Conceiving - Ada Mantine

        Breakfast at the Pure Planet Institute for Buddhist Studies and Science was served buffet-style in a vast, fluorescent-lit hall. The serving area was presided over by five staff members, short-statured Indian men who were intently watchful of the residents. One, a young pajama-wearing attendant who called himself Gandhi, kept biting his mustached upper lip, as if keeping his laughter in check.
        Rob Morgenstein, at ease even in the early morning, was wearing a loose blue button-down Oxford and argyle socks. He pointed to the wooden bowl of yogurt. Gandhi spooned an oozing mound onto his place. "X-rated!" Rob pronounced, and the pink blonde woman next to him giggled. Rob gave her one of his jocular winks. He then pointed to the chapatti and a banana. The mustached attendant handed them over with one of his fierce, fixed smiles. Rob then joined his wife Marla at a shiny faux-mahogany table.
        "I wonder why the institute bans coffee," Marla said musingly. She knew Rob hated the taste of coffee, that he approved of the ban on aesthetic grounds. There was also the possibility that he enjoyed the fact that she couldn't have it. That she would have to undergo this self-sacrifice. He made it clear that their stay at the Pure Planet Institute was an extreme sacrifice for him.
        With his massive hands Rob picked up his tan napkin, stroked it a few times, and wrung it like a boneless rodent. He looked around the room
        "Robert, did you hear me?" Marla said. "I'm going through withdrawal. Why are they doing this to me?"
        Rob snapped into a smile and reached across the table. "I know why!" he said, sinking his surprisingly strong fingers into her arm. "Coffee is poison, my dear. We all know it intuitively, that's why it's so addictive. Coffee growers put chemicals in their product that impair their customers' fertility." Rob grinned and pressed on. "And you drink more coffee than anyone I know."
        This is how it was. Everything, every conversation, always came back to the problem with their reproductive systems, his body or hers, it was unclear; it was likely to be the chemistry of the two. Marla felt immensely grateful to be accepted to Pure Planet and was willing to accept the institute's idiosyncratic rules. Perhaps intensive Buddhism would take them out of their bodies and their minds so that their bodies and minds could be fixed, enabling them to make a perfect little baby.
        "C'mon, Rob, what would be the coffee industry's motive?" she said in a hazy voice.
        A gong boomed, very loud and somehow manic, then it stropped abruptly, mid-boom, as if someone had snatched the mallet out of the striker's fist.
        "Coffee is a capitalist tool," he replied, "which, since the eighteenth century, has fueled growth and progress in coffee-drinking countries. Note how only now are the Indians beginning to drink it, and only now has the Indian economy started to accelerate. Soon you'll see birth rates here plummet. Think about it, Marla: the coffee-drinking countries are the ones with the slowest-growing populations."
        At the moment India was teaming with life. This, of course, made it a propitious setting for the conception of a child. To ensure that their submission at Pure Planet stood out, Marla spliced together a video made from the sonograms of the last five embryos that had been conceived in Marla's womb. She edited it so that as each embryo grew and died, it would morph into its brother or sister, which shriveled and died, only to start again (but tragically miscarry). Marla Morgenstein thought this was very Buddhist -- symbolizing the struggle of life to manifest, the indivisibility of all things.