There once was a middle-aged couple with good jobs and a scintillating social life in the Big Apple.
One night they decided to enhance their lives by adopting a child.
A notice stuck in their mailbox caught their fancy.
They liked being on the cutting edge and the next day phoned to express an interest in adopting a Baby Earth.
After various interviews, the two were accepted as suitable parents and their Baby Earth arrived. The manual that came with her suggested the first thing the new parents should do was carve a human-like face into their child so as to more easily bond with her.
The manual said any kitchen knife would work and that Baby Earth would feel no pain at the procedure.
The couple found that one of them had to hold the mischievous Baby Earth firmly in place while the other carved her face, as the little planet had a tendency to turn on her axis and orient her equator to the overhead light.
Although they knew this human-like face meant nothing to Baby Earth it was comforting to think she was returning their loving gaze. They delighted in occasionally encountering her wide eyes and happy grin.
On evenings when the three sat on the couch watching TV together, the couple often exchanged smiles at their good fortune in adopting such an easy-to-care-for and enjoyable child.
As for Baby Earth, at first, when her new father had taken a carving knife to her, she'd been afraid, but as the days passed, she came to love her parents and her new life.
She had her own room and her own gro-lamp.
As the manual stated, Baby Earth spent at least eighteen hours a day spinning slowly under the hot sun of this gro-lamp while feeling the friendly push and pull of the moon on the watery parts of her skin.
Sometimes one of her parents would come into her room and murmur to her as they leaned in the doorway. She had never felt so loved.
Often the couple held parties and other people came to the apartment. All Baby Earth had to do was hang out in the living room and let people gently pet her atmosphere or look at her through a magnifying glass.
Invariably one of them would stick a finger on one of her oceans or poke at her polar regions, but Baby Earth was used to that from her days at the adoption agency.
What did begin to bother her was cigarette smoke. It would cause her skin to tingle and ripple uncomfortably. Her new parents and their friends seemed to smoke all the time.
With all the smoke in the apartment day after day Baby Earth started to feel feverish.
One day her parents noticed that the little planet's smile was completely gone and one of her ice caps had melted. Her oceans seemed bigger and her continents smaller.
Concerned, they took their child to a pediatrician who, after examining Baby Earth with scientific thoroughness, declared that the child had a fever and rash caused by an allergy to cigarette smoke. Wrinkling her nose, the pediatrician remarked that the couple were clearly smokers. Perhaps they should give up the habit.
The couple exchanged an alarmed glance. The pediatrician clearly didn't know what she was talking about. She'd obviously been brainwashed by both the anti-smoking forces and the psychologists who blamed everything on parents.
Within moments of the pediatrician's suggestion, the couple were hustling Baby Earth out of the medical office.
Once home, they again put their child under the knife and restored her smile.
But Baby Earth continued to go downhill. All her ice melted and her continents became unrecognizable. Fiery red spots appeared here and there on her land and her oceans developed maroon blooms.
"She's way too sensitive," the couple sighed to each other. Their only hope was that the little planet was going through some natural cycle that she'd soon snap out of. The couple still loved her...but not as much.
For one thing, Baby Earth had developed an odor, like rotting meat. It wasn't that much fun any more sitting with her on the couch, watching TV.
One day another flyer appeared in the couple's mailbox, advertising another planet up for adoption, a Baby Mars.
At first the couple resisted. What kind of parents would they be if they abandoned their child, turned her in for another?
But, investigating, they learned that a Baby Mars would be a much better fit for them. He had no oceans to develop maroon blooms, no forests to burn, no creatures to die and stink up the living room. He was basically a ball of rock but a ball of rock with a pretty color and some mysterious designs on his surface for their friends to examine.
When contacted, the adoption agent assured them that they should feel no guilt at returning Baby Earth. For a small fee, they could make the exchange, say a week from now. Just bring her in.
A week later the couple tearfully loaded themselves and their deteriorating child into a cab to return her to the agency.
Baby Earth wondered what was happening. Where were they going?
The cab slid to the curb and her parents started to get out. Wait! This was the adoption agency where she'd been born.
At that moment Baby Earth sensed the truth. Her parents had given up on her. She was being returned.
The little planet summoned her strength and, as the car door opened, she fled out and up past the streetlamps and skyscrapers until she hung silent in the sunlight above the city.
And there she stays, mourning the loss of her idyllic weeks of loving and being loved, and watching as the city below her endures storm after storm and the sea level creeps up, and her parents smoke on, oblivious, while a Baby Mars spins lifelessly in Baby Earth's old room.