She Bites

Illustrations by Elisar Haydar

I always wanted to be a twin.

Why is another story. Loneliness? A deep, desperate and aching insecurity? I liked the idea of being propped up. The encouragement of a trusted second voice. Two of me. Double the power, the confidence. Together we can do it. We can do anything.

But I never gave it serious thought; it was an idle want. I never planned it and it never seemed plausible — until I had Sophie cloned. It cost me a buttload, but father left me more. And when I cloned my third Sophie — the second having accidentally hurtled down a flight of stairs after tripping on the edge of a rug since removed — I wondered, Seriously, why not? If the yapping, shitting, bug-eyed Shih Tzu of my heart can be thrice cloned, why not me? Why not now?

While it’s too late now to grow myself alongside myself — to go through life with me, my double, my twin, my friend and confidante, playing tricks and wearing matching clothing — I could still raise myself, give me all the things I never had. I could have been a ballerina. I could have been a pianist. I could have spoken six languages. I could have been a weaver, a potter, a painter, a podiatrist. If only I had me to raise me.

It’s no minor process, no minor expense, but I’ve come to know the folks at PetGen Restoration Labs by name. Jonathan, for example, has been the chief technician involved in the regeneration of my Sophies for the past fifteen years. I know him, I’ve been out to dinner with his family. I’ve seen the simmering boredom that grins malevolently from behind a glass of white wine when I start asking about applying his skills to a new project. And I know if it can be done, it will be done.

And it has been done. Three hundred thousand dollars later, with Jonathan fired over drinking on the job, I have a baby growing in a surrogate who is me growing in myself. I am like a jellyfish or Greek goddess who propagates by sprouting polyps from her head. And she is me, a polyp sprung from will. But the reality of it, the physicality of it, I’m sorry to say, has upset everything.

To be me alone, to birth me alone, to be alongside myself, has been unsettling. Though I was prepared financially, and had the baby room papered with yellow damask, acquired the car seats, the Jolly Jumpers and the teething rings, every day after the initial insertion and beyond the pregnancy, I’ve had gnawing, nauseating shivers running up and down my body. While pregnant, I’d look at my belly in the mirror, or peer down at the protrusion, and a doubt that I’d never known before would drip down my spine: I no longer felt in control.

But I went forth. And with my fourth Sophie, who was bald all over and glassy-eyed from chemotherapy and radiation to fight a never-ending spate of brain and lung tumors. But Sophie V was in utero and my new me was here. I did all the things I thought should be done. The girl wanted for nothing. She had a normal upbringing. Video games, ponies, swim lessons, bouncy castles, birthday parties. Of course, friends were supplied.

I explained our life in a matter-of-fact way. Like telling kids of yore about the birds and the bees — though I’ve personally never been told the story and can’t imagine how it might go. Is it about pollination? Or a bestial meeting that nursery rhymes wash over with rhythmic joy? Anyhow, I sat the girl down, I showed her all the good times I’d had with Sophie. I showed her pictures of each and every consecutive Sophie, along with lab shots: nurses in scrubs giving the camera the thumbs-up, Sophie’s surrogate mother in her pen at PetGen ingesting nourishment from her tubes, Jonathan over his microscope tweaking Sophie IV, etc. And to clarify the matter, I took her to see Jonathan. He is her father, so to speak, or rather, her inventor — whatever distinction you wish to draw between the two.

He wasn’t looking his best, though his new place on the outskirts of town was almost cozy. A window might have been a good addition. In fact, I offered to have one put in, and he shot me what might have been considered by some — not me, not then — a murderous glance. He didn’t speak much, but it was really just to introduce the clone to creator as an effort at transparency of process. We weren’t there long when his gentle pacing turned into a menacing hover. He stood over both of us while we were seated on the edge of the only surface available for sitting in the abode, a rumpled cot, and there he stood, not speaking, as I rambled on, attempting to explain the process about which I knew little, and he looked down at her, and occasionally shot me a mean and possibly murderous eye, but mostly looked at her, almost lovingly, like she were a new idea, like she were a solution, a light bulb, like he wanted to strap a bomb to her chest. We left shortly thereafter. I’d found him impolite. Though he’d been a good friend to me once, this new drunken, jobless Jonathan was unpleasant, sick-faced. We left, drove home, neither me nor she, she who is me, saying much.

