Michael J. Riser
I think the bombers always had the right idea, they were just working it from the wrong end. Hold the plan up to a mirror and maybe it reads the right way.
I take the long way to work. The fog reminds me of London, San Francisco. I did some work there too for different species, but today we need to help the humans. And that’s great, I mean it’s good work, it’s just sad how everyone has this idea that to “help people” you have to dish out corn chowder at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve or run marathons for kids with cancer or cerebral palsy or whatever. But there are lots of ways to lend a hand. It isn’t all picketing corporate offices and hauling cardboard signs around. There are direct ways to help, and if you go about them with a little elegance and a touch of smarts, they won’t draw attention to you or get you arrested the way screaming at people with protest slogans painted across your tits usually does. I did plenty of that in college, at least enough to see that I wasn’t getting my points across, and I’ve since moved on to more fertile ground.
This isn’t for everyone. You have to do your homework, be realistic. If you screw the pooch, you could end up at the bottom of a smoking crater, or even hurt somebody. Which is why you need someone like me.
I’m not trying to sound like I’ve got a major ego, here. I’m human as anyone. I make mistakes. But I’m driven and I’ve plotted this out, done it right, and that’s important when human life hangs in the balance. We’re saving lives not only by making sure unnecessary people don’t get the chance to happen, but by making sure we don’t crater anybody that already did.
I come up outside the building and look around. There’s no one except Jess and Louie, who nod at me. It’s just us and the big pink cube where it all goes down. Nobody’s there that shouldn’t be since it’s so early. Lights off and doors locked up tight. Not a hint of the janitorial staff.
Memory hits me and I take a second to reminisce. I can see myself climbing a giant metal cylinder in the middle of the night, and it’s a rush, looking up at the dark sky, at the stars mirrored by the lights of the city below, two radiant seas battling for dominance. Man built some little thing and turned on the juice, hoping it would block out the light of the world around him because he didn’t want to remember the earth and the sea of stars, didn’t want to remember the gurgling ocean of dead children that crawled around his island. He built a little lake of light to blot out infinity. He built fertility clinics to hide the mountainous graveyards of kids that died of starvation and abuse in their hundreds of thousands every day, as if you could cover the dead with a blanket of the living. So concerned with marching his own bloodline through history, he used science to ensure he would never have to do something as low, as unutterably pathetic as raising someone else’s child.
I remember wrecking the billboard, tearing at the picture of the baby hiding under the purple hat. This manipulative image, designed to sell you back your own genetic material, cloying, sweet, perfumed. It came down easily enough, one less avenue to capitalize on people’s emotional fragility, one less thing to encourage women to use their bodies for overpopulation (as if a woman is of no value without procreation), one less thing to make men feel as though their own misplaced legacies could somehow be secured by creating someone to carry on their names. Those crazy religious bombers call abortion unnatural, yet advocate for surrogacy? Growing another couple’s actual, biological children in a foreign womb? Is it natural, or somehow even godly, to obsess to this degree over one’s own genetic surplus?
If your man shoots blanks or your uterus is scorched earth, maybe God’s trying to tell you to quit. It doesn’t want you having kids. Accept it and move on.
But the billboards will be nothing compared to this, that much is certain. I slide my thumb over the button on top of the spring and I push it down. It makes a satisfying click that I like so much I do it a couple more times.
For just one second, the world is silent and immobile. There’s a touch of irony in calling it a pregnant moment, but there you have it.
Time begins to move again when the clinic’s pink facade crumbles, vomiting rolls of white dust to the swelling of a symphony in our hearts. Dead children rise out of the ocean and clap grubby little hands, mouths open in hollow rejoicing. Jess and Louie are too caught up in the moment, but I step forward and wrap them all—blackened, ash-dusted, and skeletal—into my arms.
Tomorrow let every would-be parent in the city hear the hollow of them, like wind through wood. Let this song, sung by billions of voiceless throats, become a last ballad for the unborn.
Michael J. Riser is a working writer and editor from California. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Despumation, Sheepshead Review, and UNC Charlotte’s Sanskrit, in addition to Pantheon Magazine and Solarcide print anthologies. He lives near Chico with his wife, a rescued pit bull from Texas, and an especially mischievous Halloween cat. He can be found online at Bookruptcy.com.