Cloning a Lost Lover

September 25, 1998

You weren't there any more. I don't know why, but I know you were gone, just not there any more, and I was frozen with grief. (You know how it would be. I was eating lots of salad, running four miles a day, writing several articles - but still, my heart was a cold block.) Then, one day, our friends at the institute told me they had a surprise for me. They had seen how unhappy I was and wanted to bring me something. I heard my apartment doorbell ring. I opened the door to the elevator. There, nestling in a purple laundry basket, wrapped in a green plaid pyjama top, was the baby clone. He looked up at me with the defiant smile of baby Hercules getting ready to throttle the serpents. His hands were big enough to hold a tennis racket, and his thighs showed signs of promise.

Little C. I picked him up and embraced him, declaring that henceforth he would live with me in my house as my very own child.

How I loved Little C. I would hold him so hopefully in my arms, thinking that he would soon become you. When his eyes turned from baby blue to a deeper grey-blue with flecks of yellow, a wonderful joy began to seep into my heart. I never tired of nursing him (through medical advances this was possible). I felt the baby lips around my nipple, and I imagined, as the milk flowed out, how the new sensation would please you. How eagerly I watched his hands wave in the air, describing ever more articulate and commanding gestures. Often, in the late afternoon, Little C lay beside me as I rested, and made his happy, baby gurgling noises. "Very good, Little C," I said.

But I also teased him, saying, "When are you going to talk about your own ideas, about global redistribution and the shortcomings of utilitarianism? Move along quickly, Little C, for there is something lacking in this relationship."

As time went on, Little C got bigger and more wonderful. He walked at ten months, and soon showed a quickness and poise beyond his years. His strong legs pounded the floor as he ran, and I could see the muscles in his thighs growing rapidly. I moved to a house with a large yard, so that Little C could run and jump. A natural athlete, I told my colleagues at the institute, who were not surprised. They smiled at the extravagance of my maternal praise.

As Little C played, I would watch his movements closely, to see whether he had begun to develop that sloping posture, right shoulder slightly lower than left, by which I could recognise you three miles off. The shoulder slopes a little as if its heavier muscles are pulling it down, and the back twists ever so slightly to the right, portending grim prospects for the opponent. I would think I saw its signs, although Little C had never been on a tennis court. (Indeed, at that time he showed a strong preference for youth soccer.) When Little C was eight, I began to take him with me to the opera. It is only an experiment, I told myself, and I will stop it if he shows any signs of boredom. How happy I was that Little C reacted well. First Hansel and Gretel, and soon even The Magic Flute, although he expressed disapproval of its images of racial and sexual inequality. We spent blissful intermissions together discussing the two principles of global justice with reference to Monostatos and the Queen of the Night. (Little C did not use that philosophical language, of course, but I noted with pleasure that he seemed to gravitate naturally toward the core ideas.) Soon Little C was asking to be taken to the opera on a regular basis. "See,'' I imagined myself saying to you, "Little C likes classical music a great deal, and opera most particularly. So it wasn't in the genes, was it? The principles of global justice were in the genes, but the anti-opera principle was not.'' Life looked very promising at that time.

As mothers go, I tended to the Proustian. I would promise Little C a bedtime kiss, and when he implored me to stay longer and read to him, I would come into his room and read for hours. Among our favourite books was George Sand's Francois le Champi. Little C was entranced by the story of the young miller's wife who finds a foundling boy in the field and decides to bring it up as her own child. He especially loved the part where Madeleine, looking at the poor, cold, wretched, abandoned boy, asks him what his name is. "They call me Francois the foundling, Francois le Champi.'' At that name (so indicative, had he known it, of his own condition), Little C's eyes grew bright with joy, and he liked to repeat the name in French, Champi, as if it were his own. "Then, Little C," I continued, "Madeleine looked at the little Champi with a gaze full of compassion. She picked him up, and announced that henceforth he would live in her house as her very own child."

And that was the manner in which I revealed to Little C his strange origin. One day, "You, my love,'' I told him, "are that Champi. For I found you: not in a field, but at my door, lying in a purple laundry basket, wrapped in a green plaid pyjama top.'' After that, Little C never tired of hearing that story.

At this time concern for propriety made me refrain from revealing to Little C the ending of Sand's narrative. How the miller's wife, abandoned by her husband, grows very close to the foundling boy. And how one day, after years of intimate domestic life, she notices that the Champi is a grown man and amazing in beauty. How he shows adult defiance of her will and seizes her in a passionate embrace. No, I concealed those portions of the book, and ended my readings with the Champi's boyhood. But after Little C went to sleep, I read to myself frequently the scene where Madeleine and Francois embrace and she recognised with joy, feeling the power of a mature and independent will, that the child she has raised as her own will henceforth be her lover and her husband. While Little C slept, I would look out at the moon over the black lake and think of the happiness in store.

