Each week reporting to the Professor: “Not yet.”
Assiduously the chief technician will record in his (encrypted) notes for Project Galahad: eleven acts of sexual intercourse followed (within seconds) by injections of chimpanzee semen, intermittently through the month of November; each injection successfully executed without the suspicion of the experimental subject who’d been administered a powerful tranquilizer to render her lethargic, unaware of surroundings.
Prudently, N___ lessens the dosage of flunitrazepam dissolved into the subject’s drink. The first dose left the female comatose for nearly ten hours.
And then, following the eleventh episode in early December, insemination.
That is, impregnation.
In the New Year, what a shock! But also relief. N___’s first thought is that he will no longer have to go through the motions of lovemaking with the experimental subject …
Shyly, hiding her face against his neck, on a sofa in the apartment on Edgar Street, on a cold windless evening in late January Mary Frances tells her lover that she is going to have his baby. N___’s thudding heart muffles his hearing but he does hear the emphatic—your baby.
Stammering apologetically, “I—I thought maybe—I might be p-pregnant—a while ago—but I wanted to be sure before I told you … I didn’t want you to worry for no reason, Nath’iel.”
This is touchingly considerate of Mary Frances, N___ would think, if N___ had the capacity to think at the moment.
N___ has been waiting for such a revelation for weeks—since the first heroic effort of sexual intercourse in November—yet is now not prepared. Oh, what is the experimental subject saying!
(He is thinking that he must get to a phone—he must contact the Professor. Or—maybe he should make sure that the experimental subject is really pregnant, and not imagining it? He does not dare misinform the Professor about something so crucial …)
Awkwardly N___ embraces and comforts Mary Frances who is wetting his shirt with her tears. Is the distraught young woman weeping out of joy, or fear? Apprehension, or excitement?
She’d taken a drugstore test, Mary Frances says. Twice. So far as she can calculate, she is about five weeks pregnant.
She’d thought she might be pregnant, at least two weeks before. No period for eight, nine weeks, and her breasts “sort of achy, sensitive.” And a “real queasy feeling in my tummy” in the mornings.
Period—awful term. Achy, sensitive—awful. N___ tries not to visibly recoil in revulsion.
Mary Frances is saying she hopes N___ isn’t upset! She hopes …
“D’you still love me, Nath’iel? I love you—more than ever.”
But N___ has not told her he loved her, at all!
Pleading with N___ as if the pregnancy were her fault alone: “Are you angry with me, Nath’iel? Please tell me you are not …”
N___ stammers: “Of course—not. I just can’t understand how it happened, Mary Frances. I thought I was very careful, but …” Feebly his voice falters. He is perspiring, shivering.
This is such a private matter. So intimate. Physical.
Shameful! (And N___’s role in it, unspeakable.)
Innocent, trusting Mary Frances is pregnant. Mary Frances’s womb has been inseminated. The numerous injections of chimpanzee semen have had the intended effect, a human female has been impregnated by a chimpanzee. It is no longer a theoretical experiment with a clueless experimental subject but is rapidly becoming—“real.”
Yet it does not seem real to N___, just yet. He wonders if all “fathers” feel this way, having been told that a female with whom they have had sex is pregnant.
But it is only an experiment, N___ reminds himself. The fetus, the infant, the creature-to-be-born, is not his, does not bear his DNA. The experiment will be known in the history of science as Project Galahad.
Mary Frances’s face is mottled with happiness like measles. Her usually coarse skin glows. She is mistaking N___’s silence for male dismay, perhaps.
“I hope this is not a terrible shock to you, Nath’iel. I know that you—you tried—to prevent what has happened. I’ve been praying for both of us, Nath’iel. I want us to do the right thing. It’s like God found a way for us, without our knowing. It was meant to be.”
Meant to be! But it was not meant to be. If Mary Frances knew what was beginning to germinate in her womb, she would be appalled, terrified …
“I have to pinch myself, to believe it’s ‘real.’ Oh God—me. My parents would be so ashamed.”
It is typical of Mary Frances to think aloud, in a sort of rambling exclamatory monologue. N___ has heard certain of his (white) colleagues in Life Sciences thinking aloud in this way, moving their lips, even grimacing and gesturing. He would never behave so riskily. His thoughts are meant for N___ alone.
N___ doesn’t know what to do with his hands, shyly caresses Mary Frances’s back as she presses against him, quivering with emotion. In the agitation of the moment N___ cannot think clearly. It is a profound fact—the experimental subject has become the impregnated subject.
The impregnated subject is likely to become one of the most famous / notorious female specimens in the history of science.
In a lowered voice Mary Frances tells N___ that she doesn’t believe in abortion. Hesitating to speak the word, that sounds harsh and blunt in her breathy voice: abor-tion.
N___ stammers that he doesn’t either. Does not believe in abortion.
Hears himself uttering such asinine words! Why would one believe, or not believe, in abortion?
“Oh Nath’iel darling! You don’t? Really?”
“I—I don’t. No …”
“Then—you want us to have the baby? Our baby?”
Our baby. N___’s head is swimming. He wonders if the agitation he feels is the agitation he would be feeling if indeed the inseminating sperm had been his.
Now Mary Frances is weeping in earnest. Her warm, fleshy body smells of perspiration and great joy. Already she seems motherly to him, matronly. Her sizable breasts, wide hips … Daringly she takes N___’s loose, limp hand and presses it against her soft belly, that bulges beneath the waistband of her slacks.
It seems that Mary Frances has been anguished about telling him. Worried that he wouldn’t want her to have the baby—“It’s, like, what most guys would want. Lots of girls I know. ‘Get an abortion, I’ll pay for it.’ Like a baby is some kind of accident, and not God’s plan.”
“Yes. That—is so …”
“Lots of guys, they’d drop a girl cold. Maybe try to get out of paying for the abortion, even. Bastards!” Mary Frances shakes her head in disgust. How fortunate it is, N___ isn’t one of them.
N___ hears himself say with numbed lips that of course he wants her to have the baby. Mary Frances is so naive, she doesn’t question how she has come to be pregnant when, so far as she knows, N___ took precautions each time they’d grappled together on the bed; he supposes that to one who believes that God ordains all things, an improbable pregnancy has to be a part of a plan.
Ironic that, though indeed this pregnancy is a part of a plan, it is the Professor’s plan, and not God’s.
How thrilled the Professor will be! How pleased with his chief technician, another time.
N___ assures Mary Frances that she is so precious to him, their baby is so precious, he will oversee her medical care—entirely. She will not have to see any young, barely trained doctor provided by University Health Care—she will have a private doctor, the most distinguished obstetrician in the vicinity. Through his contacts in Life Sciences N___ will arrange for her prenatal care beginning with an examination within a day or two.
Seeing the wondering expression in Mary Frances’s face N___ is inspired to tell her what the Professor has planned: “There’s an excellent obstetrics clinic in Life Sciences Hall, on one of the high, ‘restricted’ floors. Not just a clinic for prenatal care but where you will have the baby. What isn’t covered by my contract with the University, I will pay.”
N___ is speaking extravagantly. Why is he saying such things? His heart beats rapidly and his face is flushed with the excitement of fatherhood. Almost N___ is thinking that indeed he would want to pay for the baby, for he is responsible.
How suddenly it has happened that Mary Frances Bowes, a plain-faced female to whom N___ would not have given a second glance under normal circumstances, has become a unique and priceless specimen. A female human successfully impregnated with the sperm of Pan troglodytes verus, possibly for the first time in history. Without her knowledge the female’s fleshy / slatternly body has been transformed.
What is Mary Frances now worth? In terms of the scientific research the birth will spawn, many millions of dollars.
In terms of the scientific careers the Humanzee will enrich, yet more millions of dollars.
A Nobel prize for the Professor. If all goes well.
Of course, the exact details of Project Galahad can never be revealed. The identity of the experimental subject / birth mother, the identity of the chief technician / surrogate father. The (unorthodox) means by which the impregnation was administered. Somehow, utilizing the genius for which he is known in the scientific research community, the Professor will find a way to present the lab’s astonishing findings to the world that will protect the researchers from charges of ethics violations, and worse.
He will receive acknowledgment, if not the sort of fame that will accrue to the Professor.
Seeing how the experimental subject is gazing at him, with what adoration, awe, neediness, N___ wonders: will Mary Frances expect him to marry her? Once the euphoria of the hour wanes, marriage will certainly be an issue.
This too has been scripted beforehand. N___ is prepared.
Informing Mary Frances in a voice of regret that since he is in the United States on a special science-research visa he is not allowed to enter into any legal, contractual arrangement with any US citizen under penalty of expulsion—“It’s a State Department regulation. So, Mary Frances, we could not be married, at least for the foreseeable future, until I become a US citizen.”
