Gnawing at My Ankle
I miss curiosity. I miss the days when I could stare at the sun for hours (despite clear warnings not to) and ponder what made it burn so bright. Bright and painful, burning my corneas while the other kids' screams of joy faded in the background. I miss being able to bury my head in the sand and find my own world. I miss the buzzes of creation flashing like lightning bugs around my head after I saw a new thing. I miss a time when the highway of ideas ran nonstop instead of only thinking of bills and money and how I can climb the slippery walls of the maze I'm trapped in and escape the rat race. I miss the days of having nothing to worry about except whether or not it would rain and if your friend would be there the next day.
There is no joy in my mind anymore. there are the faux words, strung to sound like myself though I feel like the bread left over after a toddler has surgically removed the cheese, lettuce, tomato, and ham one by one, sucking the flavor of them all and tosing them aside. Perhaps its the medicine to steady the moods that used to sway like a ship or maybe it's that I feel like the other disciples too afraid of the sea threatening to Titanic their biblical ship to notice that Jesus is standing on fucking water. Maybe I'm just doomed to continually drown until I make like all the authors in those books I look at all around my room and just fade to obscurity and die penniless on the street. This is truly morose, but what's to be expected when one loses their job and is faced with a mountain of bills and debt collectors and loan sharks smacking metaphorical bats in gruff hands. They have lawyers for that now.
What if i were to just disappear and end up walking down a street in Amsterdam with my dreadlocks discreetly tucked into a scarf and holding a Michael Kors bag with a hamster's chubby face hanging out? No one ever expects a hamster. It feels like it's been years since I've been able to write a scenario of any sorts. I think I know how a thirty-eight year old football player feels in third quarter after they just came back from a hamstring injury. I've missed words but God is it hard to keep going. That's how I feel nowadays. It's hard to keep going. I fill my day with arbitrary tasks because taking naps just isn't fun anymore. Taking a nap on a lazy day used to feel nice and now it just makes me feel like a waste of time and space.
There used to be a time when being alive didn't feel so daunting. I wish I could go back and find the exact second when I started to feel like Atlas, being crushed under the weight of the real world and unable to escape. There feels like no out, and any out I can foresee will take years to enact because it's never just me. That's how they get you. Ensnare others who will keep you accountable so you'll never leave, never be able to fully get away. How do people survive this tribulous span of adulthood before they get the relief of becoming an elder? When will this journey become enjoyable instead of a constant, careful labryrinth of choices that will blindside you twenty-three steps down the road?
The Dog Days Are Over
Melted ice-cream cones on fallen leaves
As we hold hands and watch the sun fall.
The horizon tinted indigo, sherbert clouds
Forming a frothy sea where stars dance
Like the embers twinkling in the distance,
The last campfire of parting high schoolers.
Memories being made through tears,
Blanketed girls clutching their sweethearts
In one hand and a marshmallow-filled
Stick in the other while laughing gleefuly,
Reminiscing on old teachers and principals.
Little kids walking past, yawning and whining,
Five more minutes, ten more minutes, we beg;
We all beg Father Time for more time to spend
Dancing in the glow of summer another night
Before the chill of autumn gives way to winter.
The Depth of Death
This is actually based on a true idea I had after my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. My grandfather, maybe because of Vietnam or losing my uncle when he was young, had already planned the way he wanted his funeral and had left all sorts of notes and clues around their (extremely cluttered) house for things about his life and stuff he wanted us to know. Because I struggle with suicidal thoughts and self-harm, I came up with the idea of creating my own death book essentially that details not only what I would want to happen but also allows whoever finds it to contact all my friends whom I've met online or who live far away to connect with them.
The book I've started writing follows Marigold Harrison, a grieving mother who has just lost her young daughter, Courtney, in a car accident. While cleaning her daughter's room, she finds a notebook that details how her daughter wants her final services to be. Then, she later realizes that the journal lays out a journey that her daughter lays out for her to become connected to the family that Courtney built for herself. Through this journey, she finds healing and peace with her daughter's untimely passing.
