Babies R Us

Someone must have made a mistake because Chris woke up amongst a sea of adults and children. Bright lights. Voices. ‘Welcome to Babies R Us.’ A gentle murmur, barely noticeable but present throughout, like a radio on a long drive. ‘Oh my goodness, she’s beautiful’. ‘Mom I really don’t want a sister.’ ‘What’s the prognosis for her lifespan?’ ‘Excellent mam, time of death is projected in 80-100 years, so about 2129.’ These voices seemed closer. Chris turned his head to the right and saw a mom and her son talking with the store clerk. She held his hand, the muscle tone on her arm giving away the strain of preventing his escape. Every now and then, the child would looking around, fixing his gaze on whatever drew his attention the most. Next to them stood a tub shaped container with a clear hard plastic cover, its sheen reflecting the store light. It was small, probably with the capacity to hold no more than 5kg. A chart was propped up on a stand next to the box, which the mom was now eyeing. Chris tried to cry but it was as though someone had placed him on mute. Every sound echoed back in his box. To an outsider, it simply looked like he was making funny gestures with his mouth.

Chris’ mom sat propped up reading on the couch as his dad strolled in. ‘Good morning hunny.’ He slid his arms around her back, imparting a quick kiss before sitting down himself. ‘Good morning’. She put the book down and eyed him. ‘What?’ he said. ‘I was just thinking about the idea of us. And kids.’ ‘Oh,’ he replied. She smiled. ‘Not now, silly,’. ‘Of course,’ he replied. ‘It’s much too soon.’ She nodded. ‘Too soon. We’re only 28 after all. Still plenty of time.’ Chris’ dad grabbed the remote and flicked to the news, grinning as he did so. ‘It doesn’t stop us from trying though.’

‘I understand you have a child between you two.’ The judge spoke stiffly. The courtroom was quiet beneath the glare of the LED lighting. The only sound that could be heard was the click clack of the court stenographer’s typing. Somewhere in the back, a guard sniffled. ‘Yes, your honor,’ said Chris’ dad. ‘But we had him put in cryo 10 years ago and he’s remained there since.’ He stared into the floor, avoiding the gaze of anyone who might be looking at him. ‘And have you considered parental rights or whom would receive custody of him?’ Chris’ mom chimed in, ‘we originally planned to have children later on. We were so busy with our careers at that point. It doesn’t matter now. We were considering keeping him an embryo and giving him up for surrogacy. Unless one of our future partners may want to conceive him.’ ‘So busy,’ echoed Chris’ dad softly. ‘Very well, I believe it’ll be best to review the case when that time comes then. In the mean time he will remain frozen by court order and you both will enjoy joint custody of the embryo. Once you’ve decided what you want to do with him, we will re-open this case to discuss your parental rights and anything you may be applying for.’ The judge tapped his gavel. ‘Session adjourned.’

‘Thanks mam, we’ll have her ready for you by the end of the week.’ The lady and her son were now walking out of Babies R Us. Behind her the entrance of the store glowed green and purple with a sign that said ‘Babies R Us.’ Underneath in smaller letters was ‘Every child deserves a great life.’ The mom clutched the clipboard close to her chest, smiling with the contented look of a well fed baby. The store remained busy and people continued to mill about. By the end of the day, most every container had been visited and inquired about. As the store closed a few stragglers remained, those whom either had limited resources to obtain a baby yet or hadn’t found the right one. Near the back of the store, an older man with a mustache continued to inspect the containers. He wore a hat, reminiscent of times past and an overcoat, long enough to just pass his knees. Something caught his attention and he glided up to Chris’ chart. Devoid of attention the whole day, Chris’ eyes widened when he saw the man. His mouth opened. ’Well, well, well. What’s the story behind this one?’ he called out. ‘Down’s syndrome sir,’ replied the clerk from across the floor. ‘Prior to the new legislation of course. Otherwise it’d be illegal to have him here. Tonight’s actually his last night though.’ ‘Why’s that?’ ‘Well Chris has been here forever – some 20 odd years before he was conceived by one of our staff. She wasn’t able to keep him of course, what with the rising health care costs and the quality of life he would have had. But silly girl, she couldn’t go through with the extraction. Even with the procedure pain free and subsidized nowadays.’ The old man chuckled. ‘She must’ve been young.’ ‘She was. Everybody in the store knows him by name. But with the new family healthcare policy, no one’s going to want him.’ The clerk was now standing beside the man. ‘That’s a shame,’ said the old man. ‘I don’t suppose that you would consider taking him home…sir?’ The old man paused. He gazed calmly at Chris then smiled and looked back at the clerk. Chris gurgled. ‘Can’t say I would. I wouldn’t be able to provide him the life he’d deserve.’ The clerk nodded. ‘That’s too bad.’ ‘What’s going to happen to him?’ ‘Oh don’t you worry about him! It’ll be the usual, nothing too much. He won’t know or feel a thing.’ ‘Good. I wouldn’t want him to suffer too much.’ The old man strolled back towards the entrance of the store. ‘Well have a good night. Maybe I’ll find the lucky one next time.’ ‘Thanks for your time sir, have a good night!’ yelled the clerk from where Chris was. The old man exited. The clerk proceeded to clean up the store, picking up bits and pieces of kids’ who knows what.

