clone — Jenny, 20
Otto Plath, father of Sylvia, my namesake, was a beekeeper and an entomologist. He was not the devil she made him out to be, he was a pacifist, a melancholy man. Plath left her at eight, not ten, as the poem suggests, and not by choice, death never being something we would choose. If we are being truthful with ourselves, we all want to live forever. Am I saying anything you haven’t thought yourself?
I am not a Lesbian
I’ve never been very good with boys or men. Their bodies are a mystery, a task I’d rather not begin, too many protuberances, too many obscene veins, everything out in the open, which is the opposite of me, I prefer things to be hidden, smooth and delicate, a suggestion rather than a proclamation. I am intelligent enough to know my own body, how many can claim this? I know what I don’t want, and the angular male body is just that, though I don’t personally harbor any ill feelings toward males, it’s just a subject I’ve never been interested in, like trigonometry, though you’d be mistaken if you assumed I’ve never been with a man in the earthly sense, as my father might say, and I am not a lesbian, the idea of being with a woman sexually repels me…
We Make Good Pets
In my thirty-one years I have had, if I recall correctly, four cats, two parakeets, one fish (very boring), and three dogs. My last pet was a cat, a calico named Bart I inherited from my grandmother shortly before she passed. Take him Sylvia, give him a good home, you need something to care for. He was either sixteen or seventeen when he died, grandmother wasn’t sure when he was born, a child living in the house next door presented him to her, a Christmas present walking around the house, all the time, fully unwrapped, and constantly needing attention, but only when he wanted it. It crushed me when he died, I had known him since I was fourteen, a weird girl dressed in black, with obsidian lipstick and choppy hair I’d julienned myself… you need something to care for, and I cried like a baby when Bart died, I cried for myself as much as I did for him, but it was really the final severance from my grandmother that hit the hardest, my living connection to her dead and buried in the backyard, I dug the hole myself, the kohl carving my cheeks, the pain bifurcating my face until everything real came out of me and fell black into the earth before me. It was then I decided, about a year ago, that I’d never have another pet again. I wanted something more… not a man, or a child, which required a man, but something beyond the flesh, something realer than me.
How much would you pay to have an honest conversation with yourself
Late last Saturday evening, nodding on Nardil, I saw an advert on the blip of a woman looking at herself in the mercury, her lips moving but the soundtrack slightly out of time, like those old karate films on the blip of men with amazing self-defense skills, bringing down a foe with an open palm to the sternum, the sternum apparently the Achilles heel for humans, you hit it just right and everything burns down. I am in my beautifully encloaked bedroom, pink taffeta candling from the walls, two pink panda plushies on either side of my head, swimming in my own when a man’s voice asks me, as if I were the only one in the room, How much would you pay to have an honest conversation with yourself, over the image of the young woman speaking to herself in the mercury, her head tilted slightly forward while her reflection remained almost perfectly still, and it was only after a few brief moments of intense scrutiny did I understand the young woman was sitting across from a perfect living replica of herself, a human copy of herself, though at a somewhat different age, so as to be chatting with a younger version of herself, possibly a teenager. I was immediately enthralled. If you are alone, be alone no more… contact us today! We are NARCISSUS INC, and we are here to help. I pressed the memorize button on the blip with the sweep of my big toe, my nails a luscious orange as thick as the paint on my father’s delightfully ticking transport in the garage, eliminating the need for pen or paper, a reminder of futures past, to keep my brain open, nimble, empty.
Father, do you mind if I go outside
Though old enough to be married or with a man or whatever I choose to live with father, who stayed on after Mother left the house for another man, my father’s driver. But father is retired now, and we both live in a very large house left to us by father’s mother’s mother, my great grandmother, who was born here before the wind shifted. I do not mind being with father, though I am thirty-one, and without child, I feel the house is small enough for both of us. Miss Clearfield comes Tuesdays and Thursdays to tidy up, as father says, but either I cook or father does. We are not alone, there is the wind in the trees, the wasps bobbing like black and yellow darts to and from their grey nest under the eaves outside my window, the ants in the kitchen, guest bathroom, and occasionally the hallway, and the blue cyclamen kissing the foundation of the house, returning each year despite my earnest attempts at ignoring them. The water is on a timer, the lights are on a track, and everything is autopaid, there is nothing to do but sit with ones thoughts, though I do work, more out of boredom than necessity, a salary respectful enough. The work I perform is unimportant, meaningless, and does absolutely nothing to improve society, and yet I sometimes wonder if I were to die in the kitchen, or in my bedroom, or in the bathtub in the bathroom attached to my bedroom, if I were to sink beneath the surface of the water and not return, how long before Miss Clearfield noticed, or father? I am here, in my room, my great grandmother’s portrait just down the hall outside my bedroom door, suspended from wires older than I am, father had all the portraits of Mother removed from the house, at my request, because I didn’t want to be reminded, daily, of someone who left me, left us. Let her die with the man she chooses, let her grow old with someone who is not her flesh, I really don’t care. No one has died in this room, to my knowledge, though the house is very old, and talks to me constantly when I am alone at night, father downstairs safely tucked between two carved doors that remind me of Spain, where animals to be eaten are dried on hooks, naked as the day they were born, as all animals are, though animals, in death, as in life, are not ashamed of their nakedness, and therefore more agreeable than the falsity of humans, and father remains downstairs most of the day because it is difficult for him to traverse the stairs, and there is no need, as I always come to him. The upstairs is your realm, my dear, let’s keep it that way, my knees are much too ruined to bother. And I appreciate how father doesn’t lie to either me or himself, he is a downcast man, a sad man, with the melancholy of the beekeeper, Otto Plath, though I don’t have any of his daughter’s poetry on my shelves, Mother’s Plath books went with her to the new man’s house long ago, likely forgotten or thrown in the trash, she forgot who she was when she left us, her once glossy black hair now idiot orange, falling from her crown like an old mare’s mane, tatty and tangled with embarrassment, the affair with the man cheapening everything about her, losing her ability to reason, to think, to read, Plath kept in a box in the garage, unopened for years. Or so I imagine. Your mother named you Sylvia, not I, father once said, when I was six, and I still remember the shock of his unhappiness as he revealed this piece of history to me. I wanted to name you Jenny, but your mother wouldn’t have it. Jennifer is a common name, she said, and so you became Sylvia, my Sylvie. I did not want this, but fathers rarely get to name their daughters.
