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by Sean Hower
Flushed with guilt, Julie laid Seth, her two-month-old boy, back in his crib when the nanny entered the nursery. Julie stepped away as the nanny reached into the crib with her forearms, bracing herself with her hind arms, and picked up Seth. He was crying wildly, a sure sign that he was hungry; so the nanny, whose function was more that of a wet nurse, moved towards a rocker in the corner of the nursery.
"Now don't you cry, little one," the nanny said, a clicking sound emerging after each word. Her speech was tainted with the accent of her kind. "Sounds like you need to eat."
The nanny settled in the rocker and cradled the boy. He calmed somewhat and his rooting reflex kicked in. She unbuttoned her blouse and Seth latched on. His frantic cries gave way to sated grunts and finally to the gentle sounds of nursing.
Julie looked away. She always felt ill when she watched Seth feed from the nanny, or when she noticed the arousing odor that always surrounded the nanny when she nursed. Despite her best efforts, Julie couldn't reconcile the fact that the nanny was not human. She wished the nanny would at least cloak herself. The human body she could assume was not as unsettling as her real form and that would make the whole thing easier to deal with.
"There you go, little one," the nanny said, gently rocking Seth in her arms. She looked up at Julie. "He's a good child. You know?"
"I know that," Julie said. "Dinner's almost done."
"Very good, Lady Darcy," the nanny said with a subtle nod. "You're an excellent mother. We'll be here if you need us." She blinked, the skin on her eyelids showing blue. It was the way her kind smiled.
Julie made her way to the kitchen and snapped on the light. She could smell the roasted chicken in the oven. She took a thermometer out from her pocket and pulled open the oven door.
The front door opened. "Hi, Jules," Jon, her husband, said. He stepped into their apartment and closed the front door behind him. He fiddled with his shoelaces for a moment then kicked off his shoes.
"You're late again," Julie muttered, checking the chicken's temperature.
Jon wandered into the kitchen and came up behind Julie. "Sorry," he said. He hugged her. "Development changed another feature without telling us and I had to stay late to document the changes."
"That doesn't sound fair," Julie said, sticking the thermometer into another piece of chicken. "You should tell your boss that . . ."
"How's the poop machine doing?" Jon asked, glancing toward the nursery.
Julie slammed the oven door closed. "Nursing!"
"I want to say 'hi' to the little guy," Jon said. "I missed him." He left the kitchen and headed down the hallway.
Julie watched Jon as he walked off. He moved with an ease she hadn't seen since they had first started dating. It had been a while since he had that much energy in his step. It had to be the pheromones the nanny was giving off. The doctors had mentioned that might happen, but she hadn't believed them at the time.
Julie turned her attention back to getting ready for dinner. She pulled down plates and cups for three settings. After stacking enough utensils on the top plate, Julie went into the dining room. She could hear Jon talking to Seth in the deep voice he used when Seth was alert and playful. It was followed by a series of grunts, Seth's trademark response.
"Such a good baby," she heard the nanny say. "And an excellent father." Her accent raked Julie's nerves.
"Jon," Julie called, her voice hitting a shrillness she hadn't intended to use.
"Yeah," Jon said from the other room. He came out to the dining room. "What's up?"
Julie greeted him with a hug. "I missed you, that's all. Let's just talk before dinner. Do you want something to drink?"
"How about a glass of merlot."
"Was it that rough of a day?" Julie asked. She went into the kitchen and started to prepare his drink.
"Well, it didn't start off well," Jon said, sitting down on one of the dining room table chairs. "I got a speeding ticket."
"A ticket?" Julie said. She fumbled the glass, but caught it before it hit the floor. She felt her stomach roll as her skin paled. "They're not going to be coming to the house, are they?"
"Why would the cops come to the house for a speeding ticket?" Jon said. He ran his hands through his hair, sighing.
"I don't know," Julie said. Her hands were shaking now. She finished pouring the drink. "What if they find out about the nanny?"
"They won't," Jon said.
"But what if they do?" She handed him the glass. "I don't want to lose Seth too."
"Oh, honey," Jon comforted. He sat the glass on the dining room table and beckoned her with his arms.
Julie sat on his lap. "Jon," she said, lowering her voice. "I've been thinking about the nanny. I don't think we've made the right choice."
"What do you mean?" Jon said, not altering his volume.
Julie made a gesture for Jon to keep his voice down. "I mean. I mean. I don't know what I mean. It's just a feeling that I have."
Jon began rubbing her back. "We've been through this, Jules," he said, his volume matching hers. "We both decided that we want to give Seth the best chance at success, right?"
"Yes. But maybe Seth won't need the therapy. He could be a genius."
"We both saw the genetic workup, Jules," Jon said. He grabbed his glass and took a long drink. "He'll be average. Like me. Like you. He won't have any advantages."
