Each month, Future Tense Fiction—a series of short stories from Future Tense and Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination about how technology and science will change our lives—publishes a story on a theme. The theme for April–June 2020: parenthood.
I peered over the crib, waiting for her softness to take shape. Her forms were clear to me —she was going to look just like her mother. The baby cooed. I waited for her silliness to take flight into a melody. It hadn’t yet. But I knew it would. In our front yard, the paparazzi shouted and banged on the door in a collective roar that soothed me like the ocean. She was all mine —this incredibly precious, soft thing, full of potential. There was no other way to put it —I had been chosen.
I made tea in my living room while Daffodil belted out her latest hit. I stared at her through my screen that stretched from wall to wall. She had the best bronze, buttery skin that flooded my entire vision. I wanted to see the world through this sunlight. But my eyes fell on empty, slippery black tea. I poured in some milk. Daffodil raised her microphone in the air and I mirrored her motions, lifting the milk, creating a long stream that flowed from the carton to the mug. It splashed and spread like veins, thicker than usual. Maybe it was sour. But I kept pouring, matching the rhythm of the song, and I didn’t stop until the tea exactly matched the sheen of Daffodil’s skin.
I gulped it down, imagining her emulsified skin spilling down my throat like gold, floating into my gut where it pooled safely, rocking back-and-forth, streaming into both sides of my pelvis, electrifying my knees, the arches of my feet, and the knuckles above them. It was a Monday. I was in my living room. I whipped my hair so it slapped my back. I dug into my hips, popped my shoulders, and found myself walking in circles around my own body.
“I feel so hot, so young and damn successful. I’m damn successful.”
I sang with Daffodil. Every day, for most of the day, she came to me through the hot plasma screen. Sometimes her record label released a video, but most of the time she vlogged straight to fans like me. Back then, I lived alone and there was no other person I spent more time with.
I was out of breath. It was pitch-dark outside. In an hour, the sun would come up and I could go to sleep. I wiped my neck with my hand and then wiped that hand on my sweatpants. I scrolled through Daffodil’s content page looking for new photos or videos or articles, but I’d seen every confessional, every meal, every song and dance. I was going to have to wait a few hours for something new when a graphic popped up: “ENTER TO WIN.” My name and phone number were already autofilled. I pressed “enter.” I instantly received confirmation that I had been successfully submitted for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win the embryo of Daffodil and her husband, Breadbowl.
Daffodil Young was born in Seattle in 2022 to her father, a Baptist preacher, and her mother, an engineer. They were ordinary people who, like Mary and Joseph, did not ask to be special and were given a miracle. This spirit lived inside Daffodil and fluttered out of her mouth each time her lips parted.
With each breath, the spirit grew and materialized in a voice transcendent like a cathedral organ, but warm and earthy—a reminder that fantastic possibility swims and flows in colors throughout the cosmos and sometimes even lands on our very own planet, so close we can almost touch it. Her talent was so natural that it made me certain that I had none.
When I was pregnant, I often thought about her parents. Before Daffodil was born, they couldn’t have conceived of how explosive their daughter’s existence would be. They must have known they would love her, but they didn’t know she would become so powerful. Her mood through the screen could change my feelings in an instant. When I was down, she lifted me up, and if she was down, I fell with her.
“I feel so hot, so young and damn successful. I’m damn successful.”
The first time Daffodil ever posted herself singing she was 8 years old with glossy brown eyes, staring into the camera of her mother’s laptop. She uploaded little tunes throughout the day, not for validation, not for attention, but simply because the spirit asked to feel the cool breeze outside of Daffodil’s mouth. It was her calling. Thousands of little girls, mostly Daffodil’s age, found her videos and became enamored. It took years for the “real world,” including me, to catch up—even though she and I were almost the same age. For years, I dismissed Daffodil as a cutesy pop star for young kids. But when I lost my job, I had time to figure out who she really was. The warmth of her voice hugged me and I couldn’t look away.
