You are home, alone. Julie is buying ingredients for dinner; soup tonight. Nourishing. Cadmus is at the office, working. It’s not too late in the day, you could still enjoy the hazy afternoon sun. A walk, maybe, or a swim. But you know where you are drawn, magnetically, the small yellow room around which your body revolves.
The gestation pod lights up at your commanding touch. A nice, neutral yellow. Warm and friendly. It was your inspiration for the colour of the walls.
It’s a beautiful, organic shape. You feel quietly vindicated in your insistence upon quality, the best money could buy. It is worth it, even now. Of course, you didn’t have to use the pod. Many women don’t. You sink into an armchair. An update, first. As if anything has changed since this morning.
Foetus: 3 months, 3 days.
There are no words here, just the “development” button in a glowing, hopeful green. Well-chosen, you think. Even the word “steady” sets you into a spiral of connotations. Whatever adjective they
might have placed there would have been excruciating.
And yet, nothing puts you quite at ease like an uncomplicated green.
Only a matter of months to go. You place a hand on your stomach; flat. Un-inflated. By this point, your mother would have been sharing the news with her loved ones, watching anxiously for signs, already claiming ‘baby brain’. Poor thing. What a burden. How unsafe. The pod hums encouragingly. You shift your chair closer and tuck your legs under the egg-shaped capsule, hooking your feet around the base. Sliding down in your chair, you encircle the pod with your arms and smooth a maternal hand over the warm surface. This feels like good practice. The pod, safe, between your body and limbs.
What a luxury, to even open this section. This world of possibility; decisions waiting to be made, tapped upon, selected and implemented in seamless efficiency. The options make you dizzy. You have not allowed yourself into this tab until very recently. It’s not good to get ahead of yourself, but now is the time to decide.
Always begin with the interior. It’s the right way to do things.
Heritage traits: Maternal: Ombre
Heritage traits: Paternal: Cadmus
- SELECT TRAIT
- SELECT TRAIT
- SELECT TRAIT
- SELECT TRAIT
- SELECT TRAIT
Five tiny, enormous, cavernous, life-changing gaps. Reductive to the extreme. You really need the gender first. Girls who are leaders are … bossy. Boys who are leaders are … assertive. Romantic girls are … compelling. Romantic boys are … sensitive.
Okay, gender first. You think of a boy. No, a girl. Definitely a girl, for you. Cadmus won’t mind, it will be something to dote on.
Plus, just think of all the names for girls. You remember the unbridled euphoria of the name design tab. Like a lolly shop for your literary mind.
Titular. Ti-tu-lar. Three little steps, descending into…isn’t that Lolita? What’s in a name, anyway? The perfect one will come. Your shortlist floods back to you, like a prayer:
Aaliyah (exalted, sublime)
Bahar (season of spring)
Cadence (beat, rhythm)
Danica (star of the day)
Ece (the queen)
Fallon (leader’s daughter)
Gala (woman of serenity)
Hava (living and breathing)
Iesha (one who is alive)
Julie (domestic helper)
Julie is home.
Which name - which one sits in your mouth like a pearl, a precious treasure in your cheek? To be turned over and over in secret, muttered day and night?
Julie is starting on the soup. A methodical rhythm of chop and slice underscore the life of the house. For a moment, you see a baby girl, a toddler really, tipping down the long corridor to the kitchen. Tiny fists waving in the air. She is excited about the soup.
Wait, you call out….wait for me - nothing. No name yet. If it won’t roll off the tongue, you will just have to choose one.
You decide to help Julie with the cooking. It’s hot today and she’s been running around like crazy. Poor thing. You leave the pod and your fantasies in the little yellow room.
Your apartment is long and narrow – your building has you lined up against the city-side, where living spaces are only three deep. Cadmus made sure you got the view you wanted. You have friends who work, slogging away day and night. They have no use for nice things. But you, you are different. You have everything you want. You will have everything you want.
As you pass along the glass wall, you see the sun has sunk below the haze line already. Early, only four in the afternoon. Your mother used to say that the sun would shine all day and only disappear at night. Even then, it was replaced by a moon, like a small muted sun, and a thousand twinkling stars. Such decadence. No wonder it’s over.