"This all made sense before, but it doesn't seem right any more."
"Jules," Jon said, "we can't gamble with Seth's future by opting out of this. You know how competitive it is out there. The rich keep getting richer while the rest of us fall further behind. Why? Because they have the money to give themselves an artificial edge. They can afford wet-ware enhancements and computer implants. We can't. This therapy is a chance that we can't pass up. It will put Seth on an even playing field. Besides, we've already invested a lot of money into bringing the nanny here."
"Well Lady and Mister Darcy," the nanny said as she emerged from the nursery, "Seth is all fed for the evening. That little man sure had an appetite."
Her accent made Julie's stomach twitch.
"That's good to hear," Jon said, giving Julie a pat on her backside, a gesture for her to get off of his lap.
Julie stood. "Is he asleep now?"
The nanny nodded, the spiny folds along her neck curling with the motion. "Deep to sleep. He won't be up for a few hours, Lady Darcy."
Julie needed to look at Seth. The times he napped were among the few times Julie could watch him, let alone hold him, with the nanny around. He could sense when the nanny was in the house and always fussed if anyone else picked him up.
"I'll be right back," she said. "Jon, can you take the chicken out of the oven?"
Julie walked into Seth's room. She could still feel the nanny's presence. Her scent marked the nursery as her own territory. Julie leaned over the crib and watched Seth as his lips gently smacked. She was struck by how much Seth looked like Jon. He seemed like an exact baby duplicate. He was truly the most beautiful baby to be born, even with the eczema that was breaking out across his forehead and the purplish tint coloring his skin. She knew it was from the nanny's milk. The therapy was already taking affect.
"My baby guy," she said, reaching down and picking him up. She cradled him in her arms, staring at his closed eyes, the perfectly formed nose and the chubby cheeks. "I love you so much," she said. "Don't leave me."
"It's ready, Jules," Jon called from the kitchen.
* * *
Julie navigated her shopping cart, a dilapidated junker that pulled to the left, past an end-cap of toothpaste and dental floss. Rounding the corner, she came up on the baby section. The desire to buy some small toy rushed through her. She pulled her cart off to the side and scanned through the collection of teething rings, stacking toys, bouncers, and pacifiers, looking for the toy she had suddenly pictured in her mind. As she reached out to grab a pack of oversized, plastic keys and check them out for playability, she noticed the breast pumps lining the bottom shelf.
All thoughts of the toy wilted as she felt an emptiness siphon away her energy. She had wanted to breast feed, longed to do it, but she hadn't been allowed too. The doctor and nanny both warned her against feeding Seth anything at all, not even medicines, until the therapy was complete.
Julie dropped the pump and fought back the urge to break out into tears. She felt estranged from her own son and completely alienated from participating in his life. She understood why things had to be the way they were. Because of the risks involved, the nanny had to be close in order to keep Seth's therapy on track. But why did he have to be sequestered away from her?
"Pull yourself together," she whispered in a mock of her husband's voice. "Just get out of the aisle and you'll be fine."
Julie grabbed her cart and started off.
Then she saw the formula.
She stopped. Stared at it. Reached for it.
"No," Julie said, startling herself.
She stared at the toys, the formula, baby food, and even the diapers. The memory of feeling Seth moving around inside her for the first time filled her belly. She remembered the first time Jon felt Seth kick. She remembered the prolonged labor and painful delivery that she wouldn't trade for anything. She remembered the connection she had felt with Seth the first time she had held him. She wanted that connection again.
Julie grabbed a bottle and a can of formula.
* * *
Jon always drove the nanny to the doctor on his way to work on Tuesdays. The nanny had weekly checkups to ensure she was adjusting properly to life on Earth.
Julie watched Jon backed out of the driveway. She marveled at how completely human the nanny could look when she cloaked herself. She was envious of the seductive human form the nanny always assumed.
When the car was out of sight, Julie collected up Seth. She applied a makeup foundation on any of his purplish parts that would show. Then, she packed up his gear, including the nanny's milk they kept frozen for those days when the nanny wasn't available. She headed down to the semi-private beach just a block from their apartment.
Julie felt free on Tuesdays. With the nanny off on her weekly checkups and Jon at work, all of Julie's tension went away. She could spend the day alone with Seth, without the nanny examining everything she did. She could hold Seth and play with him and he didn't cry. Tuesday was the only time she felt like an actual mother and not a maid.
Julie walked along the length of the beach, embracing the feeling of the cool morning sands between her toes. She attended to Seth the whole time. The feeling of his tiny body against hers warmed her. The wonder of it made her feel like a little girl. It made her remember Amber, her first child, and how that baby girl had felt in her arms. She remembered the sudden illness that had struck Amber. She remembered the funeral shortly after.
Julie didn't bring Seth back until around noon. The time always snuck by on her walks. She could tell Seth was tired and getting hungry. He was fidgeting the same way he did when the nanny was around.
