Government-Mandated Tests for Parenthood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

In a world where parents have to pass mandated tests before they can take care of their children, pregnant Lisa struggles to fulfill the requirements of the government.

Government-Mandated Tests for Parenthood

 

I

Four weeks before GMTP

 

Lisa wanted to slap the shit out of her bastard of a boss right now.

She leaned over the desk. "Randall, I've been doing the work of three accountants. Three, Randall, three! And I've been doing it for almost a year!" She realized her voice was on the verge of breaking.

Randall's keyboard kept on clacking. "Lisa, times are tough. Adults won't be buying kids' toys for themselves anytime soon. Every department is understaffed. There's nothing I can do."

Lisa looked all over Randall. Over a maroon shirt, he wore a dark blue suit, crisp and well-ironed. How much was that worth?, she wondered. A thousand dollars? Twelve hundred? More?

His watch. Metallic red, Rolex. She knew Randall's watches and she'd never seen that one. How much was it? Twelve hundred? Fifteen? More?

And what about his 6-month old Bentley?

"Please. Randall." She reached over the desk, touching his arm. His keys went quiet as he looked up. "I need this for Parenthood. They're going to take her from me."

Randall pulled away and went back to typing. "Your kid can get free toys, Lisa, but that's it. I'm sorry."

Without any forethought, Lisa touched the bump on her belly. She took a long, deep breath, willing her tears to return to where they came from.

 

II

Four weeks before GMTP

 

"It's night shift, Mr. Wu said, 8 in the evening to four. Food is free, too." Mike put the plastic fork back into the aluminum packaging. "This is good, Lis. I can help now. You don't have to worry about me anymore."

That's true, Lisa thought. And the schedule was good, too - he can take care of Mom in the morning and go to alternative school in the late afternoons. But the reason Mr. Wu accepted him was that no one else was applying. No one was applying because the last person on the job went home with a hole on his side.

Lisa didn't like it. Mike shouldn't be in that job. He's too young to work on something that dangerous. But they really needed it. It'd only be temporary, she reminded herself. When she gets her baby, things will be fine again.

She put a hand on top of her belly.

"Fine. Just be careful, understand?"

She drank her glass of water and put her own utensils back to the microwaveable. Mike took it along with his own, putting it on the kitchen trash can. "It's fine, Lis. I'm 18. I can take care of myself. Go check on Mom."

Lisa sighed, stood up, and went to what qualified as their house's master's bedroom. She found her sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, staring blankly onto the wall opposite her. Her sleeping gown was faded, one size too big. She was mumbling unintelligible things spoken too softly to understand.

Lisa checked her Mom's medicine organizer hidden on the first drawer of her bedside table, secured with two custom locks. Friday was empty, as it should. Only one row left. She calculated how many more she can buy. Two week's worth, tops. She made a mental note to buy next week.

"Mom?"

No response.

"Mom. Can you hear me?"

Still nothing.

"Mom." Lisa hugged her and, bringing her head closer to hers, she whispered, "We'll keep your granddaughter, okay? They won't take her away. I promise."

Still the same response as from two years ago.

 

III

Four weeks before GMTP

 

That night, Lisa stared at her bedroom ceiling for hours.

The first hours she spent thinking about her baby. She thought about how she'll look like, and prayed hard that she'll look like her and not her father who she didn't even know. She wanted her baby to pursue whatever she wanted. If she wanted to have a baby, she determined to help her qualify for Parenthood.

Then she thought about the GMTP in four weeks. The Records and the Basic Parenting parts she was sure won't be a problem - she had a clean record, and there were hundreds of Basic Parenting Resources you can find anywhere. The ESPH part, she was also certain she can pass - she's in perfect mental health and had never had a history of psychological disorders.

The HFM part she was worried about. She was earning enough, but their apartment was too small and too dingy. She figured the Department would want something bigger and cleaner for the child, and also something safer.

She needed money. She had to find a way to move.

 

IV

Three weeks before GMTP

 

Lisa sat on a black-painted bench in the public park four blocks away from her office. Staring at the small water fountain in the center of the square, she ate her lunch, egg sandwich bought from the convenience store on the ground floor of their building.

She'd just spent the whole week crossing off the items on classifieds. She applied for higher-paying jobs in eight places in total, getting rejected outright in three of them, and not getting any return calls on the other five.

On a normal day, the park would have been a relaxing sight. Trees lined up the walkways, birds flapped and landed all around the brick flooring and the soil where the plants stood. People sat together smiling and chatting and eating their lunches, some on the benches, some on blankets laid out underneath the shades of trees.

But Lisa sat alone, trying to hold back tears of frustration. She caressed the bump in her belly every now and then, afraid of her baby feeling the emotions she was feeling at the moment.

As she finished her sandwich, she took a deep breath, wiped her tears, and walked towards the pharmacy across the road.

 

V

Two weeks before GMTP

 

Lisa thought about it.

The company's electric bill sat unopened at her desk. No one had seen how much it was - not the messenger, not Randall, not anybody.

Holding the envelope, she turned it over in her hands. It would be easy. It would be so easy for her.

She placed it down, looked at it hard, and put her two hands on her belly, letting her fingertips brush on the fabric of her dress. She'll give it back, she thought.

The accounting software on her laptop was open. Opening the envelope, she read the bill. $245.59.

On her computer, she clicked "DEBIT", clicked "UTILITIES EXPENSE", typed $245.59. Then she clicked "CREDIT", "CASH ON BANK", then typed $245.59.

Lisa opened up another entry, clicked "DEBIT", "UTILITIES EXPENSE", then typed $50. Then she clicked "CREDIT", "CASH ON BANK", then typed $50.

She paused for a bit. There's no turning back now.

