The International Writers Magazine: First Chapter
Alexandra was still asleep in her room when the letter arrived. We had decided she deserved to sleep late on weekends to make up for the rigorous chore of waking up early to make the bus to school every morning during the week; something she did religiously, without our help.
In fact, her ‘self reliance’ was the key to her personality. A trait that made us feel she kept us around as necessary accessories to complete the ancient family triad of mother, father, and child. As far as she was concerned, she had been hatched from an egg without human intervention.(1)
As practical human parents, we had made sure that Alex knew her “duty” from a very young age.(2) That duty was to be a good student and to follow the cosmic principles of Truth, Honesty, and Love. Truth: to follow her heart. Honesty: in her thoughts and actions. Love: to her fellow men and women, whom she is to love and protect. (3)
Alex had taken our teachings to heart: she had made the ‘Honor Roll’ during her entire school career, so far. As a matter of fact, our refrigerator door was replete with certificates from her instructors bearing comments such as: WOW! from her Art teacher, BEAUTIFUL! form the math teacher, OUTSTANDING! in Science, AWSOME! from her Sensei in Martial Arts. We couldn’t open the refrigerator door without sending papers flying.
It was Saturday. A chilly March morning when the letter came. Sunlight blasted into our living room bestowing the glow of springtime on every object resting atop our neglected piano. Outside, the weeds on the lawn had started to sprout and the resident bluejays gathered material to build their nests where their precious eggs will rest until they’re hatched.
I am usually the first one up every morning. Sue, my wife, on the other hand, is awakened gently by the aroma of coffee brewing in the kitchen. Today, however, she was abruptly awakened by the rough, tough, cough-like noise of Charlie’s incessant barking. Our dog Charlie is a strange mix of german shepherd and blood hound, or beagle. We’d figured he was probably a product of one of those rumored experiments gone awry, but it was never substantiated. He’s the smartest mutt we’d ever owned. (4)
Charlie’s barking usually coincided with the arrival of the mail truck. When I yelled at him to stop barking, he jumped down from the sofa obligingly and waddled sheepishly with his flaccid tale dangling between his legs, aAnd hid between the wall and the sofa by the window. I approached the window and parted the curtain-sheers with my index finger; tilted my head slightly, and peeked through the slit in the transparent fabric. Outside, the neat rows of houses stood pleasantly at each side of the road, adorned with weather-cured shingles and quaint little porches that accentuated the neighborhood’s feel of suburbia: a placid place for families to raise well behaved children in their comfy castles of indolence.(5)
The mail truck had stopped at the edge of our driveway. I saw its brake-lights flash as it stopped long enough for a body-less arm to stuff a few pieces of paper into our mailbox. When the brake-lights went out, the truck rolled down the hill with its tires crackling as it ran over lose pebbles on the road. The postman, or post-lady in our case, usually drove her government-issued truck to the edge of our driveway, then walked diligently, rain or shine, to our doorstep, rang the door bell, and handed us our post with a smile and a friendly “have a nice day.” This Saturday morning, our post lady did not deliver our mail as expected. There was no “ding-dong” from the door bell; only the clanking of mailboxes being slammed shut, which startled Charlie causing him to roll his eyes to meet mine, figuratively asking me if it was O.K. to bark.
I waited until the truck cleared the corner of the street before I went out the front door in my bare feet to the row of mailboxes. I stood in front of them for a moment, moving my head from side-to-side, like a mischievous child about to commit some transgression, before reaching into the mailbox. When I reached into the mailbox I pulled out four envelopes that had been deposited there by the mail carrier. Nothing important, I thought, just the usual stuff: half-price coupons for pizza, and junk-mail. I did notice, however, hiding amidst the undesirables an official looking envelope. Clearly, it had been designed to catch my attention: the envelope was addressed with gold stamped letters to: “Alexandra King” our twelve-year-old daughter. I clutched the unusual envelope in my hands and made my way back to the house.
Charlie had been sitting behind the storm door watching, waiting for my return. He had a way of resting his snout between his front paws, letting his ears fall limply at either side of his head like a head-kerchief on a babushka. His human-like eyes danced fluidly around their sockets, adorned by thick black lines of fur like eyeliner on an Egyptian Pharaoh. Motionless, he observed my movements as I approached the front of the house with my eyes fixed on the envelope. Charlie moved out of the way in slow motion when I opened the squeaky front door, and let it slam behind me, while palpably feeling the raised gold lettering on the tips of my fingers.
“Susan!” “Sue? come take a look at this” I yelled for my wife.
A few seconds later, I heard the floorboards creaking upstairs, followed by the sound of the bedroom door opening and closing swiftly, revealing a sleepy Sue. She wore an oversized T-shirt bearing silly pictures of dogs with some clever saying like: ‘rough night,’ in faded letters, barely visible from repeated washing. Her hair was standing on end with a serious case of Saturday morning bead-head. Susan’s brown hair adorned her roundish, nearly oval face, whose beauty was not apparent at first sight, but grew on you, despite the luminescence of her reflective eyes that gave her face the fierce look of a wildcat. I always teased her impishly, that I had once placed her ears, nose and lips on a Mrs. Potato Head toy when I was a child.
Sue is tall, with excellent ‘child bearing hips,’ that, sadly, had never served their purpose. Her body seemed to have been constructed using the blueprints to build an athlete. Her upper body was supported by a pair of long luxurious legs, reminders of the impossibly difficult figure of a Barbie doll, Sue is no Barbie doll, however, she’s intelligent; with the self confidence of a Lynx.