Only after Daffodil starred on two seasons of a children’s hit TV show, and then underwent a brow lift and chin implant and got injected with fillers, did a record label invest the money to make her the next big thing. At the end of her first international tour, she looked down from her hotel rooftop in Berlin. She was 17. Honking and screaming and laughing drifted up from the streets. She saw no chaos, only a peaceful breathing organism of cars and people and lights. Daffodil described this moment in an interview, saying that the feeling of success is really an inner calm that makes you see life as one harmonious dance. Her voice helped me understand that feeling. Everything had a place. I was small and yet by being a small piece of a big world, I was big too. When my thoughts were filled up, I slept better at night.
At my old job I greeted customers at a simulation national park for minimum wage. There were beaches with soft sand and red canyons and green forests. You could feel the sun and the spit of the waves. At the exit, you could pick up a postcard with your stricken expression in the photo.
Back then, I lived in Glendora, only 30 miles from the city. I liked coming into downtown L.A. and walking in crowds and being surrounded by noise, until all the prices exploded—the water, the gas, the toll roads. I got laid off and found a new job. It was still minimum wage, but it was work-from-home and there were more opportunities for overtime. But still, I couldn’t afford rent. I moved to Victorville, 85 miles from L.A., and every night, I watched a light on a box. If it turned red, I had to call a real engineer and apologetically tell them there was a problem with the video game operations in our region. They usually hung up on me. Maybe they thought I was an automated message.
Throughout the night I had nothing to do but watch the wall. I loved Daffodil beforehand, but now she had become my all-consuming life. I didn’t know anyone else in the city. I would think, “What are we doing tonight?” and there she was to tell me.
The year I moved to Victorville is the year Breadbowl and Daffodil got married. I remember because their wedding was the first show I watched on my wall-to-wall screen. I was eating pasta with red sauce and sliced cheese on my stained couch. The house I rented was small, new, and flimsy. It smelled like paint and metal. All you had to do was watch a bunch of ads and it was almost free per month. I cried throughout the entire ceremony. I didn’t even want to get married. I hadn’t even dated since I moved to this town. I barely left my house.
When people asked if I wanted a child beforehand, I didn’t know how to answer. Some women have dreams of nursing babies. I was not one of them. I never asked to hold one. When a co-worker or a fidgety woman in line for coffee began to extol the wonders of a baby’s smell, I thought there must be something wrong with me. People couldn’t really like the smell of sour milk, could they?
At the same time, I didn’t see how I could be a worse parent than most people out there. My self-confidence was low but only compared with my high standards of being someone extraordinary. It was clear to me I was no worse than my neighbor. If I did have a kid, he or she would probably benefit the world, but the world probably wouldn’t benefit the kid, at least not the world I had to give it.
The first famous person to sell her eggs was @ValerieSucks—an influencer who had a decent following on the internet but couldn’t break the 30,000-follower threshold. She’d done everything—lip injections, eye lift, she worked out a lot. She was really pretty and the followers
she had worshipped her day and night like a cult. They wanted every piece of Valerie they could get. For Valerie, giving away pieces of herself was easy. She didn’t believe she ever belonged to herself anyway.
Once she posted a joke about giving away her eggs to fans so they could each grow a little Valerie at home—a take-me-home, water, and feed @ValerieSucks. Five hundred people responded with serious interest. She respected her fans’ request and harvested the eggs and put them up for sale. They were dirt-cheap—$20,000. She sold all three.
The media and everyone with a voice allowed themselves the ecstasy of frenzy, the joy of outrage. Can you quantify the value of human life? Trashy trashy trashy. Exploitation. The Equal Rights people hated Valerie more than the No Rights people. It was hard to tell where the capitalists stood. I followed the wave. I thought she was sleazy, different from the women who donated their eggs, which I thought was giving someone the opportunity to have a child for the sake of procreation. What Valerie’s fans were doing was procreation for the sake of idolatry.
