Marla groaned as her hair sculpture toppled over for the umpteenth time. She was never going to make her luncheon date now. First, she had had to spend an hour this morning giving Dennis, her husband, that ego massage. Sometimes she wished he’d just use the computer therapist like everyone else. It wasn’t as if she’d burdened him with all of the little problems that conspired to make modern life such an emotional morass.
Then, of course, it had to be her ‘hard’ day on the electrostim machine. Her abs would probably tingle for a week! And now the hair. No matter what she did to it, it just didn’t seem to want to maintain the intricate form she had spent all yesterday afternoon designing. One last look at the clock and she decided that she would just have to make do with the temperature sensitive color sprays and what little of the form did take. She consoled herself with the thought that Dona and Sorlene wouldn’t know that this wasn’t what she had been aiming for, and even on a bad day, her hair always put them to shame. She put the finishing touches on her exposed breast, bright blue with a golden nipple, adjusted the cinnamon-metallic wrap over her other waifish shoulder and headed for the door, her impossibly slim heels clicking on the synthetic parquay floor she had chosen as part of this week’s motif.
She climbed into her Datsun, still new enough that it made her feel special to drive it, and winced as the automatic hypo in the seat gave her the mandatory alcohol injection. She new that without it most drivers couldn’t handle the stresses of traffic, but after the first rush of recklessness the shot always made her feel drowsy. Traffic was a bitch, of course, but somehow she made it all the way across town to Dona’s and managed to be only twenty minutes late. She gave a scowl to Sorlene’s Honda making pinging noises in the driveway as its turbines cooled. It wasn’t being late she minded so much, it was knowing that the other women would have spent the time by talking about her while they waited.
She knew Dona well enough not to knock, so she just walked through the house to the kitchen. She grimaced at the Pompeian decor Dona had chosen, but made a mental list of all the things she found particularly tacky so she could be sure to complement Dona on them. The mosaic floors didn’t give her the opportunity to sneak up and embarass them by overhearing their last juicy comments, as it was obvious they were waiting for her when she walked into the kitchen.
“Oh, love the hair,” squealed Sorlene, her hands pressed together against the side of her ivory white face, obviously disappointed at being out done again.
“Yours too,” returned Marla with a small smile, rubbing it in but turning away to greet Dona before Sorlene could decide if she was being snubbed or not. “And what you’ve done with the house. Why that must have taken a week in the library and another at the computer. I especially like the, the … ” and she pretended to search for words “Vomatorium?” Dona suggested. “Yes, that’s it,” Marla cooed having known Dona would key her in to what she was most proud of. “The vomatorium. That alone must have set Bob back a week’s wages.”
“Well, I don’t like to give secrets, but it was really not too bad. A lot of the ideas came out of HouseWorks magazine, with some touches of my own, of course.”
Next followed a discussion about how all of the little details were accomplished. Marla and Sorlene tried to outdo one another with complements even as they both privately rated Dona’s decor below anything that they might attempt themselves. Eventually the introductory chatter petered out and conversation turned to the pleasantries of good friends who have gotten together after a hiatus and have gotten relaxed in each other’s company.
“Where are all the kids?” Marla began innocently enough, but with motives of her own. Both of the other women were older than her and had two children each.
“Don’t be silly, dear. Who wants them under foot when there’s company. Mine are with the nanny.” Sorlene explained.
“I feel insulted that you’d even imply I would have them in the house with company. I’ve signed them up for optional summer school. The sooner they’re out of here and gone to college, the happier I’ll be. I swear, I’ll wear myself out directing the computer to take care of them.” Dona extended her hand. “Would you look at this, one of my holo-nails came off this morning, do you know what those cost?”
“Why is it,” Sorlene interjected with uncharacteristic shrewdness, “that you are forever asking about the children? Could it be that you are fixing to have some of your own?”
With that she looked at Dona and the two of them tittered as if it were some private joke. This wasn’t how Marla had planned it, but she saw her opening and used it, even if it was just to get the two bitties to shut up. “Why in fact I am.”