Seth began crying, starting first with minor dissatisfied whimpers and quickly moving up to full-blown howling. Julie strapped him into the infant seat in the kitchen. She retrieved the frozen-milk bottle from the bag and placed it in the bottle warmer on the kitchen counter.
Seth screamed, his voice hitting a pitched panic.
"It's okay, honey," Julie said. She hadn't heard him cry like this before. Each wail fired her with heightened distress.
"It's okay Seth," she said as she pulled him out of the infant seat and cradled him. She paced the room, gently rocking him. "Din-din will be ready soon."
Seth wailed again, squirming frantically. Julie nearly lost hold of him. "It's okay, honest, honey," Julie said, kissing him on the forehead.
Julie watched Seth in desperation. He gasped for air between each scream. His skin flushed bright red.
Julie smelled something burning. She took a survey of the room, doubling her gaze back to Seth with each glance. She saw the bottle sitting oddly in the warmer. She ran over in time to see the bottom melting, milk sizzling on the heating surface.
Julie moaned. She shifted Seth, freeing up an arm. She grabbed the warmer, yanking the plug from the outlet, and tossed it into the sink.
Seth screamed. His tiny voice was turning hoarse.
"I need another bottle," she said franticly.
Seth cried out again, his voice crackling in Julie's ears.
The other bottle, Julie thought. Not a frozen one, but the bottle she bought the day before. The formula. That's what Seth needed.
Julie bolted into her bedroom. She laid Seth on the bed. Turning to her dresser, she opened the lowest drawer, reached into the back and began digging through her clothes. When her hands touched the ridge of the canister, she yanked it out, relieved the nanny hadn't found it.
Seth wailed again.
Julie stared at the can. It was decorated with flowers and cuddly teddy bears. Happy cartoon babies giggled in summertime clothes. It was the childhood she had imagined for Seth. It was the normal childhood she wanted him to have.
Seth cried out again while Julie scanned the instructions.
She ran out to the kitchen to grab another bottle and top. This is how things should be, she thought. If she couldn't breastfeed, she would settle for formula. At least then it was Seth's mother bonding with him and not something else.
Julie began filling the bottle with filtered water. She watched as the water rose up to one ounce.
She knew the therapy Seth was getting was guaranteed to raise his IQ by at least thirty points.
The water rose to two ounces.
She had seen the statistics the doctor had presented that had clearly shown that babies who went through the therapy grew up smarter.
The water rose to three ounces.
The therapy gave its recipients an edge over their peers in school and the workplace. She had heard that babies who went through the therapy were more successful, they landed better-paying jobs, and they rose to positions of power quickly.
The water rose to four ounces.
The therapy was also illegal. No one really knew what the long-term effects of the therapy would be, so it had been outlawed. The FBI, CDC, and the INS were always tracking the nanny's kind to make sure they weren't going underground and entering the black market to contract themselves out as wet nurses. Parents who were caught using the therapy were sent to prison and Child Protective Services took custody of their kids. She had even heard of a case where the parents had been sterilized.
Julie shut the water off and dashed back to her bedroom. Seth let out a high-pitched yell when she entered the room, flushing a raw, panicked heat through Julie.
Julie pulled open the canister of formula. She measured out two scoops, dumping each one in the bottle.
Seth screamed again.
So what if Seth didn't have any special advantage! It was more important that Seth have a human mother and not some creature taking her place. Seth needed his mom. That was obvious.
Julie capped the bottle then started shaking it to mix up the formula. She checked to make sure there weren't any lumps.
Seth howled again.
Julie sunk down to her knees and rested her body against the bed. She reached out and pulled Seth towards her. His crying stopped as he stared lovingly at her with his beautiful blue eyes.
So what if he grew up average! Average was fine as long as Seth was happy, as long as the family was happy.
Julie held the bottle up to Seth, all the while staring at the nipple. Formula was already dripping from it.
Once she fed him this formula that was it. It would introduce a set of enzymes into Seth's body that not only countered the affects of the nanny's breast milk, but could also cause serious medical problems if the therapy continued. The therapy would have to be stopped; otherwise, Seth could die.
'Is it worth it?' Julie asked herself. She had been asking herself that question since Jon introduced her to the doctor running the underground clinic. She had been asking herself that question every time the nanny sauntered into the nursery and picked up Seth like he was one of her own kind.
Seth let out a high-pitched yelp, his hands swatting at the bottle.
Julie touched the nipple to Seth's lips. The formula dripped out into Seth's mouth. He took a tentative swallow then latched on to the bottle.
Seth's eyes brightened as he began gulping down the formula. His body slumped into total relaxation as he fed.
Julie began crying.
Story © 2003 by Sean Hower firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration © 2003 by Romeo Esparrago email@example.com
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