Prologue - Bury Me
The day my grandfather died, my heart sank to my toes. I still remember the call, at the mall on a date with a boy I had been admiring for years. He liked me despite my flaws like the scars that lined my arms and my skin speckled with pimple scars and the patches in my hair from pulling and pulling it when I was stressed. I remember how soft his hand was, the taste of the milkshake, the haziness of the never-washed windows in the dome of Eastwoods Mall. I loved this mall as a kid, always had good memories. It made sense that the most picturesque memory would be here. Now. Then the call.
I love calling my mom. Not just because I know that inevitably, she'll be snooping through my room and find this. Or maybe, the inevitable will happen and I will actually go through with my plans that I detail at the beginning of this book. But, the page I always skip now comes in handy, right? Anyway, I didn't want to answer, and now I can't imagine not answering. Not dropping the vanilla milkshake all over myself. Not immediately wretching my hand from his, running outside to my car, remembering I hadn't driven to the mall, panicking in the parking lot until he found me and pulled me into a tight squeeze to keep me from clawing my face noticably. My mom is going to be upset reading this, knowing that she had to ruin a date when she thought I was at work.
I dreaded the day I had to lose him. My first grandparent. We were close, thick as thieves, as he'd say before a hearty "AARGH!" and brandishing a paper towel roll. I loved the game, tying one of his large gym socks around my eye and screaming, "en garde!" before we raced around the house. I looked at the sea of faces, some I knew, some I didn't. Clutching the podium, I tried to get my memories together. Laying on his chest and protesting naptime sleepily, taking pictures of him in my graduation gown, calling him accidentally instead of my ex drunkenly and laughing for two hours, getting picked up after detention, racing the motorized shopping carts. My dad took my hand and helped me from the podium while everyone else softly cheered for my bravery.
There's now just a looming threat that I'll go to a mental hospital all because I attempted suicide at fifteen after my grandmother had a heart attack, and we thought she may not make it. Though that was almost a decade ago, everyone still worried that I would lose it. I did, in a way. I mean, a girl doesn't wear capris in summer because they want to, but I was not going to put my family through that. Not again. I can't watch my family suffer through another death. Thus, I asked my therapist for help. Now, Dr. Holly is one of my favourite people for her out of the box explanations. Knowing my OCD and perfection issues, she had heard me out for how I wanted to die and reminded me that everyone would mess up my final wishes.
It was true. While in the mental hospital, I had missed my great aunt's funeral. Not only was I upset that I was unable to be there to see her funeral be planned. My great aunt was ninety-three, and our compatible Zodiac signs and general temperaments made us closer. Throughout my life, she had essentially planned her entire funeral through me. Being unable to fulfill them, including adding her aborted baby to her obituary alongside her deceased daughter, continues to follow me daily. Therefore, I pondered and I figured instead of resuming cutting and purging or possibly driving off a bridge, I would put my energy into writing this book. My little death book, title pending, essentially is just my idealized way of planning my death so I don't actually cause it.
In the event that you find this, Mom (since I know you're reading this -_-), I'm not gonna die. I'm not suicidal. I'm just venting. Please, just put the book back in the drawer, ignore the dildo (I will not explain), and pretend you never saw anything. And since you're just going to come in and keep reading like you used to do with my diary (yes, I knew about that too), enjoy the ride and don't judge me or my decisions. You chose this.
Last Love Song by ZZ Ward
Jesus, I have lost all comfort in my ability to be myself. I feel like a hermit crab now, naked and afraid in the open ocean, trying to get to a new shell since I feel myself suffocating in this one, but knowing that coming out of my current one will leave me open to whatever eats hermit crabs. Piranhas. Let's go with piranhas. Anyway, I feel like this is a step I need to take to start to walk towards whatever my true happiness is. Not to say you weren't true happiness, but I am currently doing a Scooby-Doo-style running through different doors and getting to the same place to get to where I'm trying to go. I guess at some point you have to look the bad guy in the eye and make the choice that you're gonna figure out how to trap him and expose him and save the failing business from the shady businessman who was doing weird shit to garner more money.
