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The Latest Fashion

Karin is a yoga teacher and mother who writes in her spare time. Her stories and poems have recently appeared in Liquid Imagination, Message in a Bottle, and hey, here in Daily Science Fiction. Neat!

Every time the café door opened, allowing in a cool draft, the woman at the table next to Maggie turned blue. Then after the door closed, melted back to a warm red.
She leaned across the cafe aisle toward Maggie. "Thermodynamic body sleeve," she explained. "It's the latest." She glanced at Maggie's cotton shirt and jeans, smiled stiffly, and turned back to her companion.
On the other side of Maggie, a lady flounced the sleeves of a blouse. The fabric resembled human skin. "It's all synthetic of course," the lady said loudly to her husband. "Part of the Death and Decay Décolletage collection." She peered about and caught Maggie's eye, as if by accident. "It's the latest," she said with a giggle. She lifted her chin at the sight of Maggie's long brown ponytail and gave a terse nod.
Maggie blushed. Stared down at her hands. There hadn't been time for a manicure. Aunt Joan messaged only that morning. She would be in town for one day and could Maggie find some time because she would absolutely love to see her favorite niece as it had been entirely too long and she knew just the place.
Maggie indulged in a smile. Aunt Joan had been a model once. During the romantic era of magazines. Pages filled with perfume samples that floated onto Maggie's lap like butterflies. Joan was tall, fashionable, sublime. She had fluttered in and out of Maggie's youth, as fragrant and colorful as the photos she adorned.
Maggie had been waiting at her table for half an hour when the door to the cafe finally opened. Aunt Joan waltzed in, tossed her coat to the Maître D and strode across the restaurant. Her long green dress swishing like seaweed. Expertly dyed hair slipping about her cheeks in shiny waves. Lips red. Eyes bright.
But there was something amiss with her pashmina. Maggie squinted. Then blinked.
Draped over Aunt Joan's shoulder was a small baby. Its face nuzzled into her neck, its small body heavy against her collarbone.
"Darling!" Aunt Joan opened her arms in the gesture of a hug, but sat down before they could connect. The baby slipped a bit, and Aunt Joan grabbed its small head and rump, and casually readjusted it.
Aunt Joan called for the waiter, ordered the chef's specialty, and sent him away, all in one breath.
She gave the table a friendly pat with her slender hands, just beginning to show the soft raised veins of age. "Now Margaret, dear, tell me everything. How is school? Your classes?"
Maggie beamed. "Aunt Joan! You have a baby!"
"Why yes!" Aunt Joan said brightly. "I just got it. What do you think?"
"She's beautiful! Or is it a boy? I don't care! Can I hold her?"
"You can try it on later if you'd like. I haven't the slightest if it's a boy or girl, but it should be beautiful considering how dearly I paid for it."
Maggie gave her head a quick shake. "I don't understand, did you adopt--"
"Adopt? How pedestrian! Margaret dear, it's the latest fashion. A re-invention of an old accessory--do close your mouth, Margaret dear, you're making yourself most unattractive--Women have been wearing babies for years, of course," she continued, with a note of disdain, "but in these cumbersome slings or packs or some other contrived plebeian conveyance. Completely ruins the lines of an outfit. This baby is fastened here and here." She pointed to the baby's feet and hands. Maggie could see now a nearly invisible, heavy-duty zipper from the baby's booties to the armpit seam of Joan's dress. "The other attaches at the collar," she explained.
The baby didn't seem to be moving except for a gentle rise and fall of its soft rounded back. Maggie felt her lungs quiver. "Is it sleeping?" She whispered.
Maggie slumped in her chair.
"It wouldn't look nearly so darling crying and thrashing about and all that.--Do sit up straight, Margaret. Oh, but they are darling, don't you agree? Babies just seem to bring about an air of beauty and youth," she added with emphasis. "It's the only reason people have babies, you know. Because it makes them look good. It really is high time they marketed them." Aunt Joan pulled lightly on her earlobe, "Where is our lunch? I am famished."
The baby sighed softly. Maggie's arms went weak.
"Whose baby is that?"
"Oh, some Swede. Or Fin, I think. A Scandinavian to be sure. You can pick up a black or brown one for next to nothing, but no one who's anyone wants one of those. Let me tell you, dark colors may be slimming--" she stopped abruptly and pressed her lips together. "How crude of me," she dropped her voice. "That doesn't bear repeating, dear. You understand."
The baby on Aunt Joan's shoulder twitched. Maggie could see its little eyes moving rapidly beneath closed lids. It was dreaming.
"If you want to stand out," Aunt Joan continued, "you'll want something exotic. Like a Filipino. Or a Kazakh. Why, I have a friend who has her very own set of twin Inuits." She shook her head. "Some people just have money to burn, I suppose. Oh good, the fois gras!"
Aunt Joan moved her napkin as the waiter placed the pate on the table.
"It's not that they're expensive, really," she explained, smearing some pate on a cracker, "it's more the maintenance, you know. The sedation drops. The upkeep. I bring mine to a shop every evening to have it fed and cleaned and, well, you know." Aunt Joan pointed to her abdomen and made a small discrete circle. She wrinkled her nose. "It's not proper to discuss over lunch, but, you know."
"Oh! You mean it doesn't..?"
"Oh heavens no! Fine supplement to couture that would be!" She laughed. Maggie tried to join in.
"No, the shop cleans mine out nightly. Some combination of laxatives and diuretics. Then some opposite concoction in the morning before I pick it up. But let's be done with the sordid details. Paté?"
"Does it have a name?" Maggie asked weakly.
"Creation Couture. Though a rival designer refers to his line as Motherhood Masquerade."
Aunt Joan rubbed her neck. "I should have purchased a preemie," she sighed, "delicate frame like mine."
Maggie felt a little dizzy. "What happens when the baby gets too big to wear?"
Aunt Joan waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, they'll be out of fashion by then."
The door to the restaurant swung open and let in a draft. Aunt Joan shivered and pulled the baby closer to her neck. Rearranging its legs like the cowl neck of a sweater.
The woman beside their table glowed blue. "Is that the Creation Couture fall line?"
"Why yes," Joan replied, "A must-have item of the season. They are positively toasty."
The woman smiled carefully then looked down at her thermodynamic body sleeve and frowned.
Suddenly Aunt Joan sat up very straight and pursed her lips. "But I thought certainly I'd see some women wearing babies here. Perhaps this cafe isn't as chic as I'd thought. " She cast her eyes around the room. "Oh wait, here comes someone now. I knew I'd picked the right--oh good god!" She whipped herself back to Maggie, "she's brought in a live one."
The new patron lumbered past them, weighed down with a diaper bag, umbrella stroller, sling, backpack, and baby. She took a seat at a table near the lady wearing death and decay décolletage, unbuttoned her blouse and began to nurse, calmly looking over the wine list.
Aunt Joan's head gave a Parkinson's-like shudder.
"Waiter!" She snapped, "We'd like to change tables." She stared hard at the young mother. A deep crease set between her eyes. "I don't care for this view."
Maggie stared sadly at Aunt Joan. "Neither do I."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 7th, 2014

Author Comments

A friend of mine once asked me why I think people have children. Sooooo... this is one answer.

- Karin Terebessy
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