Fiction · 12/19/2018

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Marina had always known she would be a Mother. She had no discernible talent, wasn’t particularly pretty or intelligent. But she had a womb, and the moon needed those.

She signed up the day she became legal, scrawling her name across a thick black line in her still childish-looking cursive. Marina didn’t tell her parents. She took her advance and a week before she was supposed to leave, she broke the news. Her mother cried for days. Her dad put up a listing to rent her room. She never told her boyfriend—she just broke up with him two days before she left.

When the time came, they sent her a life suit, an aerospace ticket, and a packet full of information on the parents who would take whatever grew in her belly: Jane and Benjamin Monroe.

That was about all she needed.

+

Have you ever terminated a pregnancy?

The rich started rocketing towards the moon when the air turned thick and green—so thick you could nearly feel it on you, could taste it with your tongue if you were so inclined. Marina remembered watching the rockets when she was a young teenager, she and her friends draped over the swings they used to sit on as children, empty beer bottles clinking against their feet. Through the milky fog, you could just see the red and white lights and the blue and white blaze of the fuel engine fire.

“Make a wish,” they would joke whenever they saw one peek through the clouds. But Marina would take it seriously and imagine herself on the rocket, hurtling away from the playgrounds and subdivisions until the air was clear.

She never imagined herself pregnant while sitting in the rocket, but then again, who would?

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Does your family have any history of mental illness?

Jane and Benjamin Monroe were early moon colonists. Both engineers, the Monroes were on the third rocket. They could recall a time when the moon didn’t look like a series of glass suburbs, when the craters had yet to be filled, when children didn’t float around on anti-gravity fields. When they didn’t have to wait in line for coffee.

They also remembered when they first found out about the radiation and how they wouldn’t be able to have children, how no one on the moon could.

Jane remembered sitting half-naked in the doctor’s office, trying not to let her bare skin touch the gray leather chaise. She remembered the muted, technicolor pictures of ponds on the wall—even on the moon, the art in doctors’ offices might as well be the same color as the walls. Most of all she remembered her doctor explaining, in vivid detail, the barrenness of her womb.

“Were you interested in having children?” the doctor asked. “Before this?”

“Yes,” said Jane. “Me and my husband discussed it before we moved.”

“I’m sure you know about the Mother Program?”

“Yes. I don’t agree with it.”

The doctor adjusted his glasses with two fingers and laughed. “Well, I didn’t ask if you agreed with it.”

Jane shook her head. “If I’m not meant to have a baby, I guess I’m not meant to have a baby.”

“But you can have a baby. I just want you to know that.” He handed her a folder with pamphlets all about the Mother Program and left her to struggle out of her paper gown alone.

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Name (LAST, FIRST, MIDDLE INITIAL)

The pamphlets sat on Jane’s nightstand for two weeks before she picked one up. The front depicted a smiling young girl wearing a lifesuit on her way to the moon. “Give Life a Chance” it read. She leaned over to show her husband before she realized he wasn’t home yet.

She carried the pamphlet with her for a month, flipped through it on her morning commute and at work when she was bored. She left it on her husband’s briefcase one morning, but he didn’t mention it until she did.

+

Please list your high school, years of attendance, and address.

The first time the three of them met was at the local coffee shop a day after Marina arrived on the moon. To Marina, it felt as if she were back on Earth, except everyone was at least thirty-five and there weren’t any lattes on the menu.

“Marina, it’s lovely to meet you!” Benjamin said as soon as he spotted her, and clapped her on the back like they were old golf buddies. “How was the trip?”

“Tiring,” Marina said, and played with the wooden spoon in her beige-colored coffee.

Jane smiled. “How do you like where you’re staying?”

“It’s nice. Sometimes it’s strange.”

“What is?”

Marina gave her a look and said, “When you look outside and the sky is always dark.”

“Yeah,” Jane laughed. “It takes some getting used to.”

“It’s harder than I thought, being away from home. You always think, when you leave, that it’ll be some grand adventure. But you always end up missing your parents. It always makes me feel like a kid.”

Benjamin said nothing, but Jane nodded along. “Me, too. I miss my parents a lot sometimes—it feels like I’m back in summer camp and I just want to write up a ten page letter for them. And it’s not like we can go down for a visit.”

“You miss the Earth?”

“Well…I miss the old Earth. I’m not sure how it is anymore.”

Marina shook her head. “The air is worse. Lots of people cramming themselves where the air is just a little thinner, or trying to head for the moon. It’s tough. Even the Mother Program is tough to get into—harder than any college.”

Benjamin drained his coffee and grinned. “What made you want to be a Mother anyways? Always a dream of yours?” Jane smashed her toes into his shoe and shot him a look.

“Not exactly,” said Marina, after a long pause. She looked at the wall behind Benjamin’s shoulder and fell silent for the rest of the afternoon.

+

Are you willing to relocate?

