by Alex Wilson
The cartoon butterflies were sleeping along the pushlight nursery wallpaper as Charlene fumbled with her cradle’s locking mechanism, using fingers too large and uncoordinated for anything so practical. She blinked away the fuzziness of the low light–clearing her eyes for less than a second–and fought against the calming scent of lavender wafting up through her mattress. She flexed the monster in her throat. She didn’t love the feeling, but would miss such control over at least this one part of her body.
She heard muffled voices in the next room, beyond the transparent gate of her cradle, beyond the sleeping butterflies. Her fathers were fighting again, and they’d forgotten to activate the night muffler to hide the sounds. This was a good thing, this night. Of course they usually didn’t check on her again after nine o’clock, but it usually wasn’t so important that she hear them coming if they did.
Six months ago, Charlene had averaged three hours, forty-four minutes to open her cradlelock on any given evening; tonight it took her only forty-seven minutes. She wasn’t ready to celebrate that her physical development might finally, slowly be catching up with that of her mind. She wasn’t sure what that meant yet. She had an idea that it wasn’t entirely good news.
Again, she flexed the monster. She was four years old, and this limited mastery of her throat was still her only material proficiency.
The lock clicked. The cradle gate swung gently open. The voices in the next room became louder and clearer.
“Calm down, Gary. There’s still hope.”
“Think you’ll still say that after we’ve been changing diapers another twenty years?”
Daddy Oliver was calling Daddy Gary by his given name. That meant he was upset. When they weren’t upset, they called each other Chum or Babe, terms of affection rather than identity. She’d figured out all this on her own, from watching, from listening, from reading. She understood that degrees of isolation and socialization weren’t the only indicators of potential, and sometimes her fathers did, too. But could observation, without interaction, adequately prepare her for life? Could she defeat the monster entirely on her own?