But the portal could no longer be closed. The D-list celebrities came flooding in, then the C-list, and up through the alphabet. Prices were through the roof. Suddenly procreation and idolatry weren’t so different. I wondered if there really was a moral difference between creating another version of yourself and creating another version of someone else—someone who had more favorable attributes, someone whose genetics would almost certainly give the child a better life. But it hardly mattered. I wasn’t thinking about family life. I was walled up in my house in the middle of nowhere. There was no concept of time and there was no idea of money. I had both nothing and everything I needed.
Three years after Daffodil and Breadbowl got married, they decided it was time to give back to a world that had already given them so much. Daffodil, in particular, wanted to help women and children. Statistics showed that a downtrodden woman’s life would radically improve if she were to have a biologically elite child. By 2050, 2 percent of kids in public schools were endowed with elite genetics. The statistic went up to 18 percent in private schools. Those kids were automatically considered gifted and sure to be accepted into wonderful colleges and go on to have wonderful futures.
The market exploded. Gametes of scientists, politicians, actors, directors, pop stars, and models flowed into the growing industry, now costing more than beachfront property. More than half of the buyers paid on credit and signed up for a payment plan. Parents got two or three jobs to ensure their kids would have the opportunity for a better life. Still, the top echelon of elite public figures held out—no one like the president had sold their genetics. And so when Daffodil and Breadbowl Young, the ultimate power couple, announced that they were going to give away one fertilized embryo for free in a lottery, the world stood still.
Every single person thought—what if it’s me? What if everything changes for me? Daffodil promised to cover all expenses, medical bills, taxes, everything. It was strange to watch a shining star’s lips move to say “medical bills.”
Daffodil connected with the public more than Breadbowl did. Her voice melted you right away. He was a comedian turned award-winning actor, but where Daffodil was beloved, he was respected. I didn’t care much about him. He was self-contained, rigid in his boundaries. He didn’t give much to his fans. But where he got me weak was when he showed his love for Daffodil. He was devoted to her, a king and a servant at once. His eyes welled up with love when he looked at her, and in that way, I was able to understand him.
“You shine the light in all my life. Baby, you the one that makes me survive.”
I finished my tea. It was cold after sitting out and tasted mostly like sour milk. The sun was up and orange. The light on my box hadn’t changed all night. I went to bed. Descending into sleep was like falling down a broken elevator. Just before I lost consciousness, I hoped for my dreams to come true.
I received a letter from my landlord saying that there was a mandatory tenant meeting at the entrance of our building. This had never happened before. When I got down to the front of the building, cameras ran at me like lions. I thought I was being kidnapped. It didn’t make sense—there were so many people there. But I thought for a minute they were all kidnapping me together. Hands touched me in every place, moving me into the right angles and getting the right shots with each person. I found out that I won the lottery.
A woman who seemed to be a producer or a PR person showed me Daffodil and Breadbowl through her phone. They came out as a projection waving at their audience—who, at this moment, just happened to be me. A lot of people had projection screens, both the portable kind and the ones installed in their homes. But I only had the minimal plan—2D—so I was somewhat surprised to see Daffodil and Breadbowl hovering in the air that I actually inhaled.
They both said encouraging words, but I didn’t feel the exaltation I would have imagined. I was so used to seeing them speak. They already greeted me every morning. But one week later, I received a message from Daffodil and my heart tumbled through my body like a loose rock, running downhill to safety, escaping its old life hidden in the cliffs.
The gate was ordinary. In reality, it was magnificent, but not unlike what everyone sees on TV. And because I’d seen a gate like this so many times on my screen, the iron arabesques and the gold fluted accents all registered as ordinary. It could have been my gate. When I got through security, there were two more gates beyond the first. But when I finally got to the front of the house, there was no valet, no gardener, no butler, no maid. Daffodil opened the door.
