(Inspired by E.L. Lockhart.)
"Mima, tell me again about how babies happen."
Atrus, hunched over his journal, smiled to himself. Yeesha was sitting on the floor behind him, with her color-box and some sheets of paper. She was five, and for some weeks now had been fascinated with the process of human reproduction. He wondered if she was going to start asking for a baby brother or sister.
Catherine reached up to water a plant. She carefully did not meet Atrus's eyes. "Why don't you tell me, Yeesha? I think you know it pretty well by now. Inside a woman's body …"
"There's a little egg-cell," Yeesha took up the recitation. "And in a man's body there's a life-spark. And when the life-spark … um …"
"Meets the egg-cell," Catherine prompted.
"Yes. When it meets the egg-cell, they turn into one thing. And that's the beginning of a baby. And it comes to the place in the mother's body, the yootch-russ – "
"Ut'rus. It comes there, and if it's the right time, it slips in and starts to grow. And in time, it's a baby and ready to be born, and it comes out."
"So how does it get there?"
"How does what get where? The baby? You just told me."
"Nooo." Yeesha shook her head, annoyed. "The spark! The life-spark is inside the father's body. How does it get into the mother's?"
Oh, no – Atrus felt the crimson rising in his face. Unable to help himself, he finally glanced at Catherine. The watering-can sloshed slightly in her hands, and she made a small sound like a hiccup. Their eyes met for an instant, and then both looked away hurriedly. "Well," Catherine said hesitantly, "there's – a – "
"Yeesha, do you remember when we watched the caprines on Releeshahn?" Atrus put in, looking down at his journal again, trying to control his fierce blush. "You asked me what the two white ones were doing, and I told you they were mating? Mating is how the life-spark gets from the buck caprine into the doe."
Yeesha's eyes widened. "And people do it just like that?"
"Not … quite." Catherine's voice was unsteady, with an odd bubbling, almost chirping note. "Human people usually do it facing each other."
"So they can see each other. And kiss each other, if they want to."
There was a moment of blessed quiet, as Yeesha addressed herself to her drawing again. Atrus sighed silently, in relief … and then as Yeesha spoke again, he realized the reason for her silence. She was, disturbingly, thinking.
"Do people ever do that and a baby not happen?"
Atrus felt his mouth twitch, but he kept his eyes resolutely on his journal. Behind him, he knew, Catherine was just as determinedly addressing herself to her garden. "Yes. Sometimes they do," she said with the same burbling unsteadiness in her voice.
"Oh. So you and Dadda were lucky."
Atrus put his pen into the inkwell. In another moment, he knew, he was about to make a series of blots. "L-lucky?" Catherine repeated, almost inaudibly.
"Yes. Achenar, and then Sirrus, and then me. Every time you and Dadda did it, there was a baby."
Somehow, Atrus managed to make it look as though he had been seized with a violent fit of coughing. "Yeesha," Catherine said, her eyes wide and her mouth pulled carefully down, "run quickly to the kitchen and get your Dadda a cup of water, please."
They managed to wait until Yeesha was out of the room before they both dissolved in laughter.