Dalton and I had been trying for our dream, a baby boy and maybe a girl to accompany him. It had to be almost a year before we started considering alternatives. A year of countless attempts equaled by countless disappointments, false positives, and above all, dwindling hope. Originally, we didn’t want to use any extraordinary measures, but at that point I would have given anything to start our picturesque family. I could picture them, but the picture had been fading with each passing day, and then I lost it entirely.
“The blockchain is going to revolutionize the way we think about the world, Cara. It’s basically a cloud-based general ledger that records all types of things. Sure, today its Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and everyone from Wall Street to the waitress is already hot on that. But its far, far more. I don’t think anyone quite realizes it yet except those of us in the know.”
I just sat and smiled with a perched head nodding only forwards. I attempted to flare my nose every now and then to feign interest. I can’t quite remember all of what he said, since something else was occupying my mind. I’d never even heard of PCOS until early that afternoon. I still wasn’t fully aware of what it meant, other than that it slashed at the stilts of our dreams.
“You’re going to see the banks scrambling soon. The blockchain is going to allow for a decentralized currency, better security and more of the individualized financial interactions society is meant to have. I bought about two hundred Bitcoin seven years ago, but you know – I didn’t think much of it at the time. A couple buddies were just talking about it over lunch…”
The corners of my smile began to slip. They trembled like a shivering stray dog in the downtown streets – that one that would look up at me and beg for just a morsel of my protein bar each morning on the way to work. PCOS. Whatever it was Dalton rambled on about couldn’t get a word in louder than those four letters blaring in my head. That doctor had said such a life-ending phrase in such a soothing tone.
Dalton’s closed fist shot up from beneath the dinner table, each finger extended one after the other ripping the air with descriptive passion. “It’ll start with the banks but then you’ll see it in healthcare, supply chain management, video games, art, you name it. Heck, our kids aren’t ever going to know what a credit card is. Can you believe – Cara?”
My mouth had unwittingly drooped against the weight in my mind.
“Cara, what’s wrong?” Dalton got up from his chair, tossing the napkin from his lap to the table beside his plate. He rushed over to place a hand on my shoulder, then sit beside me.
I couldn’t speak. I could hardly breathe. What will he think of me? Will he still love me? “I –”
He nodded, urging me to continue. His brown eyes quivered on the verge of joining in with my tears in pointless solidarity.
“We can’t have kids,” I managed to blurt through my coughing sobs. My own vocal admission felt like the first time I’d heard it uttered too. I cried even harder.
Dalton half laughed with a nasal huff, the way he always did when he tried to downplay my worries. It wouldn’t work this time. “Oh, Cara honey. Don’t worry about it. I know it’s been some tough months, but if we keep trying I know we’ll –”
“I have PCOS,” I sobbed. “And it’s been a year, not a few months. A year, Dalton.”
“What? PCOS? What’s that?”
I threw my hands upon the table and heaved, as if it was a bit of common knowledge I’d always held. “PCOS. Polycystic ovary syndrome. It means I have a hormonal imbalance with excess androgen and…I don’t expect you to understand any of that,” I unnecessarily snapped when I saw the look of pure confusion lining Dalton’s stern eyebrows. “It just means I can’t – we can’t have kids.”
He stayed silent for a moment – a moment that felt too long at the time, but it was probably just right for this type of news. He began with a nod and sucked in lips, as if he was trying to hold back tears. His lips curled into the slightest smile before he made eye contact with me once again. I couldn’t imagine how much a mess I looked. Eyeshadow streaked across the back of my hand, and I bet my eyes were blood red and my nose flared as it always did. “It’s okay,” he finally says. “It’s fine Cara. I married you for you, and that will never change. In sickness and in health, I made a promise.”
My tears began to subside. The gravity of my condition would never, but I quickly remembered the man I married: stubborn but tenacious, sweet but strong, loving and never faltering. He always wanted to solve everything and swoop in sporting a suit of shining armor on his trusty steed. But this time he couldn’t. Or so I thought.
