“I want my ovaries.”
“Do you have a permit?” asked the attendant wearing an official navy blue government regulated Class C uniform. Not that the uniform did much for her looks. She looked like she had two bags of potatoes hanging around her neck and another from each hip. The deep wrinkles in her uniform did little to alleviate the I don’t give a shit stereotype of low-level government employees, either.
The employee’s complexion was as dark brown as her uniform was blue. Her head was as bald as a baby’s bottom, but there was nothing soft about the scowl that she favored me with. If I had to guess, I’d say it wasn’t personal. I’d say she’d been born mad and had never gotten over it.
I glanced at the brass-colored, synthetic nametag hanging at an odd angle over her left breast: M. Peterson. “Look, Peterson, Its simple. Either you give them back or….”
“Or what?” Peterson snapped. “You’ll report me? I’m doing my job. You report me, and they’ll probably give me a raise. You still won’t get your ovaries.
“Like I said, you have to go down to Family Services and apply for a permit. They’ll take a blood sample, check your police record, credit report and medical history. If your combined rating is seventy-eight percent or better, you’ll be put on a three-day waiting period, then they’ll issue you a permit.”
“I don’t have that kind of time. I need them today. They’re for a friend.”
“Well, I hope that friend is a relative. Section 069.45.251 of the Genetic Reconstruction and Reproduction Code specifically states that no organs, transfusions or fertility products may be passed between non-blood relatives.
“You can thank that compound of mutants they found in Arizona for that one. Ain’t no point in breeding babies for spare parts when you know they’re defective.”
I wasn’t about to tell her Mindy was not a blood relative. It would just cause more problems. Neither of us needed that, not with Mindy’s husband, Phil, taking off on a stellar mission in forty-eight hours.
They wanted a child so badly. Who was I to tell them they were wrong? Phil might not make it back. It could happen. It did happen too often these days, but what choice did we have? It was either find new resources, and more space, or genocide. As things stood now, mandatory ovary reductions were a standard practice with all newborns. Why they didn’t force men to give up their testicles instead just served as proof that not much had changed in our male dominated world. Much easier to sterilize a female and insert hormone implants instead. Yeah, right. And pigs fly.
More influential in the decision to sterilize girl babies at birth was the metamorphosis of influenza from antiviral resistant pain in the ass into a major threat to mankind. What once might have led to a three to five-day bout with fever, chills, and body aches, now could affect not only a woman but her children and her children’s children. Repeated use of inappropriate medications such as amoxicillin, penicillin, and their derivatives to fight viruses did nothing to cure the patients, but it did a lot to reduce their immunities until they resembled using a flyswatter to ward off Godzilla. At the same time, specific strands of the virus had evolved into a genetics-altering nightmare.
Unhampered by antivirals or personal immunities, the flu bug worms its way deep into a woman’s body, attacks her eggs and creates ova-mutations the likes of which had never been seen before. Oh, sure, the woman might survive the flu. She might even go on to live a long and healthy life, but her children or grandchildren would suffer the consequences. Those who were born grotesquely deformed were the lucky ones.
And even to this day, the experts publically deny, deny, deny that fucked up correlation between antibiotics, influenza and the mutations. A brave few have stepped forward and told the truth. I’ve found the files buried under piles of bullshit on the Internet.
Mindy’s mother came down with the flu during her pregnancy, and since no one knew whether the virus was advanced enough to also infect the eggs of the child, Mindy’s ovaries had been removed and destroyed soon after her birth. Better safe than sorry. As the only child of a single mother who never knew her own parents, Mindy could not count on relatives to provide the eggs needed to make her a mother.
It was not fair. Mindy worked in the state-run daycare facility, caring for other people’s children ten hours a day, but she would never have children of her own, unless someone intervened, like me.
I looked over the shoulder of the steely-eyed Peterson. Four rows of glass shelves hung in front of a six-foot wide mirror. Between the neatly spaced jars of living tissue, my reflection stared back at me. Six across, the twenty-four jars reminded me of my grandmother’s antique Mason jar collection, only each of these jars contained a set of ovaries cushioned in a green-tinted gel. Chromed caps constantly fed and monitored the specimens. The gauges and wires poking out of the caps reminded me of punked-out freaks at an underground coffee shop. You know the type—on such a caffeine high that even their most mundane thoughts seemed to visibly stream from the tips of their spiked hairdos.
I was one of those freaks, only I had traded in my neon pink spikes, fishnet stockings and half-shirt for my mom’s funeral suit and a brown wig. Make-up free and sporting black-framed reading glasses, I hoped that if I looked respectable enough and pathetic enough, Peterson would have pity on me.
It hadn’t worked.
I leaned over the counter and got into Peterson’s face as much as my five-foot frame would let me when facing a descendent of the now extinct Amazon forest, and no, she wasn’t a pygmy. I did my best imitation of my favorite late California governor and said, “I’ll be back.”
Time for Plan B
I scrapped Plan B, C, D and E before I reached the exit and tossed the god-forsaken wig behind the nearest shrub. I didn’t have the time to get my pilot’s licenses, and I was clueless about how one went about renting a helicopter. Guns scared me, and I didn’t think Peterson would fall for the guise of a hard body falling in love with her at first sight and whisking her away to a wedding chapel while I, the good Samaritan that I am, watched the counter.
