It was a clerical error. The sample had been mislabeled somewhere between cold storage and the first round of PCR, swapped with that of a towheaded three-year-old who'd been mown down by a landscaper at the end of his Missouri cul-de-sac. The Anselms had only wanted a kidney, not the whole hog.
"We didn't order a baby," they told the director's nonplussed face, magnified on the glass wall between the kitchen and salon. The thing in her arms—the rough size and color of a Christmas ham, neatly parceled in a white muslin blend—gave a spasmodic kick.
Mrs. Anselm was painting her toes on the coffee table, a vermillion so sanguine it was almost offensive. Mr. Anselm had his coat on, keys in one hand, an empty fistful of shopping bags in the other. Fainting, weeping, praying, even vomiting—no extreme of human elation or trepidation fazed the director anymore, who had some ten thousand of these calls banked like so many viable embryos. She had three more scheduled that afternoon. But this preoccupied, supercilious vacancy, the way the Anselms stared at her as though she were a waitress interrupting their meal to deliver the wrong appetizer—this was new. The director almost dropped the baby.
"Holy fucking Christ," she said.
Never mind that live cloning was illegal; a malpractice suit was the least of the lab's worries. It was the press who took them to the cleaners. Some aspiring muckraker likened their waste warehouse to a Stock Yards abattoir—"The only difference is, the beef is Kosher." The armchair ethicists took to their blogs with ruminations on consent and commodification, and occasionally one would go viral for a phrase like "conceptional negligence" or "the dehumanization of neonatal bodies." Every major newspaper in the country leapt to vivisect the lab's inner workings, scandalizing the luddites with jargon like "blighted ovum" while winking at the intelligentsia over references to Brave New World. Convenience was only dystopian when it broke. To satirists, the irony was delicious. The New Yorker ran a cartoon of a customer picking up two babies from a drive-thru window over the caption: "I didn't ask for a McDouble."
The director slunk away into early retirement, though she'd had about as much to do with the error as the hippocampus does with a miscarriage. It was maddening, really, how little difference there was between growing a kidney and growing a baby—the first fifteen, twenty steps were identical. Then all you had to do was hit convection and forget about it. Those fucking lab techs and all their failed failsafes. Sure, they'd figured out how to half gestation time, but could they uncook an egg? And those fucking Anselms. Their blasé, bovine stares. We didn't order a baby. We didn't order the jalapeño poppers, the coconut shrimp, the pork belly bao. Take it back.
But they'd brought the clone home, in the end. They were the victims here, with their beloved one-year-old son on ice in the ICU, renal system ravaged by rat poison. (It tastes like Skippy! He learned to crawl so fast!) Their new-parent negligence now seemed mild compared to the lab's colossal fuck up. Kids got hurt, sometimes died, and it was a tragedy. But accidental birth, in this day and age—everyone knew it was worse, though they couldn't say why. No, because they couldn't say why. So the lab shelled out damages. For proscription. For taboo.
The Anselms might've ordered another kidney with the money, but their ordeal had brought about in them a prophylactic independence. They trusted only that which was already theirs. And now they had everything they needed.
Waste not, want not.
YOU ARE READING
Sparks and SparesGeneral Fiction
Ely and Jake Anselm aren't exactly brothers. In the near future, when laboratories churn out everything from babies to pancreases at the convenience of those who can afford it, few accidents are without remedy. Still, no world is error-free--which i...