She’s growing up in a world that I don’t understand. Or rather, that I refuse to understand. She sits opposite me at the dining table, swirling her cocoa pops around the teddy bear bowl we bought in Devon several years ago. It had been our first holiday since losing Fred. She had been withdrawn and broken, and all I could think to do was to buy her that bowl. She had glanced at it merely in passing, but I remember thinking and hoping that perhaps it would make a difference.
I sip on my black coffee and revel in its familiarity, looking at her all this time later. So much has changed.
Still wearing her pink nightgown with toothpaste stains down the front, it’s on mornings like this that I can pretend that she’s still my baby girl. That she’s untouched by the world and its cruel pressures and unbearable possibilities. A world before.
That’s why she’s angry with me today, scowling as she slurps up the chocolate milk; because I’m against the new world. I’m old-fashioned. Dumb. Hypocritical. Small-sighted. Sadistic. I’m told so by my daughter herself.
Of course, I understand the pressures of being a teenager. For myself, it had involved having the best trainers or caramel highlights in my hair. For her, it’s all about modification. Nothing else matters.
I often wake in the middle of the night in hot sweats, haunted by what she may do when she’s eighteen and allowed to do what she wants. Haunted by what she may do before that. The vast possibilities crush me like a small child killing an ant with a stone. Am I evil? Or am I the last sane person alive? Am I saving her? Or am I denying her a better life? She’s the only one in her whole class without any sort of modification. It means that she’s fallen behind in all of her subjects and she struggles where others do not. That’s cruel. But I don’t think that I’m cruel.
Daisy has not come home from school. I’m out looking for her. I drive up and down random streets, passing the countless policemen and policewomen that are doing everything they can to help me. I say men and women, but there’s little ‘man’ in the emergency services these days. They were the first to be modified. It made sense with them being at higher risk of injury, with the greatest need for agility, strength and cleverness. I hadn’t been so against it when they had started to get modified. It was small, at first. X-Ray vision. Larger lungs to generate more efficient oxygen flow. Small, unnoticeable modifications that were given to those protecting society, to help them protect us more efficiently and more effectively. Now Daisy is lost, I’m glad of their excessive modifications. They have a far greater chance of finding her than the old hippy mother who refused something as basic as laser eye surgery.
Daisy has just been brought home from the hospital. She jumped off the bridge, again. The paramedics, as they always do, try to persuade me with their modification talk. If she has this installed, then this won’t happen. If she has this added, then this will be avoided. I shake my head and flick my wrists, ushering them out. They think I’m a bad mother. I wonder if they’ll report me again.
I stroke her hair as she sleeps. She is pure and untouched. No sort of modification is worth the loss of this. The risk is too big, the stakes are too high. Her heart and her soul. The only thing that would be worse than her pain would be the inability for her to feel it. But that’s why they call me a hippy and throw eggs at our house. They don’t believe in heart. They don’t believe in human.
I am lonely and have taken to knitting. I recline back in the armchair next to her bed and resume the mittens I’m currently working on. I have no friends. People don’t like me. People are afraid of me. I miss Fred terribly. He was part of a modification trial, which involved the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. He fancied himself an artist, just bursting to get out. It had failed and he had died of an aneurysm. But no one pities me or offers sympathy. They’re excited, thrilled, ecstatic to meet the widow of a man, a martyr, who was part of the original trials. The widow of a man who helped to change the world.
Daisy is telling me about her friend, Jane. She’s just been installed with the latest cellular, computing software. The one that allows the person to scroll through their social media accounts with their mind. I’m harrowed by this inescapable consumerism, by this shared fantasy masquerading as truth. Jane has exited reality. Computer modification was banned for a while, when they found out kids were cheating in exams by searching the web. But when the world wide web is within your own brain, that means that it is your brain. It’s become a part of you. You cannot separate the two. You cannot cheat on an exam by using information which is in your own mind. And so, the campaigners won, and it’s now allowed. And the unmodified brains must accept this. They must accept their inferiority. They must accept their university rejection. They must accept the lower paid job. This is why she hates me, so very much. She wishes she was Jane. She wishes to exit reality.
I’m driving down to the school. There’s been an incident involving Daisy. I’ve been told little, but I know she’s been injured in some way. I try to stay calm, but my breathing seems to be out of control and I struggle to focus on the road.
As I pull up, I see several ambulances in the car park, alongside all the Mercedes’ and Range Rovers. I exit my own, rather more beaten, vehicle and begin to sprint.
Inside the foyer I find a crowd of teachers, students and paramedics surrounding a bloodied lump on the floor. I cannot see Daisy properly, she’s tucked up small like a ball, hugging herself tightly. It staggers me to see such a raw and human sight. Conventional tragedy is no longer commonplace in this world. Everything is meticulous and regimented; surprises and unforeseen events are rare. Human pain and emotion are almost entirely absent. This scene is unsettling and the people around me are confused and awkward. Humanity is embarrassing.
I cannot work out where the blood is coming from, but her white school blouse has been eaten by the red. There was a novel we read back in school in which the blood of a murdered victim formed heart shapes on the ground, signalling a crime of love and passion. I desperately scan Daisy’s blouse and the tiled floor for such a mark, but there is none. Passion doesn’t exist anymore. The dark, sticky concoction is matted into her hair and smeared across her forehead. She is screaming. She is howling. She is sobbing.
Without warning, she explodes out from her ball shape and reveals the source of her bloodied appearance. Her right arm is completely gone, replaced by a grotesque mass of clots and arteries. She looks deranged. Happy. She begins to laugh and does not drop eye contact with me. I do not know her.
Daisy sits opposite me at the dining table, shovelling in her cocoa pops from her teddy bear bowl, whilst I sip on my black coffee. She is in her pink nightgown, with the toothpaste stains, but I can no longer think of her as my baby girl. She’s still a bit wobbly with her new bionic arm. She drops a few cocoa pops back into the bowl, milk splashing up and hitting her chin. She laughs gleefully and wipes it off with her silver fingertips. She’s happy that her plan worked. She’s happy that she figured out a way to beat me. To defeat me.What’s this creature before me? I do not know her. I do not want to know her. I do not want to know the modified. I do not want to know the soulless.
Emily Castles is an MA English Literature graduate, having completed degrees at the University of Manchester and Durham University. She is a Brummie with a taste for metal music and the macabre.