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Egypt

Sherry Shenoda

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Authors Summary

Sherry Shenoda is a Coptic poet and pediatrician, born in Cairo, living in California. She is the author of The Lightkeeper, from Ancient Faith Publishing, and Mummy Eaters, forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press.

Title

"The Waiting Room"

The Waiting Room

The baby nursed contentedly while Sara scrolled, her thumb pausing over the ad. The algorithms were rather insistent about this one; she’d seen it three times this week. She glanced down at the baby against her breast. He had fine, downy hair that stuck out like the crown of a bird. The dark coloring under his eyes echoed hers, and stood in contrast with his pale skin. One fist closed over a pudgy thumb, the other hand absently zipped and unzipped his vest as he fell asleep.

It would be awhile. His mouth worked against her, not painfully, but not comfortably either. Often enough that she was always on edge, there was the surprise of teeth. She stretched her back carefully. She was stiff from several nights of poor sleep.

She allowed her mind to dwell on the image on her screen. The woman looked quite similar to her. Strikingly so, in fact. Curly brown hair, pale skin, similar age. But where she was rarely photographed without her children, the woman in this photo was notably alone.

Sara clicked on the ad, eyes scanning, feeling vaguely sorry for the woman. She had a dog, no partner. Instead of the usual voyeuristic requests, the woman asked only one thing: she wanted to experience breastfeeding a baby.

Sara had uploaded herself for other usual reasons like doctor’s visits and PTA meetings, but never anything like this. She scrolled through the legal assurances and the certainty that she could back out at any time. The fee would be hers to keep. And then her eyes landed on the fee.

Were people this desperate to experience something she did multiple times a day? It was... incredible really. Maybe she would buy that new stand mixer.

She downloaded the app and read the terms again. There was, as usual, the option of an exchange, but she wasn’t interested. She wasn’t the type to pet other people’s dogs and poke through their things. The waiting room would do for the few minutes it would take.

She thought of the laundry and the dishes. Later. She would tell Jack about her adventure over dinner. They could laugh about how much people were willing to spend for such an ordinary experience.

The baby’s breathing had evened, his small chest rising and falling in the ease of sleep. His pudgy arm lay over his face. His small hand scraped against her and she reminded herself to trim his fingernails later that night. She leaned over and buried her nose against his scalp, breathing in his scent of corn and milk. Then she put her phone down, closed her eyes, and waited.

...

Melody opened her eyes and took stock. The baby was fast asleep. She gently unlatched his mouth with the tip of her pinky finger. It was a foreign feeling, but it felt just as they’d coached her. Her gaze landed on the phone, her first priority.

She eased out of the bed, found a small blanket at the foot of the bed, and gingerly wrapped the phone in it without touching it. This was the trickiest part. A wrong move here meant... she wouldn’t think of it. She had come too far, tracked Sara’s delivery from the announcement to this day, and the only path now was forward.

The company had been exorbitantly expensive. But then again, as they advertised, they weren’t just selling a virtual experience. The advertisement had been only to her. The company had been created to market directly to her, and after today, it would disappear, a clipped strand, untraceable, like Sara.

Her heart pounded with the danger of it as she crept up the hall, the phone dangling in the cradle of the blanket in her hand. She found the hammer in the toolbox in the garage, as instructed, pushing away thoughts of a lifetime in the waiting room.

Sara was an unfortunate byproduct, of course. Melody thought of her dog, her apartment, her job. All props. The hammer’s weight was satisfying in her hand, but not as satisfying as the muffled metallic crunch of the phone within the baby blanket.

Within minutes she had disposed of the evidence. At the sound of the garage door her head lifted from her mug of coffee. She hated the aftertaste, but adjustments had to be made. She fiddled with the unfamiliar cross at her neck. The baby began to cry down the hall. Her husband’s key scraped in the lock. He was home with the older child. Jack, she reminded herself. Her new husband’s name was Jack.

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