Father of My Soul
by Michael Bracken
© godfer - Fotolia.com All rights reserved.
My father was a virgin when I was born. I didn't know then, of course, but I learned of it later.
I was working at GeneTech, running comparatives on Marla and myself to see what kind of children we might have if we left everything up to nature. We were odds-on favorites to produce blonde, blue-eyed twin girls. With that in mind, and despite my own occupation as a genetic manipulator, I saw no reason to tamper with our coital adventures.
Our proven fertility had eliminated any need for test tubes, but the final decision regarding genetic manipulation could only be made after extensive testing. We had long before decided to allow the seeming randomness of nature to provide us with the basic genetic structure of our children, but since deficiencies could be caught and corrected in the womb long before any fetus became viable, I insisted we take precautions. I was fully prepared to parent our children, to love and to cherish each of them as my parents had loved and cherished me; I was not prepared to deal with unnecessary physical deformities.
With time on my hands that afternoon, having completed the Livingston-Vinicoff project by mid-morning and with nothing new scheduled till the following day, I ran tests four generations back. Marla's ancestors were genetically pure--not a chromosomal disorder among them anywhere. So, too, were my mother and her ancestors. On the other hand, my father's genetic heritage ended with my father.
I reran the tests three times, wondering what I had done wrong, before I came to believe what the results had repeatedly proven.
My father was not my father.
I fidgeted for the next two hours, trying and consistently failing to immerse myself in the routine paperwork that grid-locks every large corporation. My attention kept returning to the stack of computer printouts on the corner of my desk. Finally, I swept everything to the side, jumbling the Livingston-Vinicoff report together with the Wilson-Carluchi preliminaries and the supply requisitions awaiting my approval. I spread the computer sheets containing my father's genetic information next to the computer sheets containing my own, and searched for an explanation I knew I would not find.
Alone in my office, the irony of my father's last words echoed in my head. When he lay dying in the hospital, his body a frail tangle of bones kept alive by machines too numerous to remember, he'd grasped my hand and whispered, "My son." A few minutes later he drew his last breath and the machines flatlined.
"Father," I said silently to his computer printout, "I'm not your son."
Later, I had my ear phone direct-dial Marla's and I told her I wouldn't be returning home that evening.
"What's wrong?" she demanded. I'd interrupted a multi-million dollar construction deal she was negotiating on behalf of her employer.
"I don't know who I am."
"Good Christ, Derek, this isn't the time for a mid-life crisis."
"I'll be home late tonight," I said. "Or tomorrow. Don't wait up."
"I won't. But call me later. Tell me what this is all about." She switched off her ear phone.
I grabbed my jacket, left my briefcase on my desk, and made my way to the station. I lived and worked in the Chicago-Milwaukee metroplex, near the border between Illinois and Wisconsin, and I had to travel to one of the old neighborhoods in south Chicago to find the answer to a question I could never ask over the phone. I disliked the crowds packed sardine-like on the trains, but Marla had driven the ElectroVan to her meeting and I had no other choice. After using my AllCard--a privilege afforded us only by Marla's position with the bank--to purchase a ticket, I waited for my train.
At 6'5", I towered over most of the other passengers and I stared down at their faces at the station and during the ride into the heart of the city, wondering who among them might be my brother, my sister, or some long-lost cousin I had never known. I was too old to have been a manipulated baby, but I could have been a tuber if my parents could have afforded it.
An hour later, I forced my way from the train and walked nearly a mile to my mother's house in one of the few remaining city neighborhoods yet to be overtaken by high-rise condominiums, where gangs spray-painted slogans on every available surface, and my mother's home had been turned into a day-glow orange and lime green testament to their artistry.
I visited my mother at least once a month, and always on the major holidays, but my mid-week arrival surprised her. She switched off the LaserKeeper to let me in, then ushered me into the living room. "Why are you here?" she asked. "What's wrong?"
I settled into the sofa, the worn springs sagging beneath my weight until my buttocks were enveloped by the cushions, and I told her about the genetic tests I'd run that day.
She listened quietly, her fingers knitted together in her lap, until I finished.
"Who was my genetic father?" I finally asked.
She shook her head slowly. Wisps of blue-grey hair floated around her face. "I don't know," she whispered. "I've never known."
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Copyright © 1999 by Michael Bracken
All rights reserved.
Michael Bracken is the author of several novels, numerous short stories and a short story collection.