“Oh! I—I guess so …”
Mary Frances absorbs the information with a glazed smile. Perhaps she is not quite hearing N___. Perhaps her brain is cranking out its elemental plan of childlike cunning—best to bide her time, not to appear upset, not to make demands on N___. God will work out things for the best.
N___ says, relenting: “We could become engaged. Would you like that? It would have to be a secret, though—like the pregnancy—for as long as you can keep it secret. And my identity, you would have to keep secret.”
“Engaged! Do you mean it, Nath’iel?”
“My schedule can’t be changed, unfortunately. I couldn’t see you any more than I have been seeing you …”
“Oh no, I mean—I wouldn’t expect it. ‘Engaged’—that would be—wonderful …”
Mary Frances throws her arms around N___’s neck like a drowning person. She could not have been more dazed if N___ had given her flunitrazepam to dampen her cognitive abilities.
“As long as you understand, the engagement would have to be a secret from your family. The identity of the father of the baby would have to be a secret. Otherwise I could be deported. And then we would never marry.”
Marry as a collective verb, in an utterance of N___’s. He is somewhat dazed himself, as if he has been drinking.
Mary Frances hugs him tight, tight. Confessing to him in a rush of words, that she is very ashamed—“Darling, I don’t think that I can take you to meet my family, anyway. They are—they are good Christians—but—they don’t like people they call ‘Japs’ or ‘Chinese’—‘Orientals.’ Or Mexicans. They don’t like—well, anybody who doesn’t look like them. (They are very biased about Negroes!) Even if I explained who you are, an ‘Asian person’ with an advanced science degree, a professor at the University, and nothing like what they might think—(they would probably think ‘Communist’)—they would not forgive me. I don’t know that I could ever return home to them with our baby, or you. Please forgive me, Nath’iel—in this happy time, I am so ashamed.”
N___ is stunned by this revelation. He has so naturally assumed his superiority to the low-browed white girl, it’s a shock to him that she might not share that conviction. In defying her racist parents Mary Frances is being bravely magnanimous in loving him.
N___ assures Mary Frances that he understands. Of course, there are people who can’t help their prejudices against other races. He doesn’t doubt, he tells her—(though in fact N___ does doubt, vehemently)—that her relatives are “good Christians.”
Thinking how fortunate he is, for the sake of Project Galahad, that Mary Frances doesn’t want to introduce him to her family, and will keep her pregnancy a secret from them.
To celebrate the happy occasion (as an expectant father might plausibly wish to do) N___ opens a bottle of red wine with shaky fingers. Requires several tries to extricate the damned cork. Pours wine into two glasses but Mary Frances declines hers, eyes glowing and glazed with joy—“Oh Nathi’el, gosh! Now I’m ‘expecting,’ I can’t drink.”
But Mary Frances will sit close beside N___ on the sofa as he drinks from his glass, snuggling against him like a fevered, furry creature. Not drinking with him but it’s as if the sweet red wine has gone to her head, or into the damp netherworld between her fleshy thighs. Her eyelids droop and her lips part, her head heavy upon his shoulder, stubby fingers tight-clasped through his, pulling his hand to rest on her soft stomach. A little sleepy-happy moan deep in her throat, of utter euphoria. N___ sits very still, neither yielding nor resisting.
He has not (yet) contacted the Professor with the good news. His thoughts swirl like a hive of aroused wasps even as the experimental subject sinks into a light doze.
Is the news good? For whom, good? N___ swallows a mouthful of wine. Thoughts continue to swirl, unresolved.
Soon then, N___ is instructed by the Professor to bring Mary Frances to the hastily constituted “Obstetrics Care Clinic” on the tenth floor of Rockefeller Life Sciences Hall where she is examined by an individual introduced to her as “Dr. Ellis”—gynecologist / obstetrician—middle-aged, male, Caucasian; in fact, N___ recognizes the man as an experimental embryologist and one of the Professor’s collaborators.
After a thorough examination including highly detailed blood work kindly “Dr. Ellis” informs Mary Frances that, as she has suspected, she is approximately five weeks pregnant—“Which makes your due date approximately two hundred sixty days from now, my dear, in mid-September.”
“Ellis” has been briefed on the unorthodox nature of the young woman’s pregnancy; he has signed a confidentiality contract with the Professor, with whom he has worked on several projects of a sensitive nature involving the effects of experimental pharmaceuticals upon unborn fetuses (of black and Hispanic pregnant women patients at a city clinic). In calculating the expectant mother’s due date he has shrewdly averaged the gestation periods—two hundred thirty-seven days for Pan troglodytes verus, two hundred eighty days for Homo sapiens.
Telling the young woman that the estimate is only approximate, of course. “Some babies insist upon coming into the world earlier than they are expected, and some babies come later.”
Mary Frances bursts into tears. Stammering to the doctor that she is so happy, God has blessed her at a younger age than she’d have imagined.
N___ has accompanied Mary Frances to the Obstetrics Care Clinic where he waits for her for some time. N___ is the only person who waits in the small lounge. Fascinating to him, to see how an area of the tenth floor that was formerly office space for junior staff has been refashioned by the Professor’s directive, virtually overnight, with the addition of stark white floor-to-ceiling partitions that give the space a clinical atmosphere. There is even a receptionist’s desk, and a receptionist. There is a nurse named “Betty”—a mature woman in a white nylon pantsuit, pale stockings, and rubber-soled white shoes who has greeted the experimental subject warmly and will be an essential contact for Mary Frances through the months of the pregnancy. On the white walls are posters relating to women’s health—diagrams of the female body with reproductive organs luridly highlighted, posters advertising essential foods for girls and women, photographs of Olympic women athletes bursting with health and strength. The receptionist, a younger woman, smiles at N___ as one might smile at an uneasy young father-to-be.
Against a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window, a large potted plant with shiny spear-leaves which N___ thinks he has seen before. In the Professor’s outer office?
Fortunately N___ has brought his laptop to the Clinic—the lightweight little computer is attached to N___ like a colonoscopy bag. Mary Frances is with the doctor for more than an hour. Each of the experimental subject’s appointments in the Clinic will be thorough. Every aspect of the unorthodox pregnancy will be recorded. Unknown to the subject the examinations will be videotaped and studied by the members of the primate lab; these will include weekly pelvic exams and an amniocentesis in the early second trimester of the pregnancy, for the progress of the hybrid embryo must be carefully monitored. Members of the primate lab are concerned that the hybrid fertilization will not “hold”—the Professor himself has cautioned against excessive optimism and disappointment if Project Galahad ends in a miscarriage, for that is usually nature’s way of correcting a genetic anomaly. But even a miscarriage will prove scientifically valuable, for the remains of the fetus, however rudimentary in development, will be eagerly and exhaustively studied.
Dr. Ellis has prescribed a restricted diet for Mary Frances, low in sodium and high in protein and calcium; daily exercise is “a must” and no bad habits—smoking, alcohol. Nurse Betty provides pamphlets for Mary Frances to take home and consult. If Mary Frances has any questions about the pregnancy, any questions at all, she is to call Nurse Betty at once on a private number—“Let’s make that a promise, Mary Frances!”
All this attention is deeply moving and flattering to Mary Frances. Already her experience as an unwed expectant mother is totally unlike the dire predictions her mother and female relatives would have made for her; indeed, Mary Frances cannot believe how nice everyone is being, including dear, darling “Nath’iel” who has surprised her by being, not disapproving and resentful since she’d become pregnant, but supportive of her decision to have the baby.
Both Dr. Ellis and Nurse Betty caution Mary Frances, however, not to discuss her prenatal care with anyone. Not a roommate or a friend, not a family member or a relative. For the Life Sciences Obstetrics Care Clinic is a privately endowed health-care facility that can accept very few patients, and these are usually limited to the wives of tenured faculty. Other young female students at the University are eligible only for minimal prenatal care at the University infirmary but Mary Frances is “different”—“special”—because of N___’s appointment in Life Sciences.
Before Mary Frances leaves the Clinic she is asked to sign a “confidentiality contract,” agreeing not to discuss any aspect of her prenatal health care. This includes the identity of her obstetrician and the location of the Clinic. Crucially, it includes the identity of N___ whose work visa would be revoked by the State Department.
Seeing that Mary Frances is looking flushed and confused by so much happening to her within a small space of time N___ takes the contract from her to examine. He has seen a draft of the document previously, yet its contents are obscure even to him, who’d helped compose it: seven numbered paragraphs of tight-packed small print which grants to the Clinic certain prerogatives regarding the pregnancy and birth, including the surrendering of the infant at the time of birth or shortly thereafter, as well as the surrender of the fetus in the event of a miscarriage, at the “discretion” of the Clinic. Such an unorthodox document could have no legal binding effect of course, but it is supposed that the naive experimental subject could be intimidated into accepting its terms if necessary.
