Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Mother (as in maternal parent)( 04/24/08)
By Jan Ackerson
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She charms me for months, while I constantly swallow my guilt. The hospital chaplain has given me a Biblical Module for my Auditory Implant, and I listen to its calming words whenever I’m feeding Lulu or soothing her fitful sleep.
One day when Lulu is five months old, my spirit shifts in adjustment to the words that whisper in my ear. Guilt is covered by grace.
I embark on a year of scrupulous frugality, saving every credit I can, and finally I contact ModifiTime with a proposal.
While I wait to hear from them, Lulu learns to take stumbling steps, but only by gripping tightly to my fingers. Her entire vocabulary is mama, mama.
Two weeks before Lulu’s second birthday, I am rubbing her tummy and studying her face—her cheeks are flatter than the pinchable pink pads of the babbling toddlers who run around my silent Lulu in the park. I bend to kiss her; she is still my little elf. A musical tone in my Implant signals an incoming message.
“Justine Wickes,” says the artificial voice, “ModifiTime has approved your application for a Time Change as both minimal and beneficial. The stipulated amount of credits has been removed from your account. Report to any ModifiTime Center in order to effect your Time Change. Good luck.”
I dress Lulu in pale pink, and we set out immediately for the ModifiTime Center downtown. The smiling receptionist scans the IdentiChip embedded in my wrist. After a few seconds, she speaks. “Ms. Wickes, you’re in Room 3. Please listen carefully to the instructions before you proceed with your Time Change.” She indicates a play area, walls aglow with animated cartoons. “We have excellent RoboNannies. Shall I take your little girl?”
I pass Lulu’s hand to the receptionist and watch her teetering steps into the playroom. Behind me, the doors are numbered with digital displays. I enter Room 3 with Lulu’s face emblazoned behind my eyes.
As the door closes silently behind me, instructions stream into my Implant.
“Spend no more than two minutes out of Time. Touch only the items listed in your proposal. Speak no more than ten words. Remember, you cannot be seen outside of Time. Your words may or may not be heard, depending on noise and distraction at your destination. Take only the actions submitted in your proposal. Your actions may or may not change Time. If your actions do not change Time, no refund will be given.”
I tell the Walls my destination in Time and Space.
And I am there, with no transition whatsoever.
It is the kitchen of my own apartment, and for a disorienting moment I believe that Room 3 has malfunctioned. But a closer look reveals that it is my apartment from nearly three years ago. There is nothing of Lulu here: no colorful plush toys, no framed holographs.
With only seconds to accomplish my Time Change, I take a hesitant step into my own living room and watch myself. Justine is on the couch, weeping. I remember what she has just learned: She is pregnant.
She does not want to be pregnant.
She reaches for a bottle on the end table, a bottle half-full of a rich amber liquid.
This is my moment. With tingling feet I take three strides, and I sweep the bottle onto the floor. Whiskey and broken glass mingle on hardwood.
Justine looks around, startled. As she picks up the largest pieces of glass, I stoop close to her and whisper in her ear. “Don’t drink it, Justine. Don’t drink. Her name is Lulu.”
And as Justine searches for the source of this maybe-a-voice that is obviously not her Implant, I am suddenly back in Room 3 where soft yellow words are crawling across the wall. TIME CHANGE COMPLETE. PLEASE EXIT.
I head toward the playroom, my throat aching.
Lulu-but-not-Lulu runs to me, sure-footed, clutching a hand puppet. “Look, mama!” she says, and I can see that her features have refined, sharpened, brightened. “Kitty cat! Kiss kitty cat, mama!”
I gather my new Lulu and Kitty Cat into my arms and kiss them both.
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