The soup is coming together now, developing in depth; onions, carrots and celery wrap you in nostalgia. You really do like to cook with Julie. She is … uncomplicated. You remember she has two children herself, back at home, but you can’t remember anything about them now, not even their names. To be honest, you’re not quite sure where home is for her. Embarrassed, you decide not to ask. She asks though, about the baby. Very cheerful. It’s all going well, you say, very well.
You would choose that, if you could. Her cheerfulness. Nothing is too hard for Julie. Trait number one: cheerful. Maybe not… five feels like too few, too little a foundation to build a whole person. But, at the same time, it feels like too much. Everything will be easier when Cadmus is home. So, you tidy your mind and follow Julie’s instructions.
Stir pot, Miss Ombre.
Add salt. Some more.
Taste. You like? Good.
Inside the hot broth, pieces of chicken swirl suspended in their own amniotic haven. It must be warm and safe in there. It’s a small space, completely designed to carry, to nourish, to bring forth life. What if she isn’t safe? What if she needs you, needs her…what are you exactly? Mother is a dry word, strong and sure; you are anything but sure. You need to hold her, don’t you? You need to thrust your hand into this boiling pot, to scald your arms and do something, to hold her. She needs you. She needs you. Reach for her –
Cadmus is home.
The soup swirls beneath you. No baby. No scalding.
How was your day, darling?
It was…a day.
Cadmus is upset with you. It’s not hard to tell. But, why? What have you done wrong? You don’t have to cook, you don’t clean, you have money, what else is there to fight about? Try a different approach.
I was looking in Planning today. I think I’ve chosen the gender. That’s a good starting point, don’t you think? We can build from there.
He ignores you. Julie ignores you. Standing there, in the middle of the kitchen, you feel pathetic. Fine, he doesn’t need you – he doesn’t even want you. Julie’s husband probably felt the same way about her, when she was pregnant. It’s something men just don’t get.
Charismatic. Yeah, right. The Trait Evaluators at StorkOrder ™ were just sucking up to their boss. That must apply to you as well. Perfectionist. Or, just as easily, anxious. But you can’t fault someone for calling you perfect, even in a roundabout way.
He’s sitting on the couch closest to the window, a drink in his hand. Cadmus never drinks. It’s too dangerous. No one can afford that, anymore. It is too easily recorded, noted on your file – a black mark against an otherwise unblemished record of favourable predispositions in a genetic mate. Alcoholism rears an ugly head in the corner of the room, an invisible disease passed down to unwitting, innocent babies. Born corrupted, spoiled. Does he want the baby to be sick?
What is that?
He says it’s been a long day. That this is what his father used to do, to wind down.
What his father used to do. And, what would his mother have done? Probably brought it to him on a platter, in tidy heels and a sensible dress. They had all the money in the world, back then.
There is no space for negative traits. They aren’t even assigned in your StorkOrder ™ Evaluation Session. When you arrived with Cadmus, you were treated like a princess.
Hey boss! Glad to have you! Let’s get this lovely lady a baby!
Was that all a show? Do they give everyone such glowing assessments? You had loved the smoothness, the luxury, everything glossed over, for you. Just a signature here, a careful question there.
How important is family to you?
That one was easy. Why did they even bother asking? You had circled it, anyway, carefully underscoring extremely in your clearest penmanship. But you are entitled to luxury. You paid for it. StorkOrder™ has been Cadmus’ baby, his obsessive working project. Now, you will have a baby, too.
So, you decide to forgive him. It is the best course of action. He has helped you, with the baby. You smooth a peace-making hand over his shoulder and he looks at you. Surprised. When was the last time you touched?
Julie is making soup for dinner. He nods and turns back to his drink.
No one wants you here. Well, that’s not quite true. He does want you; Cadmus wants you. But, why bother? You don’t need to.
You leave the room, retracing your steps. Stopping at the door to the yellow nursery, you hover in the threshold. It is like you can feel the energy of this room, of hope, on this side of the door. On the other, life is dry. Depleted. But here, in this room, the air is pregnant with possibility.
The armchair holds you for a long time. Outside, it is completely dark. Julie has set and cleared the table for Cadmus, bringing him a bowl without complications. Your stomach growls. Nothing in there, nothing at all. You place a hand over where your uterus might be. No way to tell, really. Women used to starve themselves to look like this. They never had the choice you have.