Finally, the time came. Before the store closed he had to dispose of all expired babies. He whistled as he walked up to Chris’ box. Chris watched from afar with wide eyes, following him closely. ‘Well old friend it looks like this is it.’ The clerk gently lifted the box unto two hands, supporting it with his shoulders. He strode towards the back of the store where two pristine automatic steel doors, reminiscent of sterilized hospitals stood. It opened its doors wide, barring its secrets to the outside world now. Darkness enveloped Chris and the store clerk, with only the green lights from the neon exit sign and the walk way showing him where to go. The hallway was long with multiple doors on either side. Their appearance was the same except for silver plaques that hung in the middle, each with a different title, like the ones you see in doctors offices. Passing the doors with nary a glance, the clerk arrived at the end of the corridor where a chute stood on the right hand side. The chute was open and square shaped, roughly the same as the box. It had a metallic surface and instead of facing down like a garage disposal, this one faced up. On the right hand side laid a control panel with various buttons. A yellow biohazard sign hung above the chute. As the clerk placed Chris into the chute he tapped quickly on the control panel. It was a procedure he’d done many times before. The faster you did it the better. Too much thinking would just delay things. Thankfully there weren’t too many stains left over from last time. After keying in the right sequences, he stepped back from the chute and watched. Nothing happened. Then slowly a methodical humming commenced. Chris looked up from his box into the darkness of the chute. He didn’t know what he saw at first. His mouth opened. At first, it looked like he was going to smile but at the last second, his eyes betrayed him. Just as it was about to develop into a whimper he was gone. That was the last thing anyone saw of Chris, as a seal slid down over the box and the humming stopped. Suddenly there was sh-sh-sh sound, like someone was sucking a gigantic straw in the chute, and you just knew that Chris was no longer lying there on the floor. The sounds slowly shifted and now it was the crushing and grinding of a blender making a smoothie with too much ice. Slow and methodical, the tone did not change throughout the process. After a few minutes, there was a wet thud, and the whirring of the chute ground to a halt and all was still. The clerk nodded then strode back through the dark hallway into the main foyer, his hands now empty, his day over and his work completed. It was time to go home.

It was 5.30 AM and it the morning after Chris’ last day. A truck was backing up against the side of Babies R Us. The garbage collectors had arrived like clockwork at the back of the building. Like most dumpsters there was a metal chute that ended above the giant disposal, funneling all trash into its catcher’s mitt. Unlike most dumpsters this one was highly sterilized and insulated to maintain temperatures below 0 degrees for hours at a time even without electricity. The dumpster was painted yellow, and in the middle was a bright black biohazard logo. In the early morning sun, it looked like a giant spider had climbed onto the dumpster. ‘Medical waste’ it said underneath. Once the two collectors decided the truck was in the right location, a button was pressed and the fork attached to the truck slid down and lifted the dumpster up. It hung in mid air and then slowly flipped to empty its contents. Being the last piece of trash disposed, the bag containing Chris’ remains slid out first into the back of the truck, and then he was no more, covered up by the landslide of the other bags of babies, each one piling onto the other with a thud.

The two men drove steadily with a purpose. They made their rounds from a couple more Babies R Us centers and then it was time to go home. ‘Wasn’t the first facility we went to today the place where you got your first child from?’ One of them asked the other. ‘Yeah, yeah I think it was. How time flies though it seems like it was just yesterday.’ As the two reminisced, the one who asked the question interrupted the silence again. ‘How’s she doing?’ ‘Oh she’s doing great, I think Babies R Us did a great job with her, no allergies, no medical conditions so far, perfect health.’ ‘I’m glad to hear that, it’s sad that even with technology these days there are still all these glitches.’ ‘Hey, it keeps us in business.’ They both nodded. As one of the men lived on the way back to the company, he was dropped off first. He smiled and waved his colleague off before heading back into the house. The truck drove off, gliding through the neighborhood street with scarcely a sound. Standing from one’s porch you could just make out the emblazoned slogan on the back of the truck before it vanished past the horizon, the light of dawn breaking into the full rays of the sun. ‘Every child deserves a great life.’

