The Last Ultrasound

Contributor: Jessica Knauss

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“Good girl,” said Shelley, patting a Javan rhinoceros on her round rump.
She pulled on long gloves, grasped the cartridge-sized ultrasound camera, and inserted her arm into Kunthi’s rectum. Kunthi had behaved just as patiently during the painstaking ultrasound and insemination attempt three days before, which had used up the last of their supply of male Javan DNA. Kunthi was twenty-two, about two-thirds the maximum estimated age of her wild counterparts, and had never given birth.
Kunthi’s name, meaning “motherly” in Indonesian, had been an act of optimism that looked more pathetic every day. The Javan rhinoceros was the world’s rarest large land mammal. Pushed down by poaching, palm oil crops, and human settlement, after millions of years on Earth, Kunthi’s wild relatives numbered only thirty. She had been one of five brought to the swamps of Mississippi in a special captive breeding program designed to combat the Javans’ historical inability to survive an enclosed existence. When they set her free from checkups like this one, Kunthi roamed a million-acre preserve that had many of the same characteristics as her native tropical lowland habitat on the Ujung Kulon Peninsula and even went for a daily swim. In spite of everything, Kunthi’s travel companions seemed to know they were captive and passed away before reaching half the age of their wild counterparts. This rhino and that last insemination were the species’ single greatest hope.
Shelley peered at the monitor her assistant held at face level, practically on the rhino’s back. The ultrasound camera traveled a long, twisting tunnel as Shelley eased deeper and deeper.
Years of schooling and student loans, scores of failed relationships, utter dedication to bringing the Javans back from the brink, Shelley’s agonizing decision to move to Mississippi — a whole, complex life, and it always seemed to end up in the same either/or. Their efforts worked, or they failed; the species continued, or it died out.
Easing its way past a final narrowing, the camera reported bulky blurs to the monitor. There was the uterus, and there, the ovary that had appeared ready to burst forth three days ago. The tiny mass that looked like a ball of dryer lint on the screen was still attached to the ovary.
Shelley’s arm was shoulder-deep when she had to give the news.
“She didn’t ovulate.”
A collective sigh erupted among the other rhino keepers. “No,” moaned the intern. The assistant set down the monitor and petted Kunthi’s smooth nose while Shelley eased the equipment out, then peeled off the glove and threw it down.
“Forty-two days. We’ve got to plan for the next cycle,” said one of the keepers.
“But where are we going to get more semen?” the intern cried. Kunthi balked at the noise, throwing the assistant against the table, and hurried back amongst the fronds.
Shelley longed to follow Kunthi, to join in whatever childless destiny she determined for herself.

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Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss is a New Englander by design. She co-founded Loose Leaves Publishing and has published fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in numerous venues, including Bewildering Stories, Do Not Look at the Sun, (Short) Fiction Collective, Full of Crow Quarterly Fiction, Metazen, and Short, Fast, and Deadly. Her non-literary goal is to save all five species of rhinoceros from extinction.
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