“I hate this stupid, stupid policy,” Karen said. She pushed herself away from the desk and stood up. “It’s just not fair that we have to wait for someone to die just so we can have a baby.”
“I know, babe,” Todd said. “I know.”
All their lives, Todd and Karen had been in favor of the policy, genuinely believing in its purpose. But now that they were ready to have a child of their own, and they’d begun feeling the pangs of biological drive and government pulling at each other in opposite directions.
When Todd and Karen first decided they wanted to become pregnant, they made a list of family members whose health was failing - or, they hoped, would be failing in the near future. At the top of their list was Todd’s great uncle, Paul. He’d recently broken his second hip, which, as a coworker told him, “Once the second hip goes, it’s only a matter of time.” Todd didn’t know if this was true or not, but added him to the list anyway. Karen’s cousin, Carly, also made the list. She was eleven and battling a rare form of cancer whose survival rate teetered just over six percent. “If Carly’s parents agree,” Karen said. “Chances are we could get pregnant before Christmas!” She let out a small squeal and clapped her hands in excitement.
Approaching anyone about his death wasn’t an easy conversation to have, especially since it was about bringing another life into the world. To help, Karen and Todd ordered almost every book on the topic they could get their hands on. Each night after work they huddled over the books highlighting various sections and carefully scrawling notes in the margins. It reminded them of all the times they’d spent in the library at college studying together.
By the time they spoke with Paul, he had already signed a Life Contract with Todd’s cousin. “How could he do that?” Karen cried. “He knew we have been trying to have a baby for awhile now.”
When they approached Carly’s family, the conversation ended in a barrage of tears and Carly’s father telling Todd and Karen to never contact them again. The books had warned them of such reactions:
Coming to terms with a loved one’s nearing death is a difficult process. Prepare for the possibility of strained familial relationships. If family members do accept, expect them to resent your child once it’s born, as it may remind them of their departed loved one. This is especially true if the person who passed away was particularly young.
“What if we talk to friends?” Karen said. She grew more desperate and was even willing to risk sabotaging relationships. The books said this was also normal.
“Maybe we take out a loan and go talk to an Arrangement Agency?” Todd suggested.
“You know we can’t afford one of those!” Karen said. “They’re for the rich. If we took out a loan, we’d spend the rest of our lives paying it off.”
They also placed their names on lists at neighboring hospitals, which were for people who passed away but didn’t have ties to anyone else in the world, family or otherwise. One had better odds at winning the lottery than getting a Life Contract through a hospital.
“So what do we do now?” Karen asked.
“We could take out an ad in the local newspaper and negotiate a contract that way?” Todd said. “We have a little bit of money we could set aside.”
“But that’s about as promising as the hospital route. People would rather go through the Arrangement Agencies than newspaper ads.”
“I don’t know what other options we have, unless we try nursing homes, but I don’t want to go to prison for that.” Some people had become so desperate they would pose as family members of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in order to trick them into signing a contract. It was highly illegal.
“I guess that settles it, then. We’ll put an ad in the paper.”
Each time Karen tapped at the keys on her laptop, she immediately pressed backspace until she was staring at a blank page again. After an hour and numerous false starts, she asked Todd for help.
“Have you looked at the book?” Todd asked.
“Yeah, but all of their examples make me want to vomit. And besides, if we just copy what they’ve written, our ad will never stand out, because that’s what pretty much everyone does.”
“I’ve got an idea.” Todd said. “Let me type.” He scooted up to the computer and typed:
Dying wife desperately trying to become mother to carry on family name. Serious inquires only.
Todd and Karen were surprised at the number of responses they received the following week. They felt a little guilty at first, but justified it by telling themselves that their ad hadn’t been a complete lie. Technically speaking, Karen was dying. She had been on the path to death since the day she was born, just like everyone else on the planet. And she did want a baby before it happened. By the time they had signed their Life Contract, the guilt had disappeared completely.
According to her doctors, Karen’s pregnancy was textbook. She was healthy, the baby was healthy, and the expecting mother and father were brimming with excitement and fear all wrapped in one. But during the delivery things went terribly wrong. The umbilical cord had gotten wrapped around the baby’s neck, and Karen’s body wasn’t strong enough to endure the doctor’s attempt to save her child. Both mother and child died before they ever got to feel each others embrace.
After the funeral, people waited a week before they began inquiring about the two new Life Contracts available, but the calls were too much to for the heartbroken husband and father to handle. As the phone rang in the background, Todd sat down to write one last ad:
Free: Three Life Contracts. 318 Roosevelt Drive. No need to knock. The door will be open. First come, first serve.
Written by: Michael Williams
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart