The air is humid. You breathe lungs full of it without noticing; it feels like slow-motion choking.
Humid, humido, fumido, fumar… You played with the sounds of the words in your mind, the shapes on your lips. A bad habit maybe, talking to yourself when you’re not alone. Looking glum when you’re not alone.
There is no reason for you to be there, less reason for you to be anywhere else. You stand by the lake, as if searching for a purpose and finding only dead ends in the gray sky, the gray waters reflecting the gray sky’s dead ends. Upside-down world. Your body wants to move. Your mind wants to sleep, or maybe to wake up. Anything but this tasteless middle ground.
Your feet move beneath you, almost apace with the music in your ears but a bit too slow. You wonder about beats per minute. Heartbeats, footsteps, in and exhales. Your own breath hurts you.
The sky is so dull you can’t even tell where the sun is. One thick layer of clouds, like dingy snow, covers overhead. There are gentle waves in the surface, slight changes from one end of the greyscale to the other. It looks like a project by a first-year art student afraid of blacks and whites—so afraid of high-contrast mistakes as to avoid form entirely.
Maybe your next life will be as a cockroach. Ignorance is bliss.
There is a wall around your senses. It’s impenetrable, the fuzzy translucent white of scratched Plexiglas. You can hear the life on the other side, the words indistinct, the tones less clear. The grass is so green out there you can smell it. There is laughter, there is growth. Were you ever alive? You can’t remember. You must have been. You started out wrinkled and pink, riding a wave of your mother’s pain, and here you are now, smooth and boney. And the pain is all your own.
The music in your ears falls flat. If not even pure feeling thrown into vibrations wakes up your mind, you know you’re in for it. Part spiritual incapacitation, part distain, part habit.
And the trouble it causes, you’re really in for it.
Pathological thoughts cross your mind. There must be more to life than this.
Why, you wonder, is normalcy always the goal?
Sometimes it hurt, always it didn’t fit right. By the time it was broken in, you’d outgrown it. This time it lasted three years, and you itched every minute of it. But at least you kept at it, at least you didn’t make anyone else itch. We’re all on this team together, after all. You shake your head at the internalized mantras of the Man. Only no wonder they were in your head, piped as they are through every medium and venue imaginable. You shake your head and run and feel the weight of your long, dark hair swish from one side to the other. It jumps like a second heartbeat.
Your body hurts as you lean forward and propel yourself even faster forward. It’s a good pain, and it’s better than nothing. It clears your mind before you have to stop. Your face is hot and red and prickly. Your eyes and nose are dripping tears, slowly. You’re crying but you don’t know why. A very bad habit, to cry when you’re not alone.
You try your hardest and mostly succeed at avoiding conversation before bedtime. You yawn obviously so the girls don’t feel slighted by your lack of interest in their chit-chat. You eat your dinner quickly and clean the bathrooms alone. You stand in the shower after you’ve cleaned and shaved your skin and turn the hot water up and cold water off for three minutes of a satisfactory burn. Your jaw clamps and your muscles tense deliciously in reaction to the pain.
Later, in bed, in the dark, next to your bedmate, you pinch fingerfuls of your own flesh. You pinch hard and sometimes burst a few capillaries. It’s an old habit from the days when you hated your body and the reality it gave you. You allow your consciousness to shrink down to the square inch of sensation.
At breakfast the next day, pneumatic and bubbling Lila eyes you from the other end of the table. She holds her cheery yellow coffee mug just under her lips, partly hiding her expression by tilting her face down into the milky brown.
“Did you sleep ok? I heard you tossing and turning a little bit last night.” She says, looking up at you through thick spider leg lashes.
They’re black, her hair is blonde. It’s never too early for a mask of mascara and other colored creams and powders.
Eyes turn towards you. You almost hear them swivel in their sockets. Two times twelve, twenty four solitary eyeballs; twenty four vacant, vapid orbs.
“I’m fine, I just went for a run yesterday for the first time in ages. I think I should have stretched more or something, my legs were feeling pretty tight.” You answer, smiling your hardest.
“Oh, that’s great! Next time tell me, I’ll come with you! It’s about time to start on that winter weight, right girls? No need for the extra insulation anymore. Summer is just around the corner!”
Twelve vacant, vapid heads nod in synch.
“Good idea, I should really come too. It’s so hard to stay motivated.” Says the fat one, obviously.