I couldn’t help it. I peed a little bit. I tilted my hip to try to rub the liquid away. Before I met Daffodil, I knew exactly who she was. But from this point forward, she became endlessly confusing. Every detail I knew about her no longer laid flat in the puzzle. It was like water had been spilled on the picture and the pieces had swelled and distorted.
When I looked back on this day, I agonized over how much she didn’t like me. Then I finally concluded that she was nervous around me. She wasn’t able to be herself and neither was I. We were both people with private selves that were enjoyable but not readily accessible. We tried our best to be encouraging to each other, but neither of us knew how. We were stilted like those blank wooden dolls made for drawing students. Maybe that was the issue—we could both imagine ourselves being drawn.
“I’m so happy you came. It’s crazy to meet you.”
“Oh my God, I know. I can’t believe it. So crazy. Thank you for all of this.”
“No worries. The winner was chosen at random.”
“But I’m glad it was you. You seem super nice. Sorry the dogs never stop barking.”
“Did you ever want kids?”
“Maybe. I’m scared. What you’re doing is super brave, becoming a parent.”
It never occurred to me that winning a lottery was brave, but I suddenly felt grateful for my big body. For the first time, my thick arms felt adequate for the kind of person I was, a worthy one. I almost felt bad that Daffodil was so tiny. She was smaller in her house than she was in mine. My screen was almost twice as tall as she was.
“I feel so hot, so young and damn successful. I’m damn successful.”
I noticed the painting on her wall. I couldn’t remember the name of the artist, but I’d seen the painting in an art history book. Daffodil’s sister walked by, saying: “God, I’ve got to get my act together. But I’m so tired.” Daffodil giggled and told her to shut up, and for a glimpse, I saw her true, full self. She turned back to me, shoulders squeezed in. Her inflection changed. I became clumsy again. The proportions of the room had completely changed. Daffodil was the right size and I was now huge, imposing and inflated. Then she told me the reason I was here.
Daffodil was worried about the baby. She was scared it would show her ugliness. Certain traits of hers were unfortunate, she said. I tried not to let her see my eyes wandering over her body, wondering if I would suddenly find an extra limb or a colored growth. Was she hiding something from the whole world? Would I be the one to see it? I didn’t find anything other than perfect skin and doe eyes. She was everything the screen promised she would be.
But her fear was all-consuming. Maybe she was a paranoid person. But she didn’t believe that it was right to pass certain traits onto someone else. That seemed selfless to me and I thought she would make a good mother. I had to remind myself. I was going to be the mother.
Daffodil looked at me and steadied her breath. She was trying to contain her desperation. She leaned forward and then back, then forward again. “How do you feel about using some of your genetic traits instead of mine? We can switch them out. No pressure.”
Before I understood what she meant, I felt a punch in my stomach. I was paralyzed. I couldn’t breathe. When I began to recover, the guts in my body still hid in corners like ugly girls at a school dance. She wouldn’t give herself to me. She didn’t want me to have her kid. After all this, she expected me to have a plain child like myself. I did my best to make eye contact. I couldn’t speak. I said, “OK,” which must have seemed strange. We were both quiet. After what felt like many minutes, she said, “I’m just scared people will blame me if the baby isn’t beautiful.”
“Wouldn’t people blame Breadbowl?”
I wasn’t trying to be rude. He generally wasn’t considered good-looking. Daffodil ignored me. She told me to think about it and let her know as soon possible. I wanted her to be happy, so I agreed right there. I was halfway out the door when, as if it was less than nothing, she flipped her hair back and, in her perfect voice, she said, “Don’t tell Breadbowl.”
Those were the words I played in my head over and over. I said them to myself on the drive home and weeks later on the surgery table before my eggs were harvested. “Don’t tell Breadbowl.” Daffodil trusted me more than she did her own husband—her own famous husband. I went to sleep happy. When I woke up, they had taken out three eggs. My uterus attacked itself. The cramps felt like a hand squeezing a head until the eyes popped out and then the eyes were doused in hot sauce. Daffodil’s driver took me home.