The next morning, I awoke to find he’d already left the room. His side of the bed had already gone cold, so I knew he’d been gone quite a while. I wondered if I woke up abnormally late, but my alarm was still a few minutes from sounding off. I turned off the alarm and headed downstairs to find him, but who I found in the kitchen wasn’t the same Dalton I’d slept beside that night.
When I rounded the staircase I found Dalton striding through the kitchen with plates full of food, sloppily spinning them onto the table. His eyes were pale in the middle and striped red on the outsides. His forehead glistened with oily sweat and his hair was no different. “Good morning,” I said lightly.
He spun towards me, not previously seeing I’d come downstairs. His turn was a slight jump followed by a broad smile surrounded by patchy rough hair. “Hey, Cara. Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I slept fine. What’s all this?” I asked, motioning to the two plates stacked with eggs, bacon, and toast. There was a bottle of ketchup set out on the table too, but neither of us ever used it with breakfast food.
“Breakfast, sweetie. I have some great news I wanted to share with you.”
“What is it?”
“Come sit. Sit and enjoy. I’ll be one minute,” he replied, still bearing that panting grin. Dalton made his way towards the fridge, grabbed the orange juice and poured it into two glass cups. Some of the juice splashed onto the counter and down the sides of one glass. I couldn’t help but think of how sticky the granite would get, but I didn’t say anything. He rushed the cups over to the table and sat down across from me.
I took a bite. “It’s very good,” I commented in the middle of chewing that first bite. It certainly wasn’t the best sunny-side up eggs I’d ever had, but I wasn’t about to offer serious critique to my sleep-deprived, wild-eyed husband.
He all but ignored my half-hearted compliment. “Okay so… the news.”
I conducted him on with my empty fork, not wanting to attempt speaking again with a full mouth.
He grabbed his laptop which was open but asleep at the corner of the kitchen table. I reckon it got more sleep than he did that night. Dalton typed away at the computer while he began speaking in choppy, nonsensical fragments. “So I was doing a bit of research last night and…enter password…and oh yeah, so I find this website, right? It is kind of a similar concept to sites like Ancestry where you send in your DNA and then they provide you the results within a week or two, it’s pretty cool…sorry, this site is taking forever to load, super popular right now. And we get a non-fungible token from this company that’s tied to our DNA samples so he’s ours and ours alone. It’s perfect, it’s everything we…come on, load damnit. Finally.” Dalton grabbed the corner of the laptop and spun it around.
I squinted, wary of what it is he was showing me. I only understood about a fourth of what he had said.
Dalton looked up, noticing I hadn’t yet let my eyes fall to the screen. “Cara, this is the answer to everything we’ve wanted.”
Steadily, I allowed my gaze to fix to the screen before me. He presented it like a child displays their artwork awaiting parental approval. In digital-blue italic letters across the website header centered over a spinning purple diamond atop a cartoon baby’s head read a word I’d never seen. It was both perplexing and eerily futuristic for my liking. Dalton lowered his head to catch my reaction, his perfect teeth surrounded by that unshaved face. I read that digitized blue word back to him “Cryptokid? Dalton…what is this?”
“Cara, its everything. It’s the solution we’ve been looking for. We can still have a son. We can raise him right here in our new home as we always dreamed.”
“But he’s not real, right? He’d just be in this computer the whole time,” I protested, then stood from the table, trying to back as far as I could from that computer. “We wanted to raise a son, a real son. Not – not whatever that is. Cryptokid? Really? You want to send our DNA into some lab so they can make a fake child for us and-and we can play house with a computer?”
“Yes, Cara. This is the future. Look,” he pointed back at the screen for evidence. “There’s over one hundred thousand parents worldwide who are raising Cryptokids as we speak. And hey, if it works out and we like how everything goes, maybe we can try adoption too.”
“So a trial run of parenting?”
Dalton nodded enthusiastically, with more vigor than I had the power to refuse. “Exactly.”
“How much does it cost?”
“It’s not cheap but it won’t be a drop in the bucket when I sign up with my crypto account.”
