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by David Emanuel





Celeste left her golden retriever in the wagoncoupe with one of her mothers. Men visited the park on Tuesdays and dogs might make them sick.

She climbed onto a gray boulder and rested with her arms pressed behind her back and her stomach arched. Temporary paint marked a line on the grass in front of the rocks. The yellow stain would dissolve on its own after the men returned to their haven.

Years ago, Celeste's mothers brought her to the park to watch men play games and breathe fresh air. When she grew older, they let her stay to see the stains disappear. She remembered giggling when the paint broke apart along the edges and the wind blew away the fading dust.

A man stood several feet across the line, the look of his white shirt and trousers marred by the reddish-brown hair on top of his head and the stubble growing on his chin. Someone needed to clean him up before his unkempt hair collected germs.

Lucy barked in the parking lot. Lucy was “breeder quality” so Sonya had insisted that he not be castrated. Celeste's other moms disagreed, but Sonya promised that she would chase after Lucy when he got loose. Celeste had agreed to help. Lucy was the only male that she had examined up close since her brother left.

Celeste had seen her brother naked when he was home for the first few months. “Mothers milk is an amazing thing,” the doctor had said. “Little men can survive on mom's breast. Their immune deficiencies won't catch up to them for at least three months.”

She thought about that pink, little man and his marble, blue eyes. It wasn't a good idea to name men, but Celeste had decided to call him Tony. She had seen a Tony on one of the shows digitized before the outbreak. Tony managed an east coast gang. Tony ran the house and knew lots of women. Doctors took her Tony back to the havens a few weeks after she named him.

Maybe that was Tony staring back at her now. The man had a round face, but she couldn't tell if his eyes were blue. He lifted one arm and opened and closed his hand. The odds were that he was somebody else's Tony.

Celeste smiled wide enough that he might see her. Her mothers all agreed that she shouldn't be so reckless. What if a man did something rash? What if he charged the line? She might infect him. Teenage men only had a couple of years left, and it was essential that they stay clean. Most died from pneumonia or meningitis before they could deposit enough sperm to pay for their lifelong room, board and health care.

Cutting the smile off was awkward for Celeste. Men could stand and stare all day, but she had never seen one charge like her mothers warned. Tranquilizers filled their cocktails along with vitamins, immunoglobulins and new generation antibiotics. Men had been different once. They had fought wars. Blown up cities. Concocted weapons that fused to single x-chromosomes and wrecked their immune systems.

But not these men.

In white shirts and trousers, these teenagers had been domesticated. Their lips drooped limply from their mouths. They could stand and stare for hours, but, if Celeste moved, it would take them a full minute to track her while she walked away. Men had been drugged for everyone's safety.

Sonya honked the horn on their family's wagoncoupe. Lucy leaned out the storage window and barked twice in agreement.

Tony kept staring. Celeste waved again, half-smiled, and climbed down from the rocks. Pushing her hands against the stone, she lowered her feet to the grass, careful to keep her stomach out in front of her.

Sonya honked again. Didn't she remember how hard it was to climb while pregnant? Hadn't she needed time to think before she went to the birthing centers for ultrasounds and blood tests?

Across the line, Tony was still waving at the rock where Celeste had been sitting. She thought about calling out, but that would only confuse him. There was no way that he would find her again before they drove off.

“Big day.” Sonya already had the wagoncoupe running and shifted into drive.

“Maybe they'll be able to tell the sex today.” Celeste didn't look at her mother, but she could smell the lemon-scented hand lotion. Sonya had become addicted to disinfecting cream when her man was born.

“Girl or man, we're proud of you for going through with the insemination. We'd love to have a new baby in the house, and we could always use the extra income from donating another man.”

Celeste lowered the passenger window. The lotion's fumes smelled like clean floors and washed linen. The odor of constant dusting and hand-soap scrubbing. Boiled water. Clean shaven hair. Sonya and her wagoncoupe smelled of little men.

Two men struggled to roll a beach ball between them on the grass while Sonya drove away. Celeste looked back, but she couldn't spot Tony in the crowd.

Lucy slobbered in her ear, his hot breath making her squirm. She let him lick her several times and then pushed him away when she couldn't take anymore.

“I suppose it doesn't matter, Mom. We would love another girl and we'll get cash for a baby boy.”

Sonya's knuckles whitened from her grip on the steering wheel. Clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, she shook her head disapprovingly.

Baby boy, Mom. Baby boy.” Celeste knew that she was acting juvenile. It wasn't a good idea to name the men, and it was cruel to call them baby boys.

The park's green grass faded from view.

© David Emanuel, 2006
All Rights Reserved



BIO: David Emanuel has published several manuscripts and articles on matters related to health care policy. He currently lives and writes near Chicago with his wife and two daughters.