We were set to meet with a doctor a few days later. I drove to a building that looked like a warehouse. The parking lot was enormous but there were only a few cars. Outside hovered a projected sign—Mote Labs. I was excited to share with Daffodil how well my egg extraction had gone. Plus, I was intent on being more outgoing this time. I planned to be so enthusiastic and confident that she would enjoy showing her true self to me. I could see our friendship so clearly in the distance. All we had to do was plow through the empty space as quickly as possible.
“Rain or shine I’ll be by your side. Don’t call no one else. Baby I’m your ride.”
The first thing I saw was her highlighter reflected like a prism in the glass door. Then I saw her cheekbones. And then I saw his curly hair. It was Breadbowl. My palms got sweaty. He was sitting right next to her and they were laughing. I instantly forgot about the charismatic person I had planned to be.
Moments later, Dr. Saffiz, a sturdy woman whose face was so plain I thought she should wear glasses, led me and Daffodil into a backroom. Breadbowl stayed out front. He said he had a conference call scheduled with a chocolate milk and vodka company.
Dr. Saffiz began to orate some type of a disclaimer with many tedious details. But I only wanted to know one thing—what was Breadbowl doing here? I looked at Daffodil to see if she could feel how much I needed an explanation, if she was saying sorry with a look in her eyes. But she seemed actually interested in what the doctor was saying. I felt embarrassed and tried to look interested too.
“Rain or shine I’ll be by your side. Don’t call no one else. Baby I’m your ride.”
As far as I could tell, there were two options —either Breadbowl was now in on our secret, in which case there was no longer a secret. Or potentially, Breadbowl had no idea what he was doing here—Daffodil had lied to him, she told me the truth, and at that moment, I was doing my part in completing a secret mission. It hit me that I didn’t even know what the secret was. Was it that we were combining our eggs? Or that a plain person like me had been allowed in their luxurious mansion? I didn’t know.
“You make me smile when the sun comes up. You make me whole when we’re burning up.”
I tried to concentrate on what the doctor was saying. Nothing in genetics is certain and no matter what we do, we’re gambling. We have to remember that. We will do our best to extract and input the information, but we can never be certain of the result.
The doctor pulled up two charts on a screen, side by side. The one with purple accents was mine; the one with turquoise was Daffodil’s. Both presented data in an extremely simple table chart, the kind a teacher would use to count how many kids in the class liked dogs versus cats. Only these charts displayed the percentages of how likely it was for our progeny to have certain traits, as told by our genetic makeup.
Dr. Saffiz explained that for almost any given characteristic, we could simply scroll and compare my purple information with Daffodil’s turquoise information, then choose which one we liked best. The only issue, she said, was that there was a very low chance of accurately predicting the length, strength, and durability of fingernails. She couldn’t explain why.
I stared at the screen. Daffodil and I both had the same 25 percent chance of giving a child double-jointed elbows. Look at us, I thought. We’re not so different after all.
“Well, what did you want to do?” Dr. Saffiz looked at Daffodil.
Daffodil looked at me. “Is there anything of yours you want?”
I felt a dull electrocuting shame run through my body. “No.”
Daffodil took out her phone and began to read from a list. The baby couldn’t have her nose or her ears. That was it. She put the phone away. Then suddenly, like she had just remembered that she had a body, she asked Dr. Saffiz to remove her hips. Her nipples. Now that was everything.
Dr. Saffiz flicked her wrist in my direction. “Don’t you want to see her genetic potential in those areas before making a choice?”