N___ hesitates just a moment before telling Mary Frances to sign—“Go ahead, darling. It’s just legalese. It’s just routine.”
With a giddy smile and a flourish of a pen Mary Frances signs the document.
Has N___ called her—darling? The word slipped out, unbidden.
“Ideally, as soon as the hybrid is born, the mother should die. For in this case she can’t be trusted to nurse it, and she can’t be trusted not to reveal our secret.”
The Professor speaks so thoughtfully, tugging at his stiff white goatee, others around the table are tugged in his wake, as a large speeding vehicle tugs smaller vehicles in its wake.
“Yes. That is—true. But to be realistic …”
“—we can’t just kill her. Of course.”
“Of course not. But in the event of her ‘dying in childbirth’—being killed by an embolism, for instance—”
“—that would be very practical. An embolism is plausible. But—”
“—a hemorrhage, after a difficult birth. We’ll schedule a Caesarian, in any case. And the medical report would be that both mother and infant failed to survive a difficult birth. There’d be no problem about death certificates so that the Humanzee could be raised in seclusion, right on this floor, for its natural life.”
“Yes, but—isn’t it more likely that the embryo will self-destruct? A miscarriage …”
“… she would never know. What was in her womb …”
“… or a still birth. In which case she might see the body, and realize that …”
“No. She would not, necessarily. A premature infant Humanzee would probably resemble a human infant just enough that a drugged and distraught female wouldn’t know the difference even if she did ‘see’ it.”
“If it lives, the female can still be told that it has died. Just make sure that she’s sufficiently groggy from the anesthetic …”
“But consider the possibility that she can nurse it—would want to nurse it. The strong maternal instinct to ‘nurture’ might overcome revulsion …”
“… if she ‘sees’ the infant Humanzee but doesn’t recognize it as something other than human …”
“The maternal instinct is so powerful, the female would wish to believe that her infant is normal, so she might actually see it as normal …”
“… or a human infant with birth defects, a Down syndrome infant for instance, which she could certainly nurse and with which she might bond.”
“That might work …”
“That is taking an enormous risk …”
“Except as the Humanzee matures wouldn’t it become clear to even the most deluded female that her baby isn’t—human?”
“But would it make a difference? If the female bonds with the infant, even a deformed or hybrid infant, isn’t that enough for her to remain its chief nurturer? Isn’t that the essence of the female instinct?”
“No, no! Wait—”
“We can’t have her ‘nurturing’ the hybrid as if it were hers. Bringing it up like a child! It’s ours and belongs in our lab.”
“She would never give it up, once she ‘bonded’ with it. No nursing!”
“Better to take it from her immediately after the birth, tell her it’s dead. Show her—something. An infant corpse, an aborted embryo. I could easily acquire the remains of an embryo from an abortion clinic. She’d be so agitated she couldn’t think straight …”
“… maybe tell her it died, but we can harvest its organs. ‘Give life to another baby.’ Pay her off …”
“Tell her there’s medical insurance at the Clinic. Five thousand dollars. That should do it.”
“She won’t be alone and grieving—N___ can take care of her …”
“What if she has a breakdown, is taken to an ER? They see she’d had a baby, they ask what happened to the baby …”
“I told you: the ideal situation is that the mother dies as soon as the creature is born. We can provide nursing, nurture. What about Maude?”
Maude! A ripple of approval around the table.
During this discussion N___ sits in a state of suspended animation, numbed as if by Novocain. Taking notes on his laptop as usual. It is typical of N___ not to provide much commentary at the weekly meetings unless the Professor or another colleague asks his opinion; now, the Professor pointedly turns to N___ to ask what he thinks.
“‘What do I think?”—N___ seems to be considering.
A long pause. A fleeting and indecipherable expression crosses N___’s face. His fingers have ceased typing on the laptop. The Professor and the others wait. Very straight-backed the chief technician sits, staring at the laptop screen as if searching for the answer there.
Methodically N___ parcels out his time with the experimental subject.
Following the Professor’s directive. The female’s disadvantage is the male’s advantage. Keep her on edge.
Keeping Mary Frances both dependent upon him and uncertain of him. Lonely for him and yet fearful of contacting him. “Crazy in love with him”—(she has said, embarrassingly)—yet fearful of annoying him. Just when the experimental subject thinks that she may have offended N___, and that N___ may have abandoned her, N___ will call her as if nothing is wrong; N___ will bring her flowers, take her to dinner and to the movies, bring her back to the apartment on Edgar Street to stay the night.
N___ will (clenching his teeth) call her darling. Acquiesce when the experimental subject seizes his hand to press against her alarmingly swelling belly.
Listen intently, nod, smile indulgently as Mary Frances chatters excitedly about names for Baby.
“Tiffany” is her first choice, if Baby is a girl. Runners-up: “Brooke”—“Emma”—“Sarah”—“Elizabeth” …
“Nathaniel Jr.” is her first choice, if Baby is a boy. Runners-up: “Joseph”—“Matthew”—“Jonathan” …
Asked what his favorite names are, N___ says that he has no favorite names and will let Mary Frances choose.
“Oh, but—not even one name? Say it’s a baby girl …”
N___ can’t recall the names Mary Frances has suggested and so says, “Well—there’s ‘Mary Frances’—”
“Oh, gosh no. That’s sweet of you, Nath’iel, but—not a good idea. ‘Cause there’s no ‘Mary Frances Jr.’—there’d have to be ‘Big Mary Frances’ and ‘Little Mary Frances.’” Mary Frances shakes her head, laughing. “But ‘Nath’iel Jr.’—that would be nice. We could call him ‘Nath-ie’ …”
N___ shudders. His name attached to the hybrid Humanzee.
“‘Galahad.’ That’s a distinctive name.”
“‘Gala-had.’ Is that a well-known name? Not the Bible, is it?” Mary Frances frowns, considering.
N___ says, “It might be in the Bible. One of the obscure books. It’s a traditional name.”
“Yes, I like it, kind of—‘Gala-had.’ It’s different. Like, high class!”
N___ gazes at the experimental subject with something like affection. A weird, unwished-for rush of affection. To be so easily made happy! He who has no family, no siblings, feels their absence in his life now. If he’d had a sister like Mary Frances, relentlessly cheerful, optimistic … He will miss her, he thinks, when Project Galahad has no need for her.
Following her initial visit to the Obstetrics Care Clinic Mary Frances is issued an electronic ID card that allows her to enter the restricted tenth floor of Rockefeller Life Sciences unaccompanied by N___. (Mary Frances’s card does not admit her to other restricted floors, and to only the Clinic on the ninth floor; she could not, for instance, wander about the eighth floor in search of her handsome Asian fiancé “Nathaniel Li.”) Soon she comes to look forward to the weekly appointments with Dr. Ellis which are comforting and flattering to her, for she is treated “like a princess” by the kindly doctor; indeed, Mary Frances has never heard of any expectant mother who has been treated so well, and only wishes that she could boast a little to her relatives back home—“But no, I won’t. I promised, and I won’t.”
After the clinical examination with Dr. Ellis, Nurse Betty takes time to chat companionably with Mary Frances about how the expectant mother is feeling. Nothing is too trivial for Nurse Betty to inquire after: what are Mary Frances’s moods, how is her appetite, does she has morning sickness, does she sleep through the night or get up to use the bathroom, and how many times; is she maintaining a good diet, getting exercise every day, is the baby starting to “move”—“kick”? Sometimes Nurse Betty invites Mary Frances to have coffee with her downstairs, to continue their conversation which veers onto other subjects: their respective astrological signs (Nurse Betty, Gemini; Mary Frances, Capricorn), their favorite foods, TV shows, celebrities.
It is wonderful, Mary Frances tells N___, how Nurse Betty has become her closest woman friend at the University. How Nurse Betty is just so nice, and so kind. How Nurse Betty cares about Mary Frances as her own mother definitely wouldn’t—“Mom would just scold and say how shamed they were that I was having a baby, and nag why I wasn’t married.”
Nag how I wasn’t married. This has become a woeful refrain.
(N___ has not (yet) given Mary Frances an engagement ring. He has declared that they are “secretly engaged”—but it must be kept a secret from all of the world.)
Usually, N___ only half listens to Mary Frances’s chatter. His brain is elsewhere. If a brain could be encased in a laptop, N___’s brain is there encased, in the labyrinthine pathways of a thousand interests as remote from the expectant experimental subject as Jupiter is remote, and as unfathomable to her as that planet would be.
