Simone Kern’s story “The Propagator” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 23 August 2019.
I live near the Houston ship channel, the chemical refinery capital of America, so both the causes and effects of climate change are right at our doorstep. Summers are brutally hot, and the city (and our house) floods regularly. In March of 2019 we had a major industrial accident, the ITC plant fire, which put a black cloud of poisonous smoke right over our house. The setting of this story came to me shortly afterwards, from thinking about what the Gulf Coast might look like 50-75 years on, if nothing is done to curtail climate change or the deregulation of the oil & gas industry.
In that flooded, toxic, boiling-hot world, green spaces will be at a premium, and left unchecked, corporations will surely exploit the fundamental human need for green space. Already, Monsanto has developed such a stranglehold over agriculture that seed-saving is now illegal. Given enough profit potential, I imagine corporations will seek to exert the same level of control over every type of plant.
I knew I wanted a character who defied these laws by propagating houseplants, but I didn’t get her motivation until I heard about Texas HB1500–a heartbeat abortion ban that was up before the Texas legislature. This bill ultimately failed, but similar bans passed in Alabama, Georgia, and now Missouri. I saw a connection there—between forced birth and patented plants. Who controls biological reproduction? Increasingly, we see that power moving away from individuals towards more powerful entities.
For people who’ve never experienced it (including most lawmakers passing these bills), pregnancy is an abstraction. We too often speak about pregnancy in euphemisms, when it is a wall-to-wall traumatic experience that forever changes you, even when the fetus is healthy & wanted. I wanted readers to confront what it would mean to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against your will, against all common sense. I wanted them to understand how that would alter you forever, as it does Marisol. I’ve not been in Marisol’s situation, but I have my own share of reproductive traumas. So I drew on some of my own fear and rage and grief from those experiences, and I hope I did her story justice.
Finally, Milo’s condition stems from the correlation between air pollution and severe fetal abnormalities. I’m a parent, living in the shadow of chemical refineries, who checks the local news before we play outside in case there’s been a benzene leak that day. The same politicians who support forced birth also fight against any effort to curtail air pollution. Marisol’s situation encapsulates the absurd and horrifying conclusion of their policy platform.
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