After I took a DNA test a couple of years ago, I was fascinated by what the results told me about my ancestors. But shortly after that, current reality began to intersect more often with the dystopian narratives I’ve always been drawn to and fed the misgivings I had about those types of tests. I imagined how that information could be used to subvert individual freedoms, even those that are deeply personal and profoundly intimate.
The man who put the baby in me tried to get me to end the pregnancy. Even though this was against the rules, he could make it possible. It was a mistake, I pleaded. You were stupid, he said.
When I refused, he cut off all contact. Those are not the rules, he said this time. It was as though the year we spent as lovers had never happened.
At first, I did not leave my small one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge to avoid having my pregnancy detected. My job as a researcher didn’t require me to go to the office, and I’d be able to hide my condition from my coworkers by being careful that the camera only showed me from the shoulders up during virtual meetings.
I thought if I had the baby at home without anyone knowing, I could take it with me, somewhere else, anyplace else. Then I started to make plans to leave. But the man had reported my pregnancy to the system. Medical care was arranged for me, and I was visited regularly by a nurse. She was about my age, quiet, with pale skin and hair the color of straw.
The nurse locked a bracelet to my wrist and gave me a packet of information that I put aside without reading. When I asked if there was any way I would be allowed to keep the baby, she said nothing and pointed to the packet. What will happen to him, I said. He will be cared for, she said, and went back to saying nothing.
After she left, I flipped through the packet. More rules, including information about the birth quota, established by the Leader after the last sickness, which had wiped out nearly half the population. Only whites who could offer proof of their pure ancestry had no limits to the number of children they could have.
Genetic tests had exposed the ones like me, who passed among the whites with my blue eyes and light brown hair. Ultimately, my cells betrayed the true nature of my ancestry. I was categorized accordingly. Making a baby with a man who was white was forbidden for me, for him, for us.
I felt first the flutters, then the kicks, then the foot lodged under my ribs, then the hiccups. I talked to the baby. I knew it was a boy, and I named him Diego, for my father. At night, I would look at the sky and tell him the names of all the stars I knew, which wasn’t that many. When the Perseids came, I went out on the roof to see them, and while I watched, I sang a lullaby to him, palomita blanca, palomita azul. I sang to him every night.
Exercise was good for the baby, the nurse said, so they allowed me daily walks in my neighborhood. My walk took me down a street where there was a park on one side and an empty lot on the other. One day, I paused by the lot to watch the monarch butterflies on the milkweed that was growing there. The construction planned for this space would bulldoze all of this—the milkweed, the monarchs, everything.
I nodded at a woman walking by, she was a bit older than me, her skin a light brown, a curl escaped from her hat. You are having a baby, she said. It was not a question. I realized for the first time that others could see my growing belly.
Yes, I said. I’m having a boy.
As I stood there, a monarch landed on my shoulder, orange and black, delicate legs and antennae. They have blessed you, the woman whispered.
Who did, I said.
They have blessed you, she whispered again. They have blessed him. She pointed to the sky. I realized she meant the ancestors. It was forbidden to speak of them. More rules.
After that, I started to smile at people I passed on my walk, though they were all strangers to me. I’m having a baby boy, I would say, even though no one asked. I can’t wait to meet him, I would say, even though I knew I never would. I would sing the lullaby, llévame en tus alas a ver a Jesús.
One day, I took the bus down Mass Ave. to the man’s house to try to see him. I wanted to ask him to change his mind about registering the baby in the system. I planned to tell him that I would raise the baby, and we would not see him again.
After I got off the bus, I walked down the man’s street. I stood outside the blue house I was no longer welcome in. I had only ever been there at night when no one would see me. It was even more beautiful than I realized, with tall windows and elegant arches around the front porch. The front yard was a perfectly green lawn. The shrubs were tamed. There was no milkweed, no monarchs. No blessings.
A delivery van pulled up in front. The driver got a large box out of the back and wheeled it toward the house. As I walked up, I saw from the box that it was a crib. He rang the doorbell, and a woman who did not appear to be pregnant opened the door to let him in. She had red hair. This is how I learned the man had married. And was expecting a child.
When my labor started, it triggered the alarm on the bracelet. The ambulance came, two medics and a police officer. They made me walk down the stairs and climb onto the gurney that was waiting in the lobby. My hand was cuffed to the gurney. They took me to Mass General.
I was asleep when the baby was delivered. When I woke, it was the next day. There was a bandage across my belly where they had taken the baby out. They would have also taken precautions to ensure that this never happened again. I had read that in the packet. There was a blue mark inked on the inside of my left wrist that would not come off when I scrubbed it with soap.
