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On his way out, he snatched up a back issue of The Atlantic Monthly from the magazine table in the waiting room. He opened it to a random page and began reading the words aloud; through the hallway, down the elevator, out into South Main Street for three-and-a-half blocks until he reached his car. Then he sat down on the hood and read some more until a security officer from one of the government buildings politely asked him to keep it down. So he slid into the driver’s seat, and making sure the windows were shut tight, he kept on reading for a while longer until he came across a story that interested him enough to read it silently to himself. It was about a peace-loving tribe of chimpanzees in the Congo. Theirs is a matriarchal society that uses sex in place of aggression to resolve conflicts, and there has never been a recorded homicide within the tribe. Genetically speaking, they are 98% identical to humans. Which really isn’t such a big deal, if you know anything about genetics, or humans. European logging companies have built roads deep into the jungle because tropical wood is considered something of a delicacy within the industry. Naturally, this throws off the ecological balance of the bonobo’s habitat and many are not surviving. Even if they could, the new roads give access to ruthless bushmeat hunters in the outlying areas. So, in ten years or so, these delicate, sexually voracious creatures will likely be extinct.
Clara, their daughter, wasn’t old enough yet for anyone to know if her father would always be a stranger. He and Janine would have to wait a little longer to see. The pre-verbal years were a steady installment of worries, worries allayed, and new worries in their place.
—Does she have an extra chromosome?
—Does she have enough chromosomes?
—Does she have arms and legs?
—Does she have too many toes?
—Can she feel pain? (Reye’s syndrome; rare)
—Is she too sensitive?
—Is she ugly?
—Is she too pretty?
—Will she get into preschool?
—Will she get molested at preschool?
—Can we afford a nanny?
—Will the nanny turn out to be like Rebecca DeMornay in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle?
—How will it work if this thing doesn’t go away?
He’d played out some of the scenes in his head already: Janine asks him to pick Clara up from kindergarten because her highlights are taking an extraordinarily long time to set. The usually malleable Clara is indignant that he satisfactorily identify himself; she’s spent the afternoon listening to lectures about The Danger of Strangers. Particularly the kind of strangers who stand at the edge of schoolyards and tell five-year-old girls to get inside their car: “You’re not my Daddy!”
A few years down the road; Clara is old enough let herself into the house. There’s a bomb threat at school and they’ve let everyone go while the FBI combs the premises. Mom’s out getting her nails done, and Clara finds Anthony in his office working on his memoir. There is screeching and diving for a kitchen knife; she calls 911. How do you tell a local police officer that your 11 year old daughter has no idea who you are?
Of course, there was always the chance that it wouldn’t be an issue. It could go away; but even if it didn’t, maybe Clara would turn out like her mother. Janine always knew who he was. And so did most everyone who knew him “Before”. Maybe he was one of the really important things that are supposed to be in breast milk. Every time he thinks about this, he thinks about the pro-life people and why they say it’s wrong to kill unborn children.