The Factory

14 Dec

“There is a commodity more valuable than oil or diamonds, and the resources are unlimited.”  Octavia Dumontelle, President of the Life committee stood in front of another packed auditorium.  Octavia had always had a way with words; she could gather anyone’s attention with a single sentence, have people ready to fight, hell, KILL for her.  She was in a word, fascinating.  She was also my mother.

At about 12 years of age, I found myself standing in the shadows at the back of the room and watched more people fall under her spell. I too couldn’t help but be in awe of her, although I reflected that she had been very different since Aunt Grace’s death.  She had left my mother a large sum of money.  Mother never would tell me how much, just one of her many little secrets, but I know it was enough to buy the things that make others jealous.

Mom used some of the money to buy an old building in town, transformed it into a home for wayward girls, and on the day it was opened, people cheered for her.  I began working for my mother at the home, answering the phone.  Word had spread about the Life Center and I was awash with calls from furious or embarrassed adults wondering if there was room available for their pregnant and/or troubled teen.  Arrangements were made, and girls started arriving, most of them with haunted eyes and tear streaked faces.

When new girls arrived, Octavia called for a meeting. She brought the girls together, and explained delicately that while the girls were welcome to stay until they got back on their feet, the center could not support all the children that were to inevitably be born there.  She went directly into assuring the girls that at this point adoption was probably best for the children.  From there she launched into news that she was already in the process of remodeling a building that would serve as an orphanage, right across the street, so the children would be assured the best of care, and be close to their mothers.

It was incredible to watch the effect my mother had on people.  You could tell that most of the young women were upset by the delicate subject matter, but the way Octavia told it made them realize they didn’t have too many other options.  And she could be such a soothing presence, lulling people into thinking the way she wanted, yet creating the illusion it had been their own idea all along.

The center ran like a well-oiled machine, every girl with a job and a purpose.  They had hope for their unborn children, and hope for their futures, as Octavia had explained that they would all be compensated for their troubles.

Word around town was that Peru had once been the secret site of some sort of nuclear power operation in the 1950’s.  This was never proved, but was blamed for the high amount of miscarriages and sterile young men and women.  So when the orphanage opened, people rejoiced.  No longer would they have to drive hours away, only to be turned away empty handed and broken hearted.

The townspeople placed their hope in Octavia as well, praying she would find a way around the red tape and give them the most precious of gifts, a human life.  However, truthfully there was no red tape.  The Life House was not run by the government; all proper documentation had been bought or forged.  Octavia alone made the decisions, picked out families for the orphans, guided by the want ads in the Sunday Shopper.  Dozens of “exchanges” happened in a matter of months; Octavia of course orchestrated every detail, and was very discreet.  Everything was on a need to know basis, and Octavia had decided there wasn’t much any of us needed to know.

Babies came and went, but many of the girls stayed.  Most of them still had no place else to go, and Octavia could afford to feed a few mouths in exchange for free work from the girls.  They were only too grateful, seeing my mother as their benevolent savior and her work as a blessing to the childless, lonely town of Peru, MA.

When the next Life committee meeting was called, there was a rather unorthodox topic on the agenda.  Octavia’s newest announcement was primarily about what she called the “surrogate program”.  She offered the girls at the center the chance to participate in this cutting edge event.

Her idea was that healthy young girls would get pregnant, give birth, and put the babes up for adoption.  Octavia and her assistants would then find the perfect home for the child, and thereby help people that were desperate for a child they could never have.  It’s doing God’s work, she would say, that seemed to impede any questions, for the moment at least.  She also told the girls that they were the vessels from which the precious gift of life flows, that they had a purpose and even more important, a duty. And, she carelessly mentioned, they would be richly compensated for doing such noble work.

My mother seemed so genuine, that fire burning in her azure blue eyes, like she wanted to change the world, for the better.  Everyone fell under her spell, believed in her ideals with the same level of conviction, and took up her enthusiasm threefold. My mother had in one hour created an army.

Decisions were made, confidentiality agreements were signed, and three virile young men moved into the Life House.

Donna was not only a friend of my mothers, she was her secretary.  The only thing she loved more than the Lord was newborn babies, so she was constantly in a frenzy of religious zeal.  She annoyed me terribly, admired my mother to no end, and was always comparing me to her, saying that taking over the Life House once my mother was gone was my true calling.  I only tolerated her presence because she knew Octavia very well, and I felt she could shine some light on the dark enigma that was my mother.

It seemed to me that this whole situation should be a cause for alarm, but it’s hard to run screaming to the police when no one else seems to think anything is out of the ordinary.  In fact, everyone in Life House seemed to be quite content; the excitement was tangible.  They were all high on the idea that they were doing something worthwhile, and I was the only one out of place.

In the spring I met the love of my life, and our plan was to marry each other and move far away from Peru.  This meant cutting ties with not only the Life Center, but my mother as well.  I asked her to lunch one afternoon so we could meet on neutral ground.  Mother was quite the firecracker, but she was also highly concerned of what others thought of her, so I’d hoped a public meeting would ensure things would go smoother.

There was no small talk; mom and I never ate together if we didn’t have to, so she knew there was another motive.  I told her I was to be wed to Henry Monroe, son of Raymond and Esme.  I prattled on for a moment about how he was a nice, talented boy, with a superb sense of humor, when I was cut off by a terrifying shriek.

Now this was a bit dramatic, even by Octavia’s standards, and I started to say so, but halted when I heard frantic mumblings coming from her trembling mouth.  I looked up, saw the face of a mad women moaning about “unholy unions”, and I cut the ties harshly.  I walked out of the restaurant, didn’t look back, and didn’t cry until I reached home.