Julie never worries about how she looks. Her uniform is shapeless and dark, standard supply for helpers in your apartment block. You have never seen her stomach, where her babies were. How many was it? Two or three? Three kids? That’s just decadent. No one you know has three children. Julie probably came to it easily. You would too, you protest to yourself. But you don’t have to. This is better.
The pod is illuminated again, your small and shining sun.
A thousand perfect images swarm in front of your eyes and Julie is forgotten. Brown curls. Smooth blond fringes. Blue eyes like porcelain in ivory faces. Dimples, no dimples. And then, older children. Lanky. Chubby. Angular. Rounded.
Will she even look like me? Like us?
She doesn’t have to.
You touch your own hair. Long and dark. Cadmus too, has dark hair and dark eyes. Beautiful olive skin. But, would blond be better? A surprise? People will say, whose side did that come from? Not that it works that way, anymore. But we have our vocabulary.
If it doesn’t look like me, how do I know it is mine?
The pod has dimmed. Lack of use, probably. You tap the tablet sharply, waking it up. Why bother. You are in no place to be making decisions. A mother should just know. Our bodies had once done all of this, for us. Your own body had been written by your mother, unconsciously, fearfully, wonderfully. Everything she had eaten, you ate too. You had absorbed the very life out of her. Peanut butter sandwiches and potato chips had been the fuel for your eyes, your limbs, your intricate brain work.
It wasn’t your fault, you remind yourself. Every mother gives her baby their life. Even the ones that make it. The mothers who are able to be there, to help their baby write their own body one day. But your mother wasn’t there. She gave her whole life for yours. You won’t forget that.
She could be perfect.
The pod’s lights dim down again. Beside the gentle thrum of standard gestational procedures, the only sound is the
of your decisive fingers on the screen. Crafting, forming, raising and lowering. Your baby will be fair, fairer than her parents. She will have large, dark eyes, framed with even darker lashes. Her proportions will be standard to begin with, right in the centre of the spectrum of slim to rotund. You select an option for later height in life; it should only activate in her teenaged years.
How is the baby…born?
It’s a very simple process. You won’t have to do a thing.
Your hand drifts to your stomach, again. She will not emerge, triumphant, wet and slimy, a feat of human resilience and sacrifice. Not like you did. Drenched in the life-giving blood of the mother. She will be delivered to you. She will be clean and quiet, and in all probability, a healthy pink colour. She will be a symphony of technology. Her very organs will not be organic. Is that where that word comes from?
When the pod opens, at exactly the right moment, on exactly the right day, she too will have a flat stomach. It won’t even be marked, like yours, with a belly button. Superfluous thing. You have her buttons here, lit up at your touch on the tablet. These buttons mean far more than your belly ever could. These buttons, these mechanical buttons make her, but will not stay with her. Nothing to remind her where she is from.
Julie’s children have belly buttons. Why does this thought enter your brain now? A pregnant Julie, round and glowing in a hopeful, assuring green, swims before your eyes. She cannot see you, but she’s laughing. Chatting to someone, in her own language. She is happy. Her hand rests, like yours, on her belly. You reach out a hand to touch her, to touch the thing growing inside her, to reach in and see it – how does it look in there? Will she let you reach inside…?
Maybe one day, she will come into this yellow room and look at your baby and want it for herself. She will want what you have, because your baby will be beautiful and there won’t be a single woman out there who wouldn’t want her.
What a doll, you must be so happy.
I am, thank you. We are very lucky.
Should you include a little wave, a gesture to the child? One hand pressed to your heart? A ducking, humble smile of gratitude? It is good to be prepared, for moments like these.
Cadmus is calling to you. He has perfected that voice, that tone, that says at once I’m sorry and I will make it up to you and I am in control. He may be drawn to you, to what you can offer, but your baby will need you. One day, she will need you. You might be all she has.
︎Kate is a fourth year Arts/Education student who writes about things she knows nothing about, in an effort to explore. When she's not teaching high school English, she is consuming as many books and as much Netflix as she can, to be both "well read" and "well watched".︎