I haven't been truthful about owning Plath, forgive me. Three volumes gather dust on my nightstand. The Hive and the Honey Bee by Dadant & Sons, hardcover, gold cloth, 1975, given to me by Father, and two books of poetry, Ariel Restored by Sylvia Plath, unattractive plain white cover, and All My Pretty Ones, by Anne Sexton, a purple flower on the cover, a slim dark beautiful book that is nearly one hundred years old. Plath garnered all the attention, but Sexton was the more talented of the two – darker, funnier, her morose outlook a true inhabitation, whereas Plath wore sadness like a cheap coat she removed once indoors. When I read of Sexton’s possible molestation of her daughter, my curiosity was inflamed, how could a woman do such a thing to her daughter? Was it harmful, a life-changing event for the child, or a jarring aberration that faded as time passed? Was there true love between them, an honesty wedged somewhere between the pain, or does such a thing exist outside the psychic violence of an unwelcome touch?
Outside the city
Father, do you mind if I go outside, take the transport to the city? There was an advert on the blip I’m curious about. Of course not, my dear, shall I have James come for you? James, my father’s occasional driver, a homosexual young man with no interest in women or breaking up families. That would be wonderful. I do hate driving, all the lights, the identification. The nonsense, father adds. Yes, the nonsense. What’s this you’re seeing about? An advert for loneliness. Ah yes, the clone. The clone? Yes, that Narcissus Inc manufactures clones, or grows them, or however it is one makes clones. My heart beating fast with an almost sexual excitement, I pull my lips toward the earth, the floor, to appear nonchalant about what father has just said. One can clone themselves? Apparently, father says, though lord knows why you’d want to. I’d still like to go. As you wish, my dear.
Before an appointment was granted, I had to enter my name and identification into a database on the Narcissus platform. Impression of a certificate of live birth, proof of age 21 or older, national health chip reading, mental wellness blueprint, mother and father’s identifying information, genotype, bank records, the last item likely the most important – could I afford this? Luckily all the information is stored on a single chip that interfaces easily with the Narcissus site. I did this on a Monday after the advert I saw the previous Saturday, which I saw again twice, first the original advert, and then again, though this time a man looking at his son nestled in Plexiglas, obviously a duplicate of himself, the advert slowly panning from the single boy cocooned in Plexi to an army of identical boys playfully strutting towards the screen, the barbs of their boyhood dangling with menace. How much would you pay to have an honest conversation with yourself? It took an hour to interface with Narcissus, answer several questions regarding finances and current home life, the name and address of my attorney, am I afraid of enclosed spaces, why I wanted this… what was my reason for wanting a living duplicate of myself? I answered as truthfully and honestly as possible, tried not to think of my answers too much, and decided all major decisions in life usually take twenty minutes or less.
James, the driver
James is a cliché, a well-dressed man who drives people who don’t like driving. He did not speak, other than greeting me while opening the door, and knew it best to keep quiet, speaking only if spoken to first. He had been father’s occasional driver for a few years. He was twenty-seven, with a boyfriend and a dachshund. He drove others, but very few, mostly executives who didn’t care to own a transport, all that fuel and metal cluttering the garage. And parking has become so difficult in the overcrowded city. Do you know Narcissus Inc, James? Oh yes, he says, laughing gently, I’ve seen it on the blip. Do you know what they do there? They make clones, yes? He turns to me slightly, in the backseat, while keeping his eyes fully on the road, more of a polite extended nod. Yes, father says so. James doesn’t ask, per his training, I’m sure, so I offer. I’m going there to see about having a clone made, or born, whatever it is they do. I’m tired of being alone, and father is getting old. How old is he again, James asks, forgetting his training for a moment, his detached professionalism, though I don’t mind, as I know he is very aware of father’s age, he's just asking to appear polite, to engage. I appreciate the gesture, a handsome young man pretending to be interested in an odd woman’s odd way of spending the day. How is your boyfriend? Oh, he’s fine. Father is seventy-one, my sentence curling around his, tonguing each other without kissing. Oh well that’s not very old these days. It’s old, I say, laughing, and now James is laughing, too. Yes, it is, he says, and would likely have said yeah it is if it weren’t for the glass between us, if we lived in the same economic stratosphere, if we weren’t tripping over each other’s genders, an embarrassed silence between words. I am as untouchable as a refrigerated corsage in a clamshell, of which I’ve blamed Mother for years, though I am old enough to know better. That is all behind me now, my head nodding to the crunch of the uniformly milled gravel on the shaded drive to the mouth of the Institute, a thousand yeses whispering you will finally have someone, they will be comfortingly familiar, and you will no longer be alone.
