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The Talk

by Heather Frederick

“But, Mom, I don’t want a baby brother.” Mauri had been sitting cross-legged in front of the computer wall, working on her dissertation, but now she slammed the keyboard back in its slot. The white panel slurped it in softly, negating her gesture.

Louise brushed a wisp of gray hair from her eyes and rolled them at the ceiling. “Honey, fourteen years old isn’t really a baby.” Although clearly forty-five isn’t too old to act like one, she thought.

Mauri stuck her lower lip out in a practiced pout. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d spawned a Beta?”

Because it’s none of your business, she thought. Because I always wanted a boy. Because I loved you too much to turn your world upside down.

“And what would you have done if I had?” she said.

That was the wrong question to ask her precocious daughter, and she knew it. Their two bedroom apartment had fit them well enough for all of Mauri’s life, and there was usually plenty of room for her science projects, toys, and live-in nannies. But the last thing Mauri needed was a direct invitation to cause trouble. The next thing she knew, she’d have a band of wild gorillas living in the bedroom so Mauri could study anti-aging gender genetics in sub-human primates.

Unless that had been her last dissertation. Louise had lost track.

“Mom, seriously.”

My goodness, that child can hold a pout.

“Don’t I deserve the benefit of the doubt? I’m about to go through puberty for crying out loud! Sheez!” Now it was her turn to roll her eyes. “It’s not like I don’t know about these things.”

Louise really hadn’t planned on having this conversation today. When she came home from getting her hair dyed — in her mind, a woman over a hundred years old ought to have gray hair, and nothing anyone said could change her mind about that no matter how young the rest of her body looked — she had planned on fixing Mauri some macaroni and cheese, checking on her homework, and having a bottle of wine.

Then she’d gotten the voicemail from the adoption agency. It wasn’t supposed to happen — Betas almost never sought their biological mothers — although of course she’d known it was a risk.

And well worth it, for the night she’d spent with Paul.

But she couldn’t avoid the conversation forever.

“So, sweetie, why don’t you tell me what you do know about ‘these’ things?”

Mauri finally turned from the wall to face her. Somehow, Louise hadn’t imagined having this conversation with her daughter when she was halfway to the century mark. Nor while her baby girl was wearing pink pajamas and her hair was still in pigtails.

“Well, Mom, here’s how it works. Stop me if I lose you, okay?” Louise hoped she hadn’t sounded like that when she was Mauri’s age-equivalent. Nine going on forty-nine. Some things never changed.

“First, you find a sperm you like in the catalog,” Mauri said in her lecture voice. Cognitive abilities were, if anything, accelerated by anti-aging; it made for volatile childhoods.

“Then you go through the computer projections to see if it’s a good match with your genome. You induce your eggs and go through cycles of in-vitro fertilization if you’re really barbaric or, if you’re über-rich and super-lucky, hire a surrogate womb. Oh, and of course if the techs screwed up and somehow it’s a boy fetus, you abort the whole process. Because everyone knows the anti-aging technology doesn’t work on them because of their defective chromosome. Duh.”

For a moment, mother and daughter stared at each other across the living room. The only sound was the silence of a yawning generation gap, getting wider by the second.

Then Louise coughed and said, “Oh. So do you want to, you know, know about sex?”

Mauri looked at her blankly. “Oh, Mom,” she sighed. “you are so old-fashioned sometimes.”

Copyright © 2013 by Heather Frederick

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