The Stud Book - By Monica Drake

Say you’re a night crawler in warm ground. Your body is a tube within a tube, soft as foreskin. You’re a hermaphroditic sex organ burrowing through dark earth, a reproductive decomposer.

Fully loaded with two sets of testicles, two testes sacs, ovaries, sperm, and eggs—seminal vesicles, seminal receptacles; the parts sound almost spiritual, nearly Catholic, really—and you have what it takes to build an army, a generation.

The heartbreak? You’re not an asexually reproductive creature, like a lonely sea sponge or a budding hydra. You can’t fertilize yourself.

You have needs.

Your job is to find another earthworm, a dew worm, an angler, to swap sperm, fertilize your eggs, and incubate them in a slime tube, a bellyband, a pale pink saddle you’ll wear briefly around your waist until you slip it off over your head like a silky nightgown. Charm your way into a biological destiny.

Blind hermaphrodites find each other in the dark. It happens all the time.

Sarah stepped over one pale banded worm on the damp asphalt walk of the Oregon Zoo. She saw the bellyband—the slime tube—and thought: Babies! So dear, even in a lowly worm. She carried a timer and a clipboard, pulled her coat closed against a fine rain, and leaned on the railing of the mandrill habitat.

Inside the enclosure the kingpin man-ape gave a flying leap. Leaves tumbled in his wake. He moved from his high perch to a low branch, and on the way flashed his penis, where his body was as red as a rash.

If that mandrill were Sarah’s baby, she’d powder his rash. Not with talc—talc is pure cancer. She’d dust sweet cornstarch on the flaming red genital area between that mandrill’s muscular, hairy thighs. Except his wasn’t really a rash and she knew it. Baby fantasy over. She was a professional. Mandrill penises are red; their scrotums are lilac. He’d be a grotesque infant, big and buried in hair.

The sky was blanketed with gray clouds as bright as aluminum, hiding a winter sun. Visitors moved in tight packs in the rain over the tended zoo grounds. Kids lurched ahead of their parents, with room to roam and no streets to cross. A sullen flock of teens clustered at a cement picnic table around a paper basket of French fries. They had a fat pink baby in a fat pink fleece jacket in a stroller nearby. Who was the mother? They were all kids themselves.

Sarah was twice their age and watched their parenting, or lack of parenting, as though the teenagers were her assigned animal behavior study.

If her first baby had survived, the child would be three years old, with sticky ice cream–coated fingers pressing against the glass in front of all the animals.

Her timer beeped. In the mandrill enclosure—and you don’t say “cage” in a modern zoo, but “enclosure”—a newborn named Lucy clung to the rich olive hair of her mother’s chest. The two huddled on a shelf against a back wall. The mother ate nits from Lucy’s coat. Sarah marked “Grooming” on her chart.

Sarah would eat bugs from her own baby’s hair if that was what motherhood required.

That baby mandrill was Sarah’s field study. The patriarch, though, with his strut and flash, was a steady distraction. The more color a mandrill shows in his red, white, and blue behind, the more testosterone is cruising through his system, and this one advertised his virility like a flag.

His ass was an ornament, in evolutionary terms.

On his branch, this head honcho tugged his golden beard. He clambered and waved his ornament like a second face there to say hello. On sunny days visitors snapped photos to post on the Internet. They took videos. What a crowd-pleaser! With an ornament like that, you’d think survival of the fittest was about drawing hits on YouTube.

The timer beeped again. Baby Lucy banged a stick in loose straw on the shelf where she perched. “Play behavior.”

One of the lone females followed the patriarch, walking close behind, like his flash ass was the ice-cream truck and she had change in her pocketbook. This was mandrill flirting.

Toward the back of the cage, another female sat with her legs tucked against her body. She was pregnant, the previous customer to chase that ice cream. Mandrills generally don’t show pregnancy the way humans do, but this wasn’t her first round. Her body had thickened, the muscles grown slack from carrying earlier offspring, and this time her pregnancy was pronounced.

A woman with a stroller pushed past, her baby under a clear plastic rain liner like a