LACKINGTON'S

speculative prose

When the Hawkweed Blooms, by Randall Hayes

4am: Morning Glory

Melatonin is down, prolactin is up. So is the baby, fussing, wet or hungry or something. It will be a couple of months before I can start teaching her sign language, so for now I start at the top of the list and work my way down. Not a good time for critical thought, more a time for reflection and emotional connection. Prolactin is a bonding molecule, though it does other stuff, too. Hundreds of functions.

Glory slurps strongly at the natural rubber nipple, taking in the formula, which I spiked with my plasma. Breast milk would have antibodies from her mother’s blood, filtered through the mammary capillaries, and the artificial versions are expensive. A little centrifuge, a little subterfuge, and we all go back to sleep with our immune systems none the wiser.

I walk out onto the porch, where the bumblebees are sleeping on the giant purple passionflowers. They didn’t bother going home. Too drunk on nectar? Too dark for them to find their way? Did they just pass out from exhaustion? I know how they feel.

The morning glories glow blue in the moonlight like the baby’s eyes.

*

6am: Poppy Mallow

Cortisol peaks, and my eyes pop open, despite my tiredness. I do not have a heart attack, though probably someday I will, and most likely at this time. Not a prophecy, just a statistical prediction, but even now most people don’t discriminate between those things. Astrology is as popular as ever. Economics, too.

“The Dow Jones average is up twelve points…”

“Shut up, house. Make me some fucking coffee.” That impatience is a bad habit I will have to break before the baby can understand me. Also at some point I will have to name the AI and stop calling it “house.” Maybe I’ll let Glory name it once she can talk. I’m sure her great-grandmother will have some opinion on the matter when she gets here later today.

The coffee is strong, rich with aromatic phenols and lactones, bitter with melanoidins. Molecular structure graphics decorate the smart countertop as I say their names, invoking them like spells, reminding me of things I studied years ago, strengthening synapses I haven’t used recently.

As I cross the yard towards the street where the aircab is waiting, I pluck some of the hot-pink mallow blossoms for the baby to play with. She sticks one of them in her mouth and gums it to colourful pieces with a salivary smile. The others we leave in the cab to perfume it for the next passengers.

*

9am: Portulaca grandiflora

More purple in the planters outside the airport. These we do not touch; they would be more bitter than the coffee. Glory fell asleep in the cab and drools down her front. The carrier keeps my shirt dry, thankfully.

Inside, for some reason, there is a three-metre-tall wooden statue of Bigfoot, caught in mid-stride like that most famous still from the Patterson film. Its woolly wooden breasts hang down in an absolute masterstroke of mind-fuckery. That one detail has derailed more skeptics than any amount of gait analysis or “found” DNA ever will. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before somebody decides to become Bigfoot, to incarnate as some kind of avatar of the wilderness and start haunting national parks or First Nation reserves. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it’s possible.

“Mateo?”

The woman facing me in front of a huge cluster of luggage-bots, Glory’s ancestor, looks younger than I am. I know she’s spent most of the last century in space, on the Proxima run, but Jesus. Is this all-time dilation, or has she had work done? Really good work. Expensive.

“Yeah. This is Glory.” I twist around so she can see the baby’s face. Next thing I know, she’s trying to pull the baby out of the carrier. She doesn’t ask, doesn’t wait for me to offer, just unclips the sides and grabs her. Glory seems OK with it, so I let it go.

In the cab, though, Glory starts to fuss, and the great-grand hands her back to me and then pulls her own shirt off over her head. She’s not wearing a bra, and tiny beads of milk are starting to form on her nipples, which are large, and dark against her otherwise very pale skin. She laughs at my reaction. “There’s not much privacy aboard ship.” She extends her arms and wiggles her fingers. “Let me have her back before I start dripping.” When I don’t respond quick enough to suit her she actually snaps her fingers at me like I was a fucking dog. That’s when I hit the cab’s panic button, which locks our seatbelts and raises an opaque sheet of Kevlar between us. Also activates the cop-cam. Not what it was designed for, but whatever. Alpha-ass bitch thinks she can order me around. Let her flash the cops when we land.

I start my breathing exercises and try to calm the baby. Six seconds in, pushing down with the diaphragm and then out with the intercostals, hold to let the CO2 build up, then six seconds out. Adrenaline has a longer half-life in men, and I need to be more calm than she is when the cops breathalyze us.

