I’m trying to write at least a short story…
She was always told that she could do anything. She was clever and lovely, fortunate to be born at a point in spacetime where her type of loveliness was the mode. Equally fortunate to be born at a point in spacetime where clever women were neither burned at the stake as witches nor injected with handicap.
Rose was a perfect rose. In the morning dew and in the dusky twilight, the perfume of her being enraptured. She took advantage of her advantage and arranged life to her satisfaction. She was surrounded by admirers. She was engulfed in beauty, in people and things that pleased her senses. She slept in silk, the heels of her shoes click-clacked on the most sonorous of flooring. She started each morning with black coffee and white cream, drinking a little and adding more black or more white to achieve the most pleasing shades of soft brown. She ended each day in the warm, solid embrace of the husband who was—after herself, of course—her favorite person.
The aesthetics of her life lacked nothing. She was fulfilled intellectually by her work tinkering in the genomes of various plants and animals. She basked in her power. She hummed concertos to herself, sometimes twirling from lab station to lab station with a loaded pipette in hand. In the name of Science, she had been god to generations of lab rats, guinea pigs, rice plants and even a few howler monkeys. She surveyed her little kingdom, tallying up the little improvements and immunities she had given to her denizens. Each day she left her work feeling just a little bit better about herself than the day before. Rose was proud and had never experienced a fall.
The only thing she’d ever had to fear was the dizziness of freedom. The only thing she’d ever had to fear was that she might someday throw herself off of a cliff. Nothing but she herself could touch her.
Her warm, solid husband wanted a baby. Rose thought about it often, about the glow of pride she might feel, about the swollen distortion her perfect little body would become. She thought about the hormonal changes, the morning sickness, the havoc of pregnancy and nursing. She thought about the child itself and about how if the thing turned out to be any less perfect than she was, her life would be taken over by something worse and made worse.
At night, her spouse lay facing her and traced his fingers from her shoulder to her hip and back, whispering, “He would be so beautiful.”
The moon shone across Søren’s face and he looked at Rose with a deep longing she knew she would never feel. She had never wanted for anything as much as he wanted a child. That wanting part of her brain was surely atrophied and electrically disconnected.
Everything was in place. They had more than enough resources to provide an ideal childhood. Their friends mostly had toddlers by now, dense and permanently sticky little globs of curiosity. But she was so happy, so very content. And happiness was all she had ever known. Change could only mean something worse, and she knew that she wouldn’t be strong facing it. She knew it, she never wanted anyone else to know it.
She said, “What if there’s something wrong with him?”
Søren said, “How could there be? Look at us. We will do everything right, we’ll do every possible test and if he’s not perfect…well, we can start over.”
Her uterus seized up at the mental image of probes and stabbing needles.
He sighed and rolled to his back. With his eyes closed, he said, “I wish I could do this for us. I wish it didn’t have to be you. I’m sorry. Look, we’re happy now. Let’s just enjoy what we have.”
Søren turned back to face his lovely, clever wife, “I love you so much. I don’t think you can understand how I feel. I want this, what we have between us, to be a life. How could that be anything less than perfect? Our love, alive and growing in someone else entirely.”
The moonlight on his face was one thin sliver running diagonally from his blue left eye to the right corner of his jaw. It looked like his face was embellished by a mother-of-pearl inlay. It was a beautiful face always, but especially in this dim, shadowy light that made the pupils of his eyes were large and full of emotion. Rose loved him too, but not as much as she loved Rose. She wished for a compromise. She wished he would be satisfied with a puppy or a nice vacation.
“We are happy now, Søren. I just don’t feel like I need anything else. This is enough for me. I understand, my darling, I get how you feel. And you’re in the majority, almost everyone has babies. I just don’t know. Let me think, please don’t bring it up for a while. I need to think.”
Neither of them slept for hours but they pretended to. Søren turned away from Rose and she curled herself around his body, breathing in the sweetness of his neck. The moon gave a silvery tint to his blond head which made her think of the inevitability of death.
Rose dreamt of her ordered laboratory, of the labels that marked everything and kept everything the same. She dreamt of herself but with red, turgid skin and no belly button. She dreamt of an answer.
