by Eugie Foster
narrated by Kara Grace
“Mother, why are Grandma and Gramps ashamed of Father?”
Akiko smoothed back the unruly curls from her son’s face. Robert needed a haircut. The tips of his brown hair had begun to feather up around his ears. His father’s hair had done that. Martin had called it his “bozo-the-clown look” and had the offending locks lopped off as soon as possible.
“Why do you think they’re ashamed of him, darling?”
Robert tolerated her ministrations, although she saw a glimmer of impatience behind his eyes. “They don’t like talking about him,” he said. “Every time I ask about him, they change the subject or get sorta quiet and weird.”
“People sometimes don’t like to talk about the deceased.” Akiko forced herself to stop fussing with her son’s hair. “It makes them uncomfortable.”
“It’s more than that.”
Akiko’s hands fluttered to her lap. She gazed out the window of their tiny living room, avoiding the eyes of her son as he sat on the couch across from her. The TV blared, ignored, in the background.
“What do you mean?”
“Mother, what did you do before you began teaching biology at my high school?”
Akiko sighed. Martin’s thought processes displayed in Robert’s maturing psyche were catching her off guard. Martin used to hop from topic to topic like that, making it a vertiginous exercise to keep up.
“Why are you asking me questions you know the answer to?”
She glanced at her son. There was a note of urgency in his request. “I worked on the Humane Genome Project,” Akiko said. “I mapped DNA.”
Robert nodded. “And then what did you do?”
“I met your father and followed him to Scotland when he went to work for the Roslin Institute.”
“The cloning center.”
“Yes.” It was the politest of the names that the media had for it now. Derisive and jeering, they had been more willing to lavish accolades on the center’s discoveries before the laws had passed.
“Did you work there?”
Akiko steeled herself and smiled into her son’s eyes, schooling her expression into one of relaxed neutrality. Martin had always been able to tell when she lied to him. Robert hadn’t started to exhibit that startling level of perception– yet.
“No, darling. I took some time off to work on our wedding plans and my post-doctorate dissertation.”
Robert cocked his head. It was a gesture Martin had never used. Akiko suspected her son had picked it up from her. It was a convoluted equation, raising a son on her own, not knowing what behaviors would influence him, what wouldn’t.
“Your dissertation? Was that your paper on carbon tags and methylation marks?”
Akiko blinked. “Why, yes. How did you know? I don’t remember telling you about it before.” She knew she hadn’t.
“You didn’t. I got it from the university through interlibrary loan.”
Akiko’s thoughts fluttered in an incoherent jumble at Robert’s revelation. She needed time to think. “I didn’t realize they let high school students into the stacks,” she said slowly.
“They don’t. Pradeep got it for me.”
“Ah.” Pradeep was Robert’s best friend. Akiko suspected that Pradeep had opted to attend university in-town so that he could still be near her son. Robert inspired that sort of loyalty. Martin had too.
“Did you, err, read it?”
“Did you understand it?”
“Most of it. It had to do with identifying what factors make some clone embryos more viable than others.”
“That’s right.” Part of Akiko was thrilled that her son, a mere high school senior, had the ability to decipher the advanced terminology that littered her paper and make sense of it. Another part of her was chilled by fear.
“You identified some theories on how to make cloning technology more viable,” Robert continued.
Akiko laughed. It sounded stiff and forced. “You make it sound as though I was solely responsible. I had some help. It wasn’t a solitary undertaking.”
“I know. I saw the other names on the paper.” Robert ran his fingers through his hair, pushing the feathered ends behind his ears. “Mother, that wasn’t a post-doc dissertation. You worked with people from the Roslin Institute. Key people. Some of them are in jail now.”
The laughter faded from Akiko’s face. She tried to think of something to tell her son, to explain away the lie with another one. But the truth was the only thing that came to mind.
She took a deep breath. “You’re right, Robert. It’s not my post-doc.” She tried to keep her gaze steady on Robert’s blue eyes. They were his father’s eyes. “You might as well know, since you’ve already figured it out. Before we came to live here, I worked at Roslin with your father.”
“Your name’s not on any of the other papers on human cloning. I cross-referenced it. Dad’s is though. He’s on a lot of them.”
