When the doctor comes out June is in the process of deciding whether or not the active suspension of fear is required at this juncture. The task is familiar: mornings as a child she climbed into the car and placed her hands beneath her thighs, the highway a necessary danger. Her mother is the sort of woman who purchases insurance for every product she buys and believes in telling children where food comes from. Sugar, water, gelatin, carmine, she said when June asked about jello. Carmine is the red. It’s made out of beetles.
She is seated in a white waiting room in which there are books rather than magazines, a somehow inappropriate kitsch baby calendar on the right wall. She determines that the suspension of fear is not necessary, though this in itself, she will realize later, is a suspension of fear. This will begin to happen more often in her late twenties: disconcerting self-evaluation, the recognition that she is very good at running her own mind not unlike an autocracy.
June is under no obligation. She is entirely healthy; doctor’s offices are almost alien to her. There is proof of her own physical worth in a sheaf of papers in her lap. Though she has always considered her graceless arms and the fortunate indent of her waist, she has inadvertently disclosed to herself the details of her own perfect maternal viability on a long questionnaire. June is between five feet seven inches and five feet nine inches tall, twenty-one to thirty-two years old, of German or Irish descent, no genetic history of cancer, heart conditions, or mental health conditions, reasonably athletic (she has lied about this a little), scarce medical history including one bout of pneumonia at eight years old and one incidence of a broken bone (swing set), a graduate of an Ivy League university. She does not smoke, takes no medications and no birth control. She has never been pregnant.
Her mother will not understand. This occurs to June for the first time after the papers are filled out. Somehow her mother will consider it a betrayal. Voluntary danger, the sacrifice of what her mother will inevitably call family property. “You are a limited resource,” her mother will say, in a stroke of thoughtfulness that will strike June hard.
She found the ad in the commencement edition of her university newspaper. It was next to an article on the departure of the Dean of Student Affairs and the line offering thirty thousand dollars was printed in a thick black typeface. Maybe it was Impact or Rockwell. In her gown she found herself alone on a campus bench while her mother used the bathroom in the library and, reading the ad, felt struck by its specificity. It occurred to her that never had a chance description fit her so exactly. The requested donation of her eggs to a pair of alums from the university would take place in a simple operation in the tri-state area and she would be thirty thousand dollars wealthier. June is aware that the sale of her body is not the career she has prepared herself for, but her education does nothing to dissuade her interest.
“Think of the money,” she tells her sister over the phone. “I don’t even know what I’m doing for the summer. Let alone with my life. It’s not a bad gig.”
“You can’t just give yourself up like this,” her sister says. “It’s too weird.” A long pause, and then: “What if you run into your kid on Bleecker in fifteen years?”
“I’ll never know,” June says.
She will not admit until two years later that she is comforted by the idea of anonymous legacy; that she is, in fact, possessed by it. She is alienated by motherhood and terrified of wasting what she thinks of as her enigmatic womanhood. It’s the same urgency she felt as a teenager, seventeen and sexless, that her breasts be properly appreciated before they decay. That the solution offers financial compensation is only a perk. It will not occur to her that her instincts are not permanent, that a feeling that has stayed with her since adolescence might desert her at thirty. After all, she feels as though she has lived three lifetimes. She has known fear coupled with a fascination with children since she first understood birth. Who can tell her that she is not wise?
“You can never trust an operating room,” her mother has told her, by which she means that a woman can never trust anything that attempts to improve her while she sleeps. Trust is a tight commodity for her mother. When she left home June began to appreciate the value of things given out only sparingly as it extended to the intangible. That she had earned trust from her mother was not insignificant. This sense of accomplishment arising from competition that did not necessarily involve others lived comfortably in June. Now she considers the possibility that she might lose it in an event that her mother considers deranged or violent, like the murder of a cousin or the attempt of suicide.
A large part of June’s fear of parenthood arises from the likelihood that she will, in fact, neglect to tell her mother about the donation. She considers herself an example of daughterhood rather than potential motherhood, and this abuse of her mother’s trust more a mark of the tendency of children to disappoint their parents than of her own commitment to generation. The anonymous legacy she seeks is both a gift to her mother and an exploitation of her mother’s stake in June’s body. Her mother is frugal, after all. Who is June to allow that strangers should have a hand in the life of her mother’s blood? Were June to ask this of her mother, she would receive a laugh. “It’s not mine anymore,” her mother would say. “I can’t take it back now.”
