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A Mother’s Choice
Charlotte shifted her weight. She couldn’t seem to get comfortable in her white hospital gown. The fabric was coarse and itched her pale skin. The walls of the room were bare except for a couple generic paintings on the wall and a “Don’t forget to wash your hands” sign above the stainless steel sink. Charlotte breathed deeply but still felt closed in by the stuffy air.
“Are you sure this is the only way?” she asked, looking up at her doctor, Dr. Bennett, with fear in her eyes.
“Organ donors are hard to come by these days. We’ve been over this before, if you really want Ethan to get this transplant you’re going to have to work for it.” he said, impatience rising in his voice. “You know, most people don’t even get opportunities like this. You’re lucky that he’s still so young. A couple more years and he’d be at the cut off age, if they’re over six there’s not enough time to grow the new organs.”
Charlotte grimaced. Lucky? Did he seriously think that her son almost being on his deathbed was lucky? She hated that doctor and his arrogance. He didn’t understand what she was going through. No one did; not even Ethan.
“We just have to take the DNA from, what was your son’s name?”
“Ethan, right, we’ll take his DNA from a blood sample and insert it into one of your eggs. It should only take a few hours altogether, and it’s completely painless,” the doctor explained.
“What if the new child has cancer too? Will we still be able to use their lungs?”
“I really doubt they will. Your son is a special case. Look, there’s no guarantee that any of this is going to work. You may not even get pregnant. But you don’t have much of a choice ma’am. If you undergo this process in 9 months you’ll have the new organs and you’ll be able to retrieve them two years after, if not, your son only has a five percent chance of survival,” he said as he looked over at Ethan, focused on his coloring book, in a chair next to Charlotte.
“Fine. Let’s do it,” she said, hesitance still in her voice.
“Glad to hear it,” the doctor replied, “Follow me, Ethan, all this’ll be is a little pinch.”
Sweat poured down Charlotte's face and her face was bright red. She tried to relax her muscles, greedily gulping down air. Even though she had finished going through labor she felt as though her heart might burst.
“He’s 7.5 pounds and seems healthy. He’ll be brought back in in a few minutes. We just need to take a few more measurements and then you’ll be able to see him again,” a nurse told her, her gray hair pulled back in a tight bun. Charlotte nodded in acknowledgment and slowly sat up on the hospital bed. She could see her reflection from the small window in front of her and tried in vain to smooth down her many loose strands of brown curls. “Is this all worth it?” she thought to herself. It sure was a lot of pain just for one child. But she knew that that was wrong; she loved Ethan more than anything in the world and she wouldn’t be able to bear the guilt of knowing that she could have saved him.
“Have you chosen a name yet?” the nurse asked, trying to make conversation. The question took Charlotte by surprise.
“Does he need one? The baby is only staying for a couple years. He’s providing a new pair of lungs for my son,” Charlotte answered, still slightly out of breath. The nurse looked at her in disdain and scowled.
“The least you can do is give the poor boy a name,” she snapped as she stormed out of the room. Charlotte shook her head in dismay and chuckled to herself, old people and their stupid ways. Still, she thought, if he’s going to be living in the same house he probably will need a name...we'll have to call him something.
“You have some visitors!” a cheerful voice said. Another nurse, a tall man with slicked back hair and a slight bounce in his step, walked into the room carrying a baby. Her baby. It hadn’t really sunk in until then. Next to the man, Ethan walked in too, holding his favorite stuffed animal, a turtle in a bowtie.
“Look! Mama look! Did you see? It’s my brother!” he said jumping with excitement. Charlotte smiled sadly.
“That’s wonderful sweetie, you know we can’t keep him though,” she said softly as the nurse lay the baby in her hands and left to give them some privacy. Ethan’s face immediately fell and he held his stuffed turtle close. Seeing his reaction she tried to change the subject, “Did you want to pick a name for him?”
“Really?” he shyly asked.
“Of course; he’s your brother. You can choose.”
“How about Logan? Like my turtle,” he replied hopefully, his eyes bright. Charlotte laughed and waved him over to look at the baby more closely.
“Logan it is. It really fits him,” she said ruffling Ethan’s hair.
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Logan! Happy birthday to you!” Charlotte and Ethan clapped and Logan blew out the two candles that sat in the bright green frosting lining his birthday cake. He smiled proudly, dipped his finger into the sugary glaze and licked it off.
