Saturday, 8 April 2006

Insects by Kate Smurthwaite

Queen Bee

Our eyes first met across an array of specimen jars. Part of the furniture in the evolutionary biology labs – every available surface seemed to be filled with tightly packed jars. Each one was filled with it’s own feotus-like life form, preserved in gooey brown gunk. She was mousy to the point that there had to be more to her. No-one would dress that frumpily unless they really had something to hide. She did. A treasure trove of delights awaited me behind the unnecessary glasses, beneath the knee-warming horizontally-striped jumpers and out of the school gym-class plimsoles. I love the others too, all of them, intermittently between the scratchy arguments about housework that hasn’t been done and the social and physical ramifications of drinking pasteurized cow’s milk. But I love Leila not only the most, but the most consistently too. With a softness that wrinkles my nose and makes me curl into a ball around her or around the place where she would be if it were possible for me to will her there.

Leila was the first to move in, when we finished college and came back from our gap year travelling through the orient, the jungles of south America and anywhere we could get to without it costing money we didn’t have. It was supposed to be a journey of self-discovery, but I learnt only what I didn’t want. Families living the same life over and over in town and village after town and village. The same meaningless story with the same meaningless characters. Just a different casting director each time tweaking the slowness of the needy eyes and the raggedness of the “actor’s own” costumes. I wanted to prove that things could be different. So I went back to the house left to me by my mother in her will, and Leila came with me.

For a few months it felt like a love-nest. Heavenly in its way, but ultimately unsatisfying because I had things to prove and I needed a bigger universe in which to conduct the experiment. Recruiting was easy. For those unsure about the wisdom of the philosophies themselves there were still the dual temptations of free accommodation and all the physical intimacy you could handle; with Leila, with me and with whoever else we had seduced by then. They came in ones and twos, refugees from the failed experiment we call “normality”. The house was soon known as the commune. They brought ideologies of their own which drifted in and out until a few had fixed themselves into our lives permanently: we turned pescatorian, vegetarian, vegan, we grew our own food, organically, we meditated, we performed our own theatre, we sang and danced together, the bedrooms became hobby rooms for everything from woodwork to candle-making and we all slept together on a pile of cushions in the living room.

I learnt the hard way to keep distancing them all from each other. Two of the initial round of recruitees left together to start their own place. Now if I see a bond forming that looks like it might be stronger than their bond to me, I move in, I send Leila or one of the others in. I don’t want to break the bonds, just fracture them, stress them a little. This experiment is about communal living not proximital living. And I watch Leila the most closely, I see her as my chief attendant, my lady-in-waiting. In the event of my incapacitation she assumes temporary control, she manages until I return and is responsible for matter arising which are not worthy of my attention. She would be the hardest to replace, though with the investment in training each of them I am wary of putting any at risk.

However to more pressing matters, the commune having reached a state of not only harmony but also of surplus, I took the decision to extend the frame of the experiment. I decide to have a child.

We had several applicants for the role of sperm donor. The successful one arrived as the heat left the skies on a summers weekend afternoon. We decided that to preserve the sanctity of the house itself we would allow him only into the entrance hall. I greeted him personally and Leila provided tea and cakes to sustain his energy levels while we confirmed the details of the arrangement. The intercourse was not intended to be pleasurable. He had brought a magazine as a safeguard on his ability to perform sexually. I had taken the precaution of asking Leila to ensure I was well-lubricated. He signed waivers on his right to visit or have contact with any resulting child and, there being no reason to delay further, Leila excused herself from the room and we completed the transaction.

Afterwards I lay on my back with my feet raised to increase the likelihood of conception. Meanwhile he put his clothes on and Leila came in and showed him out. Then she wrapped me in a towel and brought me through to the living room where, again to increase the likelihood of conception, by causing the cervix to dip into the pool of collected sperm at the neck of the womb, but also to remind me and the other where our true sexual bonds lay, we pleasured one another until it was dark and we were tired from the hunger of having missed dinner.

After it emerged that my third attempt to become pregnant had been a failure, Rhiannon had the temerity to suggest that perhaps she or one of the others should take the role of child-bearer. I saw it as little short of a direct challenge to my leadership, my control and ownership of the commune, but it didn’t bother me. I told her that I would be happy for others to have attempts at conception on the same basis I had and that anyone who wanted to do so should let me know and I would arrange it myself. By allowing them only to mate with individuals of my choosing provided a deterrent and left me firmly in control. Also I knew something they didn’t - I’ve been adding contraceptive chemicals to their tea and coffee since they first arrived.

My fourth attempt at conception was a success. I sincerely hope the child is female since we have little use for males here, though we would attempt to make a decent job of his formative education before sending him out into the “wild” of the 21st century to fend for himself.

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