The City by the Sea–part 2

Part one here

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” Doctor Littlefield moved the palm-held heart monitor over Zackary’s thin chest. “He seemed fine when he was born—except for the skin color, of course. But that’s beginning to fade, and still…”

The baby was breathing almost normally now, but earlier Lissa had wondered if he was going to make it this time. The coughing and wheezing and sucking for air, it had tied her stomach in knots. Zackary was only a week old and she was already madly in love with the tiny life she and Gavin had created. She had tried to distance herself, knowing from the moment the doctor placed him in her arms, and she had seen the green tint of his skin, that she would probably lose him. He was one of those who were not-quite-right. But how could she not love him? She had changed his diapers, sang to him, held him as he suckled at her bosom. My God, she had even named him—against everyone’s advice.

Doctor Littlefield smiled down at the infant she held cradled to her breast. Lissa saw the sadness in her eyes. How many babies had she helped into the world? How many babies had she seen depart it?

But not my baby! Lissa held out her arms. Continue reading

The City By The Sea–part 1

Part One

“Gavin, wait, you forgot your mask.” Lissa waddled to the door, holding out the filter by a thumb and forefinger as if it were one of the icky, four-inch roaches that prowled their apartment every night. God, how she hated those ugly things, but nothing you could do but learn to live with them; they weren’t going anywhere.

Gavin took the silver mask and settled it atop his blond curls. “I could’ve got it, babe.” He looked down into her eyes, a gentle smile curving his lips. “You’re supposed to stay off your feet as much as possible, you know.” He laid a gloved hand on her swollen belly. “Doctor’s orders.”

For all the good it’ll do, Lissa thought. Had staying off their feet saved her sister’s baby? Or Beverly’s? Or anyone else’s she knew? She wanted to go outside, walk, run, even if it meant suiting up and breathing through a filter. “I just…I want…I’m so tired…” Continue reading

It’s A Job–part 3

Part 1 here       Part 2 here

Propped up on the pliant, leather sofa, iced coffee and a bag of Dove chocolates near at hand, I tried to concentrate on the open textbook braced against my raised thighs. Meta-ethics, normative ethics, applied ethics…

Why did I need to study philosophy to be a molecular biologist? What did philosophy have to do with genetics? I sure as hell didn’t know, but the counselor had said if I wanted to supervise research projects in vector construction, I’d need to hold a Doctor of Philosophy, along with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology.

I had to agree with Daddy on one thing: you can’t fight city hall. So I hadn’t argued, just signed up for the required classes because…

Because someday I wanted to fiddle around inside the human DNA, discover which gene did what, which ones produced murderers, rapists, child molesters. I wanted to ferret out the genetic factor that made people turn out like my Daddy: mean to the bone. And I wanted to turn them off. For good. Better yet, introduce an improvement, something like the spider-silk goat milk.

My mind swam with possibilities, the changes and enhancements that could be made to the human race, creating a society where fear of your fellow humans didn’t exist. Utopia. Well, almost. There’d still be—

A soft thump broke the silence. Continue reading

It’s a Job–part 2

Part 1 here          Part 3 here

“Ania, my baby sister has died.” The professor’s voice pulled me back into the present. “I have to go home for a few weeks.”

“Of course,” I said. “Where’s home?”

“Krakow. I have booked a flight out for tonight. Tessa, I hate to ask this of you, but I have no one else I trust.”

“Anything, Professor.” I took a sip of coffee, looked up into Cass’s curious eyes. “Anything at all.”

“Can you drive me to the airport, then pick me up when I return?”

“Of course.”

“And there is another thing…it’s about the spraying you have been doing for me.”

“Don’t give it a second thought. I’ll do it every evening like always.”

“There is more I need to tell you, Tessa…to keep you safe. There are things you do not know.”

I looked up. Cass had moved away, but was still within earshot. Whatever the professor had meant about keeping me safe, I didn’t want her to pick up on. My love was such a worrywart. “You can tell me on the way to the airport.” Continue reading

It’s A Job–part 1

Part 2 here           Part 3 here

My job was to walk the perimeter of Professor Dembowski’s property late every evening and spray down a foot-wide swath of bluish-green foam to contain It when he let It out to feed at night. As far as jobs went, this was an easy one, taking little of my time. And it paid well. A lot more than cashiering at Walmart or waiting tables.

I had no idea what “It” was and didn’t care. All that concerned me was the crisp, hundred-dollar bills the professor counted out onto my palm every Friday after I returned the emptied sprayer to the shed in back of his sprawling, log home in the country.

“Thank you, Tessa,” he invariably said in that funny accent I couldn’t quite place. “You are such a good girl.”

We engaged in a bit of small talk, then I was on my way.

Seated on his motorized scooter at the bottom of a wooden ramp leading up to the head-high back porch, he watched me walk away. I always turned and gave him a little wave when I reached the side of the house, then picked my way along an overgrown rock path that meandered through wild grasses, weeds, and trees, to my dusty, red Thunderbird parked out front.

That was the way it had always gone, and that was the way it went this evening.

After pulling off my muddy boots and wet socks and pitching them in the trunk, I slid behind the wheel and twisted the key. The engine whined but didn’t catch. I turned it off, waited a bit, tried again, got the same result. And again. “Start, you ole sumbitch…” I muttered, falling back into the hill-country dialect that was always on the tip of my tongue, stuck there like glue, just waiting for an unguarded moment to slip out.

Mama’s pride-and-joy that she had given me to make the long trip north finally caught, sputtered, then came to life with an oily roar. Guess hearing Daddy’s words coming out of my mouth scared it like they had everyone else back home. Even me. Until I had gotten bigger and tougher and could take the beatings, both verbal and physical, without making a sound.

I steered the Thunderbird around the circle drive, then along a lengthy straightaway before the concrete gave way to packed dirt. I took a sharp left, following a set of tracks plowing through knee-high grass. A few hundred yards more and the road ended at the highway. I stopped, glanced into the rearview mirror at the encroaching darkness. Nothing but trees and vines and brush. No sign at all that a million-dollar-plus house lurked behind the gnarled thicket. Why, even his mailbox was a rusty, listing thing.

And not for the first time, I wondered: why the camouflage?

But it was just a passing thought. The thousands of dollars growing in my bank account earmarked for a decent car rested in the forefront of my mind. Soon, there would be enough. And after the car, I would be able to send money home to Mama. I just had to come up with a way to keep it out of Daddy’s hands.

I flipped on the headlights, rolled through the strip of aquamarine foam, and pulled onto the highway. Continue reading