The offices of Narcissus Inc appeared to be a Case Study House extended by 20,000 square feet. When you glanced at the windows, they looked back, their dark eyes knowingly cataloguing your loneliness and spoon-feeding it back to you. You can be more than this, their sharp edges promised. A young Asian woman greeted me at the door, her body perfectly sculpted by a dress that appeared to be a candy-shelled second skin. Was she –? You’ll be with us for approximately three hours. Your driver needn’t stay. We have a driver who will take you home. I waved to James, wondering if I’d ever see him again. The doors closed behind me, the greeter and I momentarily vacuum-packed in the foyer, then the nictitating membrane of the interior doors opened, swallowing us, the innards of the building colder than I expected. Somewhere in the distance, I couldn’t tell if it was above or below me, the constant whirring of machines. Giant sewing machines, the greeter said, laughing, anticipating my unease. My name is Eve. She extended her hand, her flesh warm and convincingly human. Sylvie, I replied, my hand in hers a moment longer. It had been so long since I’d touched another human being’s skin… father didn’t count, and James was untouchable, a rare orchid behind smoked glass from beginning to end, his voice extruded through electronic perforations, replicated to sound as if he were right next to me, but humans are so far away, and, despite their numbers, so rare. I finally dropped my hand, Eve holding me longer than necessary. Was this a test to see how comfortable I was with touching the other? If so, I had best mind my step, I wanted the adoption process to be as smooth as possible, though I wasn’t sure adoption was the correct term for what was happening here.
The waiting room is much warmer, the orange walls plasticated honeycomb, nearly transparent. I see movement behind them, dark shapes temporarily streaking white through orange, like a dirty fingertip dragged across a screen. A metal placard on a polished black coffee table informs me human cloning was formally legalized by the International Human Cloning Consortium in 2035. I gingerly move the placard with a fingertip, not wanting to touch it, afraid of leaving fingerprints on polished surfaces, though the Institute knows more about me than I care to admit. My fingernails are cut to the nub… I don’t believe in adorning the body. It won’t bite, someone says behind me, laughing agreeably. I turn round and a striking woman in her mid-forties, tall, brown hair, wearing a lab coat with her name on it, offers her hand. I twist awkwardly out of my seat to greet her. Dr. Beatriz Madeira, she says. Sylvia Biusom, but please call me Sylvie. Sylvie, it’s lovely to meet you. Welcome to the Institute. Are you ready to have an honest conversation with yourself? I find the corporate speak a little unsettling, and Dr. Madeira immediately softens the unnaturalness of the situation by palming my shoulder… shall we retire to my office? When I lag behind her she stops, as a master would for a dog, waiting for me until we are shoulder to shoulder. There’s really no reason to be nervous, you’re walking your first few steps towards a wonderful future.
How is it done? Using a small handheld control sitting atop her desk, Dr. Madeira dims the lights, an indentation in the wall behind her pitching slightly forward, as if the wall were expanding outward. Dr. Madeira stands near the blank wall and a moment later, an illustration comes alive, flickering before my eyes. hyperSCNT, an abbreviation of hyper somatic cell nuclear transfer, known colloquially as hyperscent, is a medical process involving two separate cells, the egg from a donor female, and the somatic cell taken from the skin cells of a secondary donor, which, in the case of a female of reproductive age, can be one and the same. Genetic material of the donor egg is discarded, leaving an enucleated egg cell. The somatic cell and enucleated egg cell undergo a fusion process. The donor egg, containing the somatic cell’s nucleus, is then electrified, causing the division process. Normal cell development occurs until the single cell forms a blastocyst. The egg is now capable of producing an adult organism from one parent…
diethylbestrodiol (DEB) and GAC
Illustrations of half-lidded children with fishlike mouth slits who appeared to be in a perpetual daze flashing at an incredible rate, the feminine voice haloing my skull in a tight warm band… A surrogate mother carries your clone to full term. Your clone is born here, at Narcissus, in our neonatal unit, which is staffed by fully accredited physicians and nurses. But you may be wondering what happens after the birth of your clone. Your newborn is given a controlled amount of the nutrient diethylbestrodiol (DEB) six to seven days after birth, continuing for a period of ninety days. The diethylbestrodiol speeds up the growth process. The desired age of the clone is carefully controlled by the amount of diethylbestrodiol it receives, for instance, an intended twelve-year-old person would receive less diethylbestrodiol than an intended twenty-year-old adult person. Diethylbestrodiol, a growth hormone, is not presently known to cause reproductive harm in human subjects…
40 weeks / Growth Acceleration Chamber (GAC)
All clones, regardless of desired age, take approximately three months to develop after a full-term live birth has occurred at 37 to 40 weeks. The ninety-day post-gestation period after a full-term birth is spent here at the Institute, in a special Growth Acceleration Chamber (GAC), a climate-controlled floatation pod, that constantly monitors your clone’s heart rate, brain functions, and nutrition requirements. While your newborn clone isolates in the calming waters of the Growth Acceleration Chamber at a specific gravity of approximately 1.25–1.26, which mimics the dark environment of the mother’s womb, it receives an intravenous diet of Organic Skim Milk, Organic Whey, Organic Vegetable Oil, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Lactose, Fish Oil, Phenylalanine, Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Vitamin D, Biotin, Vitamin B12, CRL-40,941, and diethylbestrodiol. Again, the desired age of the clone is controlled by the amount of diethylbestrodiol he or she receives. The more diethylbestrodiol the clone receives, the faster the growth rate…
