Daring to dream.
Luca sighed as he filled out the latest application file. This one was the daddy, the make or break, the green light or the red. Final mandate P2P, permission to procreate. Pressing the pad of his thumb against the screen, he waited for several moments. When the program had verified his print, he encoded the file and sent it off into the ether. Nothing to do but wait now, fingers well and truly crossed. He stood and drifted over to the window.
It was raining heavily, thundering down like a hail of arrow shafts. Roisin would be soaked to the skin by the time she got home from work. Luca hoped she’d been able to complete her copy of the mandate. If the Ministry received both files today, it would surely be for the better. It would show a degree of organisation, the united front that all good parents ought to have. And more importantly, of course, it would show commitment.
She was due in any minute now, and Luca set a pan of water boiling. Corn cobs to start with, then something from the freezer. Perhaps that deep pan Hawaiian on the bottom shelf, which for one reason or another they seemed to have been avoiding. With a decent salad and a jar of dip, he might just sneak it underneath the radar. Depending on what sort of day she’d had, that is. If she’d had a stinker, he could prepare a three-course banquet and she’d only gripe about it. Not that he blamed her, but of late the bad days were really starting to outweigh the good ones.
Several minutes later, he heard the front door hiss and a bedraggled Roisin come stomping through it. In the hallway, he handed her a towel and hung up her dripping raincoat. Rubbing at her short blue hair, she followed him through to the kitchen diner.
‘Good day then?’
‘I’ve had worse.’ She put her bag on a stool beside the breakfast bar. ‘Did you send your application off?’
‘Ha, I was just about to ask you same thing.’
‘So you did?’
‘Of course - about twenty minutes ago.’
She went to the fridge, reached in, and took out a carton of carrot juice. ‘Jesus Luca, this is empty. Why do you always insist on doing that?’
Luca turned away and pulled a sour face. ‘You know how it’s been,’ he said. ‘That bloody personal statement.’
‘You seemed pretty happy with it last night,’ she said. ‘I hope you didn’t jig it about too much.’
‘Just the opening really - it was way too mawkish. I mean, what do they really care about our hopes and dreams? It’s only our viability that matters.’
‘Even bureaucrats have got some sort of feelings, Luca.’
‘Of course,’ she said, bending down and peering into the oven. ‘Anyway, it’s done now. So long as you didn’t make it too robotic, I’m sure it’ll be okay.’
‘Nice to hear you sounding so positive.’
‘Someone’s got to be,’ she said. ‘Is this that Hawaiian pizza?’
‘I thought I’d do a salad with it.’
‘We could use up that garlic dip - if you haven’t already eaten it, that is.’
They shared the meal in silence, but for the jarring sounds of cutlery on dinner plates. Roisin picked the pineapple chunks from her pizza and ate them separately. Luca polished off her crusts and washed the dishes while she got into the shower. By the time she was finished, he’d drawn the blinds and was watching power-ball on the television. She joined him on the modular leather sofa.
‘Better than the one I had on the way home,’ she yawned, curling up her legs. ‘Can you put something on we can both watch?’
‘Well, that documentary’s just about to start ...’
‘I’m not sure I can face it.’
‘It does seem pretty hard to swallow, I’ll give you that.’
‘I mean, here we are on the brink of a new millennium and stuff like that’s still going on. It’s bloody immoral, Luca.’
‘We could have an early one, if you like. Maybe read a bit.’
‘Sounds good to me - I hardly slept a wink last night.’
Neither did I, thought Luca, not with all this Ministry business. He’d known the process would be rigorous, but the extent of that rigour was only now dawning on him. Wanting a child was supposed to bond a couple, not drive a wedge between them. Something had to give, and it had to give pretty damn soon.
* * * * *
It was demeaning, all these interviews, all these samples. She knew it was just procedure but it made her feel as though she was on display. On trial, even. After all, what was the Ministry’s selection panel if not her judge and jury? Roisin sighed hard, stood up and rearranged herself. The toilet flushed behind her as she went across to the mirrored wall of basins. Every mark and wrinkle on her face stood out in the glare of the overhead strip lights. She closed her eyes and sighed again.
Luca should be out soon, they’d called him through at least an hour ago. Had they found some sort of stumbling block? Some inconsistency in one of their profiles maybe? A problem with their samples? She knew this sort of thing just didn’t bear thinking about. It was completely out of their hands, but the more she tried to quell the voice, the more it nagged at her. It was the daring to dream that had done it, setting them both up for a fall. But others had succeeded in the past, so why not her and Luca? She left the bathroom.