At the hospital, they wouldn’t let me see the baby. I wept most of that day and most of that night. They gave me a sedative so that I wouldn’t upset the other patient in my shared room. As my thoughts started to flutter, I heard soft weeping from the other side of the curtain. I began to sing the lullaby I had sung to the baby, the one my mother had sung to me when I was a little girl, palomita blanca, palomita azul.
The morning of the third day after my baby was born, it was sunny outside. I got up to dress in the clothes that I had come into the hospital with. I looked up just as the man and his wife walked by the door. Drawn by my motion in the room, the man’s wife looked in through the door for a moment. She was carrying a newborn in her arms.
The nurse would not answer my questions about the man or my baby. I wanted to know if he had taken my child. A home has been provided, was all the nurse would say, before she called security to restrain me from running after the man and his wife and my child.
I was given pills to take home with me. They softened the grief, which felt like a ledge. My belly was still swollen, but I was alone in my own body for the first time in months. A few days after the birth, the nurse came to examine me. She said my stomach would return to flatness, my milk would dry up. She did not suggest that I might have another child someday.
A few days later, after listening to the Leader’s nightly address, I got back on the bus and went to the man’s house. The number on the keypad was the one I still remembered. I opened the back door and crept up the stairs to the small room where I thought the baby might be.
The baby’s room was painted blue, wooden block letters on the wall told me that his name was James. This is how I learned I was right: he was a boy. I turned down the baby monitor so we would not be heard.
I leaned over the crib and looked at my son for the first time. He had light brown hair, nearly blond. It might stay that color, I thought, or it might turn brown like mine. I wondered what color his eyes would be. His skin was pale, like mine. But the ancestors knew.
His lips made a soft, suckling motion as I lifted him out of the crib and held him to me. I sat down on the floor, afraid that the rocker would make too much noise. I put my baby to my breast and nursed him. At first, he fed lazily, full of sleep, then more urgently. My body eased, relaxed, relieved, as the milk let down, flowed into him, warm, nourishing.
Diego, I whispered. As I lay him back in his crib, I saw that inside of his wrist had a small, blue mark that matched mine.
For many nights, we did this, always after the man and his wife turned out their lights for the night. Diego was always drowsy during these times, but occasionally he would open his eyes and look at me while he nursed, his hand a small fist that waved without much conviction, sometimes landing on my face, his fingers tiny explorers on my lips and nose.
I sang the lullaby to him in a voice that was softer than soft, si, niñito bueno, yo te llevaré. I brought a tiny blue bird made of ceramic that I would show him. Then I would kiss his small hands as they wrapped around my fingers. He never cried when I was there. He never cried when I put the blue bird back in my pocket and left.
One night, I forgot to turn down the monitor. I looked up and the man’s wife was standing in the doorway of the room. She waited silently for us to finish.
There was no thought of making a scene. Goodbye, Diego, I whispered, kissing his forehead for the last time as I handed him back to the man’s wife. She took him without a word, but when I reached to retrieve the bird from where I had left it on the side table, she finally spoke. Leave it, she said.
She followed me as I walked down the back stairs and out of the house. Standing on the porch, I turned to her. Her face was opaque, and she said, in a manner that was something like gentle, his name is James. She handed me a piece of paper and then she closed the door.
As I walked away, I looked at what she had handed me—a small photograph of my son. But when I came back the next night, the code on the keypad had been changed. That night, I slept in the backyard. When I woke, my body was aching with cold and my breasts full of milk for Diego. After that, they moved away, and I could not find where.
I returned to my life before I had met the man, before he put the baby in me, before they took him from me. I continued my research job, and when my coworkers asked where I’d been, I told them I’d been sick. I lived in the same small one-bedroom apartment. But I did not forget Diego.
Every night after the Leader’s address, I would go out. Sometimes I sat in the park across from the empty lot, and I sang the lullaby, porque con tu mami te has portado bien. One night, I saw the same woman I had spoken with before. Where is your baby, she asked. I could not bring myself to tell her that they had taken him from me, she saw it in my eyes. He was blessed, was all she said. And we sat there a moment and looked out on the lot, which was no longer empty, but half-filled with construction. No milkweed. No monarchs.
Sofia T. Romero is a writer and editor who lives in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in several publications, including Necessary Fiction, Rigorous, and Waterwheel Review. She is the author of the forthcoming story collection, We Have Always Been Who We Are. Her website is sofiatromero.com.
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