Baby Grow, story by CJP Lee

“Spare any change?” chanted the pavement outside the tube exit.
Jan wondered if he could change. All he could see today from his pigeon-like eyes was smeared grey. The ground was splattered with pieces of discarded gum. Wasn’t the stuff made out of bird shit? Half of London must have given up smoking and taken up chewing crap. Jan glared in close up as the bovine chins slopped from side to side and realised the horror of inhuman humans masticating en masse. There was something mechanical about it all, maniacal, something entirely dead. Glancing up he viewed the pollution-damaged buildings. Once, maybe fifteen years ago, they had filled him with romance, but today they just depressed him. Above these narrow streets the sky was a swarming mass of shadows, the sun in a Noh play. Drizzle spat at the shuffling hordes. Charging through the crowds, occasionally he looked down to see ashen faces darting away. They seemed to want to exist as shades, spectres afraid to move into the light.

Last night Jan had smoked more weed than ever, curling up like an overstuffed foetus on the seven-foot sofa Flo had recently purchased for over four thousand pounds, despite their huge debts. She would do anything to keep him, he guessed. This thought only partially sickened him. She’d steadily been losing weight, disappearing to the world, surviving on coffee and rice cakes. Her counsellor had suggested that she spent too much time feeding others and was starving herself, trying to punish herself over repressed guilty. Deep down she probably felt she didn’t deserve a thing, especially Jan’s love and instead interpreted being treated as a doormat as affection.

In the office the leaden filing cabinets offset any good feeling he had from at last being inside, away from the rush hour inferno. Their weight contained all the fraught history of the department. The walls were a decaying white off colour sucking in the lives of all the staff that had been and gone after trying to improve the health of the nation by juggling statistics. Large oblong florescent lights flickered along the corridors. It all made him feel nauseas and he wondered whether he should actually be on the mental ward, in the other part of the hospital, tucked up in bed with a young nurse attending to him. Jan removed his raincoat, hung it on the wobbly hook on the back of the door and marched to the lavatory.
“Do you love me,” he mouthed in the mirror, “of course, you fucking do!”

His long face greeted him and gave him a sardonic grin as he stooped over the sink. He thought he had her well trained, but this morning he couldn’t find the shirt he wanted so he had to wear an awful striped jumper that made him look like a French mime artist. He had acquired this article of clothing in 1974. In over a quarter of a century he felt he hadn’t really changed. He stared for a full two minutes at his eyes. The bags underneath had recently shifted from smoky grey to coal black, from carrying too many secrets. Grey hairs ruled his head, turning his bushy hair into an evenly spread scouring pad. He knew he looked slightly absurd but didn’t really care, or moreover, cared about the carelessness in a vane way. What was a mad genius professor supposed to look like anyway?
He switched his attention from his appearance to his work. This morning he felt particularly down, his normal anger morphed into self-pity. There was a problem with funding. The Health Education Authority had financed his epidemiological research projects but the probability of them doing so again was slim. The last project was six months overdue, and was totally out of date from the start.

They were monitoring the provision of care for HIV infected mothers in the UK but the statistics had been miscalculated. He had had to take the rap in the end, but in the mean time he vented his frustration on his staff. The main statistician had just resigned, or taken up a better post for thirty grand a year more, depending on which way you looked at it, and it was her mess they had to clean up. It wasn’t very pretty. Waving his hands under the dryer, he stomped back and grunted at a few colleagues along the way.

When he wasn’t obsessing about work he focused on his genes. He had been a precocious child, mixing with adults and absorbing their knowledge and culture rapidly. But the thing was he was the youngest of eight children. His closest sibling was a full ten years his senior. However hard he tried, he looked down on people in every way, pretending to be their senior, whatever their age. As a teenager in Holland he grew at an exponential rate, a freak of nature. His mother was so concerned she took him to the doctors and he received anti-growth hormones. What they didn’t know at the time was the side effects that resulted in him having an almost zero sperm count.


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