Short Story
                                            Perfect Grade
                                                            By Cindy O’Quinn


                                                                    1: Newborn Visit

    “She is different from other babies.” Collette said.

    Dr. Ford, sitting on his special doctor stool on wheels and checking the baby’s reflexes with his special
doctor hammer, looks up at his new patient’s mother. His expression remains unchanged. An expert at
identifying the paranoid moms that worry something isn’t quite right with their precious newborn. Careful to
hide any expression that might cause alarm, he continues checking Willow’s reflexes.

    She’ll swear that her baby is exceptional in some way or worse yet, she’ll swear the baby is suffering
from some rare disease.

    Collette looked at the doctor as though trying to translate his expression or lack thereof. “I believe my
daughter to be exceptionally gifted.”

    Dr. Ford continued his examination of the newborn. “I am sure she is. Just as I believe all babies are
exceptional.”

    “You are aware that I underwent IVF procedures to have Willow.” Collette stated.

    It was a matter of fact statement and not a question. Dr. Ford’s thoughts of the woman flowed on.

    Another high dollar baby from a woman who had her eggs frozen when she was twenty-five. An age
when she would have been better off to have had a baby naturally and not waited fifteen years to have her
eggs transplanted. Now she will demand special treatment.

    Collette wondered if Dr. Ford was taking her seriously. “I think we should consider some special
testing.”

    Dr. Ford had heard it all time and time again in his three decades as a pediatrician. Mommies that
know, without doubt, they have given birth to the next Einstein, or in this case, the next Curie. His continued
thinking.

    I should retire soon, I can certainly afford to, and besides, I have listened to enough flighty parents and
screaming children for two life times.

    “In vitro procedures do not change the baby Mrs. Walker. I am sure your daughter is perfectly normal.”
Dr. Ford regretted his words immediately.

    Collette Walker looked as though she had just received a remarkably vicious slap across her face. “I
beg your pardon but Willow is not a perfectly normal baby. As I was telling you, I had IVF. My
endocrinologist, Dr. Brennon, told me the fertilized egg that was transferred graded above any he had ever
seen. It was of perfect quality and had ten cells and was a grade four within forty-eight hours.” Collette felt
her left eyebrow begin to twitch as it always did when she became over excited. She hoped the doctor
didn’t notice.

    Dr. Ford stared at the forty plus woman with the twitching eyebrow and wondered how he could possibly
get out from underneath her wrath.

    I could refer her to Dr. Lewiston. No. I could not inflict such misery onto my fellow colleague.

    “I assure you, I meant no offense. I was trying to reassure you that your baby was not abnormal in any
way due to the manner in which she was conceived. Of course we can do additional testing when your
daughter is older.” Dr. Ford hated to grovel but knew it would be the only way to placate Collette Walker.

    Collette smiled, showing a set of whiter than white teeth that made Dr. Ford feel as though he had just
been subject to a harrowing.

    I will do all the tests you want on your precious petri dish papoose. Anything to shut your overbearing
mouth.

    Dr. Ford said, “Just give these forms to the receptionist and she will schedule the next appointment.” He
glanced down at the newborn as he opened the door and found that she was staring up at him with eyes
that were much darker than the usual dark blue of most newborns. A chill ran up his spine that caused him
to quiver. By noon he had forgotten about Collette Walker and her baby. Almost.

                                                            2: Changes at Home

    “She sleeps through the night. That certainly isn’t typical newborn behavior.” Collette explained to her
husband.

    Terrance looked at his wife and wondered if she was getting enough sleep herself. She looks so tired
and thin. How could she be thin so quickly after giving birth? “You aren’t complaining because Willow is
sleeping well are you?”

    Collette was aggravated with her husband. He just doesn’t understand what I am going through. “Of
course I’m not complaining. It’s just that I worry that Willow isn’t waking up for her feedings like the nurses
told me she would.”

    “Surely the nurses couldn’t know the sleep patterns of all newborns. Willow looks perfectly healthy.
Obviously she is getting all the nourishment she needs at her bedtime feeding to hold her until morning.”
Terrance told his wife. All the while wondering if Collette herself was eating well enough.

