There once was a poor old woman that lived in the foothills of Green Valley. She was not poor in the financial sense. Rather, she was unfortunate by the circumstances of her life, which in turn had also made her old. Her name was Mary Foster and she was known the county over as “The Human Incubator.” You see Mary was pregnant and had been so for the last 257 months. Her pregnancy went as any pregnancy might. She went in for regular ultrasounds, took her vitamins, and kept away from cigarettes and alcohol – save the occasional glass of wine.
Everything seemed to be right on schedule until the day she was due to give birth, but the baby never came. The doctors told her to be patient because “these things sometimes happen.”
And so she waited.
But the baby never came. And when seven days passed without any change the doctors decided to induce. To their surprise the child held tight. They concluded that the only course of action would be to retrieve the child through C-section. The doctors put Mary under and sliced her open. The lead surgeon put his hands inside and was shocked to feel a bite. He pulled his hand away, staring in disbelief at the slice in Mary’s belly.
At that moment a tiny hand came out dawning a middle finger. It was clear then that the doctors had only one option: sew Mary back up. It was clear the child did not wish to be born. And so the baby never came.
Months went by and Mary remained pregnant. Holidays past her by, children grew tall and strong, and still the baby never came. Mary’s life was now altered into a state of perpetual pregnancy and thus thrown out of whack. And as the months and years ticked by, and the child inside her grew, she found herself incapacitated. Soon the burden grew so large she could not walk and had to be wheeled around everywhere she went. Her diet was forever changed, as was her bathroom schedule. She sold all of her normal clothes and spent a fortune on a closet full of muumuus – the only thing that fit after her belly got too large. But worst of all, consumed with pain, she only got a few hours of broken sleep each night.
The father had never been in the picture – a one-night stand with a traveler passing through the valley on his way out west. She’d never got his name, let alone a number to reach him. So Mary was forced to move into a nursing home where they tended to her needs. For all intents and purposes, the father might as well have not existed at all. But nonetheless, Mary pictured his face often and cursed it. After a while though even his face faded from her memory and she was left with just a feeling. To say it was a single emotion would be misleading – it was a melting pot of them. She felt hatred and afraid and anxious and discomfort and frustration and happiness and love, followed by lots and lots of pain.
At first the baby was referred to as “It.” But after a while, Mary saw fit to give the child a name, so she called him Junior. And as Junior aged within Mary, he grew, siphoning away her youth. By the time she was middle aged she was already an old woman with liver spots and wrinkles about her face. Her skin had grown thin and her eyes had grown weary. There was no hope left in her entire being.
And just when the last drop of hope had been suckled, and there was nothing left for Junior to reap, he finally came. Fully grown with teeth and hair and a beard, Mary awoke one morning to find Junior at the foot of her bed. Yet, despite his appearance, he had the mental capacity of an infant.
Mary spoon-fed him, scooping up the spittle and shoveling it back into his man sized mouth. She changed his Depends and his clothes, and even gave him baths. And in spite of all her newfound hardship, Mary had never been so happy. At last she was able to stand and walk on her own – something she’d dreamt of whenever she did find some sleep. She could drink alcohol again. And even though she never smoked cigarettes before, she started up, just because she could. She had her body back.
Junior grew old with a child’s mind, relying on his mother for everything. She cooked and cleaned and even earned money despite his fully capable body. For he was naïve to the ways of the world and, like any child, assumed that all the world to be his as his juvenile right.
Then, one day, old and withered and drained, Mary grew ill. She could not take care of herself or son any longer. She needed Junior to take care of her. The man pouted. He pouted and kicked and cried and cursed. The house fell into dismay as dishes pilled high, and clothes grew in heaps, soiled and stained. An odor fell about the place so foul not even Junior could deny it.
At last, he realized the responsibility he must bear. So Junior picked up a spoon and began to feed his mother the way she had once done for him.
He ventured out into the world and discovered, ever so harshly, that the world was in fact not immediately his. Rather, it was up to him to earn his way and stake his claim. He found work and in time an appreciation for his mother took hold. Resentment had all but left his being as he’d realized Mary, with all her hardship, had always done the best she could do. And wasn’t that all anyone could ever ask? And so the day came when Mary finally died. Old and grey, with a smile on her face and Junior at her side.
J. Ryan Sommers has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. He and his wife have recently left the windy city and relocated in Houston where Sommers plans to teach and continue writing. With “Millennial” Sommers looks to explore and depict the struggles of responsibility we bear for the ones we love.