I sighed. If it wouldn’t break the bank, and wasn’t going to end our chances at raising a human child, how was I to say no? I knew what this was all really about. Dalton’s passions and sadness had concocted an odd mixture culminating in discovering this website…Cryptokid. The name nearly made me shiver. I stared into that cartoon baby’s eyes on the screen, watching his petite mouth open and close to reveal a singular tooth. I sighed and nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Just like that, Dalton pulled two small vials out of the gym shorts he’d worn the night before. I didn’t quite process it at the time, but it appeared he’d already signed up and paid for it. He spit into one and I spit into the other. He sealed both, dropped them in an envelope and sent them off to make our Cryptokid. I sometimes have dreams where I am able to suck the spit back into my mouth before it reaches the vial and dreams in which I don’t spit at all.
Only a couple weeks later, Dalton and I received the email: our Cryptokid was ready to meet. I waited with baited breath behind Dalton as he sat at his home desk chair. Black dots flew onto the screen in a queue on the ‘password’ line. My shoulders were clenched. I struggled with how I’d respond, what I might say. It was as if I was meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years. “Here we go,” Dalton said, lingering on each vowel. He pressed the enter key. A purple diamond popped up in the center of a white screen, spinning and bouncing. Then the diamond faded away into the brightening background with a whish and whirl, then a digitized baby’s laugh.
Dalton’s hand wrapped around mine. I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe this was the solution we were looking for. In that moment I felt the website was built with Dalton and me in mind. The white screen turned to a squared room with light blue walls. Rocket ships and cartoon planets in the center of each wall filled a strip of wallpaper lining the room. In the corner was a mahogany crib with a mobile hanging over it fitted with another rocket ship, a star, and a yellow half-moon. It chimed a lullaby to a giggling boy inside. The camera approached the side of the crib. I noticed the nail of my index finger lightly scratching at Dalton’s hand. His eyes flashed up to catch my reaction, but I was too fixated on the screen.
The camera dipped downwards and revealed the baby laying on his back inside. The graphics were perfect – indistinguishable from real life. If I put blinders on and stared at only the computer I could have forgotten it wasn’t real. He had Dalton’s brown eyes, my thin lips, and strangely enough I recognized his ears as my mother’s. He looked at us and reached up for the screen, cooing and smiling. His lips purred and babbled. He let out a small shriek of joy.
As much as I saw him, I felt him in my heart. It was everything we’d dreamed of: his room, his demeanor, his likeness. I didn’t want to admit it to Dalton, but I couldn’t help myself. I cut off a tear from rolling down my cheek with the back of my free hand. “He’s perfect,” I croaked.
“See Cara? It’s everything we dreamed of.” He brought my hand to his mouth and kissed it.
I pointed at the screen and smiled. “It’s our son.”
Dalton nodded and laughed. “What do you want to name him?”
“William,” I said without hesitation. “Your grandfather’s name.” I’d thought about the name for our hypothetical son for a long time already.
Dalton nodded and beamed. “William. I love it.” He paused, returning his focus to the computer screen. “He can see us by the way. The site uses the computer’s camera to let us interact with him.”
I was suddenly embarrassed with my own crying and released Dalton’s hand. “Hi William,” I waved at him. His expression didn’t change much, his pure joy remaining on that beautiful face.
“Can we feed him?”
“Of course,” Dalton said. “We have to actually. Here, you can go to the inventory section and buy food, milk, toys, diapers, whatever you need in the Cryptokid store.”
“We need to change his diapers?”
Dalton laughed as if this was a silly question. “Of course. We have to do everything we would for William if he wasn’t in the computer.” He stood from the desk chair and allowed me to sit in his place. He guided my hand over the mouse to the parent inventory and selected a bottle of milk. I dragged it in front of William and held it steadily at an angle. It took some acute positioning, but he eventually latched onto the bottle’s nipple and began to suck on it. His precious new brown eyes zoned out and his throat lurched up and down with each drag from the bottle. I watched his bare plump stomach rise and fall and realized what I felt was already to be the greatest love I’d ever felt. He was part Dalton, part me, and fully our dream. I was so spellbound by William, I forgot Dalton was still in the room with me. I managed to break focus from the computer screen briefly and look back over my shoulder at my husband. “Thank you,” I silently mouthed as to not disturb William.
