My body grew a new organ, temporary, but life-sustaining. After I birthed him, I birthed you. The doctor and nurse were going to cart you away, thinking I didn’t want to see you. Put you in a teal green bowl when I said wait. Wait.
I asked how big you were, what you looked like. The nurse shifted her questioning gaze from me to the doctor, tried to say we didn’t have time, that we needed to focus on him, but I had to see. A photo snapped, a quick overview from my doctor. Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, grown from scratch, one side four shades darker than the other, a slab of meat-looking thing or jellied cranberry sauce. The beauty of a biological structure, not easily described or quantified. Blue and red veins—our blood passing—never mingling, running around and through, culminating in that one thick cord, the one that connected all of us together. The DNA sequence of three, perhaps even four, a multifunctional organ.
Before the doctor left, our eyes caught, and a moment of understanding passed between us. You were a miracle. Our miracle!
My attention was pulled to his cries punctuating the air. I tried to feed him, the first sharp pains of lack of milk shooting downward and the toughening up beginning. The crying started and didn’t stop until the nurse came to swaddle him for us. We couldn’t get that part right. We tried and tried. Late into the night he finally fell asleep.
As I rolled to my side, ready for slumber, I saw a small green piece of paper propped up on the hospital bed tray table: “Visiting hours 2 a.m. – 4 a.m., room 246.” I knew I had to go, no matter how tired. I slipped out of bed, your father curled up on the hospital couch snoring quietly, and padded down the hall in my slippers and robe. A white door with the number 246 printed in black appeared. I pushed through and was met by a blast of frigid air where two long fleece-lined gowns hung outside another door, this one, mustard yellow. I quickly stuck my arms through the gown and took a deep breath before shoving the door open to a small room with a glow of light illuminating you, and others like you. You in your teal bowl, but now covered by a clear glass container. Other bowls were yellow or green, but yours was the one in the center, most prominent.
The room itself a calm, quiet space. Just as frigid as the anteroom. I went to you, easily recognized by the slight kink in your cord, just there, above your curved edge like a birthmark or quirk. My hand instinctively reached out for you, touching the glass. That’s when I saw the chunk of ice sitting beneath you. Tears pooled in my eyes. I circled the pedestal you sat on and found a small placard: Ready to take home tomorrow, a.m. Do not be disturbed by shrinkage. Instructions for care to follow.
I would get to take you home. Home! To talk with you, to show you the world. After all, you helped sustain your brother and to keep him, but not you? How cruel.
The doctor understood, made taking you home possible. Cute doesn’t do you justice, magnificent fits better. Your size and shape shriveled down to manageable and compact proportions once the dehydration took place, much easier than him, anyway. With all his wailing and squirming he could learn a few things from you. The instructions were simple: Keep in a cool dry place, away from harm. Later, we would find that last part much harder to accomplish.
In the months to come he finally learned to smile and giggle; it melted our hearts. However, it wasn’t so nice when he learned to hit and bite — almost biting off a piece of you once. The stillness and slight tremble at the edges of your shape gave you away. It affected you in ways we will never know. We had a special glass container for you because of your delicate nature. That was no different than the clothing or shoes we had him wear, both were used to protect each of you from the elements, among other things. Of course, you were different, but not so different. You would always have a seat at the dinner table, a room to call your own, and a special place in our hearts. Both of you would, of course.
We slowly worked with your brother on how to be gentle, the best way to hold you, and explained how important you were, that just because you wouldn’t grow any bigger, in fact, you may shrink even more and crumble, you were remarkable in a way that no one could change or truly understand.
One day, when he was Kindergarten-aged, I caught him holding you over the dog’s snapping teeth without your container, teasing you. Well, teasing both the dog and you. The same placid emotion and quiet worry emanated from you. A slight quiver noted when he dangled you a mere inch from the dog’s snout. Luckily, I got there in time, no physical damage done.
From then on, for a while at least, I didn’t let you alone with him or out of your glass container. I hoped this arrangement would be temporary.
My great desire was that you would learn to appreciate each other, love one another. After all, someone would need to take care of you when we were gone. You were siblings. Neither to be discarded because one was more difficult than the other, or one had fulfilled their duty. Blood and DNA that equaled each other. That would compel him to see the full attachment of what made him possible… what made us all possible.
It did happen, eventually. When he reached age eight, he began carting you around like a pet guinea pig; placing you in his front bike basket with an old red handkerchief for padding beneath the glass container. Then he made you a padded coat from cotton balls and an old throw pillowcase. The two of you together, biking through the neighborhood or to the park. My heart nearly burst with exaltation.
When he asked to take you in for show and tell, I tried to hide my disappointment. He didn’t truly understand, and maybe, at his age there was no way to grasp it all. You were not a thing to parade in front of a classroom like a circus oddity. I could see that he loved you and that was the reason, but there was too much room for misinterpretation, the teacher, other students, parents. Instead, he took a framed photo of all of us, taken at the hospital, a representation of family.
I look back on all the moments that have accumulated thus far and see so much. Sleepless nights and coffee-filled mornings, drinks out with friends, trips to the zoo, beach outings: moments of clarity, confusion, anger, and even sorrow. To call any of those events and emotions defining wouldn’t be fair. Sure, it’s been the accumulation of these situations or happenings that got us here, that got all of us right where we are: Your father and I, you and him next to us, while we eat popcorn and watch a National Geographic documentary about, arguably, the oldest living organism on earth today (the 5,000-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine). Every day we discover new wonders in our world.
The truth is, we’d be nothing without you.
Christi R. Suzanne has flash fiction and short stories in Variant Literature (forthcoming), Midwestern Gothic, Eunoia, Foliate Oak, and The Gravity of the Thing, among others. She is a member of The Order of the Good Death founded by Caitlin Doughty. More of her work can be read on her website: christi-r-suzanne.com. Incidentally, she is a sleeping dog enthusiast.