Artwork is illegal. They tell me that once, a very long time ago, painting, writing, and music were not only legal, but not controlled. If someone wanted to draw a poster protesting something they didn’t like, they weren’t executed on national television. I should’ve been born then. It’s because of this need for self-preservation that I live on the outskirts of the city, on the highest floor of the tallest building, and I always keep three deadbolts on my door and steel shutters on my windows. To keep my artwork hidden from the rest of the world.
I’ve painted ever since my great-grandmother passed away. She was an art teacher for eighty years, back when such a thing was legal. She taught me everything I know about art. Its because of her that every wall, every spare nook and cranny in my house, is filled with paintings. Waterfalls dance down from ceilings, flowers and vines sprout from floorboards and climb toward a painted sun, birds and other winged creatures are frozen in flight across these walls, and entire forests brood up and down my stairwell. Being eighteen, no family, and unengaged, I get lonely. These paintings keep me company.
Taking my brush in hand, I start adding detail on koi fish in a pond in my bathroom. After one crimson scale starts to appear, a knock sounds on my door. I throw the brush down and run to the door. I grab a towel from the clean stack on my couch and quickly wipe all the paint off my hands. I hide the towel behind my back and look through the peephole, and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s Michelangelo, my best friend. He was one of the first people to encourage my paintings. He won’t turn me in.
“You’ve gotten a little slower in answering the door when you’re painting,” he says with a smirk as he walks in.
“I was all the way in the bathroom in the back,” I retort with a smile. “And red paint is the hardest to wipe off.”
He takes the towel from my hands and examines it. “And it looks like it’ll be the hardest to remove from this white towel,” he observes.
I roll my eyes and lead the way deeper into my apartment. “So what brings you here? Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
Michelangelo grins. “I got today off.”
I grab my paintbrush and start working on koi scales again. “Why? Aren’t you the best arms expert around? I thought they would need you to keep instructing the new recruits proper firing techniques so they don’t kill each other with the new guns.”
“Today’s a physical training day,” he replies with a soft laugh. “And I took today off as a favor for Ashely and Abel.”
“Then why aren’t you over at their house?”
He shuffles his feet across the floor. “Um…that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.” He hesitates.
“They’re not missing, are they? They’re not in any kind of trouble, right?” I ask quickly, worry dancing across my face.
“What? No! They’re fine. Its just…Ashely can’t have children.”
My heart sinks to my feet. In a union unable to produce children, the couple would be broken up, unless they try to be foster parents, a hard and grueling process that takes years to complete.
“So the government is making them break off the engagement?” I ask slowly. That would be horrible. Ashely and Abel love each other. Being around them is like being around the sun. It’s blindingly perfect.
“The government doesn’t know yet. But they wanted me to ask you something.”
I look back up. “What?”
Michelangelo sighs. “They want you to be the surrogate mother.”