Life with William was…well, perfect. It was everything I had expected out of motherhood and more. He gave us everything from laughs and smiles to learning experiences with changing diapers to screaming late at night and even the occasional heated argument between Dalton and me. The only differences were that I didn’t have to push him out into the world myself and diaper changing sessions didn’t assault my nose. After a short while we came up with a list of schedules to decide who would work from home to take care of William, who would get up at night to take care of him, who’s turn it was to change the diaper – anything you could think of really.
We both loved William deeply, and cared for him accordingly. But something about it bothered Dalton, which was ironic since I was the one that took convincing. I enjoyed what we had in that first month and a half, but it wasn’t enough for him.
One day I came home from work to find Dalton instructing a technical team of three on the exact spot he’d like a 60-inch television mounted on the wall of the spare bedroom adjacent to ours. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“Oh hey, honey. Did you have a good day?”
“What is this?” I asked again.
“This? It’s nothing. I’m just getting these guys to help me set up a TV in William’s room so we can get a more life-sized version of him as he grows up. I think it’ll really improve our experience with the whole thing.”
I grabbed Dalton’s hand and found it was clammy to the touch. “Is everything okay?”
He wouldn’t look at me. “Yeah of course, everything’s fine. Just about a half an inch to the left…perfect.” The drills whirred and sputtered as the men mounted the television.
“Dalton, sweetie. All this? Why? I thought everything was fine the way it was.”
“No, definitely. Everything was fine. But I want it to be perfect – for us. He’s our son now, Cara. And I just want everything that gives us the best chance at raising him properly.”
The men barely spoke English. One raised a thumb and asked, “Good?”
Dalton flashed the ‘ok’ sign to them and winked. “Perfect, gentlemen, thank you. Do you accept crypto?”
They looked at each other, puzzled.
“No worries, here’s fifty for each of you.” He forked three fifty-dollar bills from his pocket and handed it to each of them. They looked both astounded and grateful, but kept their composure when thanking him. As soon as they filed out of the house, Dalton rushed back into the spare bedroom and ran an HDMI cable between the television and the open computer. He flipped the TV on, changed the input and…there he was: our bouncing baby boy on the big screen. Now he wasn’t a portion of the computer screen, but instead one of a 60-inch 4K Ultra TV. His little 2-foot long body took up about a fourth of the screen already. “What are we going to do when he’s taller than 60-inches?”
Dalton shrugged. “We can get a wall-mounted projector I suppose. I don’t know. I guess it will be a while before that happens.”
I slowly nodded, staring at our warm glowing William. If I thought the quality of his essence was incredible on the computer screen, it was unbelievable on the television. Although he was still in his two-dimensional realm, I couldn’t help but feel the quality of his picture abetted his humanity – as if he was more human than a physical child. I leaned against Dalton as he wrapped his burly arm around me. I waved at the television and for the first time, our little William looked directly at me and smiled right back. I feel strange to admit it, but at the time I was the happiest I’d ever been.
Only around a month later is when the act began to decay in my mind. The other ladies at work would ask me about Dalton, about life at home. I wanted to tell them about my son, and badly. But I knew what would come next: they’d want to see pictures which I could aptly fake, but then would come the gifts, and the visitations and the “bring-your-son-to-work-day” and the playdates. One day the charade would collapse and they’d all realize I was raising a glorified NeoPet with a tinge of humanity.
Despite William’s 2D figure, I had all the work to do of a real mother. We spent more than I cared to admit on his virtual diapers, food, bottles, binkies, blankets. And now he was hitting the age where they have the capacity to get bored of certain activities, and boy was he. At that point, Cryptokid started to feel like an emotion-baiting scam. It was specifically built for couples like Dalton and me, but not in the loving sense of providing us a real family we could raise – it was creating an emotional attachment to someone who wasn’t real, who you’d never be able to hold, who wouldn’t go to college, who wouldn’t find love, and who wouldn’t be there to take care of you when you grew old. Cryptokid was beginning to reveal itself for what its true nature of an emotional money grab.