Akiko wasn’t sure how she felt about her son’s newfound initiative. “Some of us were uncomfortable with the controversial nature of the project. We kept a lower profile and let the other researchers, the ones who were charismatic, who could speak to the media, play the front men.”
“Like your father.”
“So why is your name on the forefront of this paper?”
Akiko shrugged. “Pride mostly,” she said. She’d asked herself that question dozens of times, there really wasn’t any other excuse. “I was the primary researcher who discovered how to meld the methylation marks back onto the cells. I was proud of the achievement.”
“So why did you feel that you had to lie to me about it? I can understand why you’d want to lie to the school board and everything, but why didn’t you tell me?”
Akiko sighed. The general populace had condemned, vilified, members of her research team when their experiments were discovered. She had narrowly escaped persecution. More than anything, she hadn’t wanted her son implicated in that ugliness. The remote felt cool in her hand as she hit the <POWER> button, silencing the television.
“It was a bad time, Robert. I didn’t want your life tainted with the stigma.”
“I’m a big boy, mother. I’m not afraid of the kids calling me ‘Frankenstein’ or stuff like that just because you were associated with Roslin. When were you going to tell me?”
Akiko felt a muscle under her eye twitch at the word “Frankenstein.” Mary Shelley had had no idea when she penned her horrific tale what affects it would have on the psyches of future generations. Even the educated members of the academic community quailed at the idea of creating a man, stepping into the shoes of God.
“I was going to tell you, eventually. The time never seemed right.”
“Is it right now?” Robert asked. He looked earnestly at his mother. “I’ve known since I was a kid that something was up, but I never knew what to ask. It’s something big isn’t it?”
Akiko frowned. She hadn’t realized how much Robert, as a child, had understood. Maybe she had sheltered him too much.
“Do you know what happened from the discoveries that led to science being able to clone a human?” she asked.
“Of course. They teach it in school. Freshman Social Studies.”
Social Studies, not Biology. Akiko shook her head. “No, beyond what they tell you in school. Have you thought about why the laws were enacted making cloning humans illegal and punishable as a felony?”
Robert looked thoughtful for a moment. “The government believes that the ethical problems associated with the cloning of humans is too much of a burden upon the scientific community and society to bear,” he recited.
“Almost textbook,” Akiko agreed. “But what does that mean to you?”
Robert frowned. “I think the government’s right. Science itself isn’t the unethical part, it’s the application, the real-life creation of human clones that’s the problem.”
Robert looked startled, as though the question was wrong. “It’s unethical to create human clones because then you’re playing God. Science was meant to enumerate and explain the miracles of the universe, not to supercede it.”
Raising Robert as a Catholic had been against her better instincts. But Martin had grown up Catholic. He’d become an atheist in college and never told his parents. So his parents had expected Akiko to raise their only grandson devoutly.
She regretted the decision now. “Maybe–maybe God is less jealous of His ability to create man than popular sentiment dictates?”
Robert didn’t look scandalized. Akiko took that as a good sign. He mulled over the implications of her words, his thoughts chasing visibly over his features like Martin’s had when he had considered a new concept for the first time.
“Father Richardson is pretty anti-science,” Robert admitted. “I tried asking him about it once, but he got mad at me.”
Akiko had never liked Father Richardson. She liked less the influence the priest had on her son. But perhaps, perhaps Robert hadn’t been as influenced as she’d thought.
“Mother, I think that if God hadn’t wanted us to learn about the universe, then he wouldn’t have made us curious about it or smart enough to comprehend it.”
Akiko struggled to hide the surge of excitement her son’s words created in her. He was growing up. He was questioning and thinking on his own, without her prodding him at every turn.
She let a small smile curve her lips.
“And if God isn’t opposed to man cloning men, then wherein lies the problem?”
Robert shrugged. “The obvious arguments are there: do clones have souls, do they have the same rights as non-clones, will the government or science abuse the ability to make clones by trying to breed a superior form of human with eugenics. . . “
“But you don’t believe any of that, do you.” It was a statement.
Robert squirmed on the couch before finally nodding. “Not really, I guess. I mean, science has come up with some pretty bad stuff: the A-bomb, mustard gas, nuclear waste. But really it’s people who do the bad stuff. Science is just, y’know, like a hammer. You can build with it, or you can destroy with it.”