At eight years old, June jumped through the backseat window of the car, a squat red caravan, onto the street curb. The car was turning a corner and going very slowly. June landed on her butt with her legs over the curb and her body in the shallow of the street. She was largely unhurt and strangely calm. It was curiosity, the nurse said. In the conversation June had with her mother, she explained that she did not want to be moving anymore.
“You can’t fall out of cars,” her mother said. “The ground is hard. It’s concrete,” by which she meant for June to understand the source of pain.
“I didn’t fall,” June said. “I jumped.”
June has seen the expression she recognized then on her mother’s face four times in her life: wonder and fear arising from the recognition that her own children lived now outside the realm of her comprehension. For her mother intent was mainly irrelevant, reality soundly apathetic. When passing the polished bodies of cars or the mirror in their kitchen, June and her mother would sometimes stop, when June had grown her hair long, to compare their reflections. It was one thing they did unspeakingly but with the acknowledgement of mutual participation. As they walked on June felt they had recognized their similar half-formed beauty.
June meets her sister for lunch outside. It is one of the last weeks before the restaurants take their tables off the sidewalks and into the dining rooms.
“What are you going to tell her about the money?” Bethany wants to know. “She’ll ask.”
“I won’t,” June says. “I have a job.”
They find themselves able, suddenly, to speak easily about money and family, subjects June now begins to feel belong to her. The milking of her body offers her a sense of deliberate adulthood.
“I will,” June says. “I’m setting it up.”
“I think there’s cheese in this,” Bethany says, a spoonful of soup raised. “Along with the cream? Can you taste it?”
“No,” June says. She licks the spoon and it winks.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Bethany says. “You’re only twenty-two. You have no idea about kids or not. I’m getting married and I don’t even know yet.”
“Of course you do,” June says, and her sister half-smiles. In one dream June has, the girl who grows up with her blood looks like Bethany: honest, with wide lips and an exacting gaze.
“How are the people?” Bethany asks. “The couple.”
“Cool,” June says. “As in serene. Smart.”
When she met the alums they regarded her with an ambivalence that lay thinly over giddy desire. They were, of course, not yet parents and therefore she could not quite imagine them with a child, but they seemed capable and intent. There was relief in their apartment, and gratefulness. June had often been applauded, but never had she been responsible for a joy that wasn’t her own. Despite the money, they were beholden to her. In the round of her water glass June caught the reflection of the woman’s hand as it brushed lightly against her husband’s knee. As she left she felt a gust of godliness.
“Good,” Bethany says. When June’s hormone injections and operation are done, Bethany will feel contented. It is always that way when something begun is finally finished. “It might not even work, you know.”
June is reminded that she and her sister argued regularly as children; once, she pushed Bethany from a bed onto the floor. Bethany had stitches along her left jaw.
At Bethany’s wedding, June’s mother will be a little champagne-drunk. She will take off her shoes and make conversation with the DJ. She will ask June where her boyfriend is, and her confusion will make June frightened and irritated and ashamed for her irritation. June will kiss her sister and pack up the cake and drive her mother home, and her mother will fall asleep in the car for the first time. June will decide to tell her in the morning but will forget when her mother wakes and finds her scrambling eggs in the wrong pan. She will be sent to the store for milk and her sister will drop by the house and after that there will be the thank-you notes and at some point Bethany will be pregnant or not depending on the month. Either way things will happen more quickly than June has imagined they will. For a long time she will be comforted by the knowledge that a child with her sister’s eyes may exist on a blanket in the park on a warm-weather day, by the attempt and the possibility. The suspension of fear will become remarkable again, impressive even, as it was when she first discovered it as a child.
After the extraction, June feels a tautness in her chest. She is driving back into the city in her sister’s car. At first she is concerned, but intuitively she knows that the feeling is imagined. It’s a little like the space between waking and beginning to stretch, anticipatory and indecisive. At a gas station she drinks a cup of water as though she has climbed up a mountain through the brush and trees.
On the phone, June’s mother tells her she has cut her hair. June promises to come by and tacitly they agree to consider the question of likeness, which becomes compelling again after each change of season. June wedges the phone between her ear and shoulder while she drives, two hands always on the wheel. In the early afternoon the road is almost empty. There are birds here that have floated away from the city.