I haven't felt this comfortable talking in a while. I guess I can explain why I'm like this. Last September, my great-aunt died, and I had a mental break and was sentenced (that's a fun word. More like gently led to and left at) a mental hospital for a little bit. Ten days of learning boundaries and slowly reattaching to reality. Before that, I had been uncovering whatever weird sexual abuse I'd gone through that my brain had locked up in some mental Guantanamo Bay with my therapist. But then, they diagnosed me with bipolar disorder (or borderline personality disorder because everything's on a goddamn cyclical spectrum nowadays), and that has been the hardest diagnosis to face thus far.
I feel all the feelings currently, so let's slow it down and get deep. I have technically known that I am bipolar since fourth grade. This child, let's call him Amir since that was his name, specifically told me that I was bipolar because I did not like him and used him for candy and money. But what fourth grader can articulate their incapability of whatever "love" is supposed to feel like because of some internal pain they don't exactly understand? There is mental blindness when it comes to trauma, and apparently, I am Stevie fucking Wonder when it comes to this situation because I can feel there's something there, but I cannot see it, and trying to uncover it has been a labyrinth of awful gut feelings and obscurely strange memories.
We can start with what I do know. The person you met was me. I am, well was, comfortable in my own very unique skin. I like obscure references, making jokes, using GIFs, reading, writing... when I say you got about as much of me as anyone ever has, I mean it. You really were my first love, and I will always hold that close to me. But I also know that I have an unhealthy attachment style of needing someone desperately and not needing them at all. I know that what you did, leaving constantly for whatever reason it was that time, was, at the very least, extremely hurtful. Pretending you were gay so I would stop loving you hurt me. You hurt me with some of your actions, and those are actions that I have to forgive.
They're actions that I do forgive. I can still feel the vitriol for them when I remember you because I have never fully acknowledged that pain. I can't say you aren't important to me or that what you did even remotely takes away the love and joy and happiness I feel when I remember you, but it still happened. I really want you to know that you leaving seventeen months ago (yes, ya girl's been counting) hurt me badly. I mean, you basically told me that you were addicted to Valium, told me you were going to sleep and would talk to me later, and just never came back. If you're reading this, part of me wants to refer you to the Cardi B GIF "WHAT WAS THE REASON" but part of me just, is tired. I want to know that you're okay simply because you're important to me, and I love you. Not romantically, not anymore, but just simply as a person. You are such an amazing person and someone that I want to have nothing but the best in this world.
I hope you're alive. I remember having this dream of you standing on a blue-tinted white beach in all white, smiling at me about two and a half months after you left. It freaked me out since that's the typical death scene in every movie, but I guess I should've felt calm since it signified peace in some way. I'm running out of steam now, but the point is, I love you, dude. I want myself to have the same peace and joy that I wish for you, and I know that in order to do that, I have to say goodbye. So, listen to the song in the title and know that this is the last love letter I'll be sending you and that I don't expect you to come back. Thank you for being the example of what I wanted in a soulmate, and I hope that I've helped you in some way too. Adios, pendejo. [Use that Rosetta Stone you spent all that money for :P]
Thunderstorm of Thoughts
The boom of thunder forced my eyes to snap open and my whole body was seized by the tremblance of my house. A scream was caught in my throat, and I was choking on it. The indigo haze of confusion melted into a foggy blue hue against the lavender walls we painted less than nine months ago when we moved into this house. My eyes focused on the mistaken patch on the white ceiling, and I willed my body to relax. My senses took over. My brother screaming obscenities at Splatoon downstairs. The gust of rain on the window panes. The rustling of the trees. I stretched, regaining control of my limbs, and peered at my phone. Three in the afternoon and three missed messages. I answered quickly and got up. My mother would be home in an hour for our trip to Cleveland for my college orientation.
College had never been on my mind, but after being forced to one too many college expos and schmoozed by a college recruiter, I applied to a single college and got accepted. The college was four hours away, just outside of Cleveland. While I had been to other states, the looming thought of leaving home was weighing on me like an elephant was asleep on my chest. I was a late bloomer in the sense of teenage experiences. I had gotten my license at seventeen but still hesitated to drive anywhere. I had never slept over at any friend's house that wasn't related to me or connected to someone who was related to me. I hadn't even had a job yet, nor even looked for one, despite writing several resumes in classes. The idea of jumping out of the fishbowl and into the Great Lake was suffocating me.