One day when Little C was ten, he said to me, "Mother, green is such a beautiful colour. Why do you never wear green dresses?'' Astonished, I replied, "What a ridiculous question. Because you hate green.'' But I was wrong, for Little C did not hate green. So I got out the green Armani suit that was hanging in my closet unused when you were there and I wore it for Little C's pleasure, and for my own. And I thought, with a softly sinking feeling in my stomach, "Why does Little C like green? Surely I look better in blue."

Then, one day, I said, "Little C, please clean up your room.'' And, since I asked very gently, giving no incentives for defiance, Little C obeyed. And every day from then on the room was clean. I watched with gentle encouragement. And the ice of grief began to grow again in my heart.

People from the institute, who knew the story of Little C, came to marvel at the room, as at a wonder. Some approved of the alteration. The institute's chief economist, fastidious, felt himself released from a long-standing disgust. Our director, too, was relieved and gratified. But others - your philosopher friends in the global justice project - began to sneak behind my back and say, "Little C, this half-empty can of Diet Coke looks really great turned upside down on your desk," "Little C, let's get out papers and pile them up on the floor.'' But Little C said, "`My mother asked me always to keep my room clean.'' And so he would refuse them. And they, too, began to grieve.

How, I thought, had I produced a child so pliable, so lacking in wilfulness? Had I nursed him too often? Sung too many soft French love songs? Where was my heroic child, fit to leap over all obstacles, including those imposed by his mother? Could it be that the secrets of making love to you were so well known to me, while the secrets of producing you were unknown completely?

At this time, my heart began to alter. Oh I was a good mother still, and I did the things that good mothers do. But the wild hopefulness and joy drained out of our daily interactions. I did not sing or read as often to Little C, even though the knowledge of his individuality made it rational to sing all the more, since he seemed inclined to cultivate the musical talents that you spurned. In lieu of singing, I arranged for piano lessons, and Little C duly became a fine musician.

I no longer looked for the rightward slope in the shoulder. I noted that, in fact, Little C had a preference for soccer. He showed no inclination for tennis. Or perhaps it was the body of Little C that failed to hold my interest, so skinny and light, with neither muscular shoulders nor thighs of any substance.

During this same period a change also came over Little C. His multicoloured eyes grew more subdued, losing their flashes of yellow light. His humour, once so wild and extravagant, subsided, as if beneath a weight. His running, though indeed exceedingly deft, lost the edge of exuberance that made people speak of rare athletic gifts.

Instead, as he grew into a tall boy of 13, he poured his emotions into the piano, practising for hours, with a gloomy intensity that astonished those who had previously known him. From Bach fugues and Mozart sonatas, he moved on, seeking pensive, solemn music, music of lost love.

Occasionally, charmed by the music, I allowed myself to sing while Little C played. I felt as I sang that I could see your face through the music, and at those moments I loved Little C for bringing you closer. Little C was happy then. Increasingly, he sought out the piano. Through his music he won much acclaim. People spoke of a rare poetic sensibility in one so young.

A time came when Little C was 17, and due to leave home shortly, to continue his musical studies at Juilliard. For although he was a fine academic student, he cared deeply for nothing but music, and he could not be truly happy unless he was playing something delicate and sad. The night before his departure for New York, we went for a last celebratory evening at the opera. By chance, they were performing Don Carlo, and we sat together in silence through the Fontainebleau scene. Elisabetta and Carlo, finding that they are fated to be mother and son rather than lovers, sang of the horrible pain of their renunciation. "L'hora fatale e suonata,'' the fateful hour has sounded and love is doomed forever. Yes, I thought. Doomed to be mother and son, forever.

In the intermission, Little C stood beside me, and I smiled up at him. By now, he was six foot three. Although he retained his skinny, tense physique, he still had no shoulders to speak of. His multicoloured eyes gleamed with a quiet, no longer a heroic light. We analysed the performance, as was our habit.

Then Little C looked at me with the grave sadness that had by now become his characteristic expression.

"Mother,'' he said to me, "I see that I do not make you happy."

"It is true that I am not happy, Little C,'' I said to him. "But it has nothing to do with you."

"I have always tried so hard to please you, Mother,'' he said. "But no matter what I do or say, you are always just a little sad, and your eyes look at me as if you are thinking of something else."

"That is true, Little C,'' I said. "It is not your fault, but it is the truth."

"What are you thinking about, Mother, when that sad lost expression comes into your eyes? I wish I could know, because perhaps then I would be able to make you happy."

"It is a long long story, Little C, and you cannot know it."

"And that baby in the laundry basket wrapped in a green plaid pyjama top. Am I that baby?" "You are indeed that baby. My Champi. My Little C."

"Why, then, do you not love me the way Madeleine loved her grown Francois?" "Because each story has its own ending, and no person is exactly like any other."

"Am I then less lovable than Francois was?" "You are the best Little C the world has ever known. Now let us go and take our seats. The intermission is almost over, and the second act is very fine."

Edited extract from Clones and Cloning.

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