The two stopped and looked at her. It was Dona who recovered first, dismayed that perhaps the others had seen her with her mouth unbecomingly agape. “Why, why that’s wonderful. Now I know just the best surrogate. I’ve never met her, of course, but she comes as highly recommended as one can come. And you don’t have to worry, she hasn’t had babies for anybody you know.” She leaned closer and dropped her voice to a whisper, “That would be dirty. When I think of that…” and she just ended with the perfect amount of feminine shudder.
“I know one too.” said Sorlene. “And if you don’t, you’ll find one,” thought Marla, knowing that her friend could not stand to think she might be second on any subject.
“Well, I appreciate the offer, I really do. But I was thinking of having it natural.” Marla was not ready for her friends’ reactions. Dona took her hand off of Marla’s knee and pulled away as if she had been shocked. Sorlene dropped the translucent china cup she had been sipping tea delicately out of with annoying little slurps.
“You don’t mean you’re going to breed do you?” she spat, ignoring the cup as it rolled on the floor.
“Bob wanted to do that to me once.” said Dona. “He said real men have ‘urges’ and that I should be so happy that he was one that I’d do what ever he wanted. I said, ‘You’re right. Real men have urges. They have urges to work hard and provide for their families.’ That shut him up and we’ve never discussed it since.”
“Drew tried the same thing with me. I said you don’t think you’re going to put that thing in me do you? I couldn’t believe it. I think it’s a phase they go through. He actually looked relieved when I turned him down.”
“I do believe you’re right,” said Dona. “What put such a crazy idea into your head, Marla? Has Dennis been after you? He just doesn’t seem the type. You tell him no decent girl has to do that. That’s what surrogates are for.”
“No. It wasn’t Dennis. He’s not like that at all. I mean he doesn’t even know. I was hoping you two could help me get him…interested.” protested Marla.
“I tell you Sorlene, its those damn books she reads. All that barbaric historical romance stuff.” At this point the two women proceded with the conversation as if Marla were not even there, discussing the roots of her hypothetical problem. She consoled herself with thoughts that the two were too old to remember any of her feelings. Surely they must once have felt some maternal tug. Then she thought viciously that they probably did it with their husbands after all, they were just too ashamed to admit it in front of one another. She smiled at the thought and Dona misinterpreted it as a response to some witty mark she had just attempted. The conversation had turned away from the topic of breeding and by tacit agreement they returned to the usual topics and never touched on anything of content for the rest of the afternoon.
Marla made apologies and left before the cock tail hour got under full swing. She did have one sip of aperitif before she left so she could fool the car’s computer and avoid another injection. She wanted all of her facilities before her tonight.
When she got home she quickly pulled up a book on the viewer that she had found when researching the themes for one of her parties Gentle Refuge on the Frontier, a History of Brothels in the Old West. To her uneducated eyes the book had become a manual on sex and seduction. It gave hope to her latent maternal instincts by making her believe that perhaps it was possible to get even Dennis involved in the act of mating.
As she used the pictures in the book to make herself up, her feelings of shame gradually gave way to genuine excitement, though she wouldn’t have known to call it that. She decided to have a few drinks after all and let the cyber psych deal in the morning with whatever convolutions she was twisting into her cortex this evening. She chose a simple outfit, a red corset whick uplifted her rouged nipples and had garters attached, lined black stockings with matching pumps, bright red panties, and enough make up for a surrogate, she guessed.
She had just gotten up to pour another drink when Dennis came home. His eyes widened briefly at her attire, but he hated to show his ignorance of fashion so only put down his brief case and hung up his coat. As he crossed the entrance hall he stopped with the paper under his arm and surveyed the wooden pews that lined the living room. “Um, wear do I sit?” he asked a little uncomfortably.
“Where ever you like. They look like wood but they’re really all mold-a-foam.” Marla was begining to feel a bit uncomfortable but steeled herself to carry this through. Dennis chose the nearest pew and after satisfying himself with a test push of his hand, sat down. He opened his paper and without looking up asked, “What’s for dinner?”
“Me.” said Marla directly into his ear and she reached around from behind the pew to slide her hands beneath his tie and under his shirt. Like any self-respecting modern man confronted with the same situation, Dennis froze. “You?”
“Like what you see big boy?” Marla quoted from the book as she stepped one unnaturally long leg over the back of the bench and placed her foot on his thigh. Dennis wasn’t quite sure just what he was seeing. Like all married men, he had seen as much of his wife as anybody else – just what fashion dictated. He had never seen her naked and had even ceased to think about it. As women continued trying to outdo each other with the garrishness and eccentricity of their wardrobes, his logical mind had soon ceased to assimilate the intricasies and had begun ignoring the female form all together.