The waiting room was filled with the muted conversation of other couples. No one seemed to notice her as she filled a paper cup from the water cooler. Above the receptionist station, the digital appointment panel still read number fifty-four. Oh come on Luca, what’s keeping you? She chose another magazine from the coffee table and took her seat again. Such parochial reading material in these places, nothing to whet her appetite.
An article near the centre pages briefly held her interest. Black Market Babies. Apparently, a consignment of the formula was hijacked several months ago. For those who could afford it - the connected - the chemical neutering could be permanently reversed. No need to wade through all this red tape, no need to face the anguish of rejection. Not that they’d get away with it in the long run. Every child had to be accounted for. What we they going to do? Go into hiding? Raise their offspring in some secret island commune? Not bloody likely. The Ministry would track them down and there’d be hell to pay.
A door hissed open and thirty pairs of eyes zoomed in on it. Luca came out into the waiting room and walked towards her. Folding away the magazine, Roisin tried to read the outcome in his features. Was that a glimmer of a smile there? Or just his way of trying to mask a heavy heart? She couldn’t be certain. And save for asking him here in front of all these other poor sods, she’d have to wait a while. At least until they were safely out in the corridor.
‘You set?’ he said, standing over her, arms loosely folded.
‘I thought we might hang around a little longer,’ she said, falling short of the breezy sarcasm she’d been aiming for. ‘This place has really started to grow on me.’
Luca smiled, took her hand, and they set off towards the exit.
* * * * *
Not busy at this time of day, St Anselm’s Park. With unemployment at an all-time low, the only folks to frequent it were either on holiday or on some sort of flexi meal break. Springtime was in full swing, a pastiche of verdant greens and pink white yellow blossoms. Squirrels chattered from hidden drays, birds darted to and fro, a mild breeze stirred the treetops. Luca bit his lip and rested his hand on Roisin’s knee.
‘Go ahead and say it,’ she muttered.
‘Say it’s all for the best or something - I know you’re dying to.’
‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘Well, why don’t I say it for you then?’ She pushed his hand away and looked off into the middle distance. ‘If we were meant to have a child, then fate would have stepped in on our behalf. We’ve got our health, got decent jobs, there’s plenty of people far worse off than we are. Who knows? - we might have made a hash of it anyway ...’
‘That’s not what I was going to say, and you know it.’
‘Do I - really? A minute ago you said you didn’t know what to say.’
‘Please don’t be like this, Roisin. You always ...’
‘I always what, Luca? I always mess things up? I always fall at the very last hurdle?’
‘They didn’t say which one of us it was. For all we know, it could’ve been me.’
‘No Luca, it couldn’t.’
How the hell were they going to get over this one? The Ministry had spoken and there was nothing to be done about their decision. No appeals process, no second chance, no nothing. And was it really for the best? Sitting here now, Luca was finding that hard to answer. Fifty years ago, this sterilisation had been the only real solution. Apparently. Feral children, over-population, a whole host of inter-related social problems. But what of now? What of watching his wife sink down beneath the surface? What of the rumours that the selection process was open to corruption? Too difficult to call by far, too complicated, too many hidden factors.
‘Where do we go from here, Luca? Now that we’ve tried our best and failed miserably?’
‘We carry on, Roisin. Just like anyone else in our position.’
‘You could find another woman,’ she said, her voice cracking under the weight of tears held back. ‘Someone who can give you what you want.’
‘Don’t talk like that, Roisin. It’s you I want - I always have done, you know that.’
‘Not without a child, Luca - ten years down the line you’ll end up looking at me and thinking what the hell did I stay for? We’ll just be two old strangers haunting an empty home.’
‘I could say the same for you.’
‘I suppose you could, but you won’t, Luca. You’re too fucking perfect aren’t you?’
‘That’s your opinion Roisin, not mine.’
The tears overwhelmed her then. Big hot sobs choked up her throat and the scenery of the park became a salty blur. He’d leave her one day, of that she was quite sure. Her womb shrivelled up inside her, never filled with life, never put to its rightful purpose. What man could possibly understand what she was feeling now? No words could heal this wound, it would only fester beneath the surface until it had poisoned her.
‘Jesus,’ Luca whispered. ‘And they call this progress?’
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