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Emma hoisted a massive wad of noodles from the bowl, splashing soup generously on the laminex table, and wound them around her chopsticks. Kathy lifted up a Buddhist Heavenly Vegetable and inspected it closely, as if she suspected it of consorting with meat. Petra frowned a little as she deftly shelled a prawn.
Sue wasnít eating. "My diet says its my liquids only day," she said, sipping at her glass of white wine.
Petra frowned again: an itís not important but Iím supposed to worry about it frown. "My sisterís pregnant," she said.
"So whatís the problem?" Sue asked. "She must be used to it by now."
"Itís not Athena," Petra said. "Itís Juliana. Itís her first."
"So what? Your family isnít exactly noted for difficult pregnancies."
"Sheís a worrier," Petra said, "so she had that new test done. The one where, when it gets to four cells, they grab one, and it tells you everything from the colour of its eyes to its star sign."
"And the baby comes out with its top left corner missing," Sue said.
"I donít think so," Petra said, in a thatís not funny voice.
"Or is it just three quarters of normal size?" said Sue, ignoring her. "Thatíd make the birth easier."
"Does it develop hyperactive growth hormones to catch up," Emma suggested, "so that when itís seven itís my size?" She looked down at her vast bulk with pride.
"Thatís not the problem," Petra said. Her voice became grim. "Itís got the salesperson gene."
There was a hush at the table. Even Emmaís last remaining noodle froze, waiting in vain for its impending doom.
"I thought that was an American shock horror medical beat-up," Kathy said.
Petra shook her head. "The doctor told Juliana that the research is pretty conclusive. They did a whole lot of tests on twins that are insurance salesmen, and found the same DNA pattern. And theyíve confirmed since that 98% of real estate agents and politicians have it, too."
"Has Des had a hand in this?" Emma asked. "Heís been seen in some strange places since he broke up with Sue."
Petra shook her head. "Julianaís husband is a diplomat," she said.
"So what happens with kids with the gene?" Sue asked. "Do they flog off their kid sisters at the school fete?"
Petra nodded. "Something like that. Itís the same as boy children being innately violent. They learn to lie before they start to talk, they cheat at putting round pegs into square holes, and when theyíre teenagers, they always promise to be home before midnight, because they know thatís what their parents want to hear."
"Canít they deal with it at school?" Sue asked. "I thought that they were supposed to provide training in Adequate Socialisation these days."
"Thatís in between the Lesson on Drug Abuse and the boat trip to explore Sexual Harassment is it?" Kathy asked.
"It doesnít work that way," Petra said. "Theyíre fully qualified teachersí pets, before you can blink. Or the larrikin with the big smile. Thatís why girls with the gene are no good at maths ó they think itíll wreck their image with the boys."
"Is the baby a girl?" Emma asked.
"No," Petra said.
"That must be a load off her mind. Having a kid with a gene like that would be in breach of feminist solidarity," Sue said.
"Thatís the least of her problems," Petra said. "Sheís got legal advice that if she has it, the kidís got a good case for maternal malfeasance. Improper selection of father."
"Is she still living with the guy?" Emma asked.
Emma smiled. "Then if I was a smart lawyer, Iíd get in now. Quick judge in chambers. Get myself appointed the kidís advocate. Because where the motherís concerned, thereís a clear conflict of interest between her relationship with her husband and that with the child."
"I wouldnít," Sue said. "Because if that kidís even half as revolting as Petra says itís going to be, thereís only going to be one winner, and it wonít be the lawyer."
"So what happens to kids like that?" Kathy said. "They canít all sell real estate."
"Thereís always used cars," Sue suggested. "Stockbrokers, entrepreneurs, peace negotiators ...
"I canít see what your sisterís worried about," Emma said. "Where I work, the salespeople go a long way ... like right to the top. You get promoted for what you say youíre going to do ó not for what you do."
"So sheís going to sit back and let the brat destroy the world," Kathy said. "Chair committees the facilitate destruction of the ozone layer. Run conferences on overpopulation. Fund long-term investigations of the rise in sea level."
"You could make a lot of money out of that," Emma pointed out. "Run a sweep on exactly when Kiribati goes under. Or when itís no longer safe to step outside in the daytime. Or the date we grow gills so we can breathe carbon monoxide."
"Thatís what they ought to apply their genetics to," Sue said. "Grow people with longer legs. And thicker skins."
"Sounds revolting," Petra said. "Like a sort of humanoid giraffe fish. Not cuddly."
Emma searched the remaining inch of soup with her chopsticks, hoping that another noodle might have materialised. "The kidís not going to wipe out civilisation as we know it single-handed," she said.
Kathy shook her head. "But you know what salespeople are like. They get together. They congregate. Sales Teams. Task Forces. Negotiating sessions. Peace Conferences. Parliaments. Synods. Conspiracies. Cabals ..."
"So we should wipe out all salespeople?"
"Hear. Hear." said Sue.
"Isnít that an infringement of their civil liberties?" Emma said.
"And isnít a corn flakes ad interrupting a steamy love scene an infringement of yours?"
Petra dismembered her last prawn.
"I think that youíre missing something," she said.
She chewed for a moment.
"Salespeople spend half their lives getting themselves into sticky situations ..."
"When theyíve told one lie too many, you mean?" Kathy said.
Petra nodded. "And how do they get out of them?"
"They talk fast. Try to make their victim feel important, wanted ó give them a warm feeling inside, so they get conned anyway."
"And what do you think that kidís doing to Juliana right now? Itís pumping her full of hormones ó warm, maternal, isnít it lovely hormones..."
"O to be a mother, now that babyís here," Sue said.
Emma lifted up her glass, so the sun glinted in the wine. "Then letís drink to the end of the world," she said.
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1993
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