Your work assignment for the day is Ag. Your own eyes close as you savor this smallest victory.
“Oh, boo, that’s too bad. I hate Ag. Hey at least it’s good exercise, right? We should stretch during the announcement, I don’t think the Man would mind that. We can stay focused on the message and stretch at the same time.” Says Lila.
The silver screen in the living room blinks on and a woman’s voice begins to seep in from every corner of the room…
Good morning to the beautiful young women of sector seven. Today’s forecast calls for light rain in the morning with clear skies after noon with a high of sixty-eight. Too bad it’s not sixty-nine, amIright? Ha ha. Congratulations and welcome to the new members of The Community of Adam! Sarah, Emily and Arwin, I’m sure that all of our lovely ladies will make the transition from outside smooth and enjoyable. Please report to the Arch after these announcements are over for your first day of orientation.
And now, without further ado, the Man.
Twenty eight hands crash right into left in perfect unison. Lila is subtly bending over her straight legs on the floor. She gives you a wink of solidarity.
A male voice replace the woman’s. It sounds like audible velvet, like smooth stones polished by eons of river, billions of drops corroding their character until all are alike and all are painless.
Hello to all you Venuses, it’s wonderful to see you looking so cheerful and radiant this morning. As you all surely know, this is the month of Conception. A most holy and sacred month when the trees put out their buds, the birds build their nests, and we humans propagate our race into the future, as Adam was made in the image of God Himself. If your number is divisible by six, please report to Doctor Smith for an examination after the work day. If your number is divisible by six, congratulations! You will be a mother this year. If your number is not divisible by six, congratulations to you as well! This is not your year but the children born will be just as much your pride and responsibility.
And so, shining young women, go forth into your days, work hard, and don’t forget: a smile is the best accessory!
The women whose numbers are divisible by six smile broadly. Not the coquettish ladylike expressions of every day but the real, joyful and beaming smiles of women who are now better than other women. The non-multiples of six hide their disappointment well, practiced as they are at emotional self-manipulation. Lila, number eleven, touches her sight to yours and you see more than you want to of her. She’s angry. Her mouth turns up and reveals beautiful, white teeth in a lioness’s snarl. You half expect her to pounce and beat soon-to-be-fertile bodies with soft, manicured fists.
You savor the precious few hours you have with only the animals as company. You feed the chickens, milk the cows, weed the kitchen garden, try to avoid the men on their ploughs. You can feel their eyes boring into you—mostly into your breasts when you’re still and your hips when you walk.
“Hello little chicky,” you cluck to the hen. “Are you happy? I wish I had your tiny bird brain. I wish I had no voice. I wish my number was not divisible by six and I didn’t have to smile.”
The hen doesn’t answer.
What is happiness? You used to think too much freedom made you unhappy but now you have neither choice nor happiness. At least you’re not really sad. Just empty.
But not empty for long, you think, placing your hand on your low belly.
You wonder who the father will be, though it’s a pointless endeavor. For the last few months Liam, Samuel and Joseph have been your primary partners but once word gets out that you’re fertile, who knows what the men will do. Every year the men go crazy, competing with each other to be the first or the last to ejaculate inside a fertile woman’s body. And the women are no better, bragging about who’s fucked them that day, competing to be the most desired object of all, the crown jewel if only for twenty-eight days. As if collecting precious ejaculate is the highest calling of all. Precious, sticky, milky semen, teeming with knob-headed, single-minded DNA.
Boys will be boys, girls will be girls. Sperm will be sperm.
You don’t expect to get much sleep for the next four weeks, to say the least. And you wonder how you’ll change without the hormonal birth control implant you’ve had most of your life. It’s ok to cry when it’s been taken out, you know from past years that it’s common for this to happen and that the tears are blameless, non-pathological, non-punishable. The timing couldn’t be better, at least, you’ve felt tears in the backs of your eyes for a few days or weeks.
An image pushes the thoughts from your head for a moment: instead of tears, dust bursts from your green eyes and keeps bursting and bursting until you’re empty. The dust of your self is gone. Ejaculated into the ether. Sobs wrack your little body like they do to small children, seizing your muscles, working their way through your organism until they are born through those desiccated green eyes.
Liam walks alongside you from the farm to the doctor. “Hello my beautiful six,” he says, “how are you feeling today?”
