There’s always one on these trips—at least one—and it must be soothed before it escalates.

The panic is understandable. Stella slips her hand into the pocket of her windbreaker and feels the worn notification of her next delivery. Three weeks. She hasn’t been able to save up for it—despite her degree and experience, a woman, particularly with her disabilities, can’t easily find work—and she’s not sure where she might collect the last five thousand dollars.

And there it is. Behind her, one woman’s voice hisses and then rises into regular tones that threaten to increase in pitch. Eva twists around, igniting an ache in her stomach. “It’s good to be frightened. It’s no good to panic.”

The women still, some looking up to Eva, others looking out at the water, at their hands, or at each other. They are ill at ease now, but they’re quiet and ready to share one last piece of themselves.

“Why are you here?” Eva asks the woman closest to her, one who’s looking at her.

The woman starts, even jerks a little, as if the idea of speaking about herself is a shock in this setting. But slowly, she answers. “I almost died with my last pregnancy.”

When she doesn’t continue, Eva nods at her. “Who else?” One other woman raises her hand. She’s young, one who took a hair band from Stella. Her unlined face appears gray in the scant light.

“I’m pregnant.” Everyone watches her, and she bites her lip, looking at anything but the neighbor who grasps her hand. She doesn’t need to say anything else—she’s not showing, so she doesn’t know yet what the sex of the child is. But then she pulls back her sleeve, and even though Eva can’t make out enough details, she knows what’s there—they all do. A port. It’s probably closed until she delivers the child she carries, but they’ll open it right up again when she’s still recovering from the birth. She must have AB-negative blood.

Eva waits, and then they take turns showing the scars of their deliveries—three livers, a kidney, marrow and blood and skin. The last woman to speak is missing her thumb and ring finger from her right hand. She’s tall and has sturdy hands despite the missing appendages. A soldier, she explains. He was injured, and she was close enough to offer an emergency delivery.

Two fingers, but they only counted for one delivery, which means she would remain in the system for four more. Eva guesses she’s only nineteen or twenty. She barely looks old enough to be out of high school, and that means she probably came up for a delivery within a few months of registering. It’s a shame.

The women don’t whisper to themselves after that. Eva watches Stella for a minute, but the woman is watching the water, canting her body away from the others. Water licks the boat, and it dips with each open ocean wave. Eva checks the GPS and scans the horizon once more. Lights have appeared, and though she’s sure it’s their relay, the low hum of dread hits her stomach as usual. It’s time.

She restarts the engine and guides the boat slowly to the meeting point. They’ve drifted more than she thought they might, so she’s not surprised to see a frantic light ahead flashing at them. With a relieved sigh, she leans toward the dash and flips the light switch on and off three times.

The first rendezvous happens without a hitch.

“Cuba,” Eva says in a low tone to the women, and seventeen of them stand. Stella does not, and though Eva is surprised, she says nothing. The wealthy love to retreat to Cuba—it’s an easy escape, Cubans love to crow to America about receiving its refugee women, and the living is still relatively inexpensive there. She could live like royalty for two years if she sold the rings catching the low light from the yacht bound for Cienfuegos, but perhaps her husband has loftier goals. New Zealand and most of Europe would take them in.

When the women are loaded, Eva guides the boat away quickly. A yacht is much less likely to capture attention—after all, only the truly wealthy can afford one—but it’s best to be as far away as possible once they turn on their running lights and begin their journey. They’ll likely go all the way to Cuba without another relay, unless their intel warns them that they’ll need to relay once again farther south, near Mexico.

Eva watches the water for lights from other vessels, but the night is clear aside from the retreating yacht to the south of them.

The boat glides through the water now, and though the fuel gauge is lower than Eva would like, she can still make the second rendezvous and get back to Father’s slip, pay off the attendant, and grab a few hours of sleep before she has to clean houses. At least she has only three tomorrow. The Morrows fired her when they learned her next delivery will require a week in the hospital to recover.

Of course, she’ll only stay two days. It’s as much as she can afford since the stipends were cut. Even so, the Morrows won’t rehire her. They found someone uncrippled, they say.

Stella’s voice carries to Eva, though she can’t make out what the woman is saying. Eva glances behind her and is surprised to find her comforting a woman sobbing on her shoulder. Even from here, even with little light, a stain from the stranger’s tears is visible on Stella’s shoulder. She doesn’t appear to notice, but her features are pinched.

Eva focuses on the water ahead and the GPS on the dash.


“This will be Mexico,” Eva says in the quiet once the engine is off again, though she doesn’t need to. The seven remaining women know where they’re headed, and this is the last relay of the night. A green light has appeared ahead of them, and she’s nervous. That’s not the relay. With another vessel out there, her rendezvous might have to change. She’ll be riding in on fumes if they go to the secondary meeting point, so she prays the green light vessel disappears soon. After a minute, she knows it’s moving toward the horizon, away from the rendezvous point.

