The Baby is Safe
[ Left ]
I am seated at my desk typing a memo when my watch begins to ring. I place my wrist against the cartilaginous part of my ear and say Hello? still typing with my free hand. The gravelly voice at the other end says, Long time, no speak. I immediately recognize it as belonging to my ex-lover from Saipan. What do you want? I say. I'll call you back—I'm busy right now, and I need both of my hands to finish the job. She laughs. Why not strap your wristwatch around your ear like everyone else? You've always been stubbornly independent. Haven't changed at all. Just then my boss appears in front of me, her broad hips at the level of my eyes. How's that memo coming along? she asks. Oh, I'll have it to you soon. Very soon. I wonder whether she's noticed the glowing face of the watch. Huffing like a horse, she shuffles away. A moment later I hear her repeat the same question ("How's that memo coming along?") in the same tone to herself. I'll call you back, I whisper into the watch. Don't worry, the baby is safe, the voice says, and then the line goes dead. It is exactly 3:09 p.m.
[ Right ]
"—nks to the advent of advanced psycho-cellular technology, communication between the sexes has never been easier. So says . . ."
She snapped the fingers of her left hand, instantaneously turning the plasma screen a vacuous black, while with her right, she languorously stroked her client-lover's erect penis. "Are you almost there?" she asked, yawning to herself as she gazed at a swollen black beetle making its way across the far wall. Before he could answer, however, she increased the rate of her stroking and he ejaculated, grunting like a pregnant boar; in an instant the ISO3300X cleaning unit dissolved the spermy mess with a shot of translucent disinfectant spray. "All right? Now pull up your drawers and go to work or you'll be late. I've already scanned you for GC* 3900, so we're even." The man, who until now had been lying flat on his back, sat up on the edge of the bed and reached for his amethyst-colored synthetic pants, which were still piled up around his ankles. "Oh, and don't forget to pick up a discount coupon on your way out. 10% off the next time you come." He sighed inaudibly and, buttoning up his matching synthetic shirt, said, "I could do without the sarcasm right now. I've got a long day ahead of me. You shouldn't tease me like that, you know. A man is bound t . . ." She turned to face the plasma screen again and, crossing her legs, snapped her fingers. The man's watch read 9:03 a.m. as he walked past her.
[ Left ]
I hand the memo to my boss, who snaps the fingers of her right hand. The double doors slide shut behind me as she takes the memo with the same hand and scratches some e-text onto the surface of her desk with the other. (I hadn't noticed that she was a leftie until now.) Who were you talking with on your watch earlier? she says. Who, me? I answer. It was just an old friend. I told h-him I'd call another time, since I was busy. She narrows her amethyst-colored eyes and snorts, then bites her bottom lip with a crooked tooth. Is that so? she says. I nod, swallowing the saliva that has accumulated in my mouth. We stare at each other for a tense moment before she snaps her fingers again. You may leave now, she says, the double doors already open behind me. I feel wretched, though I'm not sure exactly why.
[ Right ]
She lay on the bed, watching the flickering lights of the flat plasma screen. The prosthetic baby in the room at the end of the corridor was crying. "Shut up," she said, more to herself than to the child, as she rolled onto her back and slid the hypodermic needle into a bulging vein, pulling the makeshift tourniquet off with her teeth. The clock in the corner of the screen blinked 6:03 p.m. The crying grew louder as the vitamin-concoction (her lunch) entered her bloodstream. "Shut up," she repeated to herself, rubbing the fingers of her right hand across her sunken, bare belly, on which an orange-red cloth had been tattooed. When she snapped the fingers of her opposite hand, the ISO6600X cleaning unit produced a steaming hot washcloth resembling the one inked into her flesh, except for its dull beige color. "Fucking baby," she said.
[ Left ]
I'm at my desk again. It's exactly 6:06 a.m., according to the computer monitor. Why the hell did I come in so early today, anyway? Ah yes, I have memos to attend to. My wristwatch has stopped at 9:03 p.m. I must have forgotten to recharge the six-month battery last night. As soon as I start retyping the memo from yesterday, my boss's face appears on the monitor. Letting out a clipped burst of air from her nose, she says, Are you making any progress? Bring the memo to my office just as soon as you're finished. Yes ma'am, I say. I'll have it to you just as soon as I . . . At that very moment my wristwatch lights up. My boss's eyes meet mine through the monitor, and at that instant I know what I have to do. Removing the watch, I place it on the desk and smash it with the sole of my right shoe, as if it were a large bug.