In fact N___ has no need to listen to Mary Frances’s chatter for he knows far more about her pregnancy than Mary Frances herself knows. At the weekly primate meetings he and the others are briefed on the expectant mother’s medical condition, in detail, by their embryologist colleague; if “Dr. Ellis” has videotaped the pelvic exam, it will be shown in ghastly magnification; the results of the amniocentesis will be of particular interest, indicating indeed that the developing fetus is genetically consistent with a “hybrid” species; ultrasound images of the maturing fetus (not obviously not-Homo sapiens initially, but definitely male) are displayed, and discussed. Every word however banal and irrelevant to Project Galahad that passes between Mary Frances and the kindly physician, and Mary Frances and the friendly nurse, is replayed for the team, and these words N___ must endure in dread of an impulsive outburst by the expectant mother—Oh but gosh! He doesn’t love me! The father of my baby doesn’t love me! Doesn’t even touch me now I am pregnant! Goes all stiff and cold if I touch him!
“You must introduce me, N___! She will never suspect a thing.”
So many pictures and more recently videos and ultrasound scans of the experimental subject has the Professor seen, so familiar has the elder scientist become with every square inch of the pregnant female’s epidermis, still more the shadowy fecund interior of her uterus bearing its precious cargo, as well as her uterine canal and vagina, at last he decides that he must meet her in the “flesh”—in the fifth month of pregnancy when Mary Frances’s belly is already round and heavy as a drum and her face is flushed with a rude sort of female health and vigor.
“My dear, hello! N___ has told me, he has been tutoring you in my undergraduate course …” The Professor seems surprised, the experimental subject is an actual person, not nearly so unattractive as her pictures have suggested; her pink-lipstick smile is childlike, trusting; her small mud-brown eyes shine. She is wearing colorful clothes, red shorts that reveal inches of her pudgy thighs, a sleeveless candy-striped blouse that exposes her fatty upper arms and billows over her belly. Her body, big breasted, big hipped, misshapen now with pregnancy, exudes its own attraction, like that of a large animal in the prime of its life.
Reluctantly N___ has brought Mary Frances to meet the Professor, seemingly by chance, in the first-floor lounge in Life Sciences. As if the distinguished Professor would be lingering here just waiting for them. It does not seem to occur to the experimental subject that it is odd, the Professor does not seem to think it is odd that his chief technician, an adult research scientist, seems to be romantically linked with a twenty-year-old female undergraduate in General Studies, low-browed and barely articulate.
“Oh yes, Nath’iel did … ‘tutor’ me. Saved my life, literally …”
“Did he! ‘Literally.’ That was kind of him.”
Mary Frances murmurs, blushing, not very coherently that she “really loved” the Professor’s lectures but had trouble remembering them afterward—“Even when Nath’iel explained what you were saying, and had me memorize, it was just so, so hard … Like ‘Ontology repeats philology’—something like that …”
There is a pause. N___’s face flames, he cannot look at the Professor.
Of course, in his lecture, the Professor had spent some time ironically debunking the famous nineteenth-century formula Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny—the (now discredited) theory that as the human fetus develops in the womb it recapitulates, in miniature, the stages of animal evolution itself, culminating in Homo sapiens. N___ had to instruct his easily confused student in the original meaning of the catchphrase, in order to discredit it; but this turned out to be too complicated for Mary Frances who soon reversed the point of the Professor’s lecture, and seems to have scrambled the formula itself.
The Professor laughs, delighted. ““Ontology repeats philology’—that is a novel idea, my dear. Thank you!”
N___ dreads the Professor telling this anecdote to his colleagues in the primate lab. Teasing a subordinate, sometimes mercilessly, to rouse the others to laughter, is one of the Professor’s less admirable traits; yet few fail to laugh when he does.
(Except N___ refuses to laugh when the Professor is being witty at the expense of another. His impassive face, downturned eyes, stiff posture give no hint that he is even aware of his mentor’s playful cruelty.)
N___ has not been tutoring Mary Frances recently. One semester of Intro to Biology was more than enough for the struggling first-year student who’d managed to pass the course, through N___’s valiant effort, with a C–. (Did N___ cheat on behalf of the experimental subject, preparing her lab reports for her? Providing her with exam questions before the final?) At N___’s suggestion Mary Frances has concentrated on General Studies courses in elementary school education, public health, “communication arts,” in which she has managed to earn B’s and C’s without making herself anxious and exhausted. Her hope of nursing school has been deferred.
And now the spring semester has ended also, and most undergraduates have departed the campus. Except Mary Frances of course, who will remain over the summer months, ever more pregnant with the hybrid Humanzee, living now in the apartment on Edgar Street and seeing “Dr. Ellis” and “Nurse Betty” each Monday morning without fail. (N___ has moved out of the Edgar Street apartment, or rather has pretended to move out, since he’d never lived there; explaining to Mary Frances his need for greater privacy and quiet in which to do his work. It is Mary Frances’s assumption, if she thinks of it at all, that N___ pays the rent on the apartment.)
Eyeing her closely, greedily, the Professor shakes the warm fleshy hand of the experimental subject and inveigles her into a awkward sort of banter—an older, white-bearded gentleman asking questions of a stout flush-faced girl clearly in awe of him; squinting at him, smiling nervously, leaning back so that her weight is on her heels, one hand absently resting on the swell of her belly. Oh!—she is provoked to laugh, the gentlemanly Professor is so witty.
In sulky silence N___ listens to the exchange, standing a little apart from the two, as if he were not the Professor’s chief and most trusted technician, and the girl’s most intimate acquaintance, indeed, in the girl’s fevered imagination, the father of her baby-to-be.
N___ is relieved that the Professor has let drop Ontology repeats philology. In his enigmatic way the older man seems rather in awe of Mary Frances, also. (Is he reconsidering his chilling strategy of deleting her from Project Galahad by allowing her to die, or rather arranging for her to die after giving birth?) N___ feels a stab of something like sexual jealousy as the Professor’s playful remarks provoke the pregnant girl to blushing, and to giggling foolishly.
In reply to his queries Mary Frances tells the Professor that she is staying on campus that summer and not returning home—“I love it here! I have my own apartment here. The wonderful maternity clinic, I could not get anywhere else.” Glancing at N___ as if waiting for him to concur. Waiting for N___ to declare proudly to the white-haired gentleman—We are having this baby together, Professor.
N___ says nothing of the sort. Stiffly N___ stands several feet away from Mary Frances and the smirking Professor as if disdainful of listening to their conversation.
Though wincing when the Professor asks, “Have you selected a name for your baby-boy-to-be, my dear?”
“Oh! How did you know it would be a baby boy?”—Mary Frances asks, wide-eyed.
“Why, I—I did not know—it was a guess.” Adroitly the Professor smooths over his blunder saying he has a sort of “second sight” about such matters, an intuition based upon how far back on her heels an expectant mother balances herself. “Male fetuses tend to be heavier, on the whole, than female. The mother’s posture corrects for this.”
“His name is maybe going to be—well, we don’t know. Yet.” Mary Frances’s face turns rosy; she’d come close to revealing her favored name, “Nath’iel Jr.”
Soon then the Professor goads Mary Frances into stammering that yes, she and N___ are engaged, kind of—“Nath’iel doesn’t want people to know but well—we are.”
Clapping her hand over her mouth in the realization that she has revealed a secret! Mary Frances is chagrined.
N___ smiles grimly. He is certainly not going to chide Mary Frances in front of the Professor who has been glancing at him bemused.
Of course, the Professor knows that N___ and the experimental subject are “engaged.” And the Professor knows that the “engagement” is supposed to be a secret. It is mischievous of him, like a naughty grandfather, to have pried the secret out of credulous Mary Frances.
“Well, then. Congratulations are due to you both! But I will keep your secret, of course.” Pausing then, before saying, with an amused glance at N___, “And why does your fiancé want to keep the engagement secret, Mary Frances? I am just curious.”
“Because—” Mary Frances casts a dismayed look at N___, “—Nath’iel might be deported by the US government if he ‘enters into a contract’ …”
“Yes. I see. That is so—‘Nathaniel’ is not an American citizen quite yet.”
Is there a veiled threat here? But why? The Professor has always favored N___ and has assured him that, under his protection, N___ will be granted citizenship soon.
Unexpectedly, as if he were addressing a child, the Professor asks Mary Frances if she likes animals?—of course, Mary Frances says yes. The Professor asks if Mary Frances would like to visit the animal lab on the eighth floor of Life Sciences?—of course, Mary Frances says yes.
N___ hears a humming in his ears. N___ feels faint. A strong desire to strike the smirking Professor on his right temple where a pale blue vein throbs like a writhing worm. Strike, smite. Cast the white-haired Professor down dead.