Akiko’s smile broadened. Martin could have said that. “So what makes the science of cloning that much more horrific?”
Robert looked pained. “It just is, Mom.”
Akiko sighed. So close. The smile slipped away and she schooled her dark brown eyes to an emotionless blank. But inside, she seethed with frustration. The import that the media and society placed on the evils of cloning was nothing short of taboo. Her life’s work was a topic unfit for polite company, like incest. It was time for her son to know the truth. He was old enough now.
“Robert,” she said. “I think it’s time you knew that your father didn’t die in a car accident.”
“I guessed that.”
Akiko blinked. Robert was just full of surprises today. “Do you know how he died?”
“No. I tried to find out, but no one would talk to me.”
Akiko starred at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. “No, I don’t suppose they would.” She sighed. “Before you were born, Martin and I worked on a project who’s goal was to increase the success rate of nuclear transplantation cloning, focusing on organisms that start producing the proteins that limit totipotency at an early embryonic stage.”
“Totipotency is when a cell is capable of directing development into a full adult organism, right?” Robert said.
“Very good. The nucleus is the genetic blue print that determines what and when genes are turned on and off as the cells become more specialized. It’s the foundation of DNA. In order to create a clone, a nucleus is implanted into an enucleated egg–an egg cell that has had its own nucleus removed–thus ensuring that the cell, if it develops into an embryo, will be a genetic duplicate of the donating organism. Some organisms start developing the proteins that limit totipotency earlier than others. Human embryonic cells become specialized very quickly.”
“I figured that much out from your paper,” he said. He had always been an impatient child. “So what were you and dad doing?”
“We worked off the discovery that certain carbon tags called methylation marks are lost during the stage when the donating cell is starved to restore totipotency,” Akiko continued. “Cells that are starved of nutrients don’t develop, making them easier to program. We were experimenting with a way to fuse back these methylation marks from a cell which hadn’t been starved onto a starved cell prior to melding it with an enucleated cell. This would, theoretically, dramatically increase the success rate of the process.”
“Did it work?”
Akiko nodded. “Yes; it did. Better than our expectations. We used mice at first because they, like humans, start producing proteins at an early embryonic stage. Out of two hundred trials, one hundred became viable. Fifty were carried to full term. The resulting births were normal and healthy. That’s a one out of four success rate. It took them nearly three-hundred trials to get a single viable organism with Dolly the sheep.”
“Wait, you said ‘at first’. What animal did you use after mice?”
Akiko looked up into her son’s eyes. Would he be able to deal with the rest of it?
“The anti-cloning laws hadn’t been passed yet, Robert, but we knew that they were brewing. We kept this aspect of our research a secret. We wanted to see if it worked on animals and then progress to the obvious next stage to present them with a fait accompli.”
“You were going to clone a human without letting the government know?” Robert’s eyes grew large.
Akiko nodded. “Our research was privately funded. We only had to answer to the ethics review board, and at that time, no one had the distaste with cloning that they do now.”
“How can you call it ‘distaste’?” Robert demanded. He sounded appalled, sickened. “As though it was nothing more than having to walk through mud or clean up after a dog?”
“It’s science, Robert,” Akiko said. She felt drained, as though relaying the events forced her to relive the emotions and pain all over again. “We were doing research. It was before the laws had passed and everyone decided that human cloning was a crime.”
“And a sin.”
Akiko flinched. “And a sin.”
“So what did you do then?”
Akiko twisted her fingers together. “We had a volunteer DNA donor and several surrogate mothers lined up. The embryos, once viable, have to be implanted in a human womb and carried full term. It’s just like an in vitro fertilization in that respect.”
“We harvested the eggs from the surrogate mothers and enucleated them. Then we harvested cells from the donor, restored them to totipotency and inserted them into the enucleated egg cells. It was all standard cloning procedure. The important step, restoring the lost methylation marks, was the chancy part. The success rate wasn’t as high as with the mice, but we’d expected that. From our sample, we ended up with only six viable embryos, but that was from only thirty attempted pairings. It was an unequivocal success on that front. The surrogate that was chosen to carry the first one to term was ideal. She had borne children before, easily and successfully, and the risk levels associated with her were minimal. You know, don’t you, that the chemical environment surrounding the fetus in the womb also affects how it develops?”
