Written by Lumberjacktom
Your skin is so smooth, almost translucent on the delicate curve of your sleeping body. I’m overcome by how fragile you look in that moment; your eyes closed, your shoulder length hair splayed across the pillow. I’m trying to tell if you’re beautiful. I think I’ve forgotten what it means. A squat, square face, big eyes, softened by your smile. A child’s face. Innocent. You have a child’s body as well, I might still mistake you for a boy, if there were any of those.
Doc says you’re ready for a child. He tells me you’re strong for your age, that it don’t matter that your breasts haven’t come through yet, that a baby can live on formula just fine. I keep thinking, maybe if I tell them you’re barren, that your womb’s no good, maybe they’d let me keep you. I wouldn’t have to break your fragile little frame, squirt my seed into your tiny body and let a little life grow inside, ’til it forced its way out, and surely split you on its way. Maybe then, when they didn’t care anymore, I could keep you safe, until you were properly a woman, ’til you knew what it meant to bear a child.
But they wouldn’t let me do that. They’d test you this way and that until they were sure, then they’d go inside and have your ovaries. Or put someone else’s baby in, one made in a lab from the chromosomes of men, a perfect little womb-bearer made to specification by the bio-engineers with their microscopes and pipettes. Just like you.
You wouldn’t let me, either. You want a little life too; it’s what a girl is born for, they say. And why wouldn’t you believe them? It’s what you’ve been told all your life, that is. When you grow up, when you come of age and your body says its ready, we’ll find a man for you, and he’ll give you a little one. Wasn’t it what you were born for? Just like the mother they put you in, deemed fit and seeded with life. So of course its what you want. What you say you want, anyway; I think you’re more scared than you say. I think you know you’re too little, too unspoilt by the world, else you would complain more that we haven’t tried. Seems fitting, you say, that we should get to know each other, since we’re a couple now, some kind of courting period. If it goes on much longer, they’ll find out. They’ll spread your legs on the doctor’s couch, and find out I haven’t yet broken you. Then what? Maybe they’ll seed you with someone else, and leave you with me, so I can stand by you; hold your hand while you push out someone else’s child. Or maybe they’d take you from me, say, “If you won’t use her, someone else will.” Scared to be a man. If that’s how you figure it, I’m as much a man as you are a woman, though I was one and a half times your age when you were born.
But I know different – I know that’s not what makes a man. Assaulting the love-gates with the little battering ram. Sure, there’s ten thousand men who’d take you in a second; but you don’t want a lover. You don’t know what love is, not yet, not properly. Nor do the jackals baying for free passage through the love tunnel. Half of them have never seen a woman, save the one that pushed them out, before the Death took them. You should hear the way they talk, little girl. You’ve never known the reason they keep you behind these gates, tended by eunuchs and geriatrics, and constantly watched even then. You’re more precious than you know. More precious than they know.
You want a father. Someone to know you, and love you because you’re you, someone who is yours from the day you meet, even though they know you’ll never be theirs, that your fledgling heart will one day take flight and alight on another. No man you’ve ever known has seen into your soul. All you’ve ever known is tests and numbers, medical reports, and horrid, furtive glances at your chest and crotch from queasy little frustrated men, counting the months before they might have you.
There is no compassion in this world. No empathy. All the goodness, all the niceness left is kept locked behind these gates, doled out in little measures by a sickening committee, bundled with a functioning womb. All that’s left out there are horrible, baying men, with their beer and jokes and euphemisms that make you squirm. “They ought’a give me one of ’em little princesses, I’d bang that so ‘ard she’d not walk straight for a week!” Talk of the town, little girl.
Not men – not really. They’re boys who’ve grown up and kept their playground talk, boys who think they know what a woman’s for, if only they could get near to one. Sick, diseased little boys who don’t even realise there’s something wrong. I know though. I’m old enough to remember my mother, even if they’re not. I’m old enough to remember the girls on the playground, sweet, pretty things with daisy chains draped around their necks. They wouldn’t come near us then, and they wouldn’t if they saw us now, the same horrid little things who never learned how to feel for someone else.
Except that’s not true, we’re not the same. We’re worse, because we did learn to feel, not love or joy or anything good, just pain. Horrible, torturous pain, made a hundred times worse because it’s not your body that is breaking, eating itself from the inside – that pain, every little boy knows, a man can take, can bear as a horrible burden, if he’s saving the one he loves. But to see every little bit of good drain from the world, gaunt, thin, immersed in an agony that won’t even be released by sleep, to see that and feel fine, that is the pain we learned. Every little boy, torn from his mother, every man from his wife, even playground sweethearts watching each other die.
Their Death was the kinder one, even in its agony. Our Death, the man’s Death, that was worse, because we don’t get to sleep unspoiled for ever. Instead we learned the terrible, destroying lesson; it’s best not to care. When you left us, we hid you away, deep inside, where the pain could almost be borne; and with you, we put away everything that was good about ourselves.
But little girl, you and your sisters know none of that. You’re still pure and perfect, not ruined like the men. And one day, when they let men be born again, your sons will learn their kindness from you, like we should have learned from our mothers. You are the last bastion of compassion in this world. And even if everyone else has forgotten the reason, as long as I remember, I’ll keep you safe. I remember the love, and the sweet things, and everything else we lost, and even though it hurts deeper than any other loss I can imagine, I still remember. Yes, it hurts to see you. Not to look at you, but to see you; your thoughts and your feelings, the way you play in the grass outside, picking daisies; it burns deep inside, but I won’t forget who you are. My mother, my sister, the little girl I kissed in the playground, all of the things everyone else pretends they’ve forgotten.
I can’t let you keep your childhood. They’ll take it away even if I don’t. But we can pretend. We can make believe you’re still innocent, playing like a child should, laughing like a child should, even as you swell with my unborn baby. I have to do it soon, but not today. Make the best of it, little girl.
Not Today is part of a series of short stories stemming from a dystopian universe, following the progress of society in the decades after all the women died. While Tom is currently steeling himself for NaNoWriMo, we eagerly await the next installment!