Author: Kim Kneen
“It’s rare but sometimes Saplings simply fail to thrive.” Dr. Moran peels off her gloves and drops them into a bin labeled Hazardous Waste.
Moran hands me a leaflet entitled Recalls: your obligations and I stuff it into a pocket and bundle Saffy up in her coat. Desperate to get her away from Moran I do the buttons up wrong. Saffy is skewwhiff. Half-cocked. A scruffy scarecrow with blackberry eyes and fine flyaway hair. Spindly legs planted in yellow wellington boots she insists on wearing though it hasn’t rained for nineteen years.
I take Saffy’s hand and coax her to the exit. I can see Moran’s reflection in the glass pane of the door and I pause before trying the handle.
“She’s three years old,” I say.
“Unfortunate.” Moran replies, though she doesn’t even look up. “You have five minutes to say your goodbyes.”
I think back to the first time I saw my daughter.
The pick-up point was a grand, Georgian house seized by government six years into the dry spell.
Fertility was in rapid decline before the drought struck, so when it did, and the few babies born in the early years perished, women were advised not to conceive. Scientists had come up with a compromise. Substitute children for those who could afford it. Child-like creatures who could survive the arid conditions on earth. Hybrids: acceptably human but whose DNA was woven through with that of drought-resistant plants.
I’d chosen a reputable grower. Ethical. Expensive. I’d read all their literature, knew what to expect, but the first glimpse of my daughter still came as a shock.
My new baby lay in a transparent cot. Roots sprouted between her fingers and toes and grew down through layer after layer of enriched vermiculite.
A nurse was removing a series of wires from the cot. She opened a drawer and selected some scissors.
“The baby looks terribly thin,” I said.
The nurse replied, “I read on your notes you gave birth to a human child once.”
“Leah.” I whispered.
I’d cried out her name so many times over the years it had lost the power to move me. How could a flick of the tongue convey anything of who she once was and what she had meant to me?
The nurse held out the scissors, holding onto them far longer than necessary, causing me to look into her face.
“Try not to compare,” she said.
Moran’s security staff don’t let us leave and they usher us into a holding suite.
I sit Saffy down and ease off her welly boots, roll down her socks. The silvery veins that used to pulse beneath her skin have almost faded. Once I could trace them as high as her knees. Roots still sprout between her toes but crumble into dust when I touch them. My little girl is fading.
I don’t need to read Moran’s leaflet to know what the future holds for a Recall like Saffy. In this world of scarce resources every last scrap of her will be pulped and pressed for fuel, or shoe soles, or bedding for livestock.
I kneel at her feet: gather her into my arms. She twists my hair round her fingers. Once the sweet palm-flower scent of her skin had the power to perfume the sour stink of the air, but now she exudes wet earth and wood smoke, decay.
I’m reminded of a time when earth still had seasons. Of Autumn. Granite skies and raindrop bowed branches. The clutch of a long-lost child’s blackberry stained fingers.
Losing Saffy will break me.
Take it as a very heart felt compliment to your writing that I hate this story.
A fresh concept, beautifully and poignantly written.
Gripping from the start to end. So strange, but also so human.