“That and the mitochondrial DNA from the enucleated cell is why there isn’t the possibility of an exact clone.” Akiko wanted to stress this part to her son. “Cloning is more like creating a delayed identical twin. A clone will be genetically identical to the parent organism, but physical and mental traits develop from a complex interaction between genes and the environment in which the embryo grows and lives, including the womb.”
“The embryos were implanted. Like any other in vitro procedure, our odds weren’t great. We estimated that we had about a one in five chance of one of the embryos being carried successfully to term, but we had high hopes. It was the beginning of the surrogate mother’s third trimester when the news was leaked to the media.” Akiko was surprised that she was able to speak of this part so calmly. The sense of betrayal was like an old, healed wound.
Robert looked startled. “Someone on your research team leaked information?”
Akiko shook her head. “Not someone on the team. We all had a lot invested, emotionally as well as academically, into the project. We suspected it was a plant, maybe one of the lab assistants. We’re still not sure. But the leak was of the worst possible kind. Whoever it was made it sound like we were killing and experimenting on babies. There was massive public outcry.”
“Weren’t you doing just that though? Killing babies?”
“Robert!” Akiko couldn’t keep the hurt from her voice. “Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t know. Isn’t that what human cloning is about?”
“No!” There was a tremor in her voice after all. The old wounds weren’t as healed as she’d thought, even after nineteen years. “The researchers on that project were all good, compassionate people. We were scientists. We manipulated cell cytoplasm and nuclei and created pre-embryos, standard fare for any in vitro fertility clinic.”
“That’s up for debate.”
“So it is,” she snapped. “Do you want to hear the rest of this or not?”
Robert looked uncertain, as though he would have preferred to end their discussion. But he nodded, slowly. “Yes.”
Akiko looked away from her son’s accusing eyes. “There was pressure from everywhere. The government immediately passed a hold edict on all further research. They were going to confiscate our research notes and material–that included the surrogate mother with her developing fetus. There was talk of destroying everything.”
“By everything, do you mean . . . ?”
“Yes. There was discussion of forcing the woman to have a late term abortion.”
“But that’s monstrous!”
“We thought so too. We didn’t think that they would go through with it. But there was always the possibility. It was a risk your father wasn’t willing to take.”
“Dad protected her?”
“He did better than that, he hid her from the authorities. They jailed him when he refused to tell them her location.”
“Wow. Good for dad. So what happened to the clone baby?”
Akiko sighed. “Something went wrong. I’m not sure what, but the baby came early and was stillborn. It was not an easy delivery for the woman. They rushed her to a hospital but it was too late. She died of internal hemorrhaging.”
“As you probably guessed, the media had a field day as soon as the surrogate mother emerged from hiding. There was a lot of resentment towards your father then. They blamed him for the death of both the woman and the baby. I think he may have blamed himself too. But it wasn’t his fault!” Akiko’s voice turned shrill with remembered pain. “If they hadn’t threatened to take her into custody and terminate her pregnancy, she wouldn’t have had to hide. She could have had tests done that would have warned us that something was wrong. The early amniocentesis and ultra sounds we did came up clean!”
“What happened then?” Robert’s voice was hesitant.
Akiko forced the tension to drain from her shoulders and back. “The details are unclear,” she said. Her voice was empty of emotion, nearly toneless. “There was some sort of confusion, a riot or fight, that broke out where they were keeping your father. When they restored control, your father was dead.”
The shocked look in Robert’s eyes mirrored the sickened one in her own. “He died in a prison riot? That’s a little . . . convenient, isn’t it? D–do you think it was a conspiracy?”
“I know it was!” Akiko’s voice echoed in their small house, the pain and fury raw. “I know it was,” she repeated, softer this time. “The abuse was methodical. They left him unsupervised long enough to be beaten to death.”
“His skull was so fractured and his face so badly beaten that I could barely recognize him when they called me in to identify the body.”
Roberts face was pale. His blue eyes, just like father’s, were bright with tears of horror. Or perhaps of grief.
“There was an inquiry,” Akiko continued, “some suspects. But in the end, no one was convicted. The anti-cloning laws were passed in record time. Global sentiment against us was nearly rabid. Justice for your father wasn’t a priority.” Akiko fell silent, struggling not to drown in the remembered grief, the outrage, the loss she had felt. She took an unsteady breath before continuing.
