For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never worn. That’s what the advert said, and that’s exactly what we needed.
I was expecting my own newborn in less than a month, but what kind of a world was it coming into? It was thoughts of the future that possessed me as I rode to collect the shoes.
We weren’t badly off, my husband and I, and I never forget that it could be worse. Our hover-car is self-controlling – with all the safety features – and it zooms up and down the San Franciscan valleys with the speed of an old world roller coaster.
It still feels strange to cross the waters at the bottom of Prospect Hill. Like a lot of people, I remember when San Francisco was seen as a coastal town. Nowadays it’s just a series of small islands, each poking their head above the sea like a Pacific volcano. It won’t be too long, they say, before it goes the same way as New York, Sydney or Hong Kong. The old timers reckon it all happened so fast, but they had warning… decades of it.
As I make my way through what used to be known as Silicone Valley, I pass by a government information screen that advertises off-world opportunities – The chance to begin again. I won’t go though. The off-world colonies are a dream – the technology’s still a century away, and Mars… It’s a sham. It’s like dropping cheese into the waves while rats are fleeing the sinking ship and I won’t go with them. There’s got to be a better way.
I touch my belly again, and think of the child that grows inside. Is it really fair to bring another living human being into a civilisation that’s on its way out? Beaten by our own blind evolution.
They desperately sought progress, with no idea that this is where we were going…
By the time I realise that we’ve reached my destination, I realise I’ve been sitting outside the house for long minutes, lost in thought while I stare across the bay. Three ships are sitting in dock, waiting to travel to the cool of the North; taking the chosen few to a new life in the scientific resorts of Alaska and the Arctic.
I shake feelings of envy from out of my head and look to the house. Only because I’m waiting for my own child, I remember their advert and am touched by the sadness of this family’s grief. For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn. Their child must have died.
In a moment, I realise that the father is standing in the doorway beckoning me in. I move to position my UV protector mask, but he comes bounding down the garden path, carrying a portashield, and then bundles me into the house.
“Come in, come in, get out of the sunshine,” he says and guides me into the living room to where a pair of simple, blue faux leather children’s shoes sit inside a cardboard box. They have flowers cut out of them, and for a moment I remember a time in my youth when flowers – like baby’s shoes – were commonplace and disposable; but everything was back then.
“I couldn’t believe that we’re selling them on so soon,” says the grieving father, with a grin that sits somewhere between pride and a schoolboy’s cheek. “We’re not the first though.”
I’m not clear on what he means for a second, but then I turn and see his wife enter the room swaddling a baby who gurgles playfully before being a little sick on her shoulder.
“Oh I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t… I thought…” I look between the parents, clearly bemused.
“Oh… you… I mean… you didn’t know?” the father stammers.
“But you must have read about us?” the mother exclaims, joyfully. “We’re the new generation.”
I step back, thrown slightly. The mother approaches me, in a way that leaves me strangely en-guard, and begins peeling off the layers that surround her child.
“Look, but look, he’s the future…” she says, almost pleading. And then, as though performing some kind of magic trick, she extracts her baby’s sausage like leg, and I realise with horror why they are selling the shoes.
His leg is normal – pudgy and healthy – but it leads down to a foot that’s splayed, like the flipper of some fat, pink frog. It’s as long as my hand and for a second I believe it’s plastic, but then the child laughs and flexes his flipper and I turn to face its father, who’s still smiling as though he wants reassurance or acceptance from me.
“We’re the future,” he says. “That’s what we were told.” He’s silent only briefly, though it feels longer. “We’re going to Alaska soon,” he adds with a kind of apologetic pride.
“They’ll try to make you all like this,” the mother says, as she reaches for me. “They can still … help your…” she gestures at my belly but I turn and run, out of the room and back to the car. I slam it into motion and take off, dangerously leaping between two peaks.
I’m almost home before I allow the car to slow down, and then stop; fearful sobs desperately try to breathe something like calm back into my body. I think of my sister, and remember her decision to leave. I miss her so much it hurts.
And then my hand slowly rests again on the child that grows inside of me, and my thoughts return to that evening, many months ago, when my husband and I decided to try.
“Oh my baby,” I whisper. “What have we done?”