Marina watched the children as they played on the anti-gravity field, spinning in circles above one another. They would jump off the sides of the glass dome and hurtle their bodies together, screaming “TAG!” as their hands touched the slick suited shoulder of another kid, their fingers sliding across the fabric like water.

Jane was sitting next to her, watching the children with a blank expression. “Kids are always kids,” she said after a little while.

“Yeah.”

“I really want to thank you for doing this. I know it’s difficult…It’s not fair, you know, that this is the only choice some young women have when it comes to getting to the moon.”

“It’s more than some guys get, I guess.”

Jane looked at Marina. She didn’t look like she came from Earth; rather, she looked like the heroine from the Roman myths that Jane had loved as a kid. Someone hunted and haunted and not long for the Earth, or the moon.

Marina looked back at Jane. “Did you always want to be a mother?”

“Yes. But the truth is, I didn’t really want it for real until I knew I couldn’t.”

“That’s always how it is,” Marina said, and smiled for the first time since landing on the moon.

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Please list which forms of cancer run on the maternal side of your family.

The Mother Program began before the moon colonies were even built. The government had known all along what the radiation would do, so they made up the pamphlets and started enlisting young girls at colleges where a good number of the students hovered around the poverty level.

The Mother Program made your womb a civic duty. You personally ensured the continuation of humanity. It promised that you would make a difference in someone’s life. It was your ticket to heaven, to nirvana, to feeling like a better person than all of your friends and family combined.

But most of all it promised you your own life on the moon. That’s how they got you.

+

Are you interested in an open adoption?

“Mom!” Marina screamed, sweat pouring onto her neck. She hadn’t meant to say it, it had slipped out before she’d realized the only people in the hospital room with her besides the doctor and the nurses was Jane, whose forehead was just as shiny with oil and sweat as Marina’s.

“Marina, are you okay?” Jane asked lamely. Marina hissed in response.

“You’ve gotta push, sweetie,” a nurse said, and swept in front of Jane. She clasped Marina’s hand in hers and the teenager squeezed it so tight, it matched the white of her dress.

“He’s almost out!” the doctor shouted.

Marina grunted like an animal and thrashed her free limbs about. She screamed expletives, and Jane hoped it wasn’t true that babies pick up the negative energy in a room.

“Beautiful, beautiful,” the doctor said and bent over, cradling the baby in his arms. A stupid thought flew through Jane’s head: he was the most beautiful thing in the world that she’d ever seen covered in blood.

“What’s his name?” one of the nurses asked.

Before she could think, Marina said, “Thomas.” She covered her mouth with a sweaty palm and looked at Jane.

“That’s right,” Jane said. “Thomas Monroe.” She was the first to hold him and Marina’s eyes never left her as she did so.

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Please list any special skills you possess (e.g. knowledge of multiple languages, musical ability, a high reading comprehension)

Whenever Marina spotted another young woman on the moon, she would always wonder if they were a Mother. She would try and catch their eye, even give a small nod. “I’m one of you,” she wanted to say. “I’m not one of the colonists. I came here through my baby.”

And sometimes they’d nod back. Sometimes they passed a hand over the flat of their stomach, as if still petting the baby inside. One day, while waiting for her coffee, another teenage girl came up to her. Her lifesuit was spread thin by her huge belly.

“Morning,” Marina said.

The girl looked at her shyly. “Morning.”

“When are you due?”

“Just three more weeks,” the girl said, and looked down at her feet. “It came so soon.”

“So did mine.”

The girl grinned. “I knew you were a Mother! You can just tell.”

Marina nodded.

“Is labor really so painful?” the girl whispered, as if they were conspirators.

“Yeah, yeah, definitely,” Marina replied and laughed. “But they’ll knock you out.”

“Is it easy afterwards? I mean, adjusting to everything. I’m a little homesick. I’m not so sure it’s worth it anymore.”

Marina didn’t say anything. The barista called her name. When she came back, the girl was staring at her expectantly. “Have a great day,” Marina said, and she left the girl still waiting for her answer.

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The Mother Program cannot guarantee relocation services should a Mother choose to return to Earth. If you agree to these terms, please write your signature below and include the date.

Marina lasted a year on the moon until she came back to Earth. The air was less green, less thick than she remembered—but perhaps it was all nostalgia.

Her friends all threw a party in her honor, calling her “Mom” as a joke. They drank from red plastic cups and played their painstakingly crafted playlists, and Marina felt so happy she thought she might die from the pleasure of it all.

When the party had quieted down and most of her friends were asleep, curled up on the hardwood floor and the sagging couch, Marina found herself staring out the window with her ex-boyfriend watching over her shoulder.

“Look, you can see the moon,” he said. “It’s so full tonight.”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful,” said Marina. But she was just pretending to look.

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Ashley Burnett’s writing has previously appeared on The Toast, Wyvern Lit, Split Lip Magazine, and Necessary Fiction.