It is always dangerous to bargain with the Fair Folk, but sometimes what they offer is exactly what you’re looking for. Sofia Samatar studies African languages and literature, as well as a writing speculative fiction. Her first book, A Stranger in Olondria, comes out next spring.
On my first visit to the clinic, I went through all the usual drills, the same stuff I go in for every two weeks. Step here, pee here, spit here, breathe in, breathe out, give me your arm. The only difference the first time was the questions.
Are you aware of the gravity of the commitment? I said yes. Have you been informed of the risks, both physical and psychological? Yes. The side effects of the medication? Blood transfusions? Yes. Yes. The decrease in life expectancy? Everything: yes.
That’s what you say to life. Yes.
“They chose us,” I told Dave. Rain lashed the darkened windows. I cradled tiny Honey in my lap. I’d dried her off and wrapped her in a towel, and she was quiet now, exhausted. I’d already named her in my head.
“We can’t go back,” Dave whispered. “If we say yes, we can’t go back.”
His eyes were wet. “We could run out and put her on somebody else’s porch.”
He looked ashamed after he’d said it, the way he’d looked when I’d asked him not to introduce me as “my wife, Karen, the children’s literature major.” When we first moved into the neighborhood he’d introduce me that way and then laugh, as if there was nothing more ridiculous in the world. Children, when almost nobody could have them anymore; literature when all the schools were closed. I told him it bothered me, and he was sorry, but only for hurting me. He wasn’t sorry for what he really meant. What he meant was: No.
That’s wrong. It’s like the Simkos, hateful and worn out with saying No to Mandy, saying No to life.
So many people say no from the beginning. They make it a virtue: “I can’t be bought.” As if it were all a matter of protection and fancy goods. Of course, most of those who say yes pretend to be heroes: saving the world, if only for a season. That’s always struck me as equally wrong, in its own way. Cheap.
I can’t help thinking the absence of children has something to do with this withering of the spirit—this pale new way of seeing the world. Children knew better. You always say yes. If you don’t, there’s no adventure, and you grow old in your ignorance, bitter, bereft of magic. You say yes to what comes, because you belong to the future, whatever it is, and you’re sure as hell not going to be left behind in the past. Do you hear the fairies sing? You always get up and open the door. You always answer. You always let them in.