ASA Student Writing Competition Grand Prize Winner: J. Kyle Hughes Category: Fiction
“Zalis will see you now,” said the perky voice behind the burl-oak reception counter.
The specialist’s office boasted leather appointments and a large picture window that overlooked the beltway. The strains of a string ensemble wafted from Bose speakers. The elfin man clasped each guest’s right hand enthusiastically. “Please, make yourself comfortable,” he urged, gesturing Allen, Sean, and Gaea to the overstuffed furniture. Zalis then rolled a leather office chair over to them and sat down. Zalis clasped his hands together and said, “We are here to talk about starting a new chapter; an exciting new adventure. To business?”
Gaea’s attention was drawn to a print of a Renaissance painting by the coffee maker. “So, what’s with the half-naked chick by the well?”
“Ahhh…" Zalis replied, “Titian. Sacred and Profane Love. Europe was just starting to awaken from the intellectual oppression of the middle ages. A handful of visionaries began to paint secular topics, like the human form in all its glory, but they usually had to guise them as Greek or Roman deities to placate the Church. Titian had the courage to allow beauty to simply be...” Zalis allowed his words to hang in the air.
Allan and Sean clasped hands. Allan offered, “We hope our child grows up to be a Renaissance man. A dancer. A painter. A musician. A true visionary.”
Zalis’s eyes sparkled. Is this something that you are seeking with this outcome? We have an elegant protocol…”
Zalis brushed his worsted wool trousers with his palms. “What I want to put before you today is anouveau technology. The Consortium just recently approved a handful of clinics here in the States. Well, long story short, we are one of them.”
The trio gave the specialist bewildered looks.
Zalis queried, “Have you given any consideration to the qualities that distinguish renaissance minds from those that which are intellectually more … pedestrian’? Aestheticism was the fountain of the Renaissance. It is the muse which empowered some of the world’s most aesthetic souls. Tchaikovsky. Alexander the Great. Lord Byron. Michelangelo. Franco Zeffirelli.”
Sean nodded. “The aesthetes that you named were all gay or bisexual.”
Gaea interjected, “So you are saying being queer makes you some kind of genius or something?
“Nothing like that,” Zalis chuckled. “Genius spouts from intelligence. But artistic sensitivity, at least in men, is strongly correlated with sexual amalgamation.” The specialist offered Godiva truffles to his clients. Gaea selected one in a purple and gold foil wrapper. When she saw “chocolate liqueur” on its label, she surreptitiously dropped it back in the dish.
Zalis forged ahead, “Notably, a disproportionally large proportion of artists, musicians, sculptors, and other aesthetes have same-sex preferences. So, these attributes are inextricably linked.”
Allan seemed genuinely interested. “What are we talking about, exactly?”
Zalis steepled his fingers. “I will walk you through the procedure. At 21 days, the donor-host is given a shot in the upper thigh.”
Gaea groaned. “I don’t want hip shots!”
“It is a 25-guage needle, so you’ll barely notice it.”
“What is the purpose for the injection?” Allan inquired.
“If a specific class of corticoids is introduced repeatedly during the first six weeks in utero, the fetus can be groomed with the maternal antigens to the corticoids. It used to be an infrequent fraternal birth order effect, but now we can manipulate it in the lab.”
Sean and Allan exchanged glances. Sean asked, “And this will guarantee that our son will be an aesthete?”
Zalis shook the tablet computer at Sean. “No. It makes it highly probable for the outcome to be aesthetic.”
Gaea whispered, “It’s not an outcome. It’s a child.”
Gaea seemed to be boring a hole in the carpet with her stare. “Why would you want to do this? Why would you want to make him like boys?”
Allan put his arm around Gaea. He explained, “It’s not about limiting his future. It’s about unlocking it. It could open-up whole new worlds to him.”
Sean turned to Zalis. He asked, “So this aestheticism, it would be ingrained when our son reaches adolescence?”