So, we got on with it. She never did see Jonathan again, as far as I know. I’d heard he set something on fire not long after and assumed that the drink had got the better of him. Malachi at PetGen took over Sophie production. Sophie V had issues; she was cross-eyed, three-legged and short-lived. So we’re on Sophie VI now, and she’s as close to the first as I’ve ever had. Maybe if I’d had Malachi from the start, I wouldn’t be where I am.

So a point came, she/me must have been ten or eleven, when the gnawing, dripping, creeping that I’d been pushing down, putting away, repressing — if you will — took hold. It was something me-ish in her. Something ineradicable. When I’d take her to French lessons, Cantonese, Japanese, Russian, and when she became more bored and disconsolate and restless and when I saw her as me as a sullen child, resisting all that she’d been given, fighting goodness at every step in order to sulk, to moon about, to make nothing and want for everything. It was then that I knew that there was no remaking me. I knew that I was a mistake.

The urge to kill it, to defeat it, was rising in me. Like it’s an unnatural thing looking at me through innocent eyes. Like it wants to defeat me and will eventually. Like I have brought my usurper into the world. To usurp what? I’ve made nothing of my wealth and privilege. I’ve spent my father’s money and read my father’s books and walked long walks upon my father’s land. And the only thing I’ve made is me, and at great expense, to no consequence. But still.

I decided to end it, this sick game, this Droste effect of a life. I brought me in, I’ll take me out, so to speak. I’d end it for both us, become the news story that reads Mother drowns child in bowl of breakfast cereal then suffocates herself with the plastic bag (that came inside the box of breakfast cereal). Jonathan doesn’t care anymore. He’s given up on science and fire and lives in a cell and drinks from the toilet, and his family has found a new man from PetGen Restoration Services, someone more professional, someone less idealistic and thus less prone to rapid changes in mood and temperament and belief. Their new man is a company man. A man of science, of industry, of systems. But it was Jonathan who was the closest thing to a father that she’d had, and the closest thing to a partner that I’d had. So I went to him and asked if he had any thoughts, any advice, if he could hear out my feelings of doubt, of filth, of evil, of murder. I met him during visiting hours and spoke on an old-fashioned phone receiver and watched him through the dense Plexiglas.

“My dear, dear Jonathan, what have we done?”

He laughed hideously and told me, “Who gives a fuck, you silly-headed rich bitch? Have you looked around?” He hung up on me.

More so on my own than even before when it was me and myself, I’d been thinking of ending it. And after thinking it, I saw myself differently. I would wonder about my own reflection. Does it watch me longer? I would jump at my own shadow — was it reaching for me? And once, in the woods behind our house, I was sure I saw myself waiting, eyeballs drained of colour, mouth slack, urine dripping from my dress. But two baby deer, spotted with white youth, running with identical gait, moved past, and the fetch disappeared. And after all, perhaps it was only a trick of light and wind and mist and the hour of the day and the sound of the creek that made an omen of me.

But I saw something real, I’m sure, in my eyes on her. Our wild eyes. Either my behaviour has changed enough for her to know something, or she has thought the same thing about our unnatural communion and vowed to end me herself.

I thought it would come to blows, and I started walking around the grounds armed. Bear spray in one hand, a letter opener in the other. Waiting for my moment, sure that I could defeat a child of thirteen. Obviously my adult strength, my adult cunning would be an advantage.

But as I lie at the bottom of the stairs, where Sophie II once fell, my back shattered from the fall, and as I listen to myself in her hum and whistle as she picks up her broken necklace of Akoya pearls from the top of the stairs and moves closer to gather those that have bounced down and rolled and settled into the blood oozing from my mouth and skull, I know she has replaced me.

The humming closes in on me, the whistling stops. I can feel her breath on my cheek.

“You asked for this,” she says, and Sophie VI bites me hard on the cheek.

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