Melissa reclined in her lazy-boy, eyes glued to the TV. She popped a few grapes in her mouth, wishing they were barbecue chips instead, then took a sip from her cup of cold french roast. She longed for her next cheat day; each grape felt like they shriveled up before they reached her stomach.
She pushed the chubby fingers on her left hand into the grooves of her electric nail file. The little machine let out a soft hum as it smoothed the edges of her fingernails according to her custom settings.
The lock on the front door snapped sideways. She turned her head as Daniel walked in, puffing, with a towel around his shoulders and his blue shirt darkened by sweat.
He squinted at her and wiped the towel over his face. “Hey, honey,” he said. “How are you feeling?”
“Hey.” She pulled her finger from the file and examined them. “Still like shit.” Her ring fingernail still looked a bit rough around the edges. She slid it back in.
“Oh,” he said, “can I get you anything?”
“Probably not.” She massaged a cramp on the inside of her leg.
Daniel strode to the kitchen. Melissa heard the refrigerator door open.
“Whatcha watching,” he called.
She grabbed another handful of grapes and stuffed them in her mouth.
“‘Sunday with Shania,’” she said. “You should see it. This is a good episode.”
Abigail Harris said something that made the audience clap, but Daniel had just turned the blender on in the kitchen. “Rewind,” Melissa said to the TV. “Stop.”
The blender stopped it’s screeching. “What?”
“Nothing, I’m talking to the TV.” She sipped her coffee, and grimaced at the taste. She missed milk. “Play.”
Two women sat in burgundy suede chairs, crossed legged. Abigail Harris clasped her hands with her right ear slightly turned to Shania, whose animated hands waved around while she spoke.
“Let me tell you, girl, it takes work to get back to this.” She indicated her body. The crowd laughed. Melissa looked at the grapes with revulsion and drank some coffee.
“Personal trainers, cutting a lot of bread and stuff. You don’t have to worry about that now, don’t you? You still got it going on, sista.”
Melissa nodded. Abigail was four years older than her at thirty-six, with dark brown skin, and black hair done up in braids. Melissa eyed Abigail’s emerald dress, the few bracelets with crosses on her bony wrist, and a simple gold chain around her neck. She lost more weight since her last interview a month ago, her collarbone more visible than usual, and her arms looked smaller. I’d take on her stress if it meant losing a few pounds, she thought, looking down at the pudgy, unfamiliar body she was beginning to hate.
Abigail laughed at Shania’s comments. “No, I’m not worried about that anymore. I mean, I did want to carry, but it kind of turned out better this way for me. I’m mostly focused on my girl and promoting the incubator.”
“So why is this important? Why now?”
As she thought to herself, Abigail’s leg bounced slightly in its tan high heel. I used to wear shoes like that, Melissa thought.
Abigail leaned back and said, “It’s giving us more options now. Women, and men, have another way.” The audience applauded. Melissa’s face brightened with a smile.
“So it was in a lab at first.”
“Yes, she was.”
“You’ve endured a lot of negativity, and hardship, uh, stress, scrutiny since you were outed. Why put her out in the open?”
“To make it seem more, ‘normal’, I guess you’d say?” Abigail tilted her head in thought. “I’m tired of people making my baby out to be a monster or a machine.”
Shania motioned to backstage. “Can we bring her out here? Do you all want to see the baby of tomorrow?” Melissa leaned closer to the TV. The audience cheered.
Daniel plopped himself on the couch, guzzling a pink smoothie. The couch sagged under his weight. Melissa noticed his jaw was clenched. He rubbed his chest. “Who’s she talking to?”
“Abigail Harris. She’s showing off the incubator.”
“The incubator. Look.” She pointed at the shiny, silver and black sphere next to Abigail. Blinking lights and a panel of buttons adorned its exterior. “Cassandra’s in there.”
He slurped the last of his smoothie.
“She named it?”
“Yeah.” She gave him a quizzical look. “Like in October. Where’ve you been?”
“Why’re you so interested in it anyways?” His gut inflated like a billows.
“It’s pretty cool,” Melissa said. “Imagine when it gets into the public’s hands.” She imagined not having to try so hard, of having one of their own, sitting on the couch with them.
“Don’t know why people can’t just have kids the normal way.”
Melissa huffed and filed the nails on her other hand. “Well why do you think she’s doing it?”
“I dunno, probably desperate.” Daniel scratched at his cheek. “Maybe she can’t keep a guy.”
“She’s beautiful though.”
“I don’t know,” he said again. His heavy mouth-breathing sounded like wind howling in a cave. He shook his head. “Look how she dolls herself up. Lady like that’s probably no good. I don’t think it’s good that we’re putting souls in containers either.”
“They’re not doing that. It’s like in vitro.”
“In vitro? Like in vitro fertilization?”
“Oh.” He furrowed his brow and scowled. “Don’t know why she doesn’t just do that then.”
Melissa set her file down and folded her hands on her lap. “Don’t you think she’s probably tried?” she said quietly.
“Doubt it,” he said. “It looks like she’s going through a lot of trouble just to avoid getting pregnant.”
Her cheeks flushed. “Why do you think someone would go through a lot of trouble for something?”
“This just seems like a quality of life thing than something people need right now. Waste of time if you ask me.”
“How could you be so dismissive about it?”
“There’s just a reason women get pregnant the natural way, it’s probably better for the baby.”
“Not everyone can get pregnant, you know,” she said.
“You don’t have to worry about everybody else, Mel,” he said, “this has nothing to do with us.”
She pounded the chair. “This has everything to do with us!” she yelled.
“You just need to worry about us! Just focus on us.”
A veil of silence hung between them, the conversation on TV just white noise.
“I am, Danny.” A knot formed in Melissa’s throat. “Are you?”
Daniel didn’t look at her. “We’ll have one on the way soon.”
She sighed. “We’ve said that before.”
“It doesn’t happen right away.”
“Do you want to try again? Tonight or tomorrow?”
She downed the rest of her coffee. “I’m not in the mood.”