art by Steven R. Stewart
Off the Shelf
by Gaea Dill-D'Ascoli
He was an impulse buy.
Jean had examined the bundle on the shelf. It was wrapped in a light blue blanket printed with yellow beach balls. The expiry date said yesterday but it hadn't turned odd colors or rotted.
At the counter, they'd given her half off with no return option. She accepted that and brought him home.
The styrofoam packaging had cradled his head and kept it from bruising. His hair hadn't grown in yet, but the paperwork said it would be light to medium brown. His eyes would stay blue, though his skin could change by two-to-three shades. The paperwork went on to say that the small mark on his left butt cheek would mature into the maker's mark in a few years and fade by adulthood. It could still be found under autopsy, if questions arose about the quality of the product.
She'd had worries in the first years that maybe the expiry date on the package really was important, but the boy started walking on his first birthday and started making sentences a few months later.
Jean thought about the date when he did things she didn't like. His second-grade teacher assured her he wasn't the first boy to wet his pants in class. His third broken finger made her wonder if this would have happened to a full-price boy. She looked up the contact information of the company when he got an F in seventh-grade English.
The company had gone under shortly after his fourth buyday. All claims were to be filed with the bankruptcy lawyer. She never pursued.