Clearly the doctor thought Daffodil was making a mistake. What she didn’t realize was that I was Daffodil’s scapegoat. Daffodil was terrified that she was a hideous person and somehow nobody knew it. But in a baby, in a new body, the public might recognize the hideousness. She couldn’t risk it. So if I was involved, the public would assume any imperfections in the baby were my fault. But I didn’t take it too personally. I felt a little bit sorry for her. My insecurities were warranted. But what was the point of being so beautiful if you didn’t know it? What was the point of all the tanning and extensions and plastic surgeries? I thought about the baby’s arms. I was curious—would double-jointed elbows be considered a negative or a positive trait?
The doctor handed me a waiver form. I lost track of how many papers I had signed.
Both of our eggs were in a freezer just a few doors down. After we left, the doctor would pluck the same genetic strands out from each of our eggs. Daffodil’s nose, ear, nipple, hipbone strands would go in the dumpster. And my nose, ear, nipple, hipbone strands would be stuffed inside Daffodil’s egg like a dumpling. Then the rest of my egg would go in the dumpster. Then tomorrow morning, Daffodil’s egg, with my seasoning, would be mashed together with Breadbowl’s sperm. Then the final concoction would be stuffed inside my uterus days later.
That was my understanding. There was a knock on the door.
“It’s time to go,” Breadbowl said. “I’ll wait in the parking lot.”
Purple light streaked down the hallway. Daffodil and I walked alone. I finally had the courage to ask—“Which part of all this is the secret?”
A huge grin spread across her face. Daffodil leaned close to my ear. It almost sounded like a song. “He thinks you asked to have your genes woven into the baby, that this was all your idea.” She let out a simple laugh that rang like a church bell. I felt her spirit rise inside me. I remembered that the baby was going to have her voice. My feet hardly touched the ground when I skipped through the parking lot back to my car.
That night, a headline came out in the press—“Lottery Winner Demands Her Genetics Be Added to Daffodil and Breadbowl’s Embryo.”
Our secret was growing. I held Daffodil’s fate in my hands. That also meant that I could betray her. At home, I turned on my screen and clicked on her most recent video. She was waving goodbye to a woman in an enormous parking lot. I recognized the exterior of the building before I understood that the woman on the screen was me. Daffodil and Breadbowl continued their lives, driving away, leaving me behind. But in just a few months, there would no longer be a boundary to separate us. Daffodil would come out of the screen, except the screen would be my body. For nine months I would carry her.
The longer I was pregnant and the more time I had to myself, the more I understood that there had always been a tangible link between Daffodil and myself. This was the natural course of things. I felt warmth coming from the screen into my living room. My head provided shelter for her words and lyrics. And my mouth repeated them over and over again. Now everything had rolled into one manifestation inside of my belly. I didn’t have to yearn to be near her. She was as close as she could be.
When the baby was only a few months old, I begged her to watch Daffodil on the screen. I didn’t have to work anymore, and aside from media appearances, I was free all day. Some parents play Mozart and hope their children become doctors. All I had to do was make sure this baby stayed on track. All day, I cycled through Daffodil’s music, vlogs, performances, advertisements, and interviews. She had to know where she came from and where she was going. She pulled my hair. I turned her head back toward the screen. Minutes later, she fell asleep on my chest.
The room was bathed in warm blue light that enveloped Daffodil on the screen and our bodies on the couch. We were all connected with one membrane. The baby was my link to Daffodil and Daffodil was my link to the baby. We slept together until the sun came up.
Starla Ava was born on June 7, 2051. A few days before, I texted Daffodil to ask if I could make the baby’s middle name Daffodil. Her lawyer sent me an email, explaining that I had already signed a paper prohibiting me from doing so. So instead, I named her Ava after my mother.
She weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces. All I wanted to do was show Daffodil how perfectly Starla had turned out, for her to see how well our codes had melded together. I hadn’t ruined the baby and neither had she. But I had signed a piece of paper. Neither Daffodil nor Breadbowl were legally allowed to come into contact with Starla. After she turned 18, she had the option of trying to reach out to them.