Plan F had potential. Best of all, everything I needed was available at home. Thank goodness Mom saved everything, from my first bib to a medicine cabinet full of half-empty prescription bottles. First, I had to get out of the constrictive garments and put on some decent make up.
At four-thirty, I returned, carrying a pizza box containing a deep-dish supreme, made from my own recipe. I’d slung a denim backpack over my shoulder, spiked out my pink hair and now sported pancake makeup, complemented by blue lipstick and false eye lashes that feathered my cheeks when I blinked. The lipstick matched my micro skirt and plaid tights. A ‘Bite Me’ half-tee and combat boots completed my ensemble.
If Peterson recognized me, I’d eat my little red panties.
Peterson sat at her desk, watching a sitcom on the small TV wedged into the corner. With her back to me, the smell of the still-warm pizza announced my arrival, and Peterson swung around in her chair like she was under a spell. Her eyes riveted on the pizza box. As if an afterthought, she glanced at me.
“Can I help you?” Peterson asked.
“Yea, someone ordered a pizza. Who do I see to get paid?” I glanced at the receipt attached to the box lid. “Kramer. Where do I find Kramer?” I laid on the bubble gum popping for good measure, then flashed her a fake smile.
“There’s no one here by that name.”
“Shit,” I twirled around and grimaced. “Now what do I do? If I go back to the shop one more time without getting paid, I’m hosed.”
“You sure you’ve got the right address?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. The boss punches the address directly into the GPS when he takes the order.”
Peterson reached into her pants pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. “I’ll tell you what. If that pie has mushrooms and olives on it, I’ll pay you for it.” She swallowed hard and grinned like it was the first time she had ever smiled. “Pizza sounds a whole lot better than the cold sandwich I’ve got waitin’ for me at home.”
I bit my lower lip to keep from smiling, “I don’t know…if my boss found out.” I couldn’t give in too easily.
Peterson stowed her money away and waved me off, “Hey, it’s your job. No skin off my nose.”
“No! Wait. I’ve got to keep my job.” I set the pizza down on the counter in front of her.
She counted out the money to pay the bill and handed it to me before opening the box lid and leaning in close for a nice long sniff.
For my own amusement, I asked, “What? No tip?”
Peterson rolled her eyes up long enough to grunt at me, then carried the box off to the TV. I stood there for a moment and wondered just how far I would get before Peterson came out of her pizza-induced haze and called the cops. I didn’t have time for cops, so I had to stall.
“Hey, the cell ran down on my phone. Can I borrow yours?” I asked.
“There’s a public phone down the hall.” Peterson nodded in no particularly direction before chomping down on a slice of pizza.
If the tranquilizers worked as quickly on her as they did on my Mastiff, I wouldn’t need to stall long, then I could lock the front door and find my ovaries. They had to have an inventory system, and I had never met a computer I couldn’t hack.
I hooked a left under the Restrooms sign and found the phone bank opposite a door marked Authorized Personnel Only. Funny. When Mindy and I were kids, we had a band called Authorized Personnel. The band had long-since disbanded, and yet I found it justified my gaining access to whatever lay behind the door, when the time came. Without anyone to call, I dialed time and talked to the air about a nonexistent concert for a good ten minutes, long after Peterson should have passed out, all the while praying no one came in to spoil my plans.
With a loud goodbye, I slipped down the hall and peeked around the corner. Peterson’s bulk was flopped over her desk. I could hear her labored breathing from across the empty lobby. I double-timed it to the door and locked it, praying that closing six minutes early wouldn’t cause any suspicion.
Like a paranoid delusional, I looked around for hidden cameras. They could be anywhere—behind the mirror, embedded into the ceiling tiles—anywhere. Like it mattered now. I’d already gone too far to back out now.
A quick search of Peterson’s desk turned up a keycard—the key to reclaiming my ovaries, I hoped. I dashed to the Authorized Personnel door and slid the key down the security slot. The click vibrated through the hall as the lock gave way.
My hand hovered over the doorknob as if I expected it to be wired to shock the life out of me. In truth, my own conscience held me back. For all my determination, I was not accustomed to breaking the law. I recycled, paid my taxes and loved my mother. I voted. True, I sometimes defended my causes vehemently, but always—always—I stopped short of breaking any laws.
Now in one afternoon, I had destroyed a lifetime worth of obedience, and for what? Friendship? Did it really boil down to friendship, or was this another one of my causes? Did I really feel that strongly about having a part of me held hostage by some bureaucratic bullshit, just because some legislator deemed it a reasonable act for the sake of the whole?
I would soon find out.
I shook my head, willing back my hesitation, my questions. I gripped the doorknob. With a twist, I swung open the door and was greeted by a white light so blinding that I had to blink back my tears before I could comprehend the scene before me.
The room, the size of a gymnasium, was sterile and empty, except for a stool and a computer sitting on a podium-height stand. All I could see was the glare of fluorescent lights against stark white walls and floor. No windows. No chromed shelves filled with carefully bar coded organ jars, as I had imagined. Only the stool and the computer paid tribute to the vastness.