Be Careful What You Pick

Old habits die hard. Unless of course, they kill you first. S, was a logistics machine. She worked 3 jobs while studying at the tender age of 25. At any day of the week her roles ranged from entrepreneur to manager and consultant. She woke up on the 1st of March like any other day, full of life and hope. Her phone flashed 7:30 AM. Perfect. Boring. Boring was good. It was just like any other morning. And she needed that routine. After all, what were humans if not creatures of routine, secured amidst the storms of life?

As she stumbled to the bathroom, she was greeted by a pristine white glow. This was a rare occurrence. Just 2 years ago she had married one of those rare creatures capable of withstanding any living conditions either out of necessity or a blatant lack of self awareness. She thought it was probably the latter. But the glow this morning made up for it all including the hour she spent cleaning the toilet bowl, attacking it with every household tool imaginable, just to erase the brown skids from her memory. She shuddered just remembering it now. No, she had to put it out of her mind. Quickly brushing her teeth, if you could call it brushing (it had more similarities to nail filing), she downed an ironed polo shirt, jumped into her pressed tracksuit pants, grabbed a boiled egg (done just right at 80 degrees from the steamer) and in one fluid motion just like she rehearsed it countless times, she was out the door. Pure efficiency. S was a logistics machine.

At the nursing home, S caught up with her colleagues, ate lunch, organized assessments for the residents and caught up with some much needed paper work. It was a day just like any other. But she was itching to get home. The desire had been bothering her all day long and she needed some relief. She just couldn’t do it in front of all her colleagues. S after all, was a cold, rational, logistics machine, an example of no-nonsense leadership.

It was late when S got home. She threw her handbag onto the couch and proceeded to make dinner on the kitchen bench top. It was a marble top, with a silver sink next to it. Everything had a smooth sheen on it like the type of kitchens you only see in the movies. As she cut the cucumbers on the rustic chopping board, she would reach her finger towards her face. Dig, dig, dig. The finger penetrated the nostril, plowing through a thicket of nose hairs and then latching onto a soft, round ball of mucus. She picked it and then flicked it into the kitchen sink. Relief at last. This was the highlight of her day. She smiled to herself. If only her husband and colleagues could see her now. It would be her dirty little secret and no one would ever know. She continued to chop the cucumbers, each chop accompanied by picking and then a flick. By the end of the night, S had accumulated a warm, soft mound of mucus laying dormant and still in the middle of the kitchen sink. An unknowing bystander might mistake it to be a baseball as they had all melded into one. She ate a cucumber salad with grilled chicken, placed side by side on the plate and perfectly garnished. Finishing her meal, she proceeded to wash up but when she approached the sink, she discovered the mound of mucus had disappeared. Shrugging, she washed the dishes and thought no more about it. Things had a habit of cleaning up after themselves in her life. Except her husband. After he returned home, she greeted him and they both prepared for bed.

It was around 1 am when S felt a gentle nudging of her foot. It stopped and then started again a moment later. ’Not now,’ she whispered, thinking it was her husband’s attempt to either play a prank or be affectionate. But she wasn’t sure. Couldn’t he see that she was too tired to do anything? She rolled over. Her husband was fast asleep on his side, with his back facing her, amidst the occasional snore. Her foot was nudged again and she felt a sensation of warmth envelop her leg like shower water streaming down one’s leg. This time it felt soft yet there was something firm about it like play-dough. Unnerved, she shrugged her blankets off to see what was causing her foot to behave in such a strange way. A pale yellow and white mass lay at the foot of her bed, half of it on her ankle and the other half on the bed sheet. It pulsed with a steady rhythm and climbing steadily, snaked its way up her shin. S’s eyes widened and her pulse quickened. But she couldn’t speak. Perhaps she didn’t want to because it would mean what was happening really was happening. She knew she had to do something but she was frozen, in time and in fear.

The coagulated mass of white and yellow continued climb up her legs, leaving a dried sticky trail behind it. It was now on her hips. Now more than ever, was the time to act. She struggled to kick it off but her legs caught on the blankets, entangling them even further. She moaned in frustration. As she attempted to get up she realized the stickiness of the mucus around her legs had pinned her to the bed. She had one last resort. ‘Hel-‘. It was too late because at that point the pulsing mass, now resembling a melted baseball, had reached her face. Its tendrils enveloped her, muffling the last desperate gasp of a woman full of life. And then – silence.

The bedside clock read 1.00 AM. S laid at the head of her bed, her face blue. Her eyes were vacant. Her expression remained caught in the midst of surprise and fear. One of her legs stuck out of her blankets as it lay half draped over the bed and the floor. Her apartment lay as it did 30 minutes ago, before the last vestiges of life drained from her face, a silent observer to the life it had once housed. Silence filled the corridors. Beneath the blankets, her husband snored away and the white, yellow pulsating mass was nowhere to be found. It was just as it had always been. Perfect.