hobart logo

February 9, 2015 Fiction

Babies from the Dry Counties

Adam Morris

Babies from the Dry Counties photo

You could support babies from the Dry Counties with small monthly sums. But it was more fashionable to adopt.

Heavy wet nurses sent from China and Spain disembarked in the Dry Counties by the dozen. Numbers mattered: twelve maids to a clinic, said the protocolic manual of the org that cornered the trade by finding the buxomest maids and paying the most. Single lawyer ladies and gays and sterile straights bought in: their dollars microfinanced clinics and credit unions at the migrant camps in exchange for a baby birthed in a tent that barely kept out the choking coastal wind. Unencumbered by a newborn knocking at her breast, the mother was free to take her fee and relocate to a de-sal plant on the shore. No one asked after the dads. 

Tankers of precious runoff from Russia and Greenland and Canada lazed into the ports of the Dry Counties or their coastal neighbors, dragging big bladders of distilled behind them. Some gallons were destined for a train heading West, others for a truck going North. First the glinting bottles were rechristened: Viktoriya and Svanur, Alberta Pure and Yukon. Glacier cost dearly; distilled barely less. Workers at the plants paid through the nose for distilled, which tasted of hot plastic bags. De-sal was free, but rationed and harshly metallic. Everyone except rich women got used to the flavor or switched to beer. Minus the wet nurses. Part of the deal, a nice bonus, was that they drank the runoff for free. For their suckling charges, only the sweetest and thickest milk would do. Babies from the Dry Counties became a fated élite. From the creamiest of breasts to organic kale pudding and Montessori kindergarten. A generation of them, carried in slings through walkable multi-use neighborhoods, somewhere far North.

At my consultation, I flipped the laminated pages of an album: ruddy babes in the arms of sturdy girls in white shawls, the dusky skies of some Dry County serving as backdrop. When I found a nurse who looked like Lillian Gish I stopped. The broad cheeks and pouty mouth, framed by dark ringlets. This one, I said, tapping the plastic sleeve with a lacquered nail. It was just what I wanted. 

I called her Gloria, a name out of style, and taught her always to turn the other cheek.


image: Claude Rouyer