Language is Everything
The illustrations on the screen disappear and the lights go up slightly, as if the soundtrack of the short film controls a rheostat in the room. The two-headed snake, which reminds me of an illustration of the female reproductive system I saw as a child, the sheep, the enucleated egg cells, the twelve-month-old fully developed adolescent clone sitting at an austere table, holding a control to a screen as it learns accelerated language skills…
I’m a bit confused. Yes dear, what is it? Dr. Madeira sits next to me on the plush chocolate-colored sofa in her office, the small control still in her hand. I feel as if I am being comfortably swallowed into a uterus, a lovely reversal of everything I have learned, every bad thing society has imprinted upon my mind, my person. If the clone takes twelve months to develop to its full size, why does the Institute need the clone for an additional six months before she is delivered to me? Placing a hand on my knee, I am embarrassed when I involuntarily twitch under her unexpected touch, instantly regretting it and hoping I haven’t further derailed my plans for my future. Well dear, the additional six months is needed to teach your clone accelerated language skills… we can’t deliver a clone to you who doesn’t know how to speak. On a non-phenolic diet of vegetables and nootropics, your clone is taught the language of your choice, which takes another six months after full physical development. Your clone, fully developed in twelve months to the age you requested, is taught accelerated language skills, which consists of conversational speaking, reading, and writing, of one language of your choice. This is basically a sharpening of the mimetic memory distilled from your memory scan. This is why the entire process, from nuclear transfer to the delivery of your clone to you via personal transport, takes eighteen months…
Boisselier Memory Transference Scan
Dr. Beatriz Madeira moved off the sofa and returned to her desk, smoothing her lab coat as she sat behind a flat black slab, pushing away things that weren’t there. May I ask a question? Of course. The memory scan, will it be performed today? Is it painful? The Boisselier Memory Transference Scan is painless, and yes, we will perform the scan today. A full body scan takes about thirty minutes. Is it performed in one of those machines? I’m electromagnetic sensitive. The slightest smile on her lips, Dr. Madeira looked at me as one might consider a child who had asked an impossible question. Multi-slice scans have been illegal for ten years. The machine, as you call it, is more like a sleeping bag. Think of it as a sleepover. And the body scan, it retrieves my memories from everywhere? Indeed it does. Your clone will be aware of old injuries, say if you fell on the playground when you were six, and sustained an injury, your clone will know, she will remember. The Boisselier Memory Transference Scan allows us to regulate which memories your clone inherits, for instance, if you requested a twelve-year-old clone, we would limit sexual memories, if you are sexually active. A child does not need to know sexual memories. Also, if you sustained a traumatic injury, such as in a transport accident, those memories would be excised, for purity. Life is painful enough, we needn’t add to it. The purpose of the scan is to infuse your clone with basic survival memories. And to know who you are, as much as one human being can know another. Of course, as your clone grows and matures, they learn things by experience. As all humans do.
On the Narcissus questionnaire I answered a few days ago, there was a mention of a double-digit restriction. What is the purpose of that? Dr. Madeira toyed with a pen on her otherwise austere desk, its surface resembling black water floating in air, a trick of the light. Double-digit restriction is for the protection of your clone… Psychiatrists at the International Human Cloning Consortium have determined that a clone under twelve years of age is more susceptible to, and I will admit this is uncomfortable – their host’s possible sexual deviancy. Pedophilia is always a concern, so we follow the Consortium’s rule on the age of twelve.
I moved back and forth on the sofa to scratch an itch on my upper back, not wanting to appear childish or uncouth in front of Dr. Madeira by digging my finger into my back, my mind constantly thinking this is like a job application, I want this to go as smoothly as possible, but then also thinking, why am I concerned, I am white, she is not... shouldn’t she defer to me, then regretting it immediately, as if she could read my thoughts, I am better than this, father taught me to be better than this… clearing my throat, my whiteness tamped, Is this why I signed an electronic promissory note on the Narcissus site? Yes, that is exactly why… we want you to promise us, in writing, that you will not have sexual relations with your clone. Again, this is an uncomfortable matter, but it must absolutely be discussed. Do you remember reading about the old days, when so many adopted children used to be sexually abused by foster parents? We absolutely do not want that happening with your clone. It’s extremely rare, but all things must be considered. Like cloning, when one adopted a child, in the old days, screening was performed but things aren’t always guaranteed… bad people slip through the cracks, despite safeguards. The Institute’s primary concern is always for the clone’s safety. You understand, of course. Yes, of course. May I use your water closet? Dr. Madeira rose from her chair, opened the door, and gave me instructions, her fine-boned fingers pointing the way to a door three doors down. Pardon me, I’ll be right back, as one would say to a girlfriend in a bar.