“We were tried. Most of us, especially the ones who had braved the limelight, were convicted and sent to prison.”
“What about you? Why weren’t you sent to jail?”
“My name wasn’t affiliated with most of the key documents. As I said, I tried to keep a low profile. Besides, they seemed loath to persecute a grieving, pregnant, widow.”
“Pregnant?” A crease furrowed Robert’s forehead.
“Yes.” Akiko resisted an urge to reach out and smooth her son’s brow. “Pregnant, with you. So when the furor died down, I moved here to be with your father’s parents in Chicago and tried to pick up the pieces of my life.”
Robert turned a sickly shade of green. “Mother?” His voice cracked.
“Mother, am I a clone?” The words were blurted out in a rush, as though getting it out faster made them easier to ask.
Akiko closed her eyes. Her son had his father’s comprehension, his ability to make the obvious logical connections.
“Yes, Robert. You are.” The words were clear, sharp. They sliced the air with their precision.
Robert jerked back as far away from her as he could on the couch. A trembling began in his hands and shuddered up his body.
Akiko reached out to him, everything inside of her clamoring to sooth the pain on his face.
“Don’t touch me!” he screamed. He half-fell off the couch and staggered to the bathroom. Wet, retching sounds filled the room.
Akiko waited, her hands clenched in her lap. Her knuckles had begun to turn white when Robert emerged from the bathroom, shaking and pale. His face glistened with sweat and his eyes were red-rimmed.
“Why?” he whispered. “How?”
Akiko struggled not to go to him, not to hold him in her arms. She wanted to rock his pain away like she had when he was a little boy, afraid of the dark.
“Your father was the genetic donor in our studies,” she said. She uncurled the fingers of one hand to smooth a crease in her slacks. A drop of blood, where she had broken the skin with her fingernails, smeared across the pale fabric. “After he died, I was lost. I wanted to die too.”
She closed her eyes. “The only thing that kept me going was hopes of finishing his research, being true to the purpose that he’d died to protect. I convinced what was left of the research team to help me. We had only implanted three of the embryos into the initial surrogate mother. There were three left. They’d been frozen. We’d planned to do a second trial after we saw the results of the first one. Martin had managed to hide them and some of our research notes before the government confiscated everything. They didn’t know there were more cloned embryos and they didn’t know he was the donor. Keeping his identify confidential landed longer sentences for many of the people on the research team. But they were protecting me, and you.
“How did you do it?” Robert’s eyes were wide with too much white around the pupils. Akiko wished she could take his hand, and hold him close. But she didn’t want to push him over the edge.
“We had to work in less-than-ideal settings,” she continued. She kept her voice low, as though talking to a frightened animal. “But most of the team had medical training. I had the best of care, even with our abbreviated facilities.”
“So you moved here, had me.”
Robert covered his face with his hands and sunk to his knees. “I’m a monster,” he moaned. “Mother, how could you?”
Akiko stood up, her legs were rubbery as she crossed the living room to stand before her son. She knelt beside him. “Robert, darling, you’re not a monster. You just happen to share the same genetic makeup that your father had. You’re my son.”
“Whore-spawn, you mean,” Robert spat at her.
He stared at her, his eyes ablaze with a horror. But it was the self-loathing that tugged at Akiko’s heart.
“Who am I?” he whispered. “Am I Martin or am I Robert? Am I destined to be who he was?” He glared at his mother. “Is it my fate to love you? Is that why you had me? To replace him?”
Before she could stop him, Robert lunged forward and grabbed her wrist. He yanked, hard enough to hurt, forcing her to fall forward into his arms. His arms were shaking enough to rock both their bodies. Robert dragged her up; his other hand locked her head in place. His mouth came down on hers in a violent parody of a kiss. For just a second, the briefest of moments, Akiko saw Martin’s face, felt Martin’s mouth on hers, Martin’s arms around her. But the moment passed, and outrage returned.
Akiko’s hand lashed out, striking her son across the face. “How dare you!” She shoved against his shoulders, thrusting him away. He didn’t try to stop her as she scrambled away from him. His arms dropped and he crumpled into a sobbing pile on the floor.