*

Noon: Quill Fameflower

Glory and I are watching from the green roof as the cops take off. They let us come inside while they questioned the great-grand on the sidewalk, outside the white picket fence. I took them coffee while Glory sat in the yard, inside the fence, tugging on a sow thistle. They look like a dandelion “on steroids.” I hate that phrase. Testosterone is only one of a large family of compounds, many of which have nothing to do with muscle growth.

The luggage drone was re-routed to a hotel, whose helipad roof is probably not covered in thousands of five-petalled pink stars, with yellow on the tips of their stamens. Or maybe it is; they grow on bare rock, practically. I’m sure it’s a very nice hotel.

She looks up at us from the street. She has her hand on my gate, but she at least has the sense not to open it. I win. Testosterone levels rise. Anxiety levels drop.

*

5pm: Mirabilis xalapa

The four-o’clocks are already open and buzzing with small native mason bees when she returns from her hotel, bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Actually just a pizza, but a wood-fired one with rosemary and three kinds of mushrooms. Glory has no teeth yet, but she can gum a shroom. Champion chewer. The exercise is important for jaw growth, so she won’t need braces as a preteen. Not a prophecy, just a prediction.

I make the great-grand an Italian mojito as a peace offering, and a lesson. “Four parts vodka. That’s me. Four parts club soda. That is my sharp and bubbly wife Daisy, your grand-daughter, who was very important to me, but who you have not mentioned once. Four parts simple syrup. Those are Glory’s four grandparents, one of whom is your daughter, whom you have also not mentioned. One part lime juice. That’s you.” I thought about making her the basil leaf garnish, but that seemed too mean.

She takes the drink, sips, and looks about ready to criticize my math when she bursts into laughter. Glory, sitting in her high chair next to the counter, has grabbed one of the lime wedges and stuffed it into her mouth. The baby makes a horrible pucker-face and shakes her whole body like a dog. Then she looks at the wedge and does it again.

Cortisol down, adrenaline down, endorphins up.

*

7pm: Oenothera biennis

We are outside as the sun sets behind the trees, to be replaced down here by the delicate yellow cups of the evening primrose. “When I went into space, my parents got my eggs out of storage and put them into surrogates to continue their line without my permission. They were rich, and they bribed the bank, and they got their way, no matter what the law said. I never knew I had daughters, or grand-daughters, until they were grown.”

“Why not do the same and grow your own?”

“The eggs are all gone. Have been for decades, down here.”

“Nuclear replacement? Take a healthy ovum, inject your own DNA?”

“Space medicine has gotten better at treating DNA damage, but it’s not perfect.” She looks at Glory, bouncing on her lap. “Maybe in another hundred years.”

*

9pm: Ipomoea alba

Melatonin rising.

The hand-size blooms of the moon vine are glowing white in the twilight before I finally agree to let her nurse the baby, in theory. She’s started taking artificial hormones to make herself lactate. I thought about that myself, after Daisy died. I thought hard about it.

“I may have only contributed one-eighth of her genes, but I can do this. I can give her calories, and essential fatty acids, and antibodies. And money. My trust fund grew for a long time, down here.”

“What about love? Can you give her that?”

“I never experienced much of that. She seems pretty lovable, though.”

The moon flowers spiral open like a solar sail, the former captain notices. And yawns, releasing a stew of dopamine, glycine, and oxytocin. Then Glory yawns in response, and then I do, stretching my jaw so hard it pops painfully, pouring more endorphins on the banked fires of my desire. I haven’t wanted to dwell on that thought, but there it is, erecting itself in the back of my mind, gradually working its way forward. Damn paraventricular nucleus.

“Come back tomorrow,” I say, “when the hawkweed blooms.”

*

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Issue 21 (Spring 2020)

Story copyright © 2020 by Randall Hayes

Artwork copyright © 2020 by P. Emerson Williams

Randall Hayes, your friendly neighbourhood neuroscientist, is urban-farming his way through the COVID apocalypse in Greensboro, North Carolina. The strawberries are particularly good this year. Until the magazine shut down recently, he was the science columnist for The Intergalactic Medicine Show. This story represents his very first fiction sale. Commentary on this and other stories can be found at his occasional blog on the cryptocurrency-powered site, http://www.steemit.com/@plotbot2015.

P. Emerson Williams has an extensive background as a multimedia artist whose work synthesizes alchemical musical expressions with visual art, video, and performance. As a member of UK theatrical company FoolishPeople, his work included the creation of soundscapes and scores, set and graphic design, and live and voice acting. Williams brings his visual work to performing live with Jarboe around the world, expanding these performances with aspects of multimedia, including painted banners, video using footage shot around the world, and animation created from his own visual art.

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This entry was posted on November 9, 2020 by in Stories.
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