The humming in N___’s ears is just air-conditioning. By now N___ should be accustomed to the climate control of Rockefeller Life Sciences Hall where currents of cool air buffet heads like malicious spirits. Outside, a premature heat wave has come in early June.
N___ says there isn’t time for them to visit the eighth floor even as the Professor slides his arm through Mary Frances’s arm with startling familiarity and leads her to an elevator. With his ID card the Professor accesses the (restricted) floor where experimental animals are kept in air-conditioned isolation.
On the eighth floor the Professor leads Mary Frances through another security door into the animal quarters where the air is both cold and stale-smelling. Though the Professor has not exactly invited N___ to accompany them N___ has clearance to enter the animal quarters at any time he wishes, and it would be awkward for the Professor to exclude him.
So many animals! Rats, mice in small wire cages. Chattering monkeys, marmosets in larger cages. Mary Frances is amazed, wide-eyed. The circulating air is so chilly, Mary Frances hugs herself, shivering. Oh but the smell.
Against a farther wall, in large cages, are several chimpanzees. Like prisoners in solitary confinement sighting their jailers, and suddenly aroused to attention. Is it mealtime? Too soon for mealtime? Most excited and garrulous is the handsome young specimen Galahad, screeching and flinging his arms about eagerly to draw the attention of the stocky rust-haired girl in red shorts and billowing striped blouse whom he has never seen before.
Galahad recognizes the men, coolly ignores the men. Though in Galahad’s crafty shiny eyes the thought that, if the Professor comes near enough to his cage, Galahad will seize the Professor’s wrist and sink his teeth in it to the bone.
N___ isn’t sure how Galahad regards him. Seemingly, Galahad “likes” him, for N___ often gives Galahad treats. Yet, N___ knows better than to trust the crafty wild animal whose semen he’d been milking for weeks.
“Ohhh is this a chimpanzee?”—Mary Frances is thrilled. She pronounces the word carefully. “Gosh! He’s big. What’s your name, Mr. Chimpanzee?”
The Professor tells her: “His name is ‘Galahad.’”
“Oh hi there—‘Galahad.’ That’s a nice kind of high-class name somebody gave you … Wow, you are big, and you are handsome.” Brightly Mary Frances smiles at the chimpanzee, to N___’s relief not seeming to recall having heard the name “Galahad” recently. “You kind of smell, though. I guess you can’t help it.”
Galahad extends his forearm through the bars, hairless palm up and fingers extended in an urgent appeal. Though pared short his nails look sharp. So curious, Mary Frances must be thinking, the chimpanzee’s palm is hairless as the palm of a human being, and as pale as her own. The chimpanzee’s face is hairless, and his shiny brown eyes resemble hers. The coarse hair covering most of his body is dark russet-red-brown, the approximate hue of her own hair.
Playfully Mary Frances waves her hand, sticks out her tongue, and Galahad immediately mimics her by waving both hands, sticking his tongue far out, to her delight—“Monkey see, monkey do. That’s just what it is!”
Mary Frances asks the Professor what the animals are doing in the lab, and the Professor says they all do their work, humans and animals alike—“Furthering the cause of science. Shining a beacon into the deep, bleak cave of ignorance.”
“Do you, like, do ‘experiments’ with them? Like make them run through mazes, to get bananas?”
The Professor laughs. “Bananas are the favored reward, yes.”
With a genial smile the Professor turns to N___. “D’you have your cell phone, N___? Please take a picture of your friend Mary Frances with Galahad.”
N___ is offended by this command and pretends to pat his pockets, searching for his phone. Tells the Professor that he doesn’t have his (damned) phone. With the same genial smile the Professor instructs N___ to look more thoroughly, of course he has his phone, a chief technician is never without his phone, and so N___ discovers the cell phone in a deep pockets of his khaki shorts.
Pictures of the smiling experimental subject standing in front of the caged Galahad who smiles in his own devious-chimp way, baring saliva-wet teeth.
N___ is furious with the Professor for so manipulating Mary Frances and him. N___ has no choice but to obey the Professor. He will mail to the Professor several colorful and unnervingly sexual pictures of Mary Frances posing in front of the chimpanzee’s cage which (N___ supposes) will long outlive them all—human mother of the first hybrid Humanzee, chimpanzee father of the first hybrid Humanzee.
Even if the hybrid doesn’t survive, even if the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage, prints of these images will survive as priceless collector’s items. As an amateur historian of his field N___ has to wonder what names, what findings, will accrue to them. The Professor’s name, surely. But his own? Very likely not.
Galahad has begun leaping about inside his cage, so far as Galahad can leap about inside his cage, frantic to keep the wavering interest of his human visitors. All dignity aside the handsome chimp emits a heart-piercing cry, repeatedly bumping his flat forehead against the bars of his cage with a lovelorn expression. “Oh—you are something!” Mary Frances cries. There is something like a fever between them, an electric spark of mutual recognition, N___ can’t help but notice.
Naively Mary Frances approaches the chimpanzee’s cage to pet his head through the bars as N___ deftly intervenes: “No. Stay back. He might bite.”
Indeed, Galahad clicks his sharp glistening teeth, angry at being thwarted. Mary Frances backs away cringing. Galahad has begun to shriek, baring his teeth in a savage expression, furious with the experimental subject as if she has personally wronged him. He spits, reaches his forearms through the bars, claws at her, rubs his (suddenly swollen, bright pink) penis against the bars. Quickly N___ ushers stunned Mary Frances away as the Professor chides the chimpanzee: “You are a naughty boy, Galahad. Such bad manners, you never learned from us.”
In another cage a smaller, more somber chimpanzee with a thinner pelt crouches in a posture of dread. N___ sees that poor Maude’s scalp has been shaved recently, electrodes have been inserted in her brain in a battery of neurological tests. She shrinks from both the Professor and N___. She is less lively than usual though gazing fascinated at Mary Frances with mournful brown eyes. Mary Frances says cheerfully: “Oh, hi. I bet you’re a female, are you? Looks like you had babies—lots of babies.” N___ sees that it isn’t just the chimpanzee’s scalp that has been shaved but her bruised upper arms where IV lines had been inserted.
Mary Frances asks the chimpanzee’s name and the Professor says her name is Maude.
“That’s a nice name—‘Maude.’ Did you have baby monkeys, Maude? What’d they do with your babies?” But Mary Frances becomes contrite, the female chimpanzee is looking so sad. “Gosh! D’you think I could feed her and the other ones? Like, bananas? Would that make them happy?”
Unfortunately no, Mary Frances is told that the animals are fed only on schedule, and given treats only during trials. Otherwise they would be clamoring for food continuously and would be unmanageable.
Before the tour ends the Professor has one more request of N__: Would he please take pictures on his cell phone of Mary Frances and him together, in front of the chimp cages? But N___ dares to say no, can’t, his cell phone has lost its charge.
The Professor gazes at N___ for a long moment, bemused. Or is the Professor alarmed. Saying then, in a tone that will not be contradicted, that N___ can use his cell phone, in that case.
N___ has no choice but to concur. His usual stoic-Asian demeanor has become jaundiced, sullen. Taking several pictures of the smiling white-haired Professor and the smiling experimental subject in front of the captive chimpanzee’s cage and noting only belatedly, scrolling through the images hours later, that the Professor’s right hand is cupped casually, yet unmistakably, at Mary Frances’s waist; and that the two are standing closer together in the image than N___ would have sworn they’d been in life.
Maybe he will have mercy on her, then. Won’t arrange for her to die of an “embolism.”
“Oh! Feel Nath’iel Jr. kick.”
Reluctantly N___ allows Mary Frances to seize his chill hand in his, to press it against her alarmingly swollen belly where in fact N___ does feel, with a tremor, a distinctive kick.
“That’s for sure a boy baby! You can tell.”
On a baby calendar Mary Frances is marking off days in bright red Crayola. It is midsummer, and then it is late summer, and soon it will be September and the fall term at the University where Mary Frances has decided not to enroll until (maybe) the spring term since Nath’iel Jr. is due near the end of September.
Or maybe she won’t enroll then. Maybe (Mary Frances is thinking) she will be a full-time mother for as long as she can be. As long as God advises. (N___ has not tried to dissuade her.) She has made no mention of nursing school for months.
Dr. Ellis’s estimate of two hundred sixty days is weeks away. Yet N___ is uneasily aware of the fact that the gestation period for Pan troglodytes verus is only two hundred thirty-seven days, and so the hybrid baby could come “early” while at the same time, since the gestation period for Homo sapiens is two hundred eighty days, the hybrid baby could come “late.”