“I’m a monster,” he sobbed. “An abomination!”
Akiko was shaking, her breath coming in little pants. But seeing her son, her child, heartbroken and terrified on the floor gave her the strength to sit up and crawl towards him.
She enfolded him into her arms, stroking his head. He didn’t resist her, curling limply onto her lap. “Hush, my darling,” she said. “You’re not a monster. You are, as you’ve always been, just yourself. Nothing more, nothing less. Hush.”
Robert leaned into her, the sobs tearing through him.
Akiko continued to stroke his head.
Gradually, the spasms lessoned, the racking sobs diminishing gradually, until Robert was quiet in her arms.
Akiko let him go when she felt him begin to pull away.
His tear-stained face was grim, but controlled.
“Darling,” she began. “You needn’t worry. We took great pains to protect you, to protect us.”
He met her eyes. “Mother,” he said. The words were thick from his recent tears. He cleared his voice before continuing. “I am a monster. The church and the government agree. But it’s not my fault. It’s yours.”
He rose to his feet and staggered against the door jam. “It’s your fault.”
Akiko heard the door slam and the car engine rev to life as she sat there. Her son despised her. The hate had been naked on his face.
Tears trickled down her face. It was her fault that Robert had learned of this in so precipitant a manner. If she’d told him when he was younger, hadn’t lied to him, he might not hate her now. Martin would have understood. Robert didn’t; it was her fault, because she hadn’t raised him properly.
When the police came to her door, she let them in without protest. She remained silent and docile when they led her away in handcuffs.
Throughout the renewed demonstrations and the accusations, she offered little resistance. When they asked if she was guilty of the crime of felonious perpetuation of a human clone, she agreed that she was.
Robert never came to see her. He never once visited her while she waited in jail for her trial, didn’t come to watch when they sentenced her to thirty years. Martin’s parents came though. They weren’t as shocked or horrified as she had expected them to be. They remembered what Martin had been like as a child, they had seen him in Robert. There was only so much they could deceive themselves, after all.
Robert was safe, they said. The media had hounded him, but he was safe, with a friend. With Robert gone, only a token smattering of reporters continued to litter their home. How was she?
Akiko nodded. “Fine,” she said. “Robert’s safe though, he’s safe?”
George, Martin’s father, was quick to reassure her. “Yes. There was some talk about them trying him for something or other, an accomplice or something ridiculous like that. But that was shot down immediately. They’re treating him sort of like an innocent bystander. Sort of. Although the press is having a field day.”
“I didn’t want him hurt in this. You know that don’t you?”
“George? Marian?” Akiko said. Her voice broke on her mother-in-law’s name. “You don’t think Robert’s a monster do you?”
Marian reached out, as though she could touch her daughter-in-law through the thick plastic separating them in the prison’s visiting area. “Oh no, never! Robert’s wonderful. He’s our grandson. We love him very much.”
“Do you–do you think what I did was horrible? Do you hate me?”
Tears glittered in George’s eyes. She had never seen her father-in-law cry before. “Akiko, you’re our daughter. And no matter how you did it, you gave us a grandson, Martin’s grandson. We love you and Robert. We will always love you both.”
Akiko nodded, a small smile on her lips. “Thank you.”
The guard tapped her shoulder, letting her know that her time was up.
“We’ll try to get Robert to come see you,” Marian called, as the visiting phone was wrenched from her hand. The tinny voice squeaked from the receiver, “next time!”
Next week, Marian and George came alone. Robert was doing fine, but didn’t want to see her. The week after that, no one came.
Two more weeks passed, and as visiting time came and went, no one came to take her to the little booths.
On the third week, a prison guard came to summon Akiko. She had a visitor.
Her eyes lit up when she saw her son, sitting on the other side of the partition of reinforced Plexiglas. She snatched the phone up and waited for her son to speak.
“Robert.” She sighed, “Thank you for coming to see me.”
“I didn’t want to, Mother.” He ground out the word as though it pained him. “But I thought you should know. Grandma and Gramps have been shot.”
“They have a guy in custody. Seems like he was waiting in front of their house, pretending to be a reporter. And when they came home from church, he shot them.”
Akiko felt as though the world were receding into a tiny point of light. She couldn’t feel her hands or her feet, didn’t realize when she dropped the phone.