I was still shaking at the thought of leaving, even in the car with Cincinnati disappearing behind us. My mother was beside me, tapping an Erykah Badu song onto the steering wheel. Kings Island was fading in the distance, looking like a masterpiece of geometric pipe cleaners. Maybe I'd go for my last summer in the city before the college hijinks I had seen on TV would set in. Part of me didn't feel ready. Well, all of me didn't feel ready. My mother seemed to notice. I wasn't the first to go to college, far from it, but no one had good stories. College was just a painful rite of passage apparently.
The queasy feeling was taking over my brain when my mother turned the music down. She knew that I hadn't been sleeping, but this was long before my mental health had begun to be unpacked. At that time, I was just a lazy, spoiled teenager who spent too much time on her computer and not enough time being an adult. Yet, my sleep schedule was getting concerning, especially since last summer, I was so depressed I could only bring myself to sleep, watch TV, scroll on dating sites, and research the arbitrary on my laptop.
"Did you sleep at all?"
"Nah," I murmured. I was looking at my shorts, making sure the faint red marks were covered enough that no questions would be asked. "I fell asleep around seven."
"The nerves will go away. Plus, you liked it before. I'm sure orientation is going to be fun."
"It won't be like my experience," she assured me.
My mother had gotten into an extremely difficult arts program only to realize that not only did she hate her whore roommates, every frat boy they brought to her dorm, and the program she was in, but that her ongoing struggle with epilepsy and constant exhaustion from her program had her crying nightly and contemplating dropping out like my father had. The only reason she finished at all was because of her surprise birthday gift, hearing my heartbeat at the gynecologist. We were close to Columbus now, and the knot in my stomach had reached monkey fist knot status.
"I just am worried. I only applied to one college. I like the program, and I'm excited, but it's new. What if it doesn't work out?"
"You can always quit," she said, reciting one of the family quotes. "I'd rather you quit while you're ahead than stick with something you hate. I don't want you to be stuck in a job you despise."
"I understand." I squeezed my feet around my bookbag and answered a text from my friend in Maryland. We had been roleplaying for a while, though it was nothing serious. I had never done anything serious. "I'm hoping it'll go well."
"Of course it will. And if not, it's not the end of the world."
I smiled for the first time in a while. A Taylor Swift song was quietly playing on the radio. "Thanks, Mother."
"Don't call me that," she grumbled playfully. "I'm not that old."
The Bubble of a Dream
The destiny of love is well-known by the time every girl reaches puberty. The prospect of marriage, carrying on a family legacy that Briar Rose no doubt felt throughout her lifetime. Her parents would smile sadly at her musings of how one day she would be queen and the kingdom would be hers, knowing the inevitable would happen. And though her father banned every spindle in the land, the curse still came true when Briar Rose found an old woman weaving and pricked her finger on the spindle. While the good fairy, who managed to save the king and queen the brunt of the evil old fairy's curse of their daughter's premature death, managed to put all the servants into a slumber so the princess would not awake alone, her parents still locked up the castle and left her.
Being a wonderous thing, the mind weaved Briar Rose a bubble of dreams to pass the century comatose. The prince came first, as she had always dreamed. Her father had introduced her to the gentleman, a far-off prince who liked everything she liked. She took him to her chambers, and the pair talked about everything under the sun for hours. Upon finding their compatibility, they wed under a sea of stars and before all of the guests. Her father handing her off to her husband as her mother looked on tearfully was one of the happiest memories her brain concocted. From there, the kingdom grew strong, and the pair looked towards expansion in many ways.
By the time Briar Rose had their first child, a baby girl, the pair had annexed two surrounding kingdoms. The prince's excellent negotiation skills secured the other dukes in the land to join him. By the time the pair had their second child, Briar Rose's elderly father had died, putting her husband in power and giving her the role of queen she always wanted. As her third child was just learning to walk, the kingdom had almost tripled in size, her husband had successfully won his first war, and the pair were looking to grow the kingdom more, given that her father-in-law was ill, and her husband was his favourite. Then, a few days before her father-in-law died, her mother called her into her room.
