A u g u s t   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

Too much of a hot potato
Immaculate conception
by Edward Morris Jr.

t's what I want." Mascha sighed breathlessly, her lank hair curling slightly at her pale neck.

The small, fussy man in the gray disposable suit wrung his hands where he sat at her bedside in a metal folding chair. Beads of sweat guttered down his egg-shaped forehead, and Mascha fancied she could see the shine of their fall behind the thick lenses of his round-rimmed glasses like raindrops from behind a windowpane. It was just the light from her EEG, she knew, and the biofeedback monitor below it, but it was still and perfect through the haze of meds, and her eyes tracked it like cameras.

His throat clicked as he spoke. "My dear, this is ... not procedure."

"Listen." The tiny oval face glowed. "You're under contract. And you know who my father is. This is exactly what I want."

There was none of the spoiled brat in her tone, however, which was even more vexing. She could have been reciting a shopping list, but for the adamant column of steel down the middle of her words, between the lines of the simple, flatly declarative statements.

Her face glowed in the dark, all right. Glowed gray, Morty Stein amended. He wished he had never taken this job. This damn little slip of a convalescent with her red leopard-print teddy bear was about to drag him tooth by tooth across and down the jaws of every global media megalith between here and the ice mines out past Pluto.

"I have a year and a half to live." Mascha fiddled with the oxygen plug where it was clipped to the
septum of her nose, doing something to the tube to make it stop occluding. "Ballpark. I don't care how you do it. I read the brochure. You ..."

Morty nodded, hating life. He knew he should have stayed in the Caymans one more week, let Bud or Dru have this round, but how was he supposed to know?

"Your father paid us up front," he said. "That's our policy. Anything that costs over one bill-over cost, we eat the difference. Looks good when the United Way comes by for our yearly write-up. But. Jesus, kid. Do you have any idea what you're asking?"

"Yes." Her head gleamed dully in the stagnant fluorescent light as she turned to look directly into
his eyes with those huge, piercing China blues.

She'd be hell on wheels if she lived to 18, Morty thought, as he bit the inside of his cheek in self-flagellation.

"You guys will do the last-wish thing for any minor child, you said in your happy little flyer. I'm 12."

Her jaw set. "I have a year and a half to live. And I want to have a baby. "

Morty hoped his buddy Sam, the tard-bender down at the Starlight Lounge on the ground floor, was happy, because Morty knew one Jewish kid from the Bronx who was going to be throwing Sam some heavy beer money in about two-point-six hours and counting fast.

She cocked her head, and Morty saw her shark CEO daddy staring out.

"Now you just show me where I sign."

plice her." Suzanne Boot glared down at him. "Splice her now, splice her right, get Monsanto to handle the press, and do it double-quick." She sighed wearily, brushing a long brown ringlet out of her baby face. "The Catholics are going to raise hell, but if we ram it through fast enough there's nothing they can do."

Morty thought for sure that he was running a fever. His ears were ringing in the still, circulated air of
her little office, and he had never been more uncomfortable in his own skin. He fidgeted around in the chair that hung several inches above the floor on its little magstrip, rocking back and forth under his bony ass. He'd nearly sweated through the armpits of that day's suit.

"Are you sure a splice would be the best thing?" he asked. "Less margin for error if we just get a nice, anonymous sperm donor from NIB, keep it on the down-low, ya know, and then ..."

Suzanne considered.

"Well, maybe." Her eyes were somewhere else, and she was chewing on her lip. An airskiff went by the window, a big lorry job hauling scrap tin for some private archaeologist who advertised in the Yellow Pages. "Is it possible to buy full confidentiality? 'Cause, I mean, we really only need one night, then it'll be too much of a hot potato."

Morty wiped the sweat out of his eyes and looked at her.

"I've never heard you sound so cold-blooded," he heard himself say. "This isn't like you."

Suzanne shrugged. "Welcome to the non-profit sector. "

She hit the silent alarm on her desk, the one that went off in the public relations department of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The button was so old it was hard to push. All 36 channels of the switchboard on her desk lit up right away, Morty noticed. Kind of looked like a goyischer Christmas tree.

"I'll just be a minute." Morty speed-rapped, bolting for the bathroom and holding his throat closed like a freshman reaching critical mass at a fraternity kegger. Suzanne shook her head.


ilent night ...

The weekly papers of every major city worldwide ran it as front-page news for six months. Mascha Llewellyn's hospital ward, indeed, all of Reubens Memorial Children's Hospital, became an armed camp by act of Congress. The Dalai Lama addressed the UN and told the world to shut the fuck up and mind its own business. The World President patted the kundun's bald head and told him he was 86ed for life.

... holy night ...

Mascha had known the pain that would come, the theory that looked so good on paper now made one more complication. She was constantly monitored. Make-a-Wish nearly blew its grant every quarter to insure that.

But she was somewhere else, drifting out toward a full moon seen from her treehouse at age nine, curled up in an army sleeping bag and watching Khalite interstel craft dancing like fireflies at the
horizon's edge.

... all is calm ...

Her eyes were webbed with serene ice, and she took to the vitamin IVs quite nicely.