The ambient lighting of the WC a soft orange, the scent of a freshly-peeled orange emanating from – what? The Institute had thought of everything, except perhaps basic human impulse. Sitting on the commode, the black door, toe to ceiling, completely, refreshingly alone, a small placard on the door, white text embedded in red plastic, as if carved into the Rosetta,
PLEASE DO NOT FLUSH SANITARY NAPKINS
Did women still do this in a public water closet, after all these years of being told not to? I thought of the inconvenience of being a woman, the embarrassment of it, how the female body still caused fear in men, society always reminding us of the failures of our bodies, men reminding us You bleed, you are open to the world, you produce children, you are an alien. The male opinion of the female form still seeping into the most controlled of atmospheres, reminding us we are separate but unequal, an anomaly. Had Dr. Madeira ever sat in this stall, wondering the same thing? Or was she too refined? I imagine we almost made the same salary, though making money is such an odd term, rather, having money – could she afford a clone if she wanted one? Did she have access to $600,000, to be paid in full, before delivery, or was her existence more precarious? Her fine, measured speech, her beautiful hands, the nails kept at a respectable length, like mine, but was it all an act? Like the attendant in a luxury boutique who chastises others while making minimum wage? At least with James, I knew where we stood, there were obvious social boundaries, which we both observed, but with Dr. Madeira, I wasn’t sure. I assumed she was from a good family, a wealthy family, and yet, she allowed this posted signage to continue, unquestioned. Of course, she was just a doctor at the Institute, surely it was run by a board of trustees, likely men…
Is there an On Off switch? / $100,000
Back in Dr. Madeira’s office. Slightly colder than the water closet… was it colder than it was just a few moments ago? Was the subtle change in ambient temperature a calculated psychological cattle prod to move the process forward, to make me just slightly uncomfortable, to prepare me for the body scan? Dr. Madeira – Yes – and please don’t take this the wrong way – I don’t believe there is a wrong way, what is it, dear? Well – and now I was feeling less than my thirty-one years, again my father’s daughter – well, and this question is by no means intended with any harm, but is there an On Off switch? On the clone? In case something goes wrong. Your question is perfectly natural, my dear. Every person who has ever adopted a clone has asked the same question. Your clone does not come with an On Off switch, however, you can have one placed inside the clone, if that is a concern. It – she – yes, she – will be another entity inside my house, a house I share with my father, so yes, I would find it reassuring… not that I would ever use it. You do realize your clone is a living human being, with emotions and a psychology that is separate from yours? Yes, of course – And so you likely recognize that knowing another being has absolute sovereignty over you would be more than a little alarming to your clone – You do understand? Yes, of course, but for father’s safety… An On Off switch is available for an additional $100,000. One hundred thousand dollars? Why so much? Think about it, Sylvie… when you choose to use the On Off switch, you’re deactivating a human being, an entity who is entirely separate from you, an entity who possesses an incredible will to live, just as you do. Ending a life brings great responsibility, whether it is an individual, or the State.
Sex = Death
But yes, your clone can have an On Off switch. Where is it located? The On Off switch on a female clone is located just slightly below the clitoris. Good luck finding it, though. Shocked, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or gasp in mock horror. Dr. Madeira, laughing like a high school girl, her face truly open for the first time during our interview, a snow crocus breaking through the first layer of November. I’m joking, of course. I’m quite sure you know where the clitoris is, Sylvie. I’m just shocked it’s in such an odd location. If my clone is old enough to have sexual relations, wouldn’t she die while engaging in sexual activity? That is a logical assumption, but no, only you or your clone can trigger the On Off switch, as you both share the same DNA, and the switch interacts with your DNA and your DNA only. The On Off switch contains ultrasensitive haptics that interact with your genotype. Where is it on the male? The perineum, Dr. Madeira said, swiping a hidden button under the black slab of her desk, brightening the lights. Are you ready to undergo the memory scan, my dear? Dr. Madeira? Why is there no comma between Narcissus and Inc? Because we don’t want anything to come between you and your clone, my dear. Dr. Madeira covered my four fingers with her four fingers, her thumb nestled in the soft valley between my thumb and index. You will be fine, my dear, there is nothing to be afraid of. We will read your memories and in eighteen months your clone will be delivered to you by personal transport. Do not give in to fear, give your name and your day-clothes to the nurses, and let us take care of everything else.
Boisselier Memory Transference Scan / Electronic Sleepover
In a small blue room, politely cool, I denude. I pile my bodywarm clothes onto a metal table that immediately folds into the wall, my clothes disappearing. Haptics, Dr. Madeira explained. We test your clothing for hair fibers. To cross-check DNA. I pull a paper apron over my body, a hole precut for the head. The Cloak of the Ancients, except I am a child again. The walls seem to be warming themselves. The bulb of my womanhood showy as a snow crocus, and once again I am thankful everything is tucked safely inside, it’s dangerous to be a boy. I wait on a very cold table for what seems like an eternity before a gentle knock, then a dark-headed nurse quickly peeks inside before entering. She is a bit younger than me, perhaps twenty-eight or so. How are we today, she asks, as if there were two of me. Soon, there will be. I’m fine. A little nervous. You’ll be fine, dear, there is nothing to be afraid of. You sound like Dr. Madeira, I offer, laughing. I should, she says, I’m her clone. I am stunned. Please remove your apron. My fists dead at my sides from shock, she gently tugs at the apron. I lift my arms, a girl again, allowing her to remove the garment, the paper rustling against my body, the buds of my kitten paw nipples, an accusation. Am I ridiculous? Is this a waste of time, a colossal waste of money? Why am I doing this – what is it I really want? Another knock at the door, then an assistant enters, a technician of some kind. She has a basket of gadgets on a rolling pushcart. Hello, she says. The metal tag hovering above her left breast identifies her as SABRINA. I am thankful there are no male technicians, or nurses, as my body isn’t – I’m just not happy with it at the moment. Not that I care what a man thinks about my body, I’m just grateful they’re both women. Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another, the technician removes a magnetized lid from a jar and rubs a minty ointment on my wrists, my ankles, above my heart, and slightly below my navel. Sabrina attaches a series of small wireless leads to each ointmented area. She then attaches a swimming cap to my head, cool metal buttons polishing my oily scalp, and already I am slipping towards delightful unconsciousness, wishing, as the leads cool my body, that I’d shampooed my hair earlier this morning. I only shampoo twice a week, having seen on the blip, long ago, when I was still a moody, quiet girl, that too much shampooing strips the body of essential oils. We will read different areas of your body for physical memory, and the Triple EG, the (E)enhanced EEG, will scan your brain for memory. How long does it take? About forty minutes, Sabrina says. Dr. Madeira’s clone, metal tag Benedita, swabs the crook of my arm with an astringent. You’ll feel a slight stick, and in a moment, a butterfly needle is in my arm. Why do they always warn you? Can’t they just do it, without the warning, so you’ll have no idea? It’s the anticipation that destroys. A second gurney is rolled into the small room by a third assistant I cannot see. I look to my right, tears kaleidoscoping my eyes, and see the sleeping bag Dr. Madeira mentioned earlier. It has electrical leads all over it, like a puffy cotton porcupine. The third assistant, now in view – a male – smiles down at me. Sabrina catches my attention with a fingertip to my forehead. Ok Sylvie, on the count of three, move over onto the sleeping bag. We will help you. And I am camping, something I have never done before, something that seems too common, too old fashioned, something from the dead world that no longer exists. I am reminded of Father’s words, long ago, when I was a girl… I’m not much for the outdoors, Sylvie. I prefer to stay inside, away from others, unless I am working with my bees. I too, am like this, my father’s daughter. Once I am folded into the sleeping bag, the male assistant zippers me while Benedita adjusts the EEEG swimming cap on my head. My head is the only part of my body that isn’t tucked inside the electrified sleeping bag. Sabrina rubs her index finger in the center of my forehead, massaging my third eye, and suddenly I recall Father’s beehives in the garden, white castles populating the summers of my childhood, the foragers returning to the hives with gold on their legs, Father and I delicately working the hives with smoke, a mesh veil the only thing separating me from a cloud of angry dark females, their bodies pinging against my pith helmet… Can you count backwards from ten for me, Sabrina asks. They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep. Ten, nine, eight…
Zippered Darkness (Black water)
I am in a field behind our estate. White-haired women push proudly towards the sky, dandelions. It is summer, and I am barefoot. I am a child, and the house I have known my entire life looms behind me, unseen and dangerous. The fields unfurl before me as I walk, a carpet machined for me alone. The breakcore hum of honeybees, but Father’s hives are so far away. The field dips in pollen-flecked waves, my legs carrying me forward, my feet uncontrolled farm equipment destroying the soil as I walk, my childhood erupting in cakewarm black piles. In the clearing, along the edge of gold, sudden horror as the field drops away into black fathomless water. The water stretches as far as I can see, an eternal sheet of black glass. On the edge of the water, a kind of satanic cement pier, with five or six people sitting on it, in chairs, drinking and carrying on, oblivious to the evil black water tonguing the edge of the concrete. They are enrobed in fall colors, thick housewives cinched in cinnamon velvet. Despite being moneyed my entire life, I feel removed from these people. There is an uncouthness to them, the loud unpolished brashness that comes from new money. Can you hear me, Sylvie? It’s Sabrina. Come back to us, you’re coming back to us now…
I am luxuriantly dead
Your clone will be delivered to you by personal transport. Dr. Madeira’s last words to me as I left her office, still slightly disconcerted from the full body scan, feeling as if everything I have ever been has been extracted from my body, exiting my mouth, the husk of my being exhausted from the effort, quietly rolled to a waiting transport in a wheelchair, a young man wearing a dark jacket emblazoned with the Institute’s logo, two infants, head to foot, in the Yin and Yang position, coupling in Oneness before Chaos. If I had died while he was opening the door, I would have said thank you, if I’d had the energy. I am pushed onto a platform, which lifts me into the dark beyond. The driver is a young man who looks eerily like Eve, the young Asian woman who greeted me at the doors of the Institute in what seems like a lifetime ago, though it has only been a little over three hours. The Institute has a unique way of erasing time. I attribute it to the constant whirring, no matter what part of the building one is in, and the lowered temperatures, cool yet somehow cocooning, as if I am already luxuriantly dead, and have no plans for tomorrow, no one to answer to, no reason to explain myself, Death overriding all my ridiculous dreams, all the idiot things I will never become.
I’m home, father
I wish it were James. The Institute’s driver does not speak, perhaps isn’t capable of speaking, a calm white mask pulled tautly over an adolescent Asian skull. Gum-chewing my inner cheek, still drunk from the anesthetic, I briefly wonder if he has a penis, a thought that would not have occurred to me had I been compos mentis, as I don’t usually think such things about boys or men, I consider their bodies as I would consider a mophandle, of no interest, a strange object leaning against a door jamb, and Father is so old he's nearly invisible, his sexuality erased by time’s calloused hands, his white legs bald, his electric socket hair nearly translucent, as I have read of polar bears, his back bent, a question mark that has abandoned the answer it sought long ago… I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat. In a moment, I am lowered again, delivered to the unmoving earth, and I recognize the drive, my home, Father’s home, the home I will inherit when Father dies, a moment I truly dread – I love my father – and will inherit with my new one, my Jenny. Father opens the door, his elegant swan-headed cane in his right hand, offering to help, the driver politely refusing, Thank you Sir, I can manage, Father grateful, much too old to do much of anything except breathe, and make a great show of usefulness, and watch his hives, in spring, remembering when he had the back of a much younger man, and I always wanted a sister, a sister a few years younger than me, to share secrets with, to conspire… The house is very cold, has Father forgotten what his skin feels like, when it is hot, when it is cold? Do the elderly lose all sense of their body, do they forget they have one? Or is the pain of having a body so great as one ages that it’s best to forget? The cool walls undulate with moss, I am wheeled towards the staircase, a forested hall – who’d walk in this bleak place?