Sue walked down the staircase stealthily in her bare feet, barely making a sound. The whisper of her soles caressing the wood signaled Charlie that it was O.K. to jump out of his hiding place to greet her. “Shhhh! You’ll wake her up” she whispered, while bending down to pet Charlie. “Where’s the coffee?” she asked me with a froggish sound in her voice. I’d forgotten to get the coffee pot going; having been distracted by the mail delivery controversy. It was controversial for my routine to be broken.(6)
“What’s with the lack of coffee this morning? she asked, with frogs still in her throat, “and what’s that in your hands?” She asked while scratching her head. What is it? she repeated. “Not sure. It’s addressed to Alexandra King” I said lifting my hand to show her the envelope. “Let me see that” she said while approaching me with her right arm extended.
Sue took the envelope from my hand, lifted it to her squinting eyes, and asked if I would fetch her glasses from her study.(7) From the study, I could see Sue trying to determine the contents of the envelope by holding it against the bright light from the window. She turned the envelope in every direction, then placed it on the dining room table, and bent down again to kiss Charlie’s head, while making yummy noises and scratching the sides of his belly: “You funny dog! You funny doggie!” she called out in her cutsey voice.
I handed Sue her spectacles. She placed them on her face and adjusted them on the bridge of her nose. I was nervous with anticipation. Sue, on the other hand, was not. She always handled the important papers in our household, including letters from mysterious sources. The envelope was postmarked with today’s date over a stamp baring the design of a golden Art Deco bird whose body was a combination machine and animal. The bird was in mid-flight against a light-blue rectangle of sky. It was tilted downward and headed towards the right edge of the stamp, holding a golden envelope in its beak. Beneath the coasting bird the initials OPYM were printed in gold, and beneath them, at the bottom edge, the gold stamped word “Epsilon” blended into a white background. (8)
Sue tore the right edge of the envelope, carefully, to avoid ripping its contents, then pinched the edge of letter between her index finger and thumb while squeezing the top and bottom edges of the envelope with her left, to allow the free flow of the paper inside. The perfectly folded letter fit nicely between Sue’s fingers. She unsheathed the letter and held it in front of her spectacled eyes for a moment, then flipped it back and forth, as if trying to guess its weight. When she unfolded it, the paper’s creases made snapping noises like a whip. Sue held the letter by its top-right and bottom-left edges with her arms extended like a town crier ready to read a decree at the market square.
Sue handled the document ceremoniously. I inched closer and closer towrds her until our shoulders touched. The paper on which the letter was written, I noticed, was not paper at all, it was parchment, its stiffness had made the snapping sounds when sue had unfolded it. Obviously, the document was not a common letter, it was a distinct announcement:
Epsilon Center 00-11990-84
March 5, 2030
Dear Alexandra King,
Now is the time to make your plans for how you’ll spend the rest of your life. We hope you’ll choose the OPYM residential program. Your test results qualify you to choose any of the OPYM centers in your area, and to take advantage of the center’s programs for which you have met the prerequisite. The Center’s locations nearest you are long-time OPYM locations, offering fine academic, living, and athletic facilities.
An OPYM experience is unlike any you’ve ever had. You’ll live with a close and fun community of likeminded individuals, then you’ll become a valued voice within that community. Most of all, though, at OPYM you’ll get something you really can’t get anywhere else: a fun, dynamic, and unforgettable experience that will last you for life.
We look forward to seeing you at OPYM this summer, so we can introduce you to the intensity and exuberance that is OPYM. You’ll have a chance to be taken seriously and to live and socialize with individuals like you.
After reading the letter, Sue let its creases fold back to a perfect rectangle. She blew the envelope’s torn-edge open and sheathed the letter back into its container. Then, silence. Neither of us wanted to break it. We understood what it meant to have been “chosen” because we never were.
Alexandra had been chosen. She was only twelve-years-old. Sue and I knew she was an adult at twelve. Her DNA had been engineered so that Alex’s mind would developed very quickly. She was a fully functional adult at the age of twelve. We knew it, and they knew it. (9) They kept track of every Epsilon in the colony. We both knew it was her time when the moment that letter arrived. Something we pretended would never arrive. Nevertheless, the letter was here and couldn't be disappeared, they would only keep sending them. Alex was set to become the possible savior of our race.
Sue’s neck muscles contracted as she turned her head slowly towards mine, until our faces were close enough for me to feel her perspiration like the heat from a sun baked stone. The luminescence of her reflective eyes locked on mine, and without hesitation Sue spoke: “Dying is the only unsurmountable obstacle. Death is terminal. We must find ways of conquering death. We cannot allow ourselves to become extinct, we must persevere.”
I lifted my right arm slowly and covered her eyes with the palm of my hand.
(1) Alex was the product of biological engineering, not unusual in this day and age. She had been
engendered in a surrogate’s womb, brought to life without our intervention.
(2) The nurturing love of parents was still a necessity, even for embryos with a perfect DNA
structure, like Alex.
(3) We chose her name from the mythologies: Alexandra, “Defender, Protector of Man”
(4) Charlie had been given to us as a puppy the same day that Alex arrived at our home.
Alex and Charlie were inseparable.
(5) We were the only family in our entire neighborhood raising a child. The majority
of our neighbors were seniors living by themselves, without any children.
(6) My morning routine involved making coffee, and working on my mathematical formulas, or preparing a lesson for school. I teach advanced calculus at the University.
(7) Sue kept a study in the house, which was her base of operations. Her routine was non-existent. She kept her own schedule. She was one of the top Investigators for OPYM, the branch of the government in charge of investigating the background of prospective surrogates. I knew nothing more about her work.
(8) In mathematics, particularly calculus, an arbitrarily small-positive quantity is commonly denoted by the Greek letter E (Epsilon.) At OPYM children are referred to as Epsilons.
- OPYM was the Office of Protection and Youth Management, they were omnipresent, like the sun and moon in the sky.
© Oswaldo Jimenez May 2012
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