She sighs with relief.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Stella says, and even the waves quiet against the sides of the boat.

“What do you mean?” someone asks her.

“I want to go back. I can’t do this.”

Eva weighs whether to say something. She’s had women too afraid to continue in the past, but they usually want to turn around right away. They don’t wait until they meet their relay to back out. She glances back at Stella, whose face is set with determination.

“Okay,” Eva says, but she doesn’t understand. She’d leave if she could, and if she had the money, she’d be sunning on a foreign beach inside of a week. But some women like giving themselves up in pieces. Some women thrive on that. They love to hear the State tell them this is holy, this is true service, this is a blessing, that the role of women is to give life in every way possible: with their wombs, their organs, their blood.

Stella doesn’t seem the type to buy into the gaslighting, but Eva has been surprised by the women in her own family. She never imagined her sisters and cousins would fall for it, but they have.

The green light is gone now, and a new light flashes where the green had been. It’s their relay, and her work is nearly done.


When the small boat zips six women and Stella’s unused fee away to their next relay, Eva moves to turn on the engine, but Stella stills her with a hand on her arm. “What have you given up?” she asks.

It’s an oddly personal question. Women are supposed to demur on these topics. Etiquette says it’s immodest to brag about delivieries, but Stella suspects the secrecy keeps the horrors private, and the State needs that.

“Three failed natural pregnancies, five failed assisted pregnancies, six skin deliveries from my stomach and back, tendons in my elbow, three marrow donations, and a kidney.”

Stella stiffens. “Did… Did you volunteer for the extra?”

Eva shakes her head.

She doesn’t have to tell Stella she had additional obligation because her failed pregnancies were blamed on her.

Eva reaches for the boat’s ignition, but Stella stills her with a soft hand. “Not yet, please?” The look she gives Eva is something large, barely contained.

With a nod, Eva sits back, clasps her withered left hand in her right to look inviting, and waits.

“Where would you go, if you decided to leave?” Stella asks.

“I’m not leaving.”

Stella holds up an elegant, long-fingered hand and shakes her head. “But if you were.”

Eva shrugs. “If I could go anywhere? Maybe Europe. But my job is here, and I don’t have the money.”

“There are jobs in Europe, so if you had the money?”

Eva laughs, and it’s ugly. “Do they hire women like me in Europe?” She holds up her left hand by the wrist so the fingers curl like a claw.

Stella leans her backside against the rail behind her and studies Eva. “They’ll ask for more deliveries. What do you have, one left? Two?”

Eva’s hand twitches, and she thinks about the notice in her pocket. She nods. “I got my last notice.”

Stella gasps. “But you’re holding yourself like you’re still recovering. From, what? Skin? Or kidney?”

“Kidney.” Eva purses her lips.

Stella shakes her head. “That can’t be safe.”

“Does it matter?” When she smiles, she knows it looks more like a smirk because of the sagging muscles in her face. “We die all the time on the table. It’s a convenient time to make our final delivery.”

Stella purses her lips. “May I ask what they’ll take?”

What does she care? It’s too late to change her mind about aborting her escape plans. The last relay is long gone. “Uterus.”

Stella’s face pales. “They can do that?”

“Apparently. Maybe it’s experimental. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a devious plan to make this my final delivery,” Eva says with a laugh and then takes a deep breath because it’s not funny at all. “Let’s get back.”

“No!” Stella yells and then waves her hands in apology. “Not yet. I-I need to ask a favor.”

“We need to get back,” Eva says firmly.

“I know, but… How old do you think I am?” she asks.

Eva has had enough. “Stella, if we’re caught out here—“

“How old?” she demands, and Eva realizes she isn’t, in this moment, a vain woman asking if she’s still beautiful.

Eva studies her and realizes she’s a little older than she’d first pegged her: there are only hints of crows’ feet and laugh lines, but the skin on her hands has a distinct wrinkling. “Thirty-five?” she says, though the woman could pass for twenty-seven or twenty-eight.

Stella half-smiles. “Forty-eight. And I just got my first notice two weeks ago.”

Eva stiffens. She figured wealthy women weren’t required to deliver as often as others, but a forty-eight-year-old woman getting her first notice? “Do you have children?” she asks. This is the only explanation—but she’d have to have half a dozen successful births to make this possible.

Stella shakes her head. “Two failed pregnancies.”

“Assisted, then?” Eva asks. It’s highly personal, but Stella seems eager to share.

She shakes her head again.

“How?” Eva’s question is breathy, and she realizes she wants to cry.

Stella holds up the front of her blouse to show off a modest scar by her belly button. Then she lifts her head and shows off her smooth neck. When she looks at Eva again, Eva knows she can see her confusion.

“You’re unhealthy?” Eva asks.