I never comprehended or accepted this information. Everything in my life had become quicker and more urgent. News crews chased us day and night—to the park, to the grocery store, to the doctor. I was interviewed by the press at least once a week and I became good at vlogging everything myself. I essentially had two babies—Starla and the fans. They wanted to know everything—the size of her toes, her favorite stuffed animal, what made her laugh.
I wondered if Daffodil watched me on her screen, in her living room with the painting whose artist I couldn’t remember. It motivated and terrified me.
One boy in Starla’s preschool was born with the genetics of Elmer Nispy, a great writer. He got five stars on every assignment. Another girl had the genetics of a baseball player and a wrestler. She was the fastest kid in the class. But Starla stood in the front for every sing-along. The teacher took extra care to make sure she was always watched on the playground. All the kids offered her their Popsicles, fighting with one another to become her best friend.
Finally, I had the money to move to Los Angeles. It was during that time that the truth became undeniable. I could no longer spend all night deleting comments. There were too many. Starla was 4 years old. I had to admit that my biggest fear came true—no piece of Daffodil made it into that baby. When I looked into her eyes, there was only one person I saw—Breadbowl.
That was when the news broke. Starla’s driver picked her up from her singing lesson and brought her home. I had the camera all set up. Pranks did extremely well with our fans. I was dressed like a bear, crouched in the bushes. Her little footsteps went thudding by. I closed my eyes tight, gathered my energy, and exploded out of the bushes. “Raaawr!”
But she was already crying. I zoomed the camera into her face. The fans’ hearts would melt when they saw her weeping. Daffodil would be jealous. She would tell Breadbowl that she wanted a child just like Starla. But the child was angry. She reached her tiny sausage fingers over the lens and chucked my camera to the ground. The lens shattered. She jumped on the shards—they twinkled like a constellation—and she shouted, “I’m evil!” She ran away.
The kids in Starla’s class had found out before I did. There was a tape —Breadbowl having sex with a 16-year-old. Daffodil hadn’t commented yet, but they were living in separate homes as of this afternoon. They reported a quote from “Daffodil’s inner circle”:
“Daffodil wants her fans to know that she’s just as shocked as they are. She’s devastated and will have nothing to do with him.”
I repeated the words Daffodil’s inner circle over and over. I was hot everywhere. I wanted to be near her. I was sure that’s what she would have wanted. Daffodil’s content page was empty. I scrolled down. Everything was deleted.
My vision collapsed. I was falling, stuck in the space between our screens. By the time I remembered to put Starla to bed, she was already asleep. She hadn’t changed her clothes. I sat on the edge of the bed. The sheets were sweaty and I couldn’t look away from her. She looked just like him. I pulled Breadbowl’s image up on my screen. My head moved back-and-forth.
Every brand sponsor dropped out. Evil had a face and it was Starla’s. I started to think it was more than her face. I didn’t know how much she was capable of. News crews came by the house almost every day. If I didn’t find a job soon, I would be behind on payments.
I learned about a network of support groups for parents with biologically elite kids called Bright Star Futures. There were meetings all over the city, but I picked one two hours east. It was held in an abandoned senior center that no amount of cracked windows could freshen.
The parents filed in with their children—miniature memories from a past life, faces who had floated in and out of my screen for years, faces that I had turned to when I didn’t want to turn to my own life. I was angry. I wanted to shove them back inside the screen like stuffing. But it was too late. The guts from the screen had soaked and stained my life. I told Starla to find us a seat.
Inside my car, I locked the door and called Daffodil. But the phone didn’t ring. I called Daffodil’s PR person. I called her chauffeur. I buckled up. I called Daffodil again. I clicked on her content page. Nothing loaded. My hands were shaking and the world went dark. The engine was on. I was screaming. The senior center was getting smaller. The music got louder. I opened my mouth to sing.
“I feel so hot, so young and damn successful. I’m damn successful.”
Read a response essay by David Plotz, the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank.
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