The Maintenance of the Species

Posted on March 11, 2006 by Jenna

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A Saturday bonus entry, somewhat atypical in theme.

“Wom wom wom, womwom, womwomwom,” Alice’s mother had explained.

Which is all right, because that’s how all adults talked to Alice when she was young. The other children had been clear and articulate—perhaps even unnaturally so, Alice had concluded, during her doctoral studies in anthropology. The other children had been clear and articulate, but the adults had seemed peculiarly incapable of coherent speech.

So: “Wom wom womwomwom wom,” is all that she remembers from the talk, as her husband slowly undresses her.

Thinking back, Alice finds it surprising that she had been able to garner any meaning whatsoever from her mother’s unenunciated crooning; that the gestures and the humming warble had seemed adequate, however barely, to explain periods, love, reproduction, and sex. She does not know what will happen to her, but she knows—

Somewhere carried on that wave of random sound—

That what is to happen is simultaneously magical and sinful. That it is possessed of that peculiarly unwholesome character that is redeemed for her—as public singing for the Oompa-Loompas, as corpse disposal for the Untouchables, as cruelty for the prison-keepers—by its assignment to her as part of her social place.

She does not know why it is that her husband is flashing blue, green, blue, green.

But she understands that it is magical.

“Wom wom womwom,” she remembers. Perhaps that was the bit where her mother tried to explain about the birds. Why has her husband released the birds? They are flying in every direction. There will be feathers in the bed. It isn’t entirely explicable to her. But her mother, no doubt, had explained.

“I think,” she says, the words coming slowly from some deep place of thought, “that it was unnatural, that place.”

There is a certain resentment on her husband’s face; a certain resistance to the notion that here, in this magical and sinful moment, Alice should choose to voice thoughts that are not entirely on point. But nevertheless he answers her, his voice low and sibilant, “It was necessary, if humanity was to survive.”

“We were children for so very long,” Alice says.

Her husband sighs. He looks longingly at the cage with the bees, but he is a good man—

She knows this. She believes this. He is a good man.—

And so he sets aside, for a moment, the consummation of the wedding night to soothe his bride. He sits down beside her. He cradles her against him.

“Life is a mystery,” he says.


“Look,” he says. He gestures down at the strange inflating, pulsing organ in his lap; at the window that looks out at the green-white sunset of the world; at the way that the firebird, on alighting temporarily on its perch, ignites, squawks with profound irritation, and performs the stop, drop, and roll that is the constant character of its life. “The known world is so strange. There are so many things that we do not understand.”

“Mm,” Alice concedes.

“So why is it surprising that beyond the walls of your city there was something else?”

Alice thinks about this.

“Here,” her husband says. He puts his hand on the bubble tape that shields his chest. “Here. This is where we live.”

“In … the … erogenous thorax?”

“In the heart,” he clarifies. “The love and power there is what we need to cling to. The rest— let it be an untamed mystery. Let it surprise you.”

“Wom womwom wom wom,” her mother had said.

Looking back, now, Alice isn’t entirely sure that the creature that had raised her had really been talking about sex. It might have been the explanation, so often demanded, for the peculiarly plastic and amorphous nature of the dogs; or why, when Pig Pen walked by, he was so often followed by the adults in their orange suits and radiation dusters. Perhaps, at that, the noises had been meaningless, expressing nothing more than that residual anxiety that mothers feel when sensing the distant passage of a thrax.

“Wom womwom.”


“How can I know if this is right?” Alice asks, as gently he pushes her from him, stands, and walks back to the cage of bees.

“You must trust,” he says kindly, “that this is what God has intended.”

And Alice, like the unclenching of a fist, releases all her fear.