I am pregnant again.
This time it has been four months. My husband, fearing his own declining abilities, offered to cede his place in our bed for a few nights to Hollow Jim, a man everyone knows can put pure flame into a woman's belly. More than a few of the village's young are his.
Even after I posed to my husband that our spell of dry coupling must be my doing, he would still workably shellac his fearless member, place fertility tokens around our bed, and eat whatever the old men would tell him to linger over those evenings before he planned to chase down his wife. We would tie ourselves into knots and then go looking for more knots to fashion.
I do not know how he did not discover I was counting days, did not notice I would sleep some nights so encumbered he could make no unannounced mounting. And he, a man of counts.
I know my duty to the community. Three daughters and two boys I have already put out, and only one of these soon to be of valuable age. But my husband does his ciphers in the dirt out by my subsistence garden and thinks he knows how many children make for a prosperous old age.
I will soon switch to my gravid clothes. My husband will put on the frock of the successful planter. He will go to the village accountant, swaggering like a boy with his first kill, and register that he has one more on the way. He will reach down, as though to capture fish in a rain barrel, and grab his every day less elastic testicles and boast that there are more waiting a furrow to root in.
I wish he would get a younger wife, or at least a second one. But there are few eligible women. Those of us of bearing age grow older, grow stubbly from the children we create. And behind us come but a handful of replacements.
Because my husband can produce in endless quantity, it seems he will not accept what he knows: our community can produce only what its women can put out. All depends on how many places there are for seed to take root, not how much seed is uselessly thrown about.
My eldest, Nayla, will be taught the grooves and edges of my pregnancy, and will take greater charge of this sibling than she has of any of her earlier kindred. She might, in the days of her usefulness, tend children. She might work in a house where younger children go free and need an elder guardian.
It will be two years, or maybe three, to her harvest time. The exchangers do not want them usually until they are eight or nine, though I have seen some bought at six. Eastern households, American brothels, Asian factories, private collectors: each has subtle differences in their needs, and an entire harvest may be tilted one way or another by demand. Oh, the exchangers think we do not know, but all is obvious from the inspections: this year seeking slender fingers, next year selecting stockier frames, another year gathering wisps through whose silky bodies the sun pokes almost entirely unlabored. We can understand the metrics they apply, and retool our product as they move through the common streets, accentuating this, hiding that, placing the desirable beside the undesirable for contrast, translating that knowledge into the games of children.
I could hope my husband finds a new wife from those not taken. But so many are taken, and as we grow richer in money we grow older. What good is it to be rich in old age without children to execute your wishes? There are such demands on children not harvested, and then they mature, and with as many boys as girls, my husband has little chance but to crawl back into my bed and drearily dream while he hardens himself.
I have told my husband Nayla is Hollow Jim's issue. Not every wife consults her husband before engaging a surrogate. It is not true, but the lie has the effect I want. I catch him eyeing Nayla as though she already were coming into her woman shape. I dress her three years beyond her age. I tell her the ways of stalking a man. And I frustrate the miserly husband as much as I dare.
If she edges into some small part of her womanhood a breath early, and my husband continues to believe that the stump of his avarice rises above all moral conscience - above even biology itself - I may keep my Nayla, and not put her up for harvest until the year after she should have otherwise gone. If I lead with her belly, I may keep her until she is no longer of an age to be taken at all. I may keep her forever.
We would be that much poorer. But that much richer, too.
Ken Poyner has had fiction of late in Corium and Kill Author, and poetry in Adirondack Review, Medulla Review, Blue Collar Review, Poet Lore and about forty other places. His wife is a world class power lifter and the two together live a somewhat strange life in the right hand bottom corner of Virginia. His book "Constant Animals", 42 unruly fictions, is $4.99 as an e-book and vendor links available at www.kpoyner.com.