Marla sensed his tension and all of her alcohol-induced confidence evaporated. She drew herself up and ran to her room crying. Ironically, this action returned Dennis to the realm of familiarity, for every body he knew had these bizarre behavior swings and unfathomable mood shifts. You learned to ignore them and let the computer handle it. Certainly no one person could be expected to investigate another’s private emotional maze.
Nevertheless, when dinner did not materialize, he did began to get concerned. This had never happened before. Perhaps she had become completely incapacitated. He had heard of that before. Soon, he was torn between his lifelong indoctrination not to pry, and his genuine concern. His hunger finally decided it. Knowing that he had no chance of ever fixing his own meal, he walked cautiously to Marla’s room. He knocked on the door but heard no reply. Hestitantly he pushed open the door. He could not remember ever having been in her room before and was surprised to find it bare and rectangular with no decoration save the clothes strewn on every conceivable surface: floor, bed, dressers, and tables. The clothes he had last seen her in made a trail to the bed where he could just make her out from the hallway light let in by the open door.
“Marla,” he called softly, “its me, Dennis.” Immediately he felt foolish. Who else would it be? It was, after all, his house. This, combined with her still inert form, emboldened him to walk into the room. With an unfamiliar gesture, he put his hand on her shoulder. The effect was electrifying. In a single instant, she rolled over onto her back and grabbed the blanket to cover herself; he sprung back and immediately regretted ever coming in here. She was obviously alright, what excuse would he make for his breach of edicate? Marla broke in as he began to sift through the panic of faux pas.
“Don’t leave,” she said so softly that he wasn’t sure whether he had heard the first word or for some perverted reason only imagined it. “Stay,” she said. “Here, with me, on the bed.”
“Are you hurt?” he asked crossing over to her once again, forgetting his discomfort and sitting on the bed. Her laugh was so ironic that at first he thought it might be a cry of pain and stopped short, hardly realizing that he had been about to touch her bare shoulder. This time when she laughed he recognized it and relaxed, although he felt no more certain of the situation.
“Do you love me?” she asked as their eyes met. This was sufficient to complete his confusion. He finished dropping his hand, then turned to sit on the edge of the bed with his hands clasped beneath his knees. He didn’t know what to say. Nobody had ever involved him this deeply in their psychoses. Love? What a quaint, old-fashioned term. He had never really given it much thought. Not loving her, that is, but love at all. He was sure he didn’t know what it meant. Once again she reached down and plucked him from his thoughts just as they threatened to whelm him.
“I’m so embarassed,” she blurted, sitting up so that the sheets pooled in her lap. Then conspirationally, “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I thought that once you knew I was trying to seduce you, you would know what to do.” And then as an after thought she blurted, “I want to have kids. Not just with a surrogate, I want to grow my own baby, I want to bring it up. Oh, I’m so sorry, I just thought that it would be obvious, all of this. I mean to me… well its all I’ve been thinking about for a long time.” As she said the last part she reached over to put her hand on his thigh and the comforter slid the rest of the way to the floor.
He was confused by alien feelings that seemed to run from his fingers and toes to the base of his skull, stopping only briefly to do strage things at his stomach. He was acutely aware of the heat of her hand. Even her familiar breasts were having unfamiliar effects on him. He was reflecting that the rich auburn color that he had never before seen her use on her hair must be the natural color, when he realized she was waiting for an answer to something.
“I don’t know,” he managed, “I guess we can afford children. I never really thought about them. Don’t we go to the doctor to have them..?” She had been watching his eyes linger on her breasts and had drawn him down to her, temporarily ending conversation. He was beginning to like the way she cut through his confusion, even if so far it had only led him to remoter depths.
He was a willing pupil, but despite her researches she was nearly as unlearned in the subject matter as he. When they finally fumbled their way to consumation, they were unable to complete the act due to the pain it caused her. True to her friends’ speculations, she did have to admit that Dennis seemed relieved, and for that matter, so was she. However, she was more than satisfied with their progress for one night, and for the first time, they slept in the same bed.
