Invisible Ladder

Kendi’s feet hurt. It was an unseasonably cold September—record-breaking, as it seemed every September had been all her life—but her toes were especially frigid. She put thermal gel in her thick socks, but nothing seemed to help. As many pregnant women did these days, she tried to focus on her work. But unlike them, she carried her own baby. While middle-class women doctored and lawyered, sold and marketed, ran 10Ks and drank rosé and self-actualized, Kendi managed their groceries, their wardrobes, and their hobbies.

She didn’t mind the errands themselves. The markets were full of people like her, scores of gig shoppers queued up before the distrustful eyes of the checkout enforcers, who hid behind camera lenses but were themselves only half a rung removed from her on the towering social ladder. But the spaces between the markets—that was a different flavor of oppression. The people in those spaces didn’t care to see her swollen belly. They turned away sharply, willing themselves to unsee. She reminded them of what they had spent all their free energy forgetting: they were the haves in a world of have-nots.

Today, Kendi had gotten an unusual assignment: a hand delivery of real Champagne. Hand deliveries were a showy gimmick, expensive for the sake of being expensive, but they usually landed her a good tip. Perhaps there was a hot dinner in her future. Her baby kicked at the thought. She procured the specified bottle, hailed a ride, and sat gratefully with her feet up as the vehicle zipped around town. When it came to a gentle stop and indicated her arrival, she exited the vehicle and nearly dropped the bottle onto the frostbitten pavement. This was a Welcome House.

Inside, behind protective glass, were rows upon rows of artificial wombs full of future executives and future senators and future trustees of philanthropic endowments. These were things her baby would never be. An attendant led her to the happy couple. They laughed and fussed with excitement as they held their freshly-readied child for the first time, gushing in much the same way as one might appraise a state-of-the-art refrigerator.

They thanked her hastily for the delivery and offered a glass of Champagne to the attending doctor, but there was no tip. It wasn’t that they’d forgotten her; they hadn’t seen her in the first place.

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