Robert’s metallic voice brought her back, shrilling at her from the end of a plastic cord.
She fumbled to pick up the dropped handset. “Are they okay?” she whispered into the mouthpiece. “Please, oh God, Robert, please say they’re okay.”
Robert shook his head. His eyes were bright with tears. “No, mother. They’re not. Th–the funeral’s tomorrow. I just thought you should know.”
“Why?” she cried. “Why them? Who would anyone want to hurt them?”
“There’s a lot of people who hate what you and dad did.”
“I know,” she said. “I know.”
“They–they think the assassin was affiliated with one of the groups, that y’know, oppose it.”
“Oh God. OhGodohGod.” Akiko rocked back and forth in her chair. She cradled the phone against her cheek and cried.
Akiko brushed the tears away with the back of her hand. “Yes, Robert,” she whispered.
“So am I, son, so am I.”
Robert and Akiko were silent, each of them clutching the phone to their faces as though it were a lifeline.
“Dad wouldn’t have turned you in.”
“No, he wouldn’t have.”
“I’m not my dad.”
“I never thought you were, Robert. I wanted all that was good in him to be in you. But I never thought I was going to replace him with you. I loved your father. And I love you. But he was my husband, and you are, and will always be, my son.”
“Mother–it’s all my fault.“
“Oh, my darling, don’t blame yourself. I shouldn’t have hidden it from you for so long. It’s my fault. Everything is my fault.”
The guard tapped Akiko on the back.
“I have to go, my darling. Remember that I love you. I love you.”
“Mother!” Robert shouted into the receiver as the guard hauled Akiko away. “Mother! I’m sorry!”
She glanced back, her eyes full of sorrow and pain. “Don’t be,” she mouthed back. “I love you.”
The day of Marian and George’s funeral was bright and sunny. The prison authorities refused to let Akiko attend, but she could see the lovely blue sky from the window in her cell. She kept her eyes lifted, watching the puffy white clouds drift past as she took off her prison-issue pants and twisted it into a noose. Martin had proposed to her on a day like this.
She thought of her husband as she hooked the noose onto the convenient light fixture. His eyes had been blue like the sky when he was happy. When he laughed, they had sparkled. Robert had his father’s eyes.
She thought of Robert as she thrust her head through the make-shift noose. Robert was a son to make any mother proud. She hoped he would find happiness, and forgive her, one day. She fixed the memory of him laughing up at her as a little boy in her mind as she stepped off her thin, prison-issue mattress. It was her final thought as she died.
Robert stared into his mother’s lifeless face. The undertaker had done a good job of covering up the marks on her throat. She looked peaceful, at rest now.
He leaned over her and took out a tiny scissors. He snipped off a lock of her hair and scrapped the edge of the blade against her hand. He hoped that they hadn’t smeared too much makeup on her hands to make collecting her skin cells impossible.
He had a hard task before him. Contacting his mother’s research partners in prison would be the easy part. He was sure they would be willing to help him, share their knowledge with him. But accumulating the resources, the facilities, and then finally the surrogate to carry his mother’s clone, that would be hard. But he would do it. He would ensure that his father’s legacy, and now his mother’s, would live on.
About the Author
In her own words:
I grew up in the Midwest, although I call home a mildly haunted, fey-infested house in metro Atlanta that I share with my husband, Matthew. After receiving my Master of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology, I retired from academia to pen flights of fancy. I also edit legislation for the Georgia General Assembly, which from time to time I suspect is another venture into flights of fancy. (more…)
About the Narrator
Kara Grace is a green witch who lives in Michigan but is always dreaming of running away to New Zealand and opening a crystal shop in the side of a mountain. She adores the Escape Artists, and has been honored to read for them many times over the last decade. She hopes to branch out in the near future and is always open to new adventures or projects.
You are most likely to find her deep in the woods admiring and making friends with bugs and other wildlife, or underwater watching the sunlight filter through the surface. She is an avid gardener and is enamored with herbs and datura (moon flowers) in particular. She also enjoys moon rituals, creating herbal medicine, and hula hooping. She looks forward to a future where she can make a living using her voice to bring the written word to life, or alternately perfect a spell to turn herself into a fox and sneak away into the woods forever.