I like to think of her as a normal child. Often, I’ve imagined lying on a hospital bed, sweating, pushing with an anxious midwife and a pain ripping through me until she is delivered to me on a sea of bloody amniotic fluid. She sits opposite me under the shade of the rowan tree. You wouldn’t know to look at her that she isn’t normal.
She is calm and I watch the sun breaking through the leaves and dancing on her face.
She doesn’t know what she is. She does not notice our physical similarities because she cannot picture herself as old, with hooded eyes and mouth drooping. She won’t notice finer details like the shape of our feet and toes because mine are coarse and lined with raised blue veins. So many don’t notice because she isn’t a precise mirror image, for nature has taken its toll on both of us. Her jaw is less firm, her eyes softer and a smile tiptoes across her face. It is as if an envoy from a former life has appeared, a younger, better me to remind me of what could have been, had my circumstances been different. The platter of sandwiches and cakes are ignored because she knows where her next meal will come from. She lacks for nothing. She calls and is waited upon. Hungry hours are the longest and my childhood was filled with many. We would rise at five o’clock to make the long journey to school.
She is sleepy-eyed under the tree, she has time to think, to breathe.
Her future will not be my past. I never want her to be the only woman at the head of the table, with wolves circling and late nights of brandy to aid her sleep. She will be loved. She will grow slowly and experience childhood. She will not repeat what has been.
I suppose she knows me better than I do for she has time to stop and think, as I never had, and I wish I could stop and see the world through her eyes. She sees through my eyes, without my experience, and I envy that.
My deputy Michael told me it was important to procreate, to bequeath the gene pool to the nation, to perpetuate the solving of the nation’s ills. People will want you to go on, he said.
But I couldn’t. They told me it was the man but they didn’t know there had been so many men. Eventually I sat in a whitened room, a cold metal pressed against my abdomen that was thick with jelly and the monitor showed strange patterns like a satellite map with mountains and roads. I found it was a fruitless territory, with rivers that didn’t flow, rivers filled with stagnant waters.
We had to try something else. Michael changed. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be, he said. You can’t imagine she will be exactly the same, that by some strange form of osmosis you’ll become her? Do you?
She is my only child. No one knows she was born of a scraping of a somatic cell and an egg with its nucleus removed. The newspapers reported how rare it was to bear a child at my age, one editor calling it a miracle. There was speculation about who the father was. I have never spoken about her father, presumably she assumes she has one, yet she isn’t curious. It’s as if she knows not to ask. And if she doesn’t ask then I do not have to lie.
I imagine she will bear children. She will have a house by the sea and all of the wealth and property I have left her will be abandoned. She will be carefree as only the truly wealthy can be. Even though she is the future all I can think of with her is my past. I ask myself if I would change anything and I think not, because it has delivered us here. But maybe she will revolt against her future. Perhaps a stubborn streak will steer her towards my path, that she will never be satisfied without commands and controls. Michael was wrong, I don’t like to think we are one and the same, that she is a replica.
She smiles, looking at me as if she knows what I’m thinking.
Shall I pour tea, Mama? she asks.
I nod slowly and she pours carefully. We both take the same amount of milk, just a splash. She makes it perfectly, just as I would. I go to blow the steam from the cup before I drink but this is what she does so I wait, patiently, to avoid the synchronicity. We sit quietly and drink. Often we have little to say to one another.
This work responds to ‘It’s Written in the Stars’ and specifically to hierarchies and our creations within these. I am researching the theme of uncanny children at York St John and one of the boundaries of my theses is what constitutes a child. I’m interested in dystopian hierarchies of who reproduces and why. Of particular interest has been Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and P.D. James’s The Children of Men. I wanted to explore the uncanniness of mirrors and replication and what it might be like to see your younger self, and the unease that might arise from this. I turned to cloning as a way of exploring this and examining potential reproductive technologies. I hope the creative piece makes the reader question the need to perpetuate our history and legacy in any new colonies.
Shirley Stephenson is currently studying for a PhD at York St John’s University, looking at uncanny children. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing at York St John’s in 2015. She has been an editor at the York Literary Review since 2016.