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art by Melissa Mead

Susan 3342 A.D.

In an overcrowded world, a high bar on reproduction was enforced. The odds were high, but after seven years came notification that we would be allowed one hemaphrodite offspring.
Which of us would bear the child? You picked two of our fine black orchids and stripped their leaves. You grasped them so I couldn't see the stems and held them out. I drew the shortest. The honor of conception was yours. For you, the wondrous transformations of pregnancy. As for me, your chosen partner, I could merely share.
I consulted the universal database, every published book or article on parenting before the Fourth Millennium. I programmed these into my sleep-mode disc. Finally, I took a hypno course in the art of knitting. I wanted to be sure our child would have something especially from me. It took me weeks to procure the yarn and then to fashion hand-made booties. I wove silver ribbons in them, yet you were not impressed. "If you really want to help, then get our baby something more in vogue," you said. I put the booties in a private drawer and ordered your choice from the universal insta-log.
There were other frustrations. At first I thought it was your hormones, but the doctor assured me this wasn't possible. He laughed. He said it was only your excuse for rude behavior, and suggested I take up a hobby until the child was born. So I kept my newly found emotions to myself. I watched with envy as your body changed from week to week. I made progress notes and holographs.
Day or night, I attended your every whim. Occasionally I was rewarded when you allowed me to feel the child moving strongly within.
When it was born, I held it in my arms while you rested. I hoped you'd let me change its diapers, brush its fine hair. Sing it lullabies. I pictured you beside me, taking turns rocking it to sleep. But shortly after, the doctor came to see us. He tried to look both pleased and sad at the same time. We sensed something very wrong.
"The good news: you have a healthy baby. The bad news: it's genetically impaired. Female gametes; that's all she has, all she will ever have. Throwback to a former stage of evolution, I'm afraid."
An attendant stepped up. "Be reassured that you both will have free counseling. The State also offers support services and supplies for its care at minimum cost. We realize how devastating this must be to you."
After the doctor left, the attendant continued. "Should you wish to terminate it at this time, it is perfectly legal. Quite painless. The disposal is also free. Religious services of your preference will also be available in our Hospice Chapel. Otherwise, you have no further obligation."
All those months you'd proudly rubbed your taut belly, making much of yourself to our friends. I'd served your whims--pickles and ice cream was a favorite, impossible to replicate, yet I'd found substitutes. And you were none the wiser. All those months I dreamed of sharing our future with our own offspring!
You referred to her as "She," called her a freak. You blamed this tragedy on me. Said you never wanted any part of this, that this thing of ours may as well be dead.
"Deal with it," you said. "I'm moving out."
You left me holding her. So I took her home and named her Susan, an ancient and forgotten name that suits her well.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 14th, 2010

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