Standing at the edge of the dock in my athletic two-piece, goggles, and swimmer’s cap, I might look more like an Olympic contender and less like a working single-mom-to-be if I were slightly more toned in certain areas. I can’t complain though; I still look a hell of a lot better than the other mothers who live in my neighborhood. I guess that’s one of the fringe benefits of hatching over live birth. You never have to worry about your ability to rock a bikini.
I take one last look at the egg resting in my backpack before I zip it up, the moonlight casting shadows along the curves of its smooth shell, dark slate speckled with iridescent glimmers. Closing the sack, I hoist it over my shoulder and clasp its one strap diagonally between my breasts. It is time.
Sea salt fills my nostrils as I take my final breath before descent. With my baby secure, I plunge into the cool darkness of the lakewater.
“Why are you doing this?” Caleb says in the same tone he always takes when we disagree, the one implying that because I want something different from what he wants I am making a wrong choice.
“What else can I do? We can’t have kids and you don’t want to adopt. Besides, it was you who said I should just get a pet.”
“I meant like a dog or a cat.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Eighty percent of their advertising is spent making sure you know how much of a goddamn difference there is! The back of the pamphlet has a Venn diagram on it for Christ’s sake!”
I snort. As if he even bothered reading the pamphlet.
“I really don’t understand your concern,” I say. “It’s got nothing to do with you.”
“Of course not. Some freak creature living with me around the clock that just happens to share a soul with my girlfriend has absolutely nothing to do with me. Sorry for overreacting.”
“I’m not sharing my soul. It’s just a physical sample.”
“A physical sample with the sole purpose,” he says picking up the pamphlet and opening to the correct section, “of, and I quote, “strengthening the creature’s imprinting instincts and ensuring the least revocable bond between the hatchling and the parent.” See? It’s even calling you a parent! I don’t think you realize what kind of responsibility you’re taking on here.”
Huh. I guess he did read the pamphlet. Whatever. He’s still wrong.
“No more than adopting a child,” I mutter.
“Which we agreed not to do.”
At this I am livid. “Don’t say we. Do not say we agreed on something that you decided for both of us.”
“I gave you a choice.”
“You gave me an ultimatum. An ultimatum is not a negotiation.”
“What do you want me to say? I don’t want to be responsible for a kid I can’t genetically vouch for.”
“Genetically vouch for? How screwed up a thing is that to say?”
“The screwed up thing would be trying and failing. I wouldn’t want to start hating the kid early on and still be obligated to it. That wouldn’t be healthy for anyone. Least of all the kid.”
“You would learn to love it no matter what. That’s what parents do.”
“Biological parents, sure. Maybe. But that’s not what we’re talking about.”
I take the pamphlet and stuff it into my purse. He didn’t give me a choice about the adoption and I’m not giving him a choice about this.
“We’ll see how you feel once the baby’s been born.”
“Hatched,” he reminds me.
The cold water runs over my bare thighs as my legs work to propel my body forward. I’ve been swimming for over a mile and the soreness is beginning to take its toll. Though I consider myself in fairly good shape, it’s been a while since I’ve had to exert myself this much and it doesn’t help that I’ve underestimated the effect of lugging around an egg that seems to get heavier with every stroke.
But that’s okay. I’ll be a mother soon.
The pamphlet advised hatching it in a natural setting. My backyard probably would have sufficed, but ‘m taking it to the tiny island out in the middle of the river just to be safe. Away from houses, from streets, from people.
Away from all the computers and phones and television and radios that kept badmouthing the program and recalling the product and trying to make it illegal for me to keep my baby. Away from the reports of hatchlings gone wrong, as if two-hundred confirmed fatalities is even that many. Away from Caleb, who would call the cops on his own girlfriend just because of a few commitment issues, who would say it was for her own good but really he’s just afraid of her loving a child more than she loves him.
We reach the shore and I take the heartbeating egg from my sack. huddling against it to warm us both. I can almost feel it ready to emerge. I think of all those other mothers of hatchlings, the ones whose bodies were never found and whose babies had to be put down, how maybe if they’d have just loved their children a little more then maybe they’d have seen that love returned a hundred-fold. I think of Caleb and how he’d always cringed whenever I’d use words like “babies” or “children” when talking about hatchlings. I think about the recalls, how stupid the company had to be to expect mothers to give up their children even in the wake of newfound risk. And I think of the little animal curled up in the speckled slate shell and cannot for the life of me decide what its name should be.
Then, it hatches. First, in small cracks, then huge, lightning bolt shaped scars. A horn comes out through the top, a horn and what I think might be a wing.
Even though he isn't human, even though not an ounce of his DNA can be traced back to me directly, I see myself in his eyes, his caregiver, his lifeline, his mother.
And he, my son.
Immediately, I strip off my swimsuit—skin-to-skin contact is suppose to maximize the imprinting process—and reach out to touch my baby for the first time. Naked, I clutch the creature’s body to mine, savoring the feel of my smooth flesh against its soft scales. It bites into my neck and I let it feed to its content, let it feed until it sucks me dry, like any good mother would do.