The next day Dennis arose somewhat sheeplishly and paddled off to work. She lay in bed until she heard him leave the house and then directed to computer to make a doctor’s appointment for her while she dressed. In front of the mirror, she piled her hair onto her head and decided for the first time in her adult life to go out with it just like that. It had seemed to excite Dennis as much as anything the night before, for he had kept at least one hand in it the whole time.
The doctor’s office was on the top floor of the clinic. She was surprised to find herself the only person in the waiting room, but despite that she had to wait nearly forty-five minutes before the nurse ushered her into the examination room.
The doctor was younger than she expected, around thirty five, with dark hair, the kind of face made handsome yet somehow cruel by arrogance, and muscular forearms ending in perfectly proportioned tanned hands with manicured nails. He seemed upset that she wasn’t already naked and she felt guilty at delaying him as she tugged her clothes off behind a screen set up for that purpose.
“What type of anesthesia would you like?” he asked as she heard him clinking together implements.
She ducked her head around the curtain and gave him a quizzical look as she struggled with her slacks.
“It’s customary,” he replied to he unspoken comment, “most women either have a sedative or a spinal during an ob-gyn exam…” and he let the silence stretch out without explanation to hurry her answer by this exagerated show of patience.
“Is it that painful?” she triumphing over the pants behind the screen. “I did drive over and I’m still a bit woozy from that.” she said as came into the room and got up on the examination table.
The doctor neither answered her nor repeated his offer. Without further conversation he wrestled her into position after position and performed the exam. He was perhaps a bit rougher than necessary, Marla thought. When he was done he let Marla sit up but did not offer to let her get dressed while he explained the benefits of using a surrogate and all of the potential hazards of having a natural child. At the end of an hour, he completely ran out of patience and stopped trying to convince her. He just mechanically wrote prescriptions and gave her disks and other information necessary for her to understand the mating process. The whole time he showed his obvoius displeasure at her decision to go against his sought professional advice. Finally, he left her alone in the cold office to dress while he went to relay any important information to his nurse.
“Make a weekly appointment for that Aster woman.” he said to the nurse. “I just don’t understand some people, they have everything, so they go and try to complicate their lives. If she can conceive and carry to term, and manages not to have a deformed, what has she gained? Alot of pain, lost time and medical bills, that’s what. Why don’t they just use a surrogate? We can mix a little frozen sperm in with her husband’s anemic issue and give her a custom-order, one-hundred-percent healthy baby, guarenteed. The way they’re doing it they might as well have just kept fumbling away by themselves like unenlightened savages.” The nurse did not comment as he stopped and looked at his watch. “Damn, she’s made me late for my facial. Bill her for an extra hour”, and he stormed off.
Dennis came home early that night before she had time to dress. She had just stepped out of the sanitizer when she heard him call from the entry way. The bottle of champagne she had bought on the way home was still on the dresser, unchilled. She grabbed it and met him in the hall, her hair still wet, the bottle in her hand, wearing only a diaphanous robe.
“What’s the occaision?” he asked with a boyish grin.
“I went to the doctor today. He said it was unusual to want to have children naturally and that it would be difficult, but that it could be done. He gave us disks to explain what we have to do, and fertility pills for both of us, and even put me on a exercise program so that it won’t hurt.”
“Exercise?” he asked, and then blushed when she explained. “Well I hope he doesn’t have any exercises planned for me! You look beautiful. Did you do something new?”
Marla was taken aback by his remark. She had become used to Dennis’s indifference to her lavish attire and only expected such comments from her friends. Of course, she realized, he had never actually ever seen her not made up and so it was natural for him to assume that this was some look she had contrived for the occaision, rather than having caught her au natural. She merely smiled and said, “Oh the doctor said it was important for you to get lots of practice.” Then she threw her arms around him, staggering him by the unexpected act and causing him to forget his question as he traded his briefcase for a less familiar handful.
Continuing the air of improvisation, she ordered raw oysters from the computer while Dennis loaded the disks. The doctor had suggested that they start with a disk call “Foreplay”, so that they could develop their physical intimacy without intercourse while Marla had a chance to rehabilitate her atrophied musculature. They ate their meal in abashed silence while they watched the instructional programs, their eyes riveted to the screen to avoid having to look at each other. That evening they learned of many acts they had never imagined, without penetrating the mystery of the final act any further.