    “I suppose you are right.” Collette sounded doubtful. Her thoughts were continuing on.

    My precious daughter is already becoming independent. She sleeps through the night with no need of
my comfort or my milk. Our next appointment with Dr. Ford isn’t for another two weeks. Maybe I’ll give Dr.
Brennon a call in the meanwhile.

    Collette never got around to calling Dr. Brennon. The sixteen hours each day that Collette was up was
spent caring for Willow. She nursed every four hours like clockwork. When she wasn’t nursing Willow she
was trying her best to consume the healthiest of foods to ensure the best milk production. Collette
continued to lose weight even after increasing her calorie intake by another thousand. Willow napped
twice a day. Collette was so exhausted that she too fell asleep during those times, no matter how hard she
tried to stay awake.

    Terrance was dressing for work when he noticed the dark circles around his sleeping wife’s eyes. He
also noticed the hollowness of her cheeks and how the blankets clung to the protruding bones at her hips.

    I will have to pay closer attention in the evenings to make sure she is eating enough at dinner. Maybe I
will stop on the way home and pick up some ice cream.

    Willow started to move about in her crib. Collette opened her eyes to check the time which she knew all
too well would be seven on the dot. Terrance was still at their bedside staring down at his wife. “I’ll get
Willow and bring her to you.” He offered.

    Collette was relieved because she felt so tired, regardless of having just slept a full eight hours. She
would ask Dr. Ford at today’s appointment if it was normal to be feeling this way. Collette was sure that it
was but she needed someone else to tell her that being a new mom was hard work and it was okay to be
dog-tired.

                                                                    
3: Professional Opinion

    Dr. Ford looked over the day’s schedule and saw that Willow Walker’s name was on the list. A fierce
chill swept over him as recalled the baby’s eyes at the last appointment.

    I wonder what exceptional abilities Mrs. Walker will report about her precious petri papoose today.

    He was working at his desk when the nurse informed him that his eleven o’clock had finally arrived. Dr.
Ford glanced at his watch and saw that it was fifteen after. He felt somewhat surprised that Mrs. Walker
would be late.

    After knocking on the door of exam room one he stepped into the room. He first looked down at the
baby lying in Collette Walker’s arms and then up to woman’s face. There was no masking his shock at her
appearance. The well put together forty plus woman he had last met and been so irritated by had been
replaced by what seemed to be her shell. Mrs. Walker was bone thin and sharp at all edges. Her fair skin
was overshadowed by hues of blue and gray. Dr. Ford took another look at the baby. The infant was pink,
plump, and in perfect health. Her eyes, very dark blue at last visit, were now only a shade less black than
her pupils.

    “Dr. Ford.” Came a weak voice. “I wanted to ask your professional opinion.” Collette Walker looked into
the doctor’s face, waiting for permission to ask her question.

    Dr. Ford stumbled briefly. “Of course Mrs. Walker. What is it?”

    Collette asked, “Is it normal for me to be feeling done in? Is it because I waited until I was forty-five to
have a baby? Am I too old to care for my daughter properly?”

    Dr. Ford felt so small at that moment for having thought such ugly things about this woman at their
previous appointment.

    I should have listened to this mom and done some additional blood work. But what would it have
shown? Tests results would indicate an exceptionally healthy baby. A high quality perfect baby.

    “You are not old Mrs. Walker. Many women have babies at a greater age than yours. I think perhaps you
need some blood work.” Dr. Ford tried to sound encouraging.

    It was too late for Collette. She died later that evening. Test results were inconclusive but it appeared
she had been depleted of all vital nutrients. Perhaps by her perfect grade petri dish papoose.

                                                                            THE END
About Cindy O'Quinn

Cindy O'Quinn lives in the
Alleghany Mountains of
Virginia with her husband
and sons. Her writing
reflects her love of horror
and speculative fiction.
Cindy is currently busy
completing her first book
of short stories.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.