Coffee Break Read – Thirteen

I am breeder number thirteen. In the last ten years I have given birth to seven children. I have never been permitted to see any of them, although I was lucky enough to hear each one cry as it was carried away to the nurseries. I know my babies must be healthy, because I am still here. Those who cannot bear viable infants do not stay. We do not know where they go.
Of the original twenty breeders brought to this place, only I and number eight remain. There have been many others. Some have stayed. Some have gone. Some have died. We currently number eleven. I am the only one who can read and write fluently. Those who raised me until I was brought here had me taught. At that time it was not forbidden.
I count myself lucky. I was raised by foster carers outside this place, and, although I have never been loved, I was raised carefully. Some others are not so fortunate. They have been wrenched from their families because they are fertile. They have had names. They have had mothers and fathers. They have known what it is to be loved. I pity them.
The keepers are not unkind, but we are little more than vessels to them. They consider our physical health carefully; as our only function is to provide the children the rich and powerful cannot make for themselves. Our mental health is less of a consideration, but as long as we perform regularly, and without complaining, they have no reason to make us miserable. Indeed, when it was discovered that I am literate, I was given books, and writing supplies, on condition that I made no attempt to teach anyone else these skills. I am too thankful for the solace to be found in reading to defy this prohibition. I also have my herb garden from whose produce I make simple remedies for female ailments. This is encouraged by our keepers.
For as long as I have conscious memory I have presented the world with a face of mild compliance. It is the hardest thing of all to do, especially when you burn inside. But it has kept me alive. Most of the other women in this place think me odd in the extreme, as I keep myself busy all day; they prefer to spend their days eating sweetmeats and their nights pleasuring each other. All the time, they speculate about the men who come to leave their seed in this place. This speculation is as bad for the mind as sexualised idleness and too much sweet food are for the body. If girls grow fat, keepers will restrict their access to foods, and drive them to the gymnasium for exercise, but if the minds of the same girls are clouded with foolish dreams about the fathers of their babies who is to care?
I have one friend; she is breeder number eight, the other survivor of the original intake of twenty girls. Mostly, number eight and I keep to our own company, although of late we have been joined by number sixty-two, a small, pale girl who had a hard time birthing twins, and seems to find our company a solace.
In order to retain our sanity, we decided long ago never to think about the men whose seed we incubate. We also try not to think about the babies.  Putting men out of our minds is easy, as we never see one. The seed is brought to us by the midwives, who implant it in our wombs with painful devices. And if there should be a difficult birth requiring the aid of a doctor, the doctor’s face is hidden. I have my babes easily, as does number eight, so I have never been even that close to a male person. The truth of the matter is that as far as memory serves me, I have never actually seen a man. The only time I can even remember having heard male voices is when we are gathered together and forced witness extreme punishment being meted out by the masked minions of the Enforcer.
Not thinking about the babies you have borne is more difficult, and I think all breeders have many wakeful nights wondering where our children are, and hoping they are loved. My friend and I never speak of it.
Eight and I take as much healthful exercise as we are allowed. We like best to run in the gardens, although this is not always possible. When we must stay inside, we run on the mechanical roads, and practice the hand-to-hand combat we learned from our friend, number two. She was an exquisite oriental girl who taught us the beautiful dance that is called Tai Kwon Do. She also taught us to balance our minds, and tricks to enable us to always present a calm exterior. When she went away, we were sad, but hid it in the ways she had taught us.
In the evenings, or when we are heavy with child, I read out loud and number eight makes exquisite embroideries. It is not such a bad life; at least we have companionship.

From The Barefoot Runners by Jane Jago. You can listen to this on YouTube.

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