When it was time to tell Henry’s parents, my nervousness was minimized by the knowledge it couldn’t be any worse than telling Octavia had been.  Henry’s parents were charming and completely wonderful, but when the talk turned to my parents, things began to rapidly decline.  Mrs. Monroe said she knew my mother well, in fact, Ms. Dumontelle had been the one to set the Monroe’s up with Henry, their adopted son.  It seemed fitting that Octavia’s daughter would end up with their son, destiny, both of Henry’s parents proclaimed.  I began feeling ill for some reason I couldn’t quite place.  Anything my mother had her hand in could not be good.  And she had been so shaken up when I said I was marrying Henry; she knew something and I was going to find out what.  I excused myself from dinner, feigning a headache, and drove to the factory.

My mother was in her office, looking at some papers.  As I entered she covered them with her arms and looked at me disapprovingly, but with a touch of what might have been pity.  I didn’t say a word, only waited for her to speak; she knew I was there for answers.  “We can still fix this Macy.  I have an herb that will take care of your little problem.”

I was struck speechless; how had she known?  As if she had heard me, she stated that I wouldn’t be getting married if I wasn’t pregnant.  I calmly replied that we had been engaged before our unexpected news, but I was shaking with fury inside.  “Why do you even care, you old bitch?” I murmured with quiet hatred.  In her typical cowardice fashion she swiveled her plush desk chair away from me and towards the window, an indication the conversation was over.  I stood up, swiftly grabbed a pearl handled letter opener off her desk, and hurried out of the room.  My rage and suspicion growing as I half ran toward Donnas’ office, I was in quite a state when I finally flung myself through her door, locking it behind me.

Donna shrieked, relaxed slightly when she realized it was me, and then tensed again when she saw how wild I looked.  I slid Donnas’ desk in front of the door. Ignoring the pounding on the door, I sat on the desk and fixed my eyes on my hostage.  “Tell me what you know Dee”; I rubbed the letter opener against my jeans.  “I’m marrying Henry Monroe, and am pregnant with his child; tell me what the fuck it is you know.”  I got up and began advancing on her, metal in hand, planning on sticking her until she told me everything. She must have sensed I had reached the end of my rope, because she blurted out that Octavia was Henry’s birth mother.  Feeling dizzy I backed away from Donna; I heard my mother’s voice outside the door and my fury suddenly shifted towards her.  I unbarred the door, opened it, and faced her with fire in my eyes.

Without a word, she handed me both papers she had been looking at.  One was my birth certificate.  One was Henry’s.  Same parents names, here was the revolting proof.  “I never meant for this to happen to you Macy.  I intended on destroying this town, but you were not meant to go down with it.  Come to my apartment, and I will explain everything.”

I followed Octavia to her private parlor, where upon arrival I said nothing, only waiting for her to speak.  I fought to swallow down the nausea; mother’s words sliced through the sick fog that encompassed me. “I gave birth to a son two years before I became pregnant with you. Your grandmother tried to beat the seed out of me, but I had the child and gave it to a couple that had just moved to town.  Soon after grandmother’s death, I found out I was pregnant again. The town of course shunned me, looking down their sanctimonious noses, and I vowed they would pay for their disgust.

When I bought this place, I swore I would take away from the town the very thing they despised me for. I tainted the water with plants that I knew could render those who drank it infertile. The fools never caught on. All they ever knew is they wanted children and Life House had them to spare. They may think of themselves as better than me but they bought their children from me. I have made a great deal of money from selling children, both mine and others alike. But it’s not enough. The town has not been punished enough.  Most children spawned at Life House share a large number of genes. There are not nearly as many donors as everyone assumed. When they grow up they will marry their brothers and sisters which will ensure inbreeding on a massive scale. The inbred will breed with the inbred and the town finally gets what it deserves.”  I stared at her in horror. Her plan had partially worked; I was proof of that.  I couldn’t understand my mother’s hatred, but I could understand my own.  “I tried to keep you away from the town; you were to be my successor, to carry on my work!” her face suddenly ugly and twisted.

I turned the doorknob, stepped into the outer office, and walked with measured step down the hall to the kitchen. My gaze focused on the shiny copper teakettle sitting on the stove.  I picked it up, filling it with water, and set it on the burner to boil, placed mother’s favorite tea in the strainer, then reached under the sink and measured out a portion of finely ground powder from a vial and carefully added it to the cup. I soon added the water and let it steep for a minute before adding sugar and lemon to mask the taste.  I left the cup sitting, then walked into Donna’s office-she had left in quite a hurry and had not locked her door-wiped my fingerprints from the bottle, tossed it into her wastebasket, and locked the door behind me.  She may have some trouble explaining that, since she was the only person at the factory with a key.

I walked slowly back to her office; she tensed as I walked back through the still open door but relaxed back into her chair when she saw my calm face and the steaming cup in my hand; the truth was out now, she could rest. I smiled at her, sharing her sense of relief, but for different reasons. “Thank you Macy. You will see; everything will be alright.” She took the cup from my hand and took a long deep drink. My smile widened as she gagged, her eyes bulging from their sockets.  She met my eyes with the questioning horror that had been my entire life.  I watched as she convulsed and slumped in her chair, wishing it would have lasted longer.

I looked at mother’s still form with no guilt; I rubbed my slightly rounded belly and felt that things were looking up for the first time in a long while.  An odd assessment given the current situation, but it looked like normal was not in my family’s cards.  The only loose end left to tie up was the fate of the factory.  My mother had made quite a sizable profit, and with her gone I had some decisions to make.  After all, now I had a family to look after.

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