“Not at all. Peak of health except for a uterus that doesn’t hold onto babies. The scar on my stomach is what little you can see of a very successful skin graft. I had an ugly birth mark, and it was too big just to remove. My neck looks like an eighteen-year-old’s neck because it is.” Stella waits for Eva to understand.

It’s an unnecessary pause. Eva understands entirely. Stella took deliveries that weren’t life-sustaining. She took deliveries meant for burn and accident victims and—much, much worse—injured soldiers who could die of infection without the grafts. The ever-present rage in Eva burns hotter, and she feels as if she’s growing in her chair, ready to tower over Stella.

“I didn’t turn these down, but they were arranged for by my husband.” Her next breath hitches in her throat. “Don’t think I’d be so frivolous with life-giving deliveries.”

Eva can’t speak. She can only think of her best friend in college, who died on the table during a liver lobe delivery, and of her parents, who had to pay the bill for her delivery and her death. She thinks of her sisters, who were missing giant patches of skin on their backs, buttocks, and legs. She thinks of her mother, who endured so many assisted pregnancies, she’d spent most of her fertile years in a Women’s Hospital before the law finally allowed other deliveries besides babies. Countless women out there who gave and gave until they had nothing left, and then their dying bodies were harvested for everything else. And then, she thinks of herself.

“We all do this,” Stella says. “Anyone with enough money. We take your deliveries because we can afford them. And people who need them but can’t afford to receive them… They die.” She grabs Eva’s left arm and shakes it hard enough to pull her hand loose from her own grasp. “They still die.”

“What do you want from me?” she asks in a strained voice.

Stella drops onto her knees and pulls a small stack of money from her bag. “This is what he gave me to escape. He wanted me to leave because now they want my kidney. But he’s no better than the State. Do you understand?”

She doesn’t, but now her skin tingles with dread. “Why didn’t you get on the boat to Mexico?”

“I might not be property of the State if I lived in another country, but I’d still be property.” Stella shoves the money at Eva. “Please take this. Find a new home. Go somewhere your body belongs to you.”

“I only accept money for gas,” Eva says, but her lips feel numb.

“I don’t need this.” Stella puts the money in Eva’s lap and pulls the rings from her fingers, placing them in a cup holder next to the captain’s chair. “I’m going somewhere they can never touch me again.” She stands and walks to the bench where she sat for their trip out here. She unlatches the small door next to it, pulls off her shoes and throws them into the water, and jumps in after them.

Eva struggles to her feet and walks as fast as her shuffling left foot will allow. “Stella!” she hisses. “What the hell?”

Stella is only a few yards from the boat, treading water. She spins to look at Eva, and her smile is unrestrained. “I’m pulling a Kate Chopin,” she says. “Go.”

“I can’t leave you out here.” Eva looks around for the flotation device usually stowed in the front of the boat, but she doesn’t see it.

“Go,” Stella says, and her voice is so free, Eva feels a pang. “Go now. Don’t even go home, just turn around and run. Go to Cuba! You’ll love it.”

Eva shakes her head. “There are other ways. Drowning is an awful way to go.”

Stella laughs. “Or maybe sharks!”

“You can’t put this on me!”

The woman’s laughter fades, and she sighs. “It’s not on you. If you try to come for me, I will dive. I will dive as deep as I can. I will stay there. I will open my mouth and take a breath, and you’ll never find me. They’ll never find anything.”

“I always get the women to their destinations safely,” Eva says, and it sounds as lame as it feels to say the words. She brushes at tears on her cheek.

“You did,” Stella says. “I’m sure you’ve saved a lot of women. Maybe it’s time to save your own.” Stella kicks away from the boat. “I want to see the sun rise over the Gulf, and then I want to see what it looks like beneath the surface. I’ve taken so much from other women, but would you give me this? Consider it your final delivery to someone who doesn’t deserve a damned thing from you.” And then she slips beneath the water, surfacing several seconds later far from the boat before disappearing into a swell.

It’s still hours until dawn, but Eva needs to leave as soon as possible. She pulls herself back to the captain’s chair and sits, staring at the water. On the horizon, a large ship trudges along, casting a searchlight over the water, as if someone already knows Stella has gone overboard. Eva watches the ship to gauge its direction so she can avoid it, but its light mesmerizes her, like it’s an invitation, a path to follow home. The way it bounces against the water so far away creates sharp angles from the reflected slivers of moonlight, a separate temptation.

She’s always said if she had the money and the ability, she’d leave, too. Now she has cash and a boat and not a damned thing left to give the world. There isn’t enough gas to take her anywhere but her father’s dock, but there’s time to get to the secondary location. The backup relay might still be there, or it could have left already. It’s a dangerous risk. Then again, so is returning home to be taken apart, piece by piece.

Somewhere in the distance, a woman sings.

Eva starts the engine and studies the light on the water.

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