She printed two checks: one for FIDELITY ELECTRIC amounting to $245.59. The other one was for LISA K. JOHNSON, for $50. She signed both checks.

Her typing was slower. She had to press the backspace key more often than usual. Her fingers weren't pressing the keys she wanted to press. She went on.

She went back to her computer and changed the name of the checks on the system - now, one was for FIDELITY ELECTRIC for $245.59, and the other was also for the same recipient for $50.

She looked around. In the small accounting office, there was only her, and silence.

In the software, Lisa merged the two entries. When she finished, it only said: DEBIT UTILITIES EXPENSE  $295.59 / CREDIT CASH ON BANK $295.59.

Stopping for a second, she took a deep breath. She looked around again. Empty tables. She had to remind herself they had been empty for almost a year.

She put the bigger check inside the envelope, stapled it, then wrote on the outside: "TO MESSENGER / for payment".

She put the other check in her purse.

I'll give it back, she thought.

 

VI

13 hours before GMTP

 

Lisa uncorked a supermarket wine and poured to a stout circular glassware on the counter. Her hands failed to steady themselves as she poured out the liquor, spilling some on the dirty countertop tiles, now stained purple and red.

For a year, she did the job of three people without receiving a raise. She hated it. But two weeks ago, it worked to her advantage.

They had to replenish their office supplies Tuesday that week. Wednesday, they made payments to half of their suppliers. Friday, their salesmen came to the office to reimburse their expenses.

She overcharged all of those accounts and pocketed the difference, the excesses almost invisible, just blips in amounts ranging to the tens of thousands.

Lisa brought the wine to her lips, the liquid oscillating and making small waves from the quivering of her hands. The glass clanked on her upper incisors before she made a proper sip. It tasted bitter and sweet with hints of acidity.

She put the empty glass down and picked up the open letter on the kitchen table. "RESIDENTIAL LANDLORD-TENANT AGREEMENT", it said on the title. With droopy eyes, she re-read it again for what seemed like the hundredth time.

She couldn't believe it. She did it. They were moving. She placed her hand on her baby bump.

More importantly, she thought, she can qualify for Parenthood. The Department won't take her baby away.

With shaking hands, she poured herself another half-glass. As she picked the glass up, it slipped from her grip, making a dull clunk as it hit the counter squarely on its base.

 

VII

3 hours before GMTP

 

In her dreams, Lisa held her baby high up in the air, wide smiles imprinted on both their faces. She looked just like her. She'd swing her around and around until she's dizzy, and then swing her the other way to cancel it out.

When they stopped spinning, Mike picked her daughter up and they all sat down to play with her. Toys were scattered all over the floor of their mansion, stuffed animals and unicorns, shape sorters and dolls.

And her mom was there too, sitting down on the floor and joining them, having fun. Her mom was talking and smiling, and she showered her granddaughter with kisses all over her face.

All of a sudden, her baby started floating in mid-air. Lisa bolted up and grabbed her, afraid she'd suddenly fall. She tried pulling her daughter down, but she didn't budge. The baby looked calm, unfazed. Mike and her Mom sat frozen.

Then her baby started gliding away from her, slowly at first. She had to walk to keep up, but her baby drifted away faster, and the distance between them grew wider. Her baby started crying. She ran with all the effort her lungs can afford, hands outstretched towards the child. Ahead, she saw a woman, naked and faceless, arms wide open to accept her daughter.

Her eyes bolted open. Her chest was heaving, and she felt cold air touch her wet arms and face. With trembling hands, she grasped at once at her belly, making sure it was still there.

 

VIII

Eight minutes before GMTP

 

"The Jureau Scale for Neuroticism is a multiple-choice test made to assess levels of neuroticism, also known as emotional stability. It results in a numerical score as well as a percentile--

Lisa felt like crying.

Before they started, they had to submit their documents to the test administrator. She did as her hands quivered wildly like there was an earthquake. Once, she almost stapled her finger. She was sure the proctor noticed.

And the tremors hadn't subsided.

She looked around. Seven other women sat at plastic desks around her. Three of them had baby bumps.

She looked keenly on the faces of the other four as she remembered her dream last night - a faceless woman, taking her daughter away. And in the midst of it all, she was helpless.

If I don't pass the test, they'll take her away, she thought. They'll take my baby away and give them to someone else who passed, maybe to one of these women here who can't get pregnant on their own.

No, no, no. I can't let that happen. No, no, no. My baby is mine. Jewel is mine. There, see? I have a name for her already. This is my baby. You're not stealing her. You barren bitches are not taking her away from me. Not ever, not as long as I live, you understand? Never.

The same thought went over and over and over in her head. Her hands trembled even more.

 

IX

5 days after GMTP

 

Deep inside the offices of the Department of Responsible Parenthood, an old balding man with a black suit sat in an office of his own, sifting through layers and layers of folders stacked on his desk.

In front of him is the file of a woman named Lisa K. Johnson, accountant, 23 weeks pregnant. The summary on the first page read:

Basic Parenting Skills - 61/68 (PASSED)

Records of Delinquency and Criminal Behavior - 2/2 (PASSED)

Habitation and Financial Means - 3/3 (PASSED)

Emotional Stability and Psychological Health - 35/85, 37/61, 3/10 (FAILED)

He went to the ESPH page. The summary read:

"The candidate seemed to have extremely high levels of anxiety and high levels of emotional instability. Upon follow-up, she seemed irritable and had misplaced paranoia towards the staff and the psychologist. Mild delusions of persecution were present which might worsen without intervention."

The man picked up his pen, put a checkmark on the box with the word REJECTED next to it, and signed on the indicated space near the bottom of the page.

He closed the folder, placed it on a stack to his left, and picked up the next one on the stack to his right.


Submitted: February 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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