My footsteps echoed across the tile floor as I willed one foot in front of the other, stopping before the computer. The cursor flashed before me. I tapped the space bar, and the screen came to life, offering me the opportunity I sought. I had hacked government computers before, for fun. I suppose you might think this an illegal act, but I did not, since I never did anything with the access. It wasn’t about destruction or an invasion of privacy. It was about the challenge. Silently I entered, and without a trace, I crept back out, just for the pleasure of knowing I could. Now, standing in front of this government terminal, my fingers moved quickly, succinctly.
Within minutes, I was in and looking at a menu of options that included a search by name or Social Security number. I blinked, held my breath and typed in my number, praying there was a logical answer, that the thousands and hundreds of thousands of ovaries reportedly stored here had been relocated for safekeeping.
Time slowed to a standstill. No more than seconds passed, but it felt like forever. In those seconds, I prayed, cursed and begged my government to show some compassion, some sense of humanity that I could continue to believe in. The data came up. I verified my name, address and birth date before scrolling down. Medical history, employment history, organ deposits…date of deposit…date of…destruction.
I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it, but it made sense, considering the empty depository. I navigated back to the homepage and put in random names—names of friends and relatives who had also been sterilized under the impression they would be able to reproduce later in life. One by one, the results came up the same: Specimen Destroyed. Back to the homepage one last time, I clicked the Inventory link. Pages of names and numbers scrolled the screen, and beside each one, the same notation: Specimen Destroyed.
Suddenly, I felt nauseated and ran for the restrooms that were located directly across from the depository. I fell to my knees before one of the antiseptic-scented porcelain toilets and hurled for all I was worth. Tears streaked my cheeks. My throat burned from the bile.
So many signs and I had missed them all. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a baby stroller. Not a single person had entered the lobby during either of my visits to the organ depository. The children at Mindy’s day care, not one in diapers. Cutbacks in the school system. And, if those clues had not been enough, the room, this desolate room and all those names with the annotation destroyed beside each brought it home.
I had been so wrapped up in my world, my childless world, that I had not noticed, had not thought anything strange about the society’s gradual aging.
I moved like the dead to the sink and cupped cool water in my hand, took a sip, swished and spit. I looked up into the mirror. I no longer recognized myself. Make up streaked my face. Defeated, I peeled off the ridiculously long fake eyelashes one at a time and flung them in the trashcan. If the cops came after me, I had left them plenty of evidence to convict me. There was no point in being neat now.
I let the water run over my hands, luxuriating in the feel of reality, then leaned over the sink, washing away the façade of youth until I was left barren.
There was nothing left to do but leave. Back out in the lobby, Peterson still slept. The odor of pizza no longer hung in the air. I briefly considered eating the rest of it myself. Better to face death asleep than a lifetime in prison.
The mirror and shelves behind the counter caught my attention. Twenty-four jars, forty-eight ovaries. They weren’t my ovaries, but Mindy never need know. I had come here on a mission, and I could still fulfill it. I could at least provide one woman—one deserving woman who had done nothing wrong, save being born the child of coincidence—the miracle of a child.
Phil did make it back from his mission, but he didn’t stay. He could not bear to face Gracie, darling little Gracie. Perhaps it was for the best. I had become Gracie’s second parent during his absence. It would have been hard to give up the responsibility.
Gracie, such a sweet girl, curled up in my arms, smiling even in her sleep. Mindy felt blessed to have her, even if Gracie was not perfect by normal standards. She never cries or makes any sort of noise, for that matter; yet we always know what she wants the moment she wants it. Her tail, as thin as a reed and three times as long as her body, curls around my wrist. I stroke her downy-soft, lightly furred body. Such a lovely shade of taupe.
Neither Mindy nor I would have it any other way. Phil was a different story. Perhaps we were made of sterner stuff, or maybe he had not been back on Earth long enough to realize how special Gracie was. She is one of the first of her kind, and the last born in the Americas, at least to my knowledge, but then, there is so much I don’t know. Don’t want to know. Especially after the last gem my hacking skills uncovered.
Buried in an obscure Farm Bill, our trusted politically leaders had voted into law the systematic destruction of ovaries. Apparently they were able to justify the connection of ovaries to farming through the age-old theory of supply and demand. They felt it was necessary to cut the supply of genetic material necessary to increase the population in order to meet the nutritional demands of the existing populace.
Six months prior to my little discovery, a lottery had been held, one the included the names of every ovary depository across the nation. One by one, some mysterious executioner had drawn out half the names. These were the names of the banks to be emptied and building left intact, to give people the allusion of a future.
I heard people once argued over whether abortion was murder. I have to wonder what they would call this.
My escapade never made the media. No police visited my mother’s home or my work. No one issued a warrant for my arrest. If not for the child cradled in my arms, I might think the whole experience never happened. I might continue to dream of children of my own someday. It appears I have an unspoken truce with the government—I don’t tell, and they won’t ask for retribution.
It doesn’t feel like quite a fair trade, but what can I do now? I’m just some punked-out freak who drinks too much coffee, loves her mother, and would do anything for a friend.