In the bedroom that night they practiced what they had seen. Dennis seemed to be taking much greater interest and Marla found herself relaxing to the point that she thought the acts might have value in themselves, rather than just being a prelude to mating.
When Dennis awoke in the morning, he found her already dressed again in her new look. He sat up with his feet on the floor and stretched as she bustled about picking up clothes.
“What’s your hurry this morning?” he managed through a yawn.
“I start maternity classes today. After all, if I’m going to have a baby, I’m going to raise it, and you can’t expect to do that without an education.” When she first started him on this he’d never considered all of the complexities this would involve, but he mumbled that this seemed reasonable. Then she kissed him on the cheek and was gone.
EXPAND/SHOW/SON’T TELL/ELIMINATE PASSIVE VOICE
As time went on Marla lost contact with her friends. This was some what of a relief for both sides as she now saw them as frivolus, and they considered her lower than a dirty surrogate and would just as soon not associate with her if they could figure out how to get rid of her without a scene. Imagine, her prancing around with no make up, her hair any which way it chose, unashamedly talking about breeding.
It was much worse after she conceived. When the growth within her finally became apparent, and she made no attempt to hide her jubulation over it, they had their excuse to stop inviting her to their cultured, feminine meetings. With school and making a nursery and the thousand thousand other details, she never noticed.
Dennis’s co-workers were no kinder. To his face they kidded him and made jokes about going to a surrogate house some night so they could take notes. They told him what a male thing it was to be a father and made him feel like one of the guys for the first time since he joined the firm. Among themselves, they ridiculed him as perverted and degenerate, and jested crudely about Marla. Watching out of the corner of their eyes for an honest reply, but thre was no crack in the age-old locker-room facade. None would ever admit to jealousy or any of their own dark desires.
In losing their vacuous social contacts, they found real joy in each others companionship, forever sealing them from the lives they had known. They never mentioned if they noticed that their cyberpsych bills had dwindled to nearly nothing. As the baby grew, they began to know even greater happiness. The time seemed to fly by and the ten and one half months of her pregnancy were over with frightening speed.
One morning Marla lay on her back looking at the ceiling, as she had every day for the last two months since the doctor had confined her to bed. She felt the wet warmth of the sheets between her legs and the powerful contractions of her uterus. With one last look at the clock she shook Dennis gently to wake him. “Better get me to the hospital,” she beamed into his sleepy face.
The delivery was fairly routine. The doctor had a holo-polo match that he didn’t want to be late for, so after making sure that Marla was completely under, he did a rapid ceasarian. He didn’t bother about the neatness of his incision because he had a good friend who gave him kickbacks on every C-scar he fixed by the miracles of plastic surgery. He’d even been so kind as to mention it to him at their last match so she wouldn’t have to bother about making an apointment. Hell, if she was so medicated, they would have her done before she came around and had a chance to argue. Tell her it was routine. That way they could do it all over again if she were so foolish as to want another.
He grimaced when he pulled the baby forth. Just over five pounds and the color and texture of a fresh liver. He delivered the wrinkled bundle into the care of a waiting nurse for delivery to the ICU. All in all he considered it a fairly sucessful birth. The baby was average weight, had no obvious deformities he’d noticed during his cursory glance, and might even make it through the typical two to four week stay in intensive care.
It was fully eight days before the doctor determined Marla was well enough to be put into a wheel chair and wheeled down to see her son. She didn’t even know she’d had a c-section, and probably wouldn’t unless the doctor saw some reason to remember to tell her. Dennis proudly pushed her down to the viewing window where a gowned figure held up the head of their child’s bed so they could see him. He was swathed to the neck with an IV tube disappeaing into the cloth at his little belly and tiny tubes running out of his nose.
“Isn’t he beautiful, Dennis? He’s so much more than I had even hoped for. As good as any surrogate could do! Oh, I think I want to start on another one as soon as I get home.”
Dennis smiled down at his wife. “Of course he’s beautiful, was there any doubt with a mother as beautiful as you?”
“By the way, I’ve been thinking about it,” he added, ” and the answer is yes.”
“Yes what, honey.” Marla replied abstractedly as she stared at the baby.
“Yes, I love you.”