Very long days (The Waiting Game)
I await Jenny. She is expected to arrive in mid-April. A future was lost yesterday, Father’s senescence continuing, it is terrible to witness, to listen to, his disappearing. I heard him downstairs yesterday talking to the plates, asking them to please not be so heavy, the smashing of bone china against marble marking yet another loss, Mother’s china slowly, gratefully dwindling, and I’d asked Father, long ago, why Mother hadn’t taken her china when she left, running off with another man, Well I suppose she was in a hurry, Father offered, both of us laughing, and how I hate her, how I have never hated another woman as much as I hate her – why did I allow her to ruin womanhood? Why do I measure all women – unfairly – against the template she etched in acid? Jenny will be my recovery, my yardstick against all future greatness. I sweep poisonous shards of white dust into a dustbin, Mother’s jagged bone pinching an index as I bleed onto the pink marble of the great kitchen, Mother still punishing me long after she abandoned me, abandoned us, and Father was kind enough to never mention wanting a son, though I imagine he did, a boy who would stand by him as he worked his hives, frames of liquid gold held to the sun, the great orb piercing honeycomb to illuminate his son’s face, shining as a brother might, Where are you, my great Warren, my beautifully unborn brother, are you sad, are you lonely in your own private hell, forever trapped in the coffin of your mother’s body? I dump the rest of Mother into a waiting maw, the garbage electronically masticated until it disappears under the house, under the yard, flowing out to the sea, gathering again in the estuary of my mother’s body, and oh mother, my mother, how does it feel to be replaced with breasts firmer than yours, lips fuller than yours, hips lovelier than yours, and in a month’s time I will not remember you, murderess of maleness, destroyer of my father, my first male ally in this world, and what a luxury it would be to kill you, the great whore of this wasteland, to seek you out, my intent destruction, but I am too nice for murder…
It is April 18. I await her arrival sitting in a chair on the front lawn in a few fatal yards of grass. I am obscenely barefoot, pulling bladed chlorophyll between my toes, my nails a luscious orange, my sandals only a few inches away, if needed, commanded by my body, a bench warrant, if one wears an object against the body long enough, does that object become part of the body? A georgette dress caresses the hips, the flowers vivid as bandages, sandals a stage for the spotlight toes, a bra a petulant whip, a boys legs painted by trousers, a suggestion of the flesh rather than a reality, because reality always fails us. The hum of expensive tyres on the graveled drive, sounding as they did in what seems a lifetime ago the Institute, lulling me towards happiness, that great awful rowing toward God, the transport pulling to a stop just a few feet from the edge of the lawn, where the gravel meets the grass, the flowers along the border bowing to some big thing, in anticipation of her arrival, of Jenny’s arrival, my sister in waiting, and how I wish it were James. The Institute’s driver opens the door and does not speak, perhaps isn’t capable of speaking, perhaps he is a clone of his brother, also Asian, and the transport door opens slowly, I am broken and healed, broken and healed upon seeing her, my reflection, trapped in amber, she is twenty years old, a lovely twenty years old, she is more beautiful than I expected, my memory siphoned to create her, filled with holes, what holes this papery day is already full of! When I think of myself, I dream of someone else entirely. She walks towards me in the grass, towards my open arms, and for once I am not ashamed. I am made whole again. I am myself. Is that not enough?
I no longer desire to communicate with the world outside my head. I didn’t want a child, my body ruined by an unintended mistake, I didn’t want a man, someone who would hurt me, with his false promises and his armor of fakery. I didn’t want flowers, I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. To love someone, totally and without reservation, to give them absolute sovereignty over your being, to echo Dr. Madeira from a lifetime ago, to surrender emotionally, psychologically, and physically to another being, is madness, and it is a madness I have always wanted. How did I not know this before? Or if I knew, why did I hide it? Was I afraid Father would be disappointed, that I was born Sylvia and not Warren, a girl and not a boy? If Father was disappointed, he never uttered a word, and was happy with me in the garden, at his side, attending to the bees in their hives, angry females, yellow on black, You are their queen, Father said more than once, in my moon suit and funeral veil, the girls pelting me with threats, Never eat a banana before attending to the bees, their fear pheromone smells like banana, if you have the scent on you they will become a box of maniacs.
