She was not surprised when they came for her. Her mother had warned her, each admonishment more hysterical than the last.
"You never had a father," she had said finally over the phone last week, her voice cutting in and out. Static and sobs. "I was never married." And finally, in a bleak tone devoid of hope: "They will come for you. You will understand when they come for you."
There were thirteen of them, the youngest fourteen, the oldest gum-mouthed and using a walker. Each had a baby as silent as they, eyes cold and judging.
"Choose," the youngest said, in a voice as innocent as sin.
"Choose," the oldest said, in a voice thick with regret.
She could have fought. She knew that even then. But she recalled her mother's missing eye, the limp, the way her mom flinched when she saw more than three women together. She did not understand, not yet, but butterflies rolled in her stomach. She pointed to one at random, mute. The woman stepped forward, face veiled in shadow, and pressed the baby to her stomach. It slipped inside her, the butterflies giving way to something else.
It hurt. Hurt is not big enough for that pain, but it was all she had.
She fell, tears tearing themselves free of flesh. She wanted to say she was too old, that she never wanted children, but her screams said all the words for her.
When she could finally stand, there were only twelve women staring back at her.
"Choose," they said, and the voice came from inside her as well. "You may join us. If you do not, this is your choice." And the oldest patted her belly, already looking swollen, a nameless hunger stirring in her eyes.
She stared at her stomach, thought about her mother. Wondered what happened to men who didn't want children. They could tell her, she knew. And she thought of her mother, of each blind date that had been thrust at her in a desperate frenzy. She had not understood it as hope, then. Had not understood how desperate hope could be.
She closed her eyes, and made her choice.