Lactate Machine

I went to the hospital for a hysterectomy and was there a whole day and night before I noticed Moll walking down the hallway with her hair falling over her slumped, slender shoulders. I invited Moll into my hospital room, and we were able to make each other smile, in shy exchanges, and hold each other's hands. Moll was so still and uncommunicative that she reminded me of a mollusk. I could throw a net of ideas around her and daydream. On her mouth I could place any word. I asked her to come home with me, and in the car she watched the racing sky balloons float overhead. If Moll stuck her head out the window, tiny hands waved back.

When I met her she was unemployed, but she soon made a small salary by participating in a clinical protocol studying the amounts of toxins in women's breast milk. She took a series of tests that checked her body for organochlorines, or toxinsfrom city air that invade the blood like microscopic missiles.

One night when Moll was undressing I noticed that her breasts had faint pricks in a small area, as if a spider had left footprints there. I asked what had caused this, and she explained to me proudly that soon she will generate milk for a new trial formula, milk that will glow like a halo and endow the world with disease resistance.

I was concerned – at the beginning she had told me there would only be tests and giving blood. So I asked her, Why haven't you told me this, Moll? How do they make you lactate?

I had to endure Moll's methods of silence. A slab of light from the window fell on her forehead as she asked me to visit Dr. Dispinseri, who oversaw the protocol, myself and put to him whatever questions I had.

Moll pulled the sheets up, readying herself for bed. But I felt stricken. I went the next day to see Dr. Dispinseri and to ask him, What was the point of using my girlfriend as a lactating machine? As a breast machine, a milk valve, a baby-formula mechanism?

He wanted a baby formula that would simulate human milk but would be purified of any chemical bioaccumulation. The treatment would pump a child so full of macrophages that the child's growth would accelerate at fifty percent, making it adult-sized by age seven. He wanted super-babies. To anybody's face he claimed the formula would improve worldwide nutrition. Behind all cocky subterfuge, he desired to patent my girlfriend, my only love.

He was a handsome man-boy, his eyes and mouth bunched around a small nose. I asked him to explain his protocol to me, as far as Moll was concerned.

His eyes narrowed on my own as he spoke. According to him, there are 350 man-made contaminants that have been found in the breast milk of mothers. All his clinic desired to do is preserve the good stuff, like the amino acids and antibodies and fatty acids, and then add more nutrients to keep infants from any susceptibility to diseases. This is the aim of his work, he emphasized – to guarantee a healthier future for this planet.

He went on to explain that under a microscope he had used a glass needle to push sperm into an egg extracted from Moll; he then inserted this preembryonic web of tissue back into her uterus. He had also taken breast milk, cultured to perfection inside a rhesus monkey, and developed this in Moll's chest to be ready for the emerging child.

I felt fierce and betrayed. Moll did not have the presence of mind for this decision. I pointed out that if he had looked hard at her medical history, he could've seen that she's just recovered from mental instability, from an addiction problem.

He replied that Moll seemed competent to him – and that only a relative could make any decisions by proxy.

It later occurred to me, on the drive home, to interpret his gestures in a new way. The way he stroked his cheek and smiled with his eyes curbed to one side, how he drawled Moll's name with paternal confidence – it was possible he had used his own sperm. It turned my tongue sour and rattled my temples. He was as entranced with her as I was – and who wouldn't be? Her body burned light patterns in my mind that I couldn't erase if I tried.

I told her that evening to get in the car, that we needed to talk, but I didn't stop driving. We parked at a motel on the outskirts of another city. Inside, the motel's rectangular box heater was on and blowing air through the iron slats on its top. Moll put her legs against the heater and let the hot air blast up her skirt, her hair's stray tangles whipping against her face. I wanted to drop to my knees and place my hands on her thighs, but at any instant she became too fragile. She then lay down on the bed, and her body froze like a fossil.

Moll explained to me as I cried beside her that it was a very sterile thing. You can't get more impersonal than having someone stick a needle into you, she claimed.

I knew better. That kind of relationship is all in code, and code becomes intimate when no outsider can dissolve its mutual contract. She hadn't meant to hurt me. Only the doctor's offer was too compelling. Moll liked things boiled to essentials, two-dimensional maps she could trace with her finger. She wanted to believe in a single, nourishing solution to the world's problems, one that is white and creamy.

I watched the slats of light from the cars' headlights passing by the window, crawling over her. They were like the pulse of a horizon that won't stay still. I wondered then, how far into critical history will my beautiful Moll travel?

That evening we took a stroll, and a balloonist passing over us dropped down and asked to give me and Moll a ride. We accepted. Up in the sky, I pretended we were all moths hitching rides in the wind to pollinate our anger over the world. The balloonist held onto the string that thread up through the balloon and into the gas chamber, his arm red and sinewy. His eyes must have seen much farther than ours, and the balloon was like a portent of Moll's distended stomach, growing large with the doctor's deceit.

The next day, Moll began to lactate. Her stomach was no bigger, but I put my lips on her and tasted the milk coming out. I would drain her of this poison before the baby ever began to emerge. I would see if my bones grew larger and my cerebral cortex sprouted new, complex grooves. We could never return. Moll and I would see what it's like to be a truly symbiotic feeding machine. Maybe she would flow indefinitely, with an Edenic surplus.

I was enlisting her because she was enfeebled and gorgeous and I wanted to hook tubes from her to me. I wanted us to function as one body. Torn in half like a clam, then set together again.

About This Story

  • Author: Morgan Currie
  • Published Online: Jan 13, 2012