End of a Long Winter

from Experiments in Belief

I saw one today. She was a little leprechaun. Green overalls, a Sim-Monsters Frog Helmet, green eyes. Terribly bright green eyes. We all stared and stared, like we were watching a visitor from another planet. She was trying to climb on the back of a dog her mother had on a leash--and failing, squealing gleefully every time the poor animal wriggled free of her legs. I'd forgotten what a delight the world can be to a child. It was all hers--the dog, the wide lawn of the park, the spring day, all of us watching--and she loved it. She made me so happy, just being alive.

There is hope for the human species. You might not believe it, looking around this dreary little gameshow we've made of our world, but human nature--what we get from our biology--is full of trust and wonder and kindness. She still had hers. Though her mother clearly wanted to hurry past the bench I occupied, the dog came sniffing at my shoes, and the little girl--bless her heart!--told me I looked all "crinkly."

She said that because I was over eighty when the Therapy was developed; though people around three-hundred look fine, at three-hundred fifty I look like an old raisin. "I'm an old man," I said, cheerfully.

"How old are you?" She smiled, rocking on her heels.

I told her.

The number was too big. She covered her confusion with a bashful smile. "I'm four," she said, holding up the fingers for me to count.

Nearby, the mother stood stiff and patient as a servant, uncomfortable but conscious that her daughter should be allowed to feel at ease. "I'm sorry," she said to me in a confidential voice.

I did not have to reply. Delight and fascination were written all over my old face.

"Can I touch the crinkles?" asked the girl, in perfect innocence. She raised her arms to be lifted onto my lap. I asked the mother if it was okay, then brought the girl side-saddle onto my leg.

Little hands moved over my cheeks and nose. I couldn't help but laugh, like I'd been tickled. How could such a small creature be so alive and intelligent?

"It's soft," she said with surprise.

"I'm not made of wood," I said. "I'm a person, just like you and your mother and everyone else."

"My face isn't soft," she replied.

Tiny fingers made fists and tried to make taffy out of my chin.

"Be nice, Julie," said the mother. "The gentleman isn't a toy."

Obediently, the girl removed her hands, her green eyes flashing. She smiled, pleased and guilty. "When I get old, I'm going to be like you."

"No, no." What a silly thing to say. "No one gets wrinkles anymore. You'll always look young and pretty, like your mother." The mother shivered. I became more aware of her discomfort, the discomfort of my grandchildren's generation, who associated marks of age with disease, as though growing old had once been a virus, like smallpox.

"Why?" asked the girl.

"People live forever."

"Why don't you die?"

"I live forever, too."

"I wish they could make you better."

The mother took the girl away then, apologizing emphatically. I wasn't offended and tried to tell them, but off they went, the mother embarrassed, the daughter absorbed in the dog again, the next game.

I was lucky, though, to have actually held one of the New Children, and it made my day. I went back to the little suburban house my great-grandchildren are always pestering me to lease them, had my can of Nanospam on the balcony, and for the first time I can remember I felt genuinely pleased with the direction in which the world was moving. The Nanospam was awful, like salty tofu, but I had faith that the government would find a way to get nanites to make something a little more complex, like a good cheeseburger, and that then the earth would support a couple hundred billion people, instead of forty, and that furthermore--it seemed just around the corner--middle-income families like those of my great-grandchildren would qualify for children. If that ever happened, I would lease the house to someone in the family. The old place would come alive again, doing what it had been built for, raising children. The planet, too, would come alive for a time, perhaps for centuries, until again the population reached a maximum.

And in the meantime, the world was not so bad, not the way it was a century ago, when everyone was old and getting older. I'm so glad the government has allowed some children to be born. It will make all of our lives a little easier.