Mary Frances has struck up conversations with other expectant mothers casually encountered in town. In their exchanges it doesn’t seem to have come up that Mary Frances’s due date is earlier than the average, nor has Mary Frances betrayed the trust of Dr. Ellis and confided in these other expectant mothers that she has a “special” maternity care under the auspices of Rockefeller Life Sciences.
There has been one upsetting incident: after months of estrangement Mary Frances receives a call from her home, and a series of text messages from an older sister named Rhonda, informing her that their mother has been ill with an “undiagnosed condition”—“some kind of bad arthritis,” and “depression, maybe.” The messages are reproachful, chiding. Mary Frances is panicked that she will be expected to return home, and she cannot possibly return home, not in the (pregnant) state she is in, and not if she has to leave N___ behind …
N___ is relieved to see how devoted Mary Frances is to him, and how adamantly she insists that she certainly will not return home—“Not for a long time, maybe never. They would never accept Baby, and they would never accept you.”
N___’s pride is bruised just slightly, that Mary Frances has to insist upon her allegiance to him over her racist family.
In midsummer heat in the Edgar Street apartment with its barely functioning window air-conditioners the very pregnant experimental subject lies contentedly on a sofa for hours watching TV, or half-watching TV, surrounded by baby books, women’s health books, baby clothes ordered online, bibs, diapers, rattles, small stuffed animals; nibbling handfuls of raisins and Cheesebits, Rice Krispies, stale pizza slices, broken donuts, syrupy-sweet fruit yogurts in four-ounce containers—“As long as it isn’t ice cream, Nurse Betty says it’s OK.” Her favorite weird foods are swaths of peanut butter on Count Chocula cereal and sushi swathed with mustard.
Despite Dr. Ellis and Nurse Betty who have cautioned her not to gain more than twenty pounds, by the first of August the primigravida has gained thirty-four pounds and has become so large, at times she can barely heave herself to her feet, and must clutch at furniture, or N___, to keep her balance.
How large is the hybrid fetus?—eight pounds, five ounces.
Eight pounds, eleven ounces.
Nine pounds …
During the soporific summer months when even some of the research faculty are away from their laboratories, and the Professor himself retires to Lake Tahoe with his family, N___ tries to maintain the Professor’s directive to keep the experimental subject on edge: to thwart her expectations of his behavior and resist any sort of domestic routine. The female’s disadvantage is our advantage. But it has several times happened, away from Mary Frances, in the chill of the lab in Life Sciences, or in his own apartment some blocks from Edgar Street, N___ begins to feel—is it alone? Lonely? It is not an existential condition N___ has felt often in his previous life, and he is surprised and resentful to be feeling it now.
Calling Mary Frances on her cell phone and vexed when she doesn’t answer at once. Doesn’t return his calls within minutes. Hours?
Though he’d set aside an evening to be alone with crucial reading in his field, catching up on scientific papers, N___ becomes restless, decides to join Mary Frances for supper after all. Stops by the Chinese restaurant for her favorite takeout—greasy / oily sauces with lumpy chicken nuggets on mounds of sticky white rice or noodles. To counter these large portions Mary Frances will restrict herself to two six-ounce containers of fruit yogurt, and not ice cream.
So happy to see N___ in the doorway her eyes fill with tears. Declaring to him that she and Baby were missing him badly. “Like, we just prayed to God, ‘Please let Nath’iel come over,’ and thirty minutes later—here you are.”
Despite the faulty air-conditioning at the Edgar Street apartment Mary Frances seems to be enjoying the third trimester of her pregnancy. Not only are her thick ankles swollen, her entire legs are swollen; the lard-colored skin of her belly is stretched tight; her breasts have become half again as large as they were. Her face appears swollen, even the eyelids; her eyes have become slits, out of which her adoring eyes shine. The pregnancy is a great cocoon inside which something is growing, thriving, eager to burst free. Even the expectant mother’s “tummy troubles”—(N___ guesses this means constipation, doesn’t inquire further)—don’t upset her greatly, for Dr. Ellis has prescribed a battery of drugs for her to take if natural remedies fail.
N___ glances away not wanting to see Mary Frances unclothed—her pregnancy is so enormous. But sometimes plaintively she asks him to help her rise from bed, or from a chair; to help her step out of the bathtub, where she takes long steamy-hot soaking baths, exulting in the contentment of late pregnancy; whispering and singing lullabies to the feisty Nath’iel Jr. in her womb. N___ stands outside the door, his cheek against the door, listening.
Feeling just slightly excluded.
Until Mary Frances senses him on the other side of the door and calls out, “Nath’iel? C’mon in! Nath’iel Jr. and me are lonely missing you!”
Not likely that N___ will enter the smelly steamy bathroom, stare appalled at the enormous belly floating in soap-scummy water like a great fish belly-up, and at the floating balloon-breasts with their rude bold ruddy nipples like copper coins, and the cheery flushed face oozing oil from every pore, not damned likely N___ tells himself and yet—sees his hand push the door open, and draws a deep breath stepping inside.
Casually he mentions to the experimental subject that a “certain percent” of babies are born with birth defects. These are usually, but not necessarily, the result of genetic abnormalities. Often, the result of premature birth.
Mary Frances is immediately stricken. Pressing her hand against her belly as if with sudden pain.
“Gosh! I know. ‘Preemies’—so little, their hearts are not strong. Or something is wrong with their little lungs, or they are deaf.” Mary Frances pauses, her voice quavering. “But that won’t happen to Nath’iel Jr., he’s going to be a big strong baby, Dr. Ellis says. He won’t be premature.”
As if this were an utterly ordinary conversation N___ asks Mary Frances how she would feel if their baby had something wrong with him? If he was disfigured somehow, or—disabled?
“How would I feel? Oh, sad—real sad. Like if it was a Mongoloid baby, and looked funny—poor things.”
“I think you mean ‘Down’ babies. Not ‘Mongoloid.’” N___ speaks stiffly, the outdated Western racism is offensive to Asian ears.
“‘Down’s’—is that the same thing? But they are so sweet, like angels. An aunt of mine had one of—them. Our mother would tell us, she wished we were more like Timmy, she could love us more. I never blamed her—Timmy was so sweet, never acted up like other boys, liked to be hugged and kissed and have you feed him, even when he got to be kind of big—ten, eleven. He couldn’t go to school, I guess.” Mary Frances pauses, considering. “Well, I would love one of them, if my baby turned out that way. I would be sad but I would be grateful too, that my baby was special, and that Jesus had a plan for him.”
“You would think—‘Jesus had a plan for him.’”
“Well, God does. I guess it would be God, who creates things. Jesus helps you with your attitude, but God is the creator. I think that’s it.”
N___ lets this pass. A flush comes over him, of pure annoyance, embarrassment, hearing Mary Frances speak matter-of-factly of her religion, a rural-based branch of Protestant Christianity. In the past she has said such preposterous things, and N___ has not challenged her.
“If a baby was disfigured somehow, or didn’t look ‘normal’—you would love him just the same, Mary Frances?”
“Oh I think I would love him more.” Mary Frances speaks passionately, both hands now resting on her belly.
“Really? Why?” N___ regards the experimental subject with something like wonder.
“Because he would be ours—yours and mine. Because he would have no one else but us to love him. That’s why!”
Mary Frances seems both agitated by N___’s close questioning and thrilled and excited by it as if such an interrogation, uncharacteristic of N___, were a kind of intimacy; and N___ is not very intimate with Mary Frances, usually; affection between them is one-sided.
“Oh gosh yes, I would love him to death. I mean—I would!”
Has to admire her, such conviction. Optimism. Perhaps it is only naïveté and ignorance but there is something noble in it, N___ thinks. Every other girl he’d known would have been frantic to have an abortion, to rid herself of even the possibility of such a burden, but here is Mary Frances claiming tearfully that she would love the hybrid specimen no matter what it looks like, and no matter what, in scientific terms, it might be called.
Mongoloid! A Humanzee might be mistaken for a “Mongoloid” baby, N___ thinks, depending upon the degree to which chimpanzee features were dominant, and depending upon the degree of wishful naïveté in the mother.
“In approximately seven weeks it should be born. If it is going to be ‘born’ at all.”
Hearing these clinical words uttered by the embryologist N___ thinks reprovingly—Not it. He.
Shadowy ultrasound images of the maturing fetus are being passed about the oak table, marveled at. No one has seen such images in the history of science!—the astonishing fact ripples about them like a crashing surf.
