“Do you take milk or cream in your coffee, Anna? I’m so forgetful these days.”
“Neither, dear. Don’t fret about it.”
Anna gave a little sigh and passed the cup to her friend Liz. Then they sat quietly for a moment at the table, Anna stirring the sugar in her cup and clinking the spoon against the side. The coffee table was in front of a big bay window in the parlor, looking out onto the front yard.
Outside on the grassy hill they could see a small tousle-headed boy running about with a galumphing sheepdog. The boy was about four or five years old, skinny, with a small man-body set upon legs made to go. He had on a yellow shirt with a smiley face on it, blue jeans, and little white sneakers. He was laughing and calling out, “Here, Duke, here Dukey boy,” waving a stick, while Duke obliged him by leaping up and knocking him over.
They rolled down the hill and got up again. Now the shirt had a healthy splotch of mud across the smiley face. “Here, Duke, here Duke,” called the boy, giggling, while Duke went after him again, bounding on his front paws, like a cartoon dog, his tongue hanging out and his tail going in windmills.
Anna sighed again and sipped her coffee. “It hasn’t worked out,” she said.
Liz tilted her head. “But I thought that you had hired the best breeders in the country.”
“That’s what we thought,” said Anna. “They had a rating of almost five stars, you know. Not cheap, not these quick-mart jobs with the missing pedigrees and the dirty slides. But we’ve had problems right from the start. Very disappointed.”
“Those two certainly seem to get along,” said Liz. The boy was now imitating the dog, crouching down with his hands on the ground and his rump in the air, making growly noises, while Duke did the same.
“Yes, they do,” said Anna, her voice quavering. “I’m sorry, please forgive me. It’s a hard thing to go through.”
“I understand, dear,” said Liz, laying her hand on Anna’s and giving it a pat. “We grow so close to the creatures. But what went wrong?”
“Everything went wrong. First, we wanted a female, and the breeders assured us that that would be no problem, that was the easiest part of the order, and so on.”
“Well, you certainly didn’t get that,” said Liz. Duke trotted over to a fence post and lifted his leg to relieve himself, sniffing it afterward to make double sure. Then he went back to playing with the boy.
“You have no idea,” said Anna. “Sometimes I come down here in the morning and it’s a disaster area. The other day he fished out of the garbage a broken toy we’d thrown away, and there were dirty napkins and scraps of food everywhere. I scolded him, but you know how they are. They give you a hang-dog look and then in a minute they’ve forgotten it ever happened, and do exactly the same thing the next time. It’s what I said to Jim right at the start,” said Anna, her voice acquiring a touch of severity and determination. “I said I didn’t want the mess, I didn’t want the aggression, and he agreed with me, and so did the breeders, those liars.”
“Can you get your money back, at least?”
“No,” said Anna. “There’s a law or something.”
“What a shame,” said Liz. “But aside from that …”
“Aside from that,” Anna went on, “he just is not very smart. We wanted one we could enter in the competitions. We wanted one to show off. It was important to us. I said to Jim,” she said, tapping at the table with her index finger, “we are going to keep only one, so we want only the best quality. After all, I have to give up a lot to take care of him, so I deserve some return on my investment.”
“You know,” said Liz, “the Walkers got one the old fashioned way, just taking whatever came, and he ended up just fine.”
“The Walkers also like to play the lottery,” said Anna with a sniff. “In the end, you get what you pay for, and that’s that.”
“I always said so,” said Liz, but she kept looking through the window. Now the boy was climbing the lower branches of a snaggly old apple tree, while Duke raced around it, barking his head off.
“Not to mention the noise,” said Anna.
“Well, they do say that most of them are noisy,” said Liz.
“I can’t take it,” said Anna. “I have a sensitive constitution. The noise gets to me.”
“There’s some that can take it, and some that can’t,” said Liz, blinking. “What does Jim think of it?”
