Falling pregnant with Lily had been her first infraction against the Spousal Laws. Like homosexuality and abortion, single parenthood had been illegal ever since the National Family Party came to power nearly three decades ago. As soon as the cause of Julia’s sudden nausea was correctly diagnosed, she’d been brought before the Bureau and called to account for the genesis of her not–allowed–to–be–illegitimate offspring. The child’s progenitor, she told them, was her employer, Roy Sovas, a kind man some twenty years her senior whose wife had produced a single sickly daughter and a string of miscarriages. Divorce was impossible. Something had to be done.
Armed with her testimony, the Bureau took a DNA sample from Roy and used it to prove paternity, although he, to his lasting credit, had already confessed to the affair. For his part in their joint violation of the Spousal Laws, Roy received a docked salary, a black mark on his citizenship record and a formal reminder that he was forbidden from contacting either Julia or their child for the next eighteen years, until the zygote who was to become Lily had reached its majority. For her part, Julia was given a choice: either give birth and then surrender her newborn to an adoptive couple, or take a husband. There was also the matter of finding a new job and a black mark similar to Roy’s, but compared to the choice of abandoning her child or raising it with a man she didn’t love, such trifles paled into insignificance.
In the end, she’d opted for marriage. She knew of no suitable candidates, but then, if she had the affair with Roy would hardly have been necessary. Fortunately, the Bureau was well–versed in human weakness, and kept a roster of available men — and women, should the need arise, although it much less frequently did — who were willing to marry such as her. That exercise, at least, contained some element of choice, albeit a meagre one. Robert had seemed the lesser of several evils. They met twice, agreed to marry, and then it was done: Lily’s existence was legitimised by this façade of wedded parentage. Love didn’t enter into it, or competence, or care, or even genetics: every child, the National Family Party said, should have both a father and mother, come what may. And as Lily was still years from her majority, the fact of Robert’s death didn’t matter, either. Once again, the choice was Julia’s — either give her daughter away, or marry another man to ensure Lily’s proximity to an official father–figure.
She’d been silent for a long time, pretending this not–quite–conversation with Agent James was heading in a different direction. She looked at him, hoping she might somehow have slipped backwards in time, to an era when this sort of thing didn’t happen, but still the stylus stabbed inexorably downwards.
“You understand,” said Agent James, “that the Bureau’s concern is only for Lily’s well–being. A child raised by only one gender, no matter how lovingly, cannot ever be more than a half–being.”
“I understand,” croaked Julia, although she did not, could not, never had, never would; least of all now, when Robert, whose existence should have protected her from this eventuality, was gone, and how was she to feel about that, anyway?
“You do not have to decide just yet,” said Agent James, so gently that Julia found herself hating him. “First, there is the funeral to attend to. Afterwards, however —”
“Yes,” she said bitterly, “I remember. Ten days’ grace in which to find a husband.”
“Ten days’ grace,” said Agent James, nodding his head. “Shall I bring you the list of candidates, once things are sorted?”
Fuck your candidates, Julia wanted to scream at him.
“Yes,” she said.