The queen had been ill for a while, and the heart sickness of losing her husband had only been assuaged by seeing her grandchildren grow up. Yet, the sickness was winning. She called Briar Rose in, who could barely see her through her tears. Taking her daughter's soft hand into her own as she had so many times before, she hugged her daughter.
"You'll get along without me, darling," the queen said with a teary-eyed smile. "The good fairy made sure of it."
"What are you talking about, Mother?"
"Many years ago, you were cursed to die. A fairy came and stopped your demise. Destine to lose you, your father and I kept you from realizing until you opened your eyes."
Hada fingered the jade-beaded subhah hanging from her neck as she skimmed the book in her lap. From afar, she heard the clang of dishes. She eyed the kitchen area, where her husband stood quizzically over a cast iron skillet and a thick old book of recipes they'd collected over the years. One of his hands was deeply rooted in his pulled-back blonde hair, while his other was securely between his teeth. Hada watched him shift between the book, the pan, and the two lobsters on the counter who were wandering slowly around their surroundings. He just so happened to look up, and both his hands went to his hips.
"You promised not to peak." His soft yet gruff Icelandic accent sent a soft chill up her spine. "Do you want to ruin our anniversary?"
"Of course not," she replied, mimicking his accent. He threw a piece of baguette at her, eliciting a giggle fit. "I'm just saying if you want to say you don't remember--"
"I remember, woman." His face was tinged with red, and his grip was tighter on his hair. "I just am having trouble paying attention because these little bastards won't stay still. Plus, it's been a minute since we read Old English."
"Well, we read Beowulf recently," Hada murmured.
"Ugh. Don't remind me. Stupid ass book."
"It's a classic!" Hada said, rolling her eyes playfully.
"Epic my ass. The dumbass who wrote it stayed anonymous for a reason."
"For all you know, I could've written it."
"As long as we've been together?" E's chuckle could be heard over the clanging of the pots. "I know your writing by now, love. And you write far better than that."
Hada slipped the ornate Scholastic bookmark back into her book and walked into the kitchen. She grabbed a cake pan and put both the lobsters in them so they were less likely to escape. The clamor of the pan on the counter made E jump, though he tried to hide it. Hada noticed anyway.
"Relax, my love." Hada chuckled. "Just didn't want my dinner to run away."
E looked towards the ground and placed the pot on the stove. "We talked about you taking over for me," he muttered, though Hada could tell he wasn't worried about the cooking anymore. He kept glancing at her, standing in some old boxers he had outgrown years ago and a tank top.
Hada giggled. "Yeah, because eating is what we look forward to on our anniversary."
"You are such a flirt," E said sarcastically.
He set the pot on the stove and peered back at the book. Hada watched him. While reading, he slipped the hazel rosary in and out of his mouth, lightly running his tongue against the shiny onyx beads separating them. E sprinkled salt in the pot and frowned. He mouthed a word, then looked towards the starry sky, trying to figure out what it meant. Hada started to help, but E shrugged it away and kept working. Hada looked down at the lobsters, who were curiously wandering the pan. The one who had continuously tried to escape had stopped and was trying to snip at the other's tail through the rubber band.
Hada smirked. The first time she had seen a lobster was in Rome. It was a few years into their marriage, though she still had to pretend she was E's slave. The pair had ended up on the shore of Rome helping Arabic merchants smuggle coffee into Italy without English boats catching. It was a night on the beach while they waited for a shipment. Hada had worn a shawl to hide her growing belly and was climbing up on a rock to see if she could see the boat when she nearly stepped on two mating lobsters. She had jumped back and screamed, and E had exclaimed that she had found them dinner.
E dropping something and swearing in Icelandic pulled Hada from her memory. "Fuck cooking!" he growled, kicking the ladle he dropped. He was clutching his palm tightly.
"What did you do?" Hada asked.
"Burnt my goddamn hand." E turned the stove off and grabbed the now-bent ladle. "Turned on the wrong fucking burner and then didn't realize the ladle was on it. Changed the burner then went to grab the ladle, and then--"
Hada quieted him by kissing him. "It's okay, baby. I'm not that hungry anyway."
"Are you sure?" E's voice was so soft she could barely hear him. She was rubbing his hand which was reddening.
She nodded and led him to the sink. She placed it under the cold water. "The lobsters will be okay for the night. I read on the interwebs they'll last a day and a half."
"We don't have a container for them."
"They'll be okay."
"The smaller one keeps trying to escape though. What if he does?"
"We'll find him. You need rest anyway." Hada rubbed E's hand gently. "I know reliving the 70s was hard."
"You only watch your wife get hepatitis once."
"Well, now you know how it felt when you got fucking cholera."
E ran his free hand through Hada's curly brown hair and planted a kiss on her head. "I wish I hadn't chosen to spend eternity with a woman with such a good memory."
Hada smiled. E's grip tightened on her hair and he kissed Hada's neck. "Don't think I didn't pick up on those cues earlier," he whispered in her ear.
She breathed heavily, then looked at him with a smug look. E had turned her loose and smacked her butt. "Don't look too excited. I just wanna cuddle right now."
She whimpered and made an annoyed face. "Rude."
"Don't get disrespectful now. I'm still mad you didn't listen to me about that crowd. I can't keep almost losing you, woman."
"We just end up back together," Hada said with an eye roll.
E shot her a stern look and continued over to the couch. He set her book on the coffee table and plopped down on his back. His feet hung off the couch, reminding her of the first time she'd seen him almost die. It was a few years after the Crusades, and his father had made a bad deal with the Muslims. Hada had been hiding in the back, instructed by E's father to not move from that spot or face getting gutted. Yet, seeing E laying motionless, bleeding out, she couldn't stop herself from running out and pleading in Arabic with the men to not kill E or his father.
Hada wet a paper towel that she set the lobsters on top of in the cake pan, then set it in the fridge. She dimmed the lights and went over to E. He was scrolling on his phone, though she could tell he wasn't paying any attention to what he was looking at. She tapped on his stomach.
"Is this spot taken?"
"I mean, you can sit here if you want. Sometimes there's pop-ups around there, but they subside."
Hada sat at the edge of the couch. E could hear her slowly scratching the soft ribbed fabric. "I'm sorry I ruined our anniversary, E."
"You're finally ready to talk about why you did that instead of doing this snarky shit? E hadn't looked away from the Facebook video explaining the right way to tie your shoes.
"I saw a little boy that looked like Adan," she murmured after a long time. Hada was twiddling with the cross on E's rosary. She ran her finger over the embossing of Adan's name on the little silver cross. "I didn't want to be sober anymore but knew it was hard on you."
E grabbed Hada's elbow gently and pulled her towards him. By the time her head hit his chest, she was a sniveling mess. E wiped his tears and pulled the rest of Hada's body onto him. He kissed her forehead and wiped her cheeks. He let Hada cry herself, only speaking to tell her it was okay and reassure her that he was not mad at her. After a few hours, her sobs had slowed to occasional sniffling breaths and soft sighs of sadness.
"I hate being cursed with forever," she murmured. She was playing with the pendant of the subhah, fingering the countless names of their children that they had lost carved in each of the hundred beads.
E was quiet for a long time. Then, in Amharic, he whispered to her, "You'll always have me. And our children will always have the experience of being raised by the best mother in the world."
"Thank you, baby." Hada was gently flicking her finger against his nipple. "I think I want to use protection tonight."
"I understand, love."
"What the fuck just happened?" Nieto was on the ground staring up at the underbelly of a mountain of rubble. His backpack had taken the brunt of the impact but his whole body still throbbed like he'd been trampled by the bulls. "That hurt like fuck."
"Kids your age really chouldn't be cussing like that," a gruff voice murmured.
Nieto looked to see the glaming red hood and long tail of La Kobra and yelped. He backed away towards the edge of the room. La Kobra turned and kinda smirtked. Long white fangs stopped at the crease of his chin.