“Oh, him,” said Anna. “Just like a man. He was the one who didn’t really want it. But then when I begged him and nagged him he not only gave in, he threw himself into it. He picked the breeders. He ordered the printout of the genome going back four generations, and he mixed and matched genes for the probabilities. He got one of his friends in the math department to run some calculations. It isn’t an exact science, not yet. He isolated genes for build and shape of the head and color and everything. And intelligence. That was the key thing, of course. Intelligence. More than personality. Intelligence.”
“So it was Jim who settled on the order?”
“Yes, it was Jim. And when we got it, he was so proud of himself, you’d think that he was the sire!” Anna and Liz laughed. It was just like men to think so, even if they had done no more than put in their two cents’ worth.
“What are you going to do about it?” said Liz. Now the boy was perched on a branch, dangling the stick, while Duke was sitting below, begging for it and occasionally batting at it with a paw. “Attaboy, Duke,” said the boy, giggling.
“We’re going to put him down,” said Anna. Liz caught her breath.
“Couldn’t you give him away instead?” said Liz, who lived alone in an apartment in the center of town. She didn’t have anywhere near the income that Anna and Jim had, so she would take what she could get.
“Oh dear me, no, I couldn’t do that,” said Anna, beginning to sob. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t think of him somewhere else. He would miss us terribly. Besides,” she said, “it isn’t painful, you know. They just put a needle in his shoulder, like so, and he falls asleep. They even have arrangements now, where you can put him in a box with—with one of his favorite toys,” said Anna, breaking down under the force of great feeling.
Liz reached across the table and squeezed her shoulder. “What does Jim think of it?” she asked.
“Jim,” said Anna. “He hasn’t spoken to me in three days.” Silence fell upon them.
“That’s not right,” said Liz, looking out the window again.
“I told him so,” said Anna. “Who has to take care of him all the time? Who has to give up the most? Who is more important, me or, or,” she said, reaching for the right term, the scientific term, “a dumb animal, a dumb animal! God in heaven, it’s not as if he’s a person!”
“He’s very cute,” said Liz. The boy had tumbled out of the tree, and Duke was now straddling him and licking his face with a big sloppy tongue.
“Please don’t make it harder for me than it already is.”
“I’m sorry,” said Liz. “Have you thought about getting another?”
“When the time is right,” said Anna, “we probably will. But next time we are going to go for only the best. You get what you pay for.”
“That you do,” said Liz, blinking again.
“They have a kind of factory, they call it, in Denmark, and people have been raving about the results. It costs a lot, but what good is money if all you do is hoard it up?”
“I always said so,” said Liz. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Dear, I knew I could depend on you,” said Anna, genuinely touched. “We have an appointment with the doctor, you know, this Friday afternoon. So if you could do some baby sitting, I’d be eternally grateful.”
“Of course,” said Liz. “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”
“Oh, thank you! You won’t have much to do. He’s easy to take care of. We’ll feed him in the morning. In the afternoon he gets a third of a cup of the dry food in the bag over there. You’ll probably have to walk him once, because he likes to go after he eats. Otherwise he’ll just sleep on the floor. He knows you, so you won’t have any problem. We should be back by about four, but if you don’t mind I’d like to make a quick stop at the convenience store for some eggs and milk on the way home. Tommy!” she shouted through the window, making motions with her hands. The boy was now rolling with Duke in a particularly muddy patch of yard.
“Don’t you worry yourself,” said Liz, getting up. “I’ll go fetch him. Will you be saving his clothes for keepsakes? I know a couple with a kid who could use them.”
“Let me think about it,” said Anna.
. . .
No, people will never turn children into articles of manufacture. No, never—and entire nations will not give up their common sense, common decency, and constitutional liberties in exchange for tawdry and animalistic sexual license, corrupting the human person and devastating the most vulnerable among us, children unborn and born, the weak of will, and the poor. Will this happen? Its equivalent has already happened. This is not to foretell but to reveal.