Coiled in the mother’s womb in the birth sac is a small creature with a large head and flat puckered face, tight-shut eyes, tiny clenched fists, that could be mistaken for a purely human fetus, or, from another angle, a chimpanzee baby with somewhat human features. It is normal for a chimpanzee mother to have a single baby, as it is normal for a human mother to have a single baby. The shadowy fetus has a slightly rounder head than one might expect in a human baby, and the face seems flatter and broader; the miniature nose flatter, with wider nostrils. The mouth is wider, the area of the chin more pronounced. The arms are just slightly longer. The miniature ears are slightly larger, and rounder. Except for the small puckered face, tiny palms of hands and soles of feet the epidermis appears to be covered in a very fine down that is thicker and darker on the scalp than elsewhere. The fetal heartbeat is “strong.” The expectant mother has reported that the fetus kicks intermittently through the day and night but whether the activity is more or less than that of the average (male) fetus at this point in the pregnancy, the embryologist can’t say.
The embryologist reports that the hybrid fetus weighs nine pounds, six ounces. It will continue to grow and will likely weigh more than ten pounds by the time it is born—“A large baby, that may present ‘complications’ for the mother.”
With much excitement N___’s colleagues peer at the pictures. These unique documents! When N___ holds one in his fingers, his fingers shake. His mouth has gone dry, his brain feels numb, obliterated. His!—the hybrid baby is his.
With the passage of weeks at these (classified, confidential) meetings on the eighth floor of Rockefeller Life Sciences it has come to seem, strangely, inexplicably, that N___’s colleagues are starting not to associate the chief technician with the pregnancy; without N___’s noticing, his role is being usurped by the Professor, and by the embryologist, who do most of the talking and answer most of the questions at the meetings. It’s as if the experimental subject who was N___’s discovery has been appropriated by them. As if the experimental subject has been impregnated by their agency, and not his. N___ wants to drum his fingers on the oak table—Wait! Look at me. I am the father.
It makes N___ uneasy to hear the Professor reiterate another time that the primary, indeed the sole purpose of Project Galahad is to create a hybrid specimen; once the creature draws breath and utters its first cry, the mother’s role will have ended—“Maude will do as well as any human mother and if not, we will find other means.”
The embryologist concurs: “The primigravida has put on more weight than I’d advised, thus risking her health. If something happens to her in the delivery it might be argued that it’s her own fault.”
“Certainly, yes. She has received the very best prenatal care.”
“It would hardly be our fault, if …”
Hemorrhage. Embolism. Heart failure. Rapid drop in blood pressure. Allergic reaction to the anesthetic.
Any of these. All of these.
It is rare now for anyone at the table to object, even mildly. Without N___ seeming to realize, the possibility of the experimental subject being given the opportunity to nurse the hybrid specimen seems to have been dropped.
“She isn’t very bright, poor thing. That has been her disadvantage, and it is our advantage. We would be very foolish not to seize that advantage.” The Professor smiles wryly even as he continues to stare at his trophy, the shadowy ultrasound image.
N___ takes notes on his laptop. N___ is a pair of hands, remarkably adept fingers. Though he feels as if he has been shot full of Novocain.
N___ has sensed the senior members of the Professor’s team exchanging glances at times. Not only are they forgetting what N___’s role has been in Project Galahad, N___ is certain he has heard them alluding to lab meetings of which he hasn’t been aware. Are they meeting without him? Is the Professor grooming a replacement, among the technician’s own young assistants? Is the Professor who has always seemed to favor N___ going to cut N___ out of this historic project, exploit his heroic work, betray him? (Of course it is hardly the first time that a distinguished research scientist has exploited a younger associate, passed his work off as his own, terminated the younger scientist, and banished him from the laboratory. N___ is more vulnerable than most for he is not (yet) a US citizen.)
“If there’s a miscarriage?”—N___ hears himself ask.
“Well. If a miscarriage, we get to keep the remains.”
“She will never see the remains. We’ll send her home.”
What N___ has dreaded has come to pass, at last.
It is a poor recording, on Nurse Betty’s iPhone. In the background are voices, a clatter of spoons, cups. All around the oak table N___’s colleagues listen bemusedly while the Professor’s chief technician sits very still, his face stiff as a papier–mâché mask.
A plaintive female voice, that of the experimental subject:
Ohh I guess—I don’t know—sometimes I just—wonder—(unintelligible)—Nath’iel doesn’t, like, love me?—I mean—it’s embarrassing, gosh!—he’s, like, if he has to like touch me, with my belly so big, he doesn’t seem to—it’s like he is—wishing he was somewhere else …A more forceful, mature voice, that of Nurse Betty:
Oh no—he loves you, Mary Frances! I know he does. It’s just that a man has more trouble than we do connecting with his emotions. That’s all it is, hon—he’s, like, when I saw you with him, Mary Frances, I could see—he’s shy, he’s awkward with women, one of those scientist-types like there are in this building, and Asian too, who are like geniuses almost, but you can’t talk to them and they can’t talk to you … (Laughter)Aggrieved-child voice of Mary Frances:
… all I know is, I love him like crazy, but I can see, like, he doesn’t love me—much. All the time I am praying for our baby to be born healthy, I am praying for Nath’iel to love him and me—I mean, as much as he can. Like maybe, being Asian like he is, and coming from some place where (I guess) there was war and famine, maybe he can’t “love” people the way we can—like, if he was wounded in his soul? Sometimes in his eyes I can see (unintelligible) … And so I am praying for that too, that I can help him. And I am feeling the love from Jesus, and I think it will happen, and will be strong enough, we will be a family and he will come to love me.At the conclusion of the recording there is an embarrassed silence. N___ cannot lift his eyes to the faces of his colleagues. His face is a mask of humiliation. Scarcely can he breathe. A wispy female voice hovers in the room distracting as a moth fluttering about—… will come to love me.
Shuffling papers the Professor says in a voice of disdain, “Well. No scientific content there. Recommend delete.”
… will come to love me.
In his cubbyhole of an office on the eighth floor of Rockefeller Life Sciences not far from the Professor’s large office N___ sits at his desk computer, fingers poised.
So large is the computer, it blocks N___’s view of an obscure corner of the University campus. Rarely in his many years at this desk and facing this window (a narrow column of green-tinted glass from floor to ceiling, soundproof) amid a constant churning of cooled air against his face and hair has N___ troubled to lean around the computer to gaze out the window.
Nor does N___ now. Sitting numbed, vacantly staring at the computer screen. What does it hold? Is the screen a way into the future, a way into N___’s own, elusive soul? Or is the screen but a thin plastic scrim over nothingness?—N___’s soul?
Fingers poised at the keyboard. Waiting.
While in the apartment on Edgar Street the experimental subject is waiting.
Is she lying hugely pregnant, partly naked, slovenly-sumptuous as an odalisque on the familiar sofa sagging beneath her weight, eating cereal in handfuls, chewing on broken cinnamon doughnuts, her favorites; is she frowning over a pamphlet given to her by Nurse Betty, My Baby & Me: Our First Month, like a methodical schoolgirl underlining crucial phrases in yellow Magic Marker? N___ squints but N___ cannot see: Is the frizzed rust-colored hair brushed back from the low, earnest brow? Are the bare swollen legs spread, that have not been shaved in weeks, and sprout distinctive dark hairs? Inside the belly swollen tight as a drum the baby-to-be gives a kick. “Hey!—that hurt!”—Mary Frances laughs in delight. So happy, God has blessed her.
Or is she, as N___ has more than once discovered her, busily engaged in cleaning the kitchen? Wiping down she calls it, paper towels and Windex. And the linoleum floor, with a sponge mop. Other rooms, tidying up. Who would have guessed, the experimental subject enjoys housekeeping, even hugely pregnant? To N___’s astonishment one day he saw that Mary Frances had started alphabetizing haphazardly arranged books in several bookcases as if these were actual books in an actual library carefully selected by “Nathaniel Li.”
Yet more unexpectedly N___ one day discovered that Mary Frances was reading, or trying to read, Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals; another day, a neuroscience textbook titled Brain, Body, and Behavior which she’d shut quickly with an embarrassed laugh when N___ came in. “Oh gosh! Hope nobody’s gonna quiz me.”
As a graduate student N___ had annotated virtually every page in this classic textbook. Out of curiosity when Mary Frances was out of the room N___ leafed through the first chapter to see that Mary Frances had been annotating as well, in yellow Magic Marker; she’d gotten only to page nineteen before being interrupted. The last highlighting was Microglia function like astrocytes, digesting parts of dead neurons. Oligodendroglia provide the insulation (myelin) to neurons in the central nervous system.
How totally obscure this information must have been, to an undergraduate who’d barely passed Introduction to Biology! N___ was touched by the effort. Guiltily wondering if Mary Frances was making an effort, to relate to him.
Not knowing that, very soon, as soon as the hybrid specimen is born, N___ will disappear from her life.