But Dalton never saw it. Or at least, he acted like he didn’t. He was willing to keep spending the money, pouring endless time and energy into our television-screen simulated family. And to be honest, even though I finally began to see the purpose of Cryptokid and to understand why a company would be inclined to make such a product, I still deeply cared for William. Sure, he wasn’t real in the conventional sense, but the time and effort we put into him was, the connection and growing relationship between Dalton and I was, and even his reactions to our care seemed just as real. I’d still wake up every other night to calm his screams and feed him through the television. As much as I knew it was all a farce, my love was unwavering. I thought of telling Dalton we’d passed the test. It was time to adopt a physical child. But I knew what he’d say. We were already too far down the line to turn back. He wasn’t interested in ‘replacing’ William.
And at around month eight he made this abundantly clear. The computer screen wasn’t enough for Dalton, and it certainly didn’t take long before the 60-inch TV didn’t suffice either. I came home from a particularly long day at work, but I can’t remember why it was so difficult anymore. I slapped my keys on the counter, scratched at my hair that hadn’t been washed in a couple days, then opened my eyes to see a child sitting beside my husband staring at me from the living room floor. The child opened and closed his hand and smiled at me. I knew that smile from anywhere. I knew that face. “W-w-what is that?” I asked, stumbling back towards the front door, nearly falling until I was caught by the wall.
Dalton smiled meekly back at me. “Hey sweetie, welcome home. This is William.”
I wiped my eyes, attempting to confirm what I saw. I’d wanted a physically present child so much, but not like this. Not whatever that was. “No, Dalton. No, this has gone too far. That thing needs to get out of our house.”
My husband frowned back at me. “I thought you wanted a son. I thought you wanted to raise a kid with me. Come on, one day everyone is going to want to do it like this instead of have real – well that’s just the thing, isn’t it?” he laughed. “He’s real now. Not so ‘crypto’ anymore is he? William, meet your mommy.”
I stood rooted to the tile floor, unable to move my legs, body, eyes or even my mouth. William wasn’t just a two-dimensional high definition fantasy anymore. He wasn’t even a machine of wires, 1s and 0s, or churning gears. His flesh appeared as real as anyone’s, his eyes glistened stared up at me and sparkled the same way Dalton’s would, his lips were soft but thin as mine, his ears as perky and rounded as my mother’s. He could look as convincingly human as he pleased, but I would always know. Inside he wasn’t us. He wasn’t me, he wasn’t my mother.
He is just a methodical, diabolical scam of spinning gears, 1s and 0s and wires. He was brought into this world, into my life to pull the strings of my emotions like a jester’s puppet performing for the king. He would have driven all three of us to the brink both emotionally and financially. There was nothing more that needed to be said, but rather something clear that needed to be done.
Since I didn’t speak much outside our home about what happened in those walls regularly, I’ve never been forced to admit what I’d done. But when it was done I drove the body and the baseball bat I’d used out about two hours away in some remote part of the state park. I still remember the ripe scent of a fresh corpse in the trunk of that Buick. I remember how sore my arms were after scrubbing the felt carpet in the back of the car after I buried him. Just alongside the body I dropped the blood-stained metal baseball bat: the one he treasured most, signed by Sammy Sosa.
Even though I had no choice in the matter, my life has been quite lonely since then. But every day when I get home from work, I know I can always check on him in the cellar. Every day he looks more like a man, more like the man I always dreamed of raising. These days he’s really starting to look more like his father – he even has the same sloppy dark hair. Each night I sing him his favorite song:
Hush, little baby don’t say a word
Mamma’s gonna buy you a mocking bird
And if that mocking bird don’t sing
Mamma’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring is brass
Mamma’s gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass gets broke
Mamma’s gonna buy you a horse and cart
And if that horse and cart turn ‘round
Mamma’s gonna put your daddy in the ground.