In the Image of Evie


 

A purple unicorn stands sentinel in the poster above Zoe’s bed, its hoofs planted in clouds that linger at the edge of a rainbow. Its golden horn shimmers, a hint of magic beneath the glass casing. I wonder why it hangs here, in this place beyond miracles, where patients come to die.


I take Zoe’s small hand. Blood seeps through the bandages covering her head; she shrinks into a shroud of sheets. The warmth of her palm fills mine; my pulse thrums against her limp fingertips.


A single chip mars the metallic blue polish that Evie painted shakily across Zoe’s nails last night. They’d played with my manicure kit before bedtime, singing along to the theme of their favorite TV show. I’d walked in on their game, gripping two sweating glasses, my knuckles as white as the milk within. Evie finished hers in a few gulps, a mustache staining her upper lip. Zoe sipped delicately, watching me wide-eyed over the rim of her glass. I lowered myself to the edge of the couch, grasping its arm to steady myself against a wave of vertigo brought on by nail polish fumes, that silly droning song, and the numbing pinch of my own guilt.


When Zoe was harvested, genetic corrections made her a slightly more perfect version of my Evie. Zoe walked while Evie crawled. Zoe spoke in polite sentences before she was two; Evie still flung her cup across the room, struggling to find words to tell us what she needed.


But we knew what Evie needed from the time we first heard her heartbeat, when I still nurtured her within my body.


Evie needed Zoe.


Zoe’s breathing is so soft it’s nearly imperceptible as a nurse-bot approaches, an artificial smile plastered on its almost-human features. Programmed to appear compassionate, it fluffs Zoe’s pillow. “I’m sure you’d prefer to be with your daughter upstairs in recovery,” it says, adjusting the thick, plastic yellow armband that rests just above Zoe’s elbow. “Happy to expedite this process, if you’d like.”


I glance at Zoe, her eyes dormant beneath closed lids. “I need more time.”


“Very well.” The bot turns away, moving toward a small form lying in the next bed, bandaged like Zoe and wearing the same yellow armband. The bot presses a red button on the child’s band and hovers for a moment, taking a pulse before pulling the sheet over the still body.


Choking back a sob, I scan the row of beds lined up against the wall, the small inhabitants wrapped in cotton and linen with no one at their side. They are left to die here alone, with only the cold touch of a nurse-bot for comfort.


Children born of necessity, just like Zoe.


The doctors said Evie would begin showing signs of dementia by the time she entered first grade. Like many children conceived too close to the blast zone, Evie had a mutation that would rob her of her memories.


We began the cloning process as Evie grew in utero, making the same decision as so many others around us. Though double-strollers cluttered the local parks and daycares, no one smiled with amusement at this multitude of multiples. Instead, we looked to each other with a solemn, shared understanding as we balanced our children on a teeter-totter, knowing that one day we’d be forced to choose between them.


Evie’s tremors started just after her sixth birthday. A month later, when she forgot the name of her beloved stuffed bunny, we scheduled the transfer. The quicker we acted, the better the chance to save both girls.


Zoe should have had the opportunity to live a happy, yet simple, life after the procedure. But I could tell by the slump in the surgeon’s shoulders, by the way he evaded my eyes that something had gone wrong. Evie’s damage had spread from the hippocampus to the frontal lobe, and they’d needed to extract far more from Zoe than anticipated.


We created Zoe in the image of Evie – raised to share the same experiences so when the time came for transfer, Evie could resume her life seamlessly, as if waking from a dream. I’d tried to remain detached from Zoe, focused on Evie’s needs. But somewhere in that collection of moments that mold the foundation of a life, I’d discovered little things about Zoe that made her distinct: the way her brow furrowed in confusion at my jokes, and how she whined about the importance of keeping toys in their proper place. As I watched her fall asleep each night, holding hands with Evie, I discovered that I loved Zoe, too.


Zoe’s death looms with the same heaviness I felt as I awaited her creation. She withers in the bed just as she grew in the laboratory, slow and resolute, while Evie thrives two floors above, eyes fluttering beneath closed lids as synapses fire and connect, the gift of memory restored through Zoe’s sacrifice. I wonder if Evie will adopt Zoe’s love of chocolates, of lilacs, if she’ll marvel at the complex structures of falling snowflakes, like Zoe did.


I wonder if I’ll still see Zoe in Evie’s eyes.


The nurse-bot returns, a clipboard tucked under its arm. “Mrs. Williamson, your daughter is awake.”


I stand, raising my hand to my mouth to stop my lower lip from quivering.


“I’m not ready.” I lay my hand on Zoe’s arm. Still warm. “Please.”


 “Sorry.” The nurse-bot shakes its head. “We need the bed.”


The bot grasps Zoe’s armband and pushes a red button, plunging a needle into her skin.


“No!”


My legs collapse. I fall, dazed, like I’m peering through a cloud.


The purple unicorn still stands watch at the edge of the rainbow, its shimmering horn a betrayal.


The nurse-bot pulls the sheet over Zoe.


My breath catches. I can’t stop shaking.


I swallow hard.


Time to pull myself together.


There’s no hope here. But two floors up, Evie waits.


And she needs me, now more than ever.





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