“Overwhelmed, a little. I don’t know yet. It’s a big change.” You answer.
You like Liam more than anyone else. He’s a wonderful fuck, sweet and passionate. Probably he makes you come because he’s so quiet, it’s almost like fucking yourself. Masturbating is not allowed in the Community of Adam; it desanctifies the union of the flesh which is so important to the Man. Being with him is almost as good as being alone. You walk next to each other in silence, your hands occasionally, incidentally touching. He doesn’t grab at you when they do touch. You don’t grab at him but you smell his sweat and hear his footfalls and grab at those.
Liam came from the outside, too. You share that experience, though it’s not to be discussed. He came from Chicago the year after you arrived, was baptized in the Lake of Piety the year after you were baptized. Back then, before the Greater Depression started, there were few who moved and those who did were the rejects of society, the ones who didn’t fit anywhere. The ones who had tried everything else and found only abuse; and as is always the case with religious sects and cults, more women than men were wont to join and be led. The Community of Adam offered a respite, a pattern, a lack of the unknown and therefore a lack of the fear of the unknown. You remember when you first saw him on the platform by the lake, naked and nameless. You remember seeing the freckles that stretched across his then-unfamiliar body, constellations with a mythology of their own. He had dark, auburn hair that glowed like a lit coal in the sun. You couldn’t see his eyes from the distance then but you felt them.
He looked how you must have looked on that platform: afraid, docile, broken down to the basest elements. He must have felt how you felt, too, and that pulled your dead little heart open, creating a small space for him. You feel protective of him in a way, something you haven’t felt for a partner before. It is sweet like honey. You like the novelty of the raw emotion, the way it reveals or maybe creates unfamiliar parts of you.
You’re almost to the Doctor’s office. From a distance you see a handful of other women at the door. One from your house, a few from the six other young women’s houses. All in all, this year’s crop of babies would be around ten. Their incubators stand around nervously, some pacing, some engaging in shallow conversations with other incubators. Liam holds your face between his hands for a few seconds and stares into your eyes. The weight of his hands lends you a momentary calm.
All men are Adam. All men are the Man.
You approach the door and become cognizant of being the most slovenly woman on the premise. You go into the bathroom and wash under your arms and between your legs, not wanting to burden the doctor with your pungent, agricultural scent. You comb through your hair with your fingers and braid it to one side, your good side. All in all, not a bad-looking individual. You’re of a healthy build, though not strong. You at least have ample hips for the duty they’ve been assigned. Your face is not symmetrical somehow but the skin is clear, the eyes bright, the lips soft.
Back outside you wait for your turn with the doctor. You watch the men watching the clinic, memorizing the faces and bodies of the incubators, likely planning the most effective strategy for their precious seed to sprout. You recognize some of them. David is there, of course. He’s like a mosquito with the women, coming out at dusk and sticking it in whoever is willing—or sometimes just whoever is there and timid. And because David is unattractive with a long nose, the women privately call him just that. His nickname is unknown to him, though, because the women are smart enough to know there is nothing more dangerous than a rapist with a bruised ego. Joseph is prowling the perimeter as well with his group of testosterone-crazed zealots. Joseph is by far the alpha of the group, burly, charismatic, and with a voice like a big brass bell.
Dr. Smythe calls you in, looks you up and down with a twisted little smile and says, “A great candidate! You’ll carry well but let’s have a look at the equipment, shall we?”
You take off your underwear and lay back on the table. Dr. Smythe doesn’t leave the room once.
“Feet in the stirrups, there you go.” He says.
Fifteen minutes later, you’re given a clean bill of health. You can still feel the cold of his metal instrument in your vagina when Dr. Smythe, scalpel in hand, asks for your left arm. You hold it perpendicular to your body and look away to the right as he cuts a clean, red line in the soft flesh. He pulls out the little pink implant with tweezers, wipes the incision with antibacterial cream, and hands you a bandage to put on yourself.
“Good job and good luck!” he says, looking at the next woman’s chart. He gestures towards the door.
It’s difficult to put the bandage on. The cut is in an uncomfortable place, the inside of your upper arm. It rubs against the side of your ribs and reminds you with each painful contact that your life is irreversibly changed. You think about the little pink implant now resting on Dr. Smythe’s metal tray alongside thirteen others. It had been inside of you for so long, you don’t feel like yourself without it.
You feel empty. That is, more empty than usual.