The skin of her belly was constantly exfoliated, rubbed down with cocoa butter by an old Polynesian nurse from Co-Op City who sang to the slowly manifesting child within the dying child on the bed. She sang an old song that sounded like a skipping-rope chant, a thing of waves and laughter, "Ipo a-ti ti-ya. Ipo a-TI ti-yaaa."

... all is bright ...

Mascha came back into herself less and less each time. Her treehouse was a warm, safe womb to hide in while her body expelled every jot of its fading life into the one it was gestating. The sun and moon went round, the light changed in the room, the people came and went talking not of Michaelangelo but Malthus, Merton, Marcus Aurelius and every other dusty ethic in between.

Their voices were a radial blur of wind to Mascha in the eye of that long newspaper tornado. She had her last wish, and the strange region between Death and Waking was expelling her out through its warm walls. They could not touch her now.

Mascha had made her peace after the first blackouts and tests. She was surprisingly tough that way. Her mother said she had been touched by the domovoy, the wee folk that bless houses and charm lives. Her father could not be reached for comment.

... round yon virgin, mother and child ...

Even when she was awake, the white light kept blurring the edges of her vision, white heat at her temples, voices quantum levels beyond human harmonizing with the hoot of the wind in the eaves of the maternity tower, the air promising snow. Dry lightning licked the mountains beyond the smog.

... Holy Infant so tender and mild ...

The fluttering kicks seemed to have always been there, as much a part of her as the reflexive gurgling of her stomach a few moments before the old Hawaiian wise-woman re-hung her IV, the cool feel of her mouth when they cleaned her teeth and moistened her gums.

Once in a while, even outside herself, she could feel Virginia, the old physical therapist, sitting her up, running electrostim wands over the muscles, walking her around on a suspensor. The midwives with their scans massaged her belly. The mechanoid orderlies took care of the rest, and they were the gentlest of all.

... sleep in heavenly peace ...

The night of the first big blizzard, Mascha was conscious of a break, a turning away, a timeless haze making the light stay longer. It seemed to come and go in waves, like a thundercloud, always there but gaining in intensity and then dropping off. She counted between the booms, and her breathing synched up with the contractions.

In the streets outside the border of the hospital campus, paparazzi waged bloody war with riot battalions. The shady residential streets had become a battleground of CS and gasmasks, flaming dumpsters and human chains. The Zenger Coalition was the first to storm the barricades, waving a giant flag with the Constitution silk-screened across its face.

One of them lived, minus a jaw, and became a U.S. Senator thanks to a local direct-action policy of making neighborhoods vote for the policemen that patrol them. The weeklies made that one a deformed mascot, even after they found him with a hermaphro hooker and two lungs full of amy-poppers.

Inside the hospital that night, though, everyone from the kitchen to the rent-a-pigs were on full alert.
People on gurneys were strip-searched on the way into the ER.

But no one saw the male night nurse who had been on call for four days prior, or knew what his girlfriend had gone through at the hands of her father. His baby doll had killed herself from post-partum following the abortion. The nurse was on work release, having served several terms in jail on and off as a fall guy for various activist groups, whoever was paying the most.

The nurse had a dissasociative personality disorder and thought that he was Uriel, the Destroyer from the Old Testament. The nurse had eaten more peyote in his day than Carlos Castaneda. By age 30 the nurse should have been, by all rights, an object lesson from Charles Darwin saying "Never fear ... this one will die on its own."

But when the nurse ventilated Mascha's pale forehead, he had gotten there just in time to see the cord cut. His pen with the plastic bullet in the tip only had one blasting-cap on it, and he was tragically clubbed to death by the police as he protested his innocence out the back of his head. They had the decency to take him out into the hall, though. They were still on the clock.

Mascha's eyes were still, and closed. A peaceful smile of relief relaxed her facial muscles that had tensed her physiognomy into a full-head goblin mask in the last trimester. The mechanoid orderly nearest the baby cleaned off the bloody, bawling little boy whose head had only just begun to mold to a round shape when it hit the air. The android knew its business, and placed the infant to the breast of its still-warm mother just long enough to digitize and record Mascha's heartbeat.

But the bullet wound had not spouted blood. Mascha had been brain-dead for 10 minutes before the nurse burst in the door.

Training its index-finger mike down from the electrostim that had kept her heart beating, the android copied the heartbeat. The pale, shaking gyno behind it took a picture in the frame of his
eyeglasses, a picture that wound up on the front of the American Journal of Medicine.

In the cover picture (overlain by sender-address stickers and ads for the new prescription drug of the week), on the wall of the maternity suite behind Mascha's bed, a warm-colored painting can be seen.

With a magnifying glass, the picture is shown to be a Russian ikon of the Madonna and Child.

The Vatican wrote angry editorials, the Southern Baptists burned copies of the magazine and the American Pagan Conclave just shrugged and gave out with the blinding flash of the obvious: That the resemblance between the photograph and the painting shown within that photograph was nothing short of indistinguishable.

... sleep in heavenly peace.

E-mail Edward at locutuspdx@yahoo.com, and don't miss his previous work.

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