"Relax kid. If I was gonna kill ya, I would've just let the building fall on you."
"You saved me? But I thought--"
"Yeah, yeah. El Toro," La Kobra said in a mocking voice. "Boy gets a little swole and acts like he can throw everyone around. I know I'm no cake walk but that asshole isn't the saint Valencia makes him out to be. The guy's a prick, trust me."
"But you murder people."
"Not everyone deserves to go to jail for their crimes. Sometimes, you just need to escore them to the pearly gates yourself." L aKobra paused for a second then continued. "Plus, I murder people who are assholes like me. You're like ten. Worst thing you could"ve done is ripped off your sister's Barbie doll head."
"So, I'm not gonna die."
"Well no one said that." La Kobra was looking around for something. "We are in a collapsed church basement being held by two joists and with no exits. We might not make it. But hey, if we die, can you do me a favor?"
"If we die, when you get to heaven, find my Lara for me and tell her that her papa will always love her, will ya?"
"Um..." I heard crackling from a far off place. "Sure. Will do."
Adventures of Bert Huggins: The Lost Episode
Bert placed the needle slowly on the record and turned with the two saucers of tea towards his guest. Eugenia sat poised on the hideous floral couch with an almost automated smirk on her face. Bert placed the caucer down in front of her and smiled. "I know that the purple one is your favourite."
"You know me so well," Eugenia said though her voice cracked into a burlier voice halfway through. "You're so smart."
Bert smiled at the ground and sat across from Eugenia. She crossed her legs and tapped her finger into the tea. "It's imported Oolong from Siam. Should be 110.3 degrees, just how you like it. I measured it myself."
"Siam. It used to be called China before the collapse," Eugenia rattled off. Her normal voice had returned. "People adopted babies from there in the 1960s when the war began."
Bert looked at the wood-panneled walls. His parents smiled at him in greyscale, holding his older sister, who was sucking her fist and staring off-camera. It needed dusting. "Darling, you know I cannot give you children. It's against the rules."
"I'm enhanced for childbearing. I checked."
"Genie," Bert murmured. The record was playing an old song from the fifties, the one his brother was conceived to. "We can't raise a baby together."
"There is no anatomical reason we cannot."
"You don't understand."
"Help me understand." Eugenia sounded forceful. Bert put his saucer down and stood. He picked up a thick, dusty photo album from the shelf and sat next to Eugenia on the couch. Resting the album on their touching thighs, he opened the book to the page of his older sister, sitting in a diaper on the floral couch holding an antique rattle in her mouth. Bert glanced at Eugenia who was running her finger gently along the jaundiced edge of the picture. The next one was of Bert, his brother, and his younger sister opening Christmas gifts next to the fireplace. His father sat on the floral couch cradling a half-drank six pack of beer in his hand.
He flipped the page to a snowy day where he and his mother were making a lopsided snowman. The blue mittens that were two sizes too big were soaked with snow, and his mother wore pants that were too short. Bert eyed Eugenia again. She was still mesmerized by the pictures, though her facial expression had not changed.
"What are you thinking?"
"You were so little," Eugenia said with a hint of joy in her voice. "I want a little human that looks like you."
Bert smirked a little. "That's why we can't have one."
"What?" she whispered. Her face had fallen and she looked shocked.
"My children cannot have a sex robot for a mother."
"A--"Eugenia's mouth hung for a minute then she stiffened. "Yes sir."
"You'll just never be emotional enough." Bert looked at the picture of his mother, rubbing his index finger gently down her hair. "My mother knew our every need. She just knew. You weren't built for that. You're enhanced for it, but you'll never be there emotionally for human children. It'll be like... well... a robot is raising them."
Eugenia sat stiffly. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. "You took out my fertility chip." She whispered after a long time.
"We don't need to have children. I'm fifty-seven, Genie. I won't always be there to help you raise a child. Plus, we cannot create a life together. It wouldn't even look like you. It would basically be all mine and an anonymous donor."
"Was it when I was sleeping?"
"Darling, you know--"
Eugenia stood and picked up both saucers without another word. "Dinner will be in ten," she murmured so he couldn't hear the sadness in her voice.