N___ wakes from his trance. Fingers briskly typing on the computer keyboard.
How will Project Galahad proceed?—N___ speculates.
1. Most likely: spontaneous miscarriage. The hybrid specimen is genetically unstable and not capable of living outside the mother’s womb. In the last weeks of the third trimester a miscarriage will be physically traumatic for the primigravida but if she is strong, and receives good medical care, she will survive. What will be issued from her body will be fetal remains, not an “infant”—not a “baby.” Yet, these remains will be precious to researchers, particularly immunohistochemists who will prepare photomicrographic slides of the specimen’s brain and other organs. The chief technician will help, and will be crucial to the research.Beyond this N___ can’t imagine. Though if he continues as the Professor’s chief technician he will be involved in the battery of experiments that will define the Humanzee’s life.
2. Another possibility: induced miscarriage. N___ has access to lab drugs including an abortifacient used to induce miscarriages in chimpanzees which he could dissolve into Mary Frances’s food, inducing violent contractions and hemorrhaging; he would have to insure that she wasn’t taken to the local ER but to the Clinic in Life Sciences, where the fetal remains could be salvaged, with identical results as #1.
In this way (N___ reasons) less is left to chance, he would be in control and no one (including the Professor) would ever know why the hybrid specimen was a miscarriage. And the experimental subject’s life would (probably) be spared.
3. Possible: the hybrid specimen is born in the Clinic on the tenth floor of Life Sciences. Very likely it will be a Caesarian birth. The Humanzee is immediately taken away from the mother who is heavily sedated. When the mother is wakened she is informed that her baby died at birth—it was a still birth. The Humanzee will be confined to a highly secure area of Life Sciences, or to an equally secure, restricted space elsewhere, to live out its (his) natural life as one of the most remarkable experimental subjects in the history of science. (Eventually, if he dares to publish his findings without being charged with grievous scientific misconduct, and proof that a Humanzee was born in the Professor’s laboratory can be established, it is very likely that the Professor will receive a Nobel prize.)A. Possible: the (physically traumatized) mother receives excellent medical treatment in the Clinic and is soon released. She receives financial compensation in exchange for “confidentiality.” She departs the University without a degree. In sorrow but not in rancor.
B. Possible: the (physically traumatized) mother does not survive the ordeal of giving birth to a hybrid specimen weighing in excess of ten pounds. In the Project Galahad official (classified) report it will be noted: In the difficult labor, which lasted for __ hours, the mother died suddenly of what an autopsy revealed as an embolism in the heart. Died suddenly of what an autopsy revealed as an allergic reaction to the anesthetic. Died suddenly of what an autopsy revealed as cardiac failure. The infant Humanzee survived and was given to a mature female chimpanzee on the premises, to be nursed.
Especially, the Professor is eager to establish whether language can be taught to the Humanzee as it is routinely taught to Homo sapiens but has failed to be taught to apes despite countless experiments over decades.
In time, it will be established whether the Humanzee can mate with any female specimen, human or chimpanzee, or whether the Humanzee, like the donkey, hybrid offspring of horse and mule, is sterile.
How lonely the Humanzee will be, isolated in its (his) clinical quarters on the eighth floor of Rockefeller Life Sciences! Though possibly, sooner rather than later, another Humanzee specimen will be created by the Professor’s lab team, a sibling that might (if it is female) be a mate for the Humanzee …
In his state of trance N___ sits at the computer, thinking. Or rather, thoughts move through his brain as through a convoluted and contorted maze.
… we will be a family and he will come to love me.
Hurriedly N___ clears out his office in Rockefeller Life Sciences Hall taking computer files on memory sticks, documents, papers, a selection of books that are essential to him.
Returns to the apartment on Edgar Street. Tells the astonished Mary Frances that they must leave at once: the State Department has learned of N___’s engagement with her and that she is bearing his son and so a warrant has been issued for N___’s arrest and without being allowed a legal hearing N___ will be deported to a “hellish” part of the world he has not seen in more than thirty years and their baby, when it is born, will be taken into detention by the US government under the Illegal Alien Act of 1971 …
Hurriedly they must pack. Must pack!
No time to waste, no time for explanations other than the bare stark terrifying fact that Mary Frances will lose not only her fiancé but her baby as well if she does not flee with N___ that very day. If she stays behind it is highly probable that she will be arrested and charged with “aiding and abetting” an individual arrested under the Illegal Alien Act and in any case, the baby will be taken from her and she will never see it again.
Wide-eyed Mary Frances never doubts these fantastical words of N___’s uttered in a voice of heightened calm. Mary Frances has not ever doubted N___, and will not doubt him. When she stammers asking where can they go N___ tells her that eventually they can cross into Canada—“There are relatives of mine in Vancouver, they will take us in and protect us”—but in the meantime they can hide in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where no one would ever think to look for them.
It is true, N___ has saved a good deal of money over the years. Few expenses, a frugal bachelor life. As if for such an occasion: a sudden disappearance, fleeing federal authorities, exile. Fleeing the Professor. Perhaps N___ has been on the run, an illegal alien, for most of his life.
As they pack suitcases and cardboard boxes N___ tells Mary Frances about the beautiful scarcely populated mountains west of Red Bluff. They can rent a cabin easily, he recalls a trailer village beside a lake, yes and the small town Red Bluff, no one would know where they’d gone, no one would have the slightest idea, cleverly he’d consulted several websites about hotels in Costa Rica and if / when his office computer is examined in an effort to track him these sites will be discovered and it will be believed he’d gone to Costa Rica … With tearful but trusting eyes Mary Frances listens to her fiancé, she has never seen N___ so fiercely animated, so certain of what must be done, the two of them together, a couple. N___ pauses to take her warm moist hand tenderly and squeeze it in the way that one might squeeze the hand of a frightened child to comfort her, a gesture he has never made before.
“Oh but, Nath’iel—what about the baby? How will he be born—safe?”
“We can do it. I can help you. Our ancestors knew how. We don’t need the Clinic. ‘Natural childbirth.’ The hell with them.”
“The hell with them! Good.” Mary Frances laughs wildly, her eyes are shining with tears of wonder, devotion. “God will protect us.”
“God will protect us. I know it.”
Elated N___ runs to his apartment to load the van (armloads of books, it is his books N___ most values, which he will bring with him into exile) and to bring it around to Edgar Street. By this time N___ has convinced himself that they must leave at once, he must not be detained, they are both in grave danger, their baby is in grave danger, at any moment government Gestapo will be knocking at their door, they are equal to the challenge of natural childbirth in the mountains, there will be no need for a medical doctor, a hospital or a clinic. For how can N___ explain to Mary Frances that if she gives birth successfully, her baby will be taken from her and her life will be snuffed out? How can N___ explain to Mary Frances that it is he, her fiancé “Nath’iel,” who has herded her, like a heifer into a chute leading to the slaughterhouse, to this fate? Telling himself the crucial thing is the prevention of infection of the mother’s birth canal. N___ will boil water, sterilize surfaces. N___ will wear latex gloves. (Must remember to purchase gloves and other items need for the home birth, en route to Red Bluff.) Something in the refugee N___, primitive, defiant, gives a little lurch; this will be the challenge of his life.
Mary Frances is not likely to panic when contractions begin, as another woman might in such circumstances. Mary Frances is stolidly built to give birth, wide hipped, a wide pelvis, heavy breasts bursting with milk. Mary Frances will pray for courage, and her God will give her courage. Mary Frances will deliver her baby by instinct, grunting and heaving as her female ancestors delivered their babies, managing to survive against the odds.
And whatever is issued from between Mary Frances’s great straining thighs streaked with blood and sweat, she will honor as a gift of God.
By 4:20 p.m. they are prepared to leave. Breathless, exhilarated! It is strange, N___ has not wanted Mary Frances in his van before, had not even told her that he owns a vehicle; he has not (he’d thought) wanted the female presence to linger in it, her scent, the impress of her body, the dampness of her perspiring thighs, yet now he has not the slightest concern but is deeply grateful that he owns a vehicle, that they can flee together. Indeed N___ adjusts the sun visor so that the afternoon sun won’t glare into Mary Frances’s eyes.
Boxes of books, hundreds of books gathered from both apartments, fill the van. In his fever of anticipation N___ imagines long idyllic evenings of reading aloud to Mary Frances from such texts as the great works of Charles Darwin beside a birch-wood fire, Nathaniel Jr. in a cradle, or in a crib, in a shadowy alcove, features blurred in the innocence of sleep.
On the interstate they should get to the Sierras by sunset and in the morning to Red Bluff. That night they can rent a motel room or, maybe, sleep in the van in sleeping bags within earshot of the white-water rapids cascading down the mountainside.