“Hey! You have to wait until Mama cuts it!” Ethan whined tugging on his brother’s arm.
“Don’t be mean,” Charlotte scolded, gently taking the cake away from Logan, whose upper lip still had a hint of red from the frosting. She smiled at him and used a napkin to dab it off.
“You know, back when I was a kid I would have gotten in a lot of trouble for talking to my family like that, you should consider yourself lucky. You really need to start acting more like Logan,” she continued, absentmindedly slicing the cake into six even pieces.
“He broke a rule too,” Ethan mumbled. His mother glared at him and he bowed his head in shame.
“Alright, now who wants cake?” Charlotte asked, trying to brighten the mood. Logan cheered and she passed them each a plate. The strawberry filling was overflowing out of the rich chocolate layers of sponge cake and the red piping around the edges was beginning to melt. Logan dug in greedily but Ethan just pushed his food around with his fork, drawing swirling lines in the gooey icing.
“What’s wrong with you? Eat,” his mother barked in annoyance. Ethan’s eyes flicked up to his mother and he began to nibble at the food, feeling bad for upsetting her.
After eating, Charlotte and Ethan got up to put the dishes away while Logan begrudgingly headed towards his room to get ready for bed, his shoulders slouched. Charlotte turned on the tap and let the cold water run over her hand for a moment before reaching for the stack of plates Ethan was balancing in his hands.
“Why don’t you go play in your bedroom, I want to watch some grown-up TV,” she said, scrubbing the first plate. Ethan sighed and put the rest of the plates down on the counter.
“How long till I get to watch with you?” he asked, “You told me I’m a big boy, and big boys watch grown-up TV too.”
“Not yet, just wait a few years until you hit double digits, then you can watch whatever you want,” she promised. Ethan turned away from the sink, happy about the new agreement, and went to go play in his room.
Charlotte heard her son’s door softly close and she twisted the left faucet handle a bit more, adjusting the water’s temperature. The sponge in her hand should have been replaced months ago and felt damp and heavy as she tried to scrub the last bits of cake off of a plastic fork that was missing one of its prongs. She placed the wet dishes into the drying rack. Many of the plates were mismatched and chipped, but that didn’t make any difference to Charlotte, plates are plates. She wiped her hands on the kitchen towel that sat on the laminate countertop, and left the room, forgetting to turn off the bright florescent light that cast an unnatural glow across the otherwise dark kitchen.
Charlotte yawned and plopped down on her couch. She looked around for the remote and found it next to a family picture of a trip that the three of them had taken to the nearby science museum for Ethan’s last birthday. She loved going there. Seeing Logan’s face light up during the planetarium shows always made her day. Charlotte bent forward, turned on the TV and was flipping through the channels as she heard the home phone begin to ring.
She groaned and paused the television. Her feet dragged as she walked towards the tinny sound of the phone ringing and paused at the door of Logan’s room. His chest slowly rose and fell as he slightly shifted in his sleep. He looked so peaceful, so happy. The phone’s loud ring brought her out of her trance and she hurried over to the kitchen.
“Hello?” she asked drowsily, raising the phone to her ear.
“Miss Moore? This is Marian from St. Peter’s Hospital in regards to your sons’ upcoming appointment,” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded bored. “Is October 8th still fine for the lung transplant?”
“What?” Charlotte asked shakily, “It’s that soon?”
“I’ll give you some time to think about if you want to reschedule. Just try and call at least 48 hours in advance. Have a nice evening,” the woman from the hospital hung up before Charlotte could answer, leaving her in a shocked silence.
Slowly, Charlotte put the phone back on its hook and squeezed her eyes shut. She pulled back her fist and slammed it against the kitchen wall causing a picture frame to fall. The glass splintered across the floor, flying in all directions. She bent down, picked up a piece and hurled it across the room, hitting a vase by the window. The crack it made comforted Charlotte. She was in control. She could do whatever she wanted. She knelt down again and threw another piece, this time knocking over Logan’s blue water bottle. Each shard released a little more anger from Charlotte. She picked up the last piece, closed her eyes and flung it across the room.
“Ow!” a voice across the room screamed, “Mama, that hurt!” Charlotte’s eyes flew open and she saw Ethan standing by the kitchen door.
“You” she