Jenny and I share a bedroom. We each have our own bed. In our room, a palace of taffeta, pink floor runners, and plushes, pandas and kittens and black-eyed puppies. Jenny sits at her vanity. I slowly comb her hair, pulling bunched strands of dull gold from her hairbrush, slowly caressing her scalp with its alert, attentive bristles. Does she remember this? Does she remember Mother doing this, when we were girls, I was perhaps nine, waiting for the school bus, waiting to grow up, waiting to be normal. I observe Jenny as she glances in the mercury, marveling at her own reflection, and a jolt of rapid heat travels up my xylophone spine. She watches the blip from the corner of her eye as I continue traversing the cascade of her hair, angel falls. When I was a child, I was open-mouthed, but when I became a woman, my lips closed tightly, because I thought it improper to exclaim to the world how much I loathed humanity, and still do, my anger unbecoming of a woman of my stature, which is why I keep my mouth shut and my doors closed. I observe Jenny and quietly push my sexuality back into myself, bleeding from every orifice Mother bequeathed to me. I am a nun now, I have never been so pure. But perhaps I am lying to myself…
These cobbled scraps of womanhood
Two girls there are, within the house. One sits, the other, without. I continue combing her hair. That’s enough, Jenny says, her hand stopping mine. I can do it. What is it you want? She asks. I don’t want anything. Maybe warmth. Warmth? Yes, that’s all I have ever wanted. It’s been difficult for both of us, the hatred I have for Mother… I feel I could murder her over and over again and it would never be enough. Yes, but she is long gone, she has a new life, and we’re not part of it. And Father is an old man, he’s fine, his life is nearly over. If all you truly wanted is warmth, couldn’t you put on a sweater? Do you not have enough blankets? That’s not what I mean, and you know it. I think you aren’t being truthful with yourself. Homosexuality is wrong, and two people who are related to each other shouldn’t be together. Aren’t there rules about this? Who said anything about homosexuality? I know you, Sylvie, you are part of me, remember? We share memories, thoughts, intuitions, but I don’t share your dream, that’s something you are projecting onto me. I’m not projecting anything – You are. I don’t want to argue. I’m not arguing, I’m just saying I don’t want to be part of whatever you imagine this is. When you created all this, without asking, of course, did you ever consider what I might want? Did you consider maybe I’d never want to be part of this hermetic world? Or were you thinking only of yourself? Jenny scans her vanity, then looks beyond me, through me, obviously irritated that I’m standing behind her, towards the cobbled scraps of womanhood on the surface of my vanity, spying the Nail Bird ® among the untouched perfume bottles, bottles intended as decoration, to suggest to a stranger that I am more woman than I am, though no one ever walks through my door, pheromones to keep the workers close to the queen. Jenny whistles and the Nail Bird ® flits across the room to her as she holds out her left hand, the ring I gifted her three weeks prior noticeably absent. Three thousand years of civilization and the best we can come up with is flying nail clippers. Can you please sit down, or go somewhere else? You’re making me nervous, standing behind me like that.
Nail Bird ®
Nail Bird ® is a small hexagonal device, about the size of a hummingbird, that rests on a dresser or vanity. It can be programmed to recognize the sound of its owner’s voice. When called, the Nail Bird ® hovers towards its owner, carefully engulfs the finger, and clips their nails, one at a time. Delicate sensors inside the Nail Bird ® allow for close cuts without harm or damage to the finger. The cutting blades of the Nail Bird ® are medical grade stainless steel. The back of the Nail Bird ® unscrews for emptying of contents. Manufactured exclusively by DRAKE ®
Above all else, I want to be an autonomous individual, I want to have control over my body, love whom I wish to love, live my own life, we each only have one life. I pull one of her favorite dresses from the closet, one of my favorite dresses, take it from the hook, smooth it on the bed. I reverently move my hands over it, an old man caressing a prayer book. It is a vintage dress, a Jason Wu from long ago, when a label on a dress still mattered, when your girlfriend overturned the label in her hand and swooned, when people still cared, before the sun became so angry, and the ground so ungiving. The dress seems very unlike her, yet also her. The narcissi on my dress look up at me like expectant children. I pull it over my skin, an explosion of color in the darkness. Did she imagine me in this dress? Did she touch herself in the dark, imagining me in this dress, before I arrived, her back stiff as an ironing board, her fingers a homecoming welcome? Did the constellations trapped inside her head explode while imagining me, as yet unborn, the Big Dipper, her only familiar, the perfected younger version of herself?
We two are now one
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. Look how white everything is, how quiet… I am young, my teeth are seated firmly in my mouth. I slowly walk down the stairs to greet Father, carrying myself as gracefully as a girl on prom night, a corsage pinned to my dress, above my heart, my male suitor hiding in my room. Her heart stopped, and now we are one. As I walk the stairs I adjust my face, pull my dress here and there, a shopgirl on her first day, flip my hair as a child. Father is waiting for me, impotent as distant thunder, the father who will love me, unquestioningly. This is what every child wants, yes? You look lovely as ever, dear, Father says. How do you get younger, and I continue to get older? Father? Yes, my dear? I sit directly across from him at the dining room table, which memory tells me is 96 inches long, like two girls curled back-to-back. It is Thursday and Miss Clearfield sets a dish before me, the last of Mother’s bone china, an ice cream of some kind, Father’s dish already before him, its sides sweating, proof he has been waiting for me. Will your sister be down? Miss Clearfield asks. She’ll be down a bit later, I offer. Father’s attention immersed on his handheld. Daddy, I ask, and this time, he raises his eyes to look at me. He seems pleased that I am his little girl again. Would you mind if I changed my name?
Sampled lines from “Tulips,” “April 18,” “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” and “Two Sisters of Persephone” © Sylvia Plath
Image in chapter titled "Genotype" from Drowning Girl by Faiyaz Jafri. The author and publisher express our gratitude to Mr. Jafri for allowing permission to use this image.