The room is white. The room is cold. The room promises anxiety. I scrape away at my cuticles (a disgusting habit I’ve always had under pressure) and try not to shift around on the table. The paper gown against the paper on which I sit makes a sound that reminds me of where I am. I wish there was a window, or at least that the doctor would hurry back. When I finally notice the blood smeared across most of my nails I lick it all away, ashamed, and focus my attention on the pamphlets taped to the walls.
Getting Tested is the First Day of Your New Life.
Stay Healthy, Stay Happy.
The World Needs You. Get Tested Today.
Finally, the door swings open. My heart seems to quiver and I sit up straight as if concerned that my poor posture will annoy the doctor and she’ll leave again. But she doesn’t even look at me. She stares at her clipboard and makes checks and exes here and there. I try not to make a sound, try not to disturb her concentration. Mostly I just want us both to forget I’m here; to simply disappear. She is short, with thick round glasses and straight smoky grey hair. When her head springs up her chubby cheeks swing back, loose with age.
That’s all she says. Then her head bows again as she sticks her pen back in her jacket pocket, clears her throat and walks out of the room. I will never see her again. Her only job is to test the fertility of every 18 year old boy and girl in the sector, and then she disappears forever.
I slowly reach for my clothes and become suddenly aware of how drab they are. Beige pants and a grey button down shirt with my identification number plastered to the left breast pocket. That number is more important than my name; authorities know me not as Gen, but as 504576. Today, though, I will become known to them only as fertile. I am hope.
Once a young woman is determined to be fertile a sigh of relief sweeps the nation like a cool, crisp, awakening breeze. They can match me with a fertile young man now, and assign us our national duties which will include jobs based on our levels of skills and intelligence, and on the nation’s needs. As a fertile couple, we will be given five years before we must clock in to work. These five years are to be allotted to childbearing and child rearing. We will be given a house, because we are the pride and joy of the nation. We are hope. Our sector will survive because of the few who are fertile. The many who are not will work harder and longer to provide for those of us who are. They are just as important to the new system. And who am I to shame the new system? After all, things used to be worse – but somehow, that doesn’t make me feel any better.
I dress, unsteadily, one foot at a time. The buttons take forever because my fingers fumble with them through the tremors. I feel a burning sensation rising from my chest and radiating into my sinuses. To fight this from exploding into tears I hold my breath. I do this for so long that by the time I walk into the bright daylight I am dizzy. I quickly glance to the left and then right, and when I’m sure my mother is not here yet I exhale so fast and hard I cannot even recognize the sound that comes out of me. How could this happen to me? What are the odds? I haven’t taken any precautions to ensure fertility. I even live in the most toxic end of the sector. Ironically, discovering that I have been virtually unaffected by these toxins is the first thing that makes me feel as though I am truly suffocating.
Just as I prepare to embrace my sadness a car pulls up and I see my mother’s stern yet forcibly bright face in the driver’s seat. At this, I immediately pull myself together. I stand up straight and sigh, taking on again my typical expression of impassivity. She jumps out of the car with such specious excitement the car itself might still be in motion. She runs around the back of it to reach me as quickly as she can. Arms wide, she yells “So?!”
I say it and that’s when I know it’s real and has to be accepted. My mother squeezes me tight, a rare show of affection. “It’s going to be fine, Genesis,” she whispers unconvincingly. “Everything’s going to be fine.” A bromide for people who are either too afraid, or too weak to tell the truth.
I nod and shrug. Maybe it will be fine.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©