Zalis was cautious. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Remember, this is a process; a garden path.” Zalis paused. “Here’s an analogy. We are tone-deaf to Arabian harmonies. But, if we had been exposed to these harmonics while we were still young, we would be able to hear them after the neural pruning that ravages the adolescent brain. Are you with me so far?”
The trio nodded.
“So,” Zalis continued, “What we are offering is a unique way to preferentially tune part of a fetus’s genetic endowment through antigen therapy. The accoutrementation process continues until one day this young man receives the insight that he can perceive the visual harmonies and overtones that others can’t. Antigenic interventions are still more art than science at this point. But, the thing of it is, this young man will be an aesthete.”
“And gay.” Gaea interjected.
Sean turned to face Zalis. He blurted, “What are we talking about here? What is this? Are we seriously going to choose for this child to be gay?”
Allan quietly responded, “I never chose to be gay. Did you?”
Sean erupted, “It’s not the same thing! Think about it. What’s that, kid? You wanted to have a normal life? Well, that’s too bad. You don’t quite fit with the boys? You don’t quite fit with the girls? You spend half your time coordinating your socks and sweaters and the other half looking over your shoulder for bullies and bigots? Well, that’s just too damn bad! …Because your loving parents and some doctor with a hypodermic and a god complex chose this for you!”
“Doctor Zalis is trying to help us, Sean,” Alan soothed. “This is not appropriate.”
Sean reddened. “Don’t talk to me about inappropriate! Dr. Moreau here wants to harvest eggs from poor college girls, knock them up, then juice them up before their babies even have time to grow fingernails! Our kid grows up feeling like he is not quite like everybody else, he is the butt of every joke, he sees his name on every bathroom wall, and miracle of miracles, if he is somehow able to see up from down, and fall in love with someone who loves him back, he can’t take his sweetheart to prom, because that, too, would be inappropriate. But what the hell! Our kid is fashionably je ne sais quoi, the good doctor gets to go on a book tour, and when Frankenfop decides to buy bath towels, at least they’ll be in complementary colors!”
Tears were streaming down Sean’s cheeks. Alan moved toward him. He firmly gripped his upper arms. He gazed at him and whispered, “I’ve lived it, too.”
A Franz Schubert composition lilted through the air.
Zalis drifted toward the empty coffeepot. He began opening stained oak cabinets. “The truffles are my guilty pleasure, but they never fail to make me thirsty. I thought I had some Hazelnut decaf up here.” He crossed the room and added, “I’ll just be a minute.”
When the specialist returned, he saw the quorum gathered on the couch. Zalis gave his warmest smile. “I think we’ve had some very rich conversations today, but I know there is a lot to think about.”
Gaea was holding hands with Alan and Sean who now sat on either side of her. She said, “We’ve been discussing Jordan. We’ve reached a decision.” Zalis looked at her expectantly.
Gaea continued, “We want you to help us have a child, but not a designer baby. Boy or girl. Tall or short. Gay or straight. We don’t want to do anything that makes this baby different than they were meant to be.”
Zalis sat in stunned silence for a moment then responded “But…if you aren’t going to change anything, why do you want to procedure to happen here?”
Alan clasped his hands together. “Dr. Zalis, you have already changed something. We have had a rich conversation.”
Sean spoke, “Jordan will hear classic poetry, and see great paintings, and experience great music…”
Gaea interrupted, “And go to baseball games, and football games, and wrestling matches.”
Sean continued, “But however Jordan chooses to live…"
Allan chimed in, “And whomever he or she chooses to love...”
Gaea finished the strain, “We are going to simply allow Jordan to just….be.”
Zalis rubbed his fingers across his forehead. “What about religiosity?” he queried.
Allan sighed and then said, “We’ll find a place. Where love is unconditional. Where the Bible isn’t a recipe book, but an invitation to a conversation with a Creator who makes people see the world in different ways, create in different ways, and love in different ways, and yet they all equally belong.”
Zalis allowed himself the luxury of a long sigh. “I wanted to help you. I wanted to let the light in.”
Gaea pulled her hands away from Sean and Allan. She clasped them around each of Zalis’ wrists. “Thank you, doctor. You must know you have. You already have…”