[ Right ]
"I'm home," he said, dropping his synthetic briefcase with a dull thud. Where was she? Something felt strange. Was it the pasty walls, the lusterless vinyl flooring, the fat beetle on the wall now here, now gone? No, it was something else—a sound, unmistakably that of a crying baby, coming from the far end of the corridor. She hated children, wouldn't let him ejaculate anywhere near her reproductive organs (despite them both being fixed). Something was fishy—was it a trap? But why should he mistrust her? She was, after all, his one (and only) lover. He gazed at his wristwatch before turning right, heading straight for the door from whence the child's cries were coming. The dark corridor was lined with mirrors of all shapes and sizes; they reflected his form from various angles, making him look like some hideous fiend from a campy horror film. As he approached the last door on the left the wailing grew louder, more intense. His hand fell upon the gold nouveau-Bauhaus door handle and pushed. And then something went click from down at the end of the corridor.
[ Left ]
She snaps her fingers, I hand her the re-retyped memo, she scribbles some e-text on the desk, etc., etc. Let me see your watch, she says. My watch? I say, shocked. I smashed it to smithereens, of course. The battery was dead. She shakes her head, breathing noisily through her nose. But you could have just recharged it, couldn't you? Well yes, I suppose, I answer, searching her face for any hint, however small, of irony. Why bother, though, when I can just buy a brand new one on the way home tonight? The new models have batteries that last up to nine months on a single charge, whereas the old one had a battery which only lasted for six. Sounds wasteful to me, she says, snapping her fingers again. The double doors open behind me. By the way, she says, the baby is still safe. I have it on good authority. The double doors close behind me. My gasp gets stuck in my throat as I leave.
[ Right ]
She found him in front of the last door on the right, his left hand clasped to his chest, the right grasping the handle, as if trying to open it. How had this stranger gotten into her apartment, and what did he want with her? Good thing she'd had the new security system installed last month. He'd be paralyzed for at least another hour or so, which would give her enough time to call F— on her watch and file an e-report on the intruder . . . Ah, but her last after-hours client had smashed the watch to bits, apparently because he hadn't come (through no fault of her own; he had been too uptight, obviously, sexually frustrated . . .). She'd just have to take the man's watch, which was a brand-new model ISO93600Z, ironically the exact model she had seen advertised in the storefront on the way home from the office. The prosthetic baby was crying from the bedroom now, where she had locked it up for safekeeping. She had to return it to the clinic by week's end. Good thing the intruder hadn't found it, or she'd be in deep shit. As long as the baby was safe, everything would work out. The watch read 9:09 p.m. as she strapped it to her ear and dialed.
[ Left ]
March 6, 20—
how's the weather in the asianp? have you taken care of those seminal vesicles yet? don't worry, i've taken care of things on my end. love you more than you know.
The previous message was electronically forwarded to the watch I bought last night (the old one was either misplaced or stolen). Wish I had a clue as to who sent it. My name, for one thing, doesn't begin with the letter F—my first name is Carl; my middle name Ira. Further, I don't live in the Asian Pacific, not to mention that I also don't know any Rs other than Rachel P—, and she's been MIA for three full years now. At any rate, the boss is on maternity leave—she recently bought a new baby from that trendy new cloning clinic over on 6th and Cifi (or was it Lezboi?) Ave., and I've been put in charge of overseeing the business until she returns. Truth be told, there's not a whole lot to be done here apart from typing and retyping old memos, so whenever I get bored I do crossword puzzles, first with my right hand and then with my left. (I've always thought it'd be cool to train oneself to be ambidextrous.) When my watch rings, I place it against my ear. A baby is crying on the other end of the line. Hello? I say, but the baby just continues to wail. It is in that instant that I realize the answer to six down, which has been eluding me for hours on end, is TRIGONOMETRIC.* That's it! I cry, snapping the fingers of my right hand and scribbling the answer down with my left. A tiny beetle scuttles across the desk. I smash it with the heel of my shoe as the line goes dead.
* "A function of an arc or angle most simply expressed in terms of the ratios of pairs or sides of a right-angled triangle is called a __________ function."
Marc Lowe’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, including 1,001 Nights Cast project (Australia), Big Bridge, BlazeVOX, Caketrain, elimae, Pindeldyboz, Retort, The Salt River Review, Sein und Werden, The Steel City Review, and others. Marc is an Associate Editor for Mad Hatters’ Review, where his fiction and book reviews appear, and is currently pursuing an MFA degree at Brown. Please visit his website www.malo23.com for more information.
copyright © 2008, Marc Lowe
BECCA DE LA ROSA
—The Baby is Safe
—The Fisherman's Child
—Faith, Hidden in the Hands of the Blind
—A Comic History of Bullets
—To Recover from Lightning, Etc.
A. ROSS ECKLER