Two weeks went by more or less the same way they had been going by. Søren and Rose attended a soiree full of respected authors, scientists, professors and a musician or two. Rose flirted with a cellist and smiled inwardly when she saw red ears and uncomfortable posture.
She looked to her husband and nodded him over. In their secret language of glances and eyebrows she was saying, Let’s invite him to bed.
And they did with a skill that only comes from years of practice.
The next morning, with the cellist in the shower, Rose said, “Okay my dear, I think we can do this. I’ll get my IUD taken out soon and we’ll try to get pregnant. But promise me that it won’t change us too much. We can still do all the things we like to do…” she looked towards the bathroom door, through which the low, husky singing voice of the lithe musician.
Søren scooped her up in his arms, happier than she’d ever seen him.
“Oh, Rosie, just wait, this will be such an incredible journey! And I’ll do anything I can to help you, I know it might be hard on you. But you know, I think you’ll be more beautiful than ever. You’ll glow, I can see it now. And of course nothing will change but what has to. We’re still Søren and Rose, kings of the world.” His face lit up like it must have when he was a little boy on Christmas morning.
Rose brushed her long, dark hair and thought of her plan. She was ready.
She was in excellent spirits at the lab that day, the bounce in her step seemed to beg commentary from her labmates.
“Who did you guys fuck last night?” asked Marcy as she stabbed a helpless rat with a phosphorescent syringe.
“Oh! Well, yes we did fuck this lovely musician. I just adore their fingers, don’t you? And he had these smoldering eyes… I would kill for those lashes. But I have news besides that! Søren and I are going to try for a baby!”
Marcy narrowed her beady, non-smoldering eyes, “You are both too perfect, it makes me want to puke.”
Rose had everything Marcy didn’t: smooth skin, fine bones, thick, shining hair, and a heart-shaped face with wide eyes on top and a rosebud mouth above her delicate chin. Rose had admirers all over the world, she had published papers going back to undergrad when she thought she might pursue a career in nanotech. She had more than one thousand Instagram followers. She ate trendy foods before they were trendy.
Marcy stuck to sandwiches and her skin had pores like the moon has craters. Her eyebrows were light and patchy, her teeth crooked, and her ears were way too small for her head. The word flimsy came to mind when one saw her greasy, mouse-brown hair. She looked like she lived alone, inside, in front of a flashing screen, consuming energy drinks. Which was true, for the most part. Marcy was alone in the world, for the most part.
Rose knew of Marcy’s dislike of her but jealousy was nothing new. She learned to address this with aplomb around high school. It was easy. She wasn’t threatened at all.
Marcy’s thin, vermiform lips puckered with a sour tension. The expression made her look old, older than her 26 years. Already wrinkles were starting to mar her imperfect face. Marcy felt old. She had felt old for a long time, and tired.
Marcy had been raised by a single mother who had resented her.
“If I didn’t live in this stupid state I could have gotten rid of you.” She used to say thickly with her drunken Southern drawl.
Marcy was as unwanted and unloved as Rose was desired and cherished. Marcy felt like a black hole from which no light could escape. In high school, her math teacher had sensed her vulnerability and taken advantage of the plain little girl with the stringy hair. He said she was special, that he loved her. Marcy couldn’t recall ever hearing those words, so even from a fat, middle-aged man who wasn’t very good at his job they were steeped in a better feeling than she had ever known. And at least he had led her to a college scholarship.
Rose shrugged off the comment, her own head too full of schemes to be bothered with petty jealousy. She would do it tonight, after everyone else went home. She was very often the last to leave the lab, it wasn’t anything unusual for someone so passionate about their work to stay late. Rose had four human ova, stolen from an adjacent lab. She had her own DNA in abundance. All she needed was a little time and someone to help with the implantation. Rose’s scheme was to birth a clone of herself.
It was the only surefire way to avoid disappointment. A brand-new Rose, blooming all over again would be a guaranteed success. She could love that baby, she knew it. That baby would be a sweet hope for her, it would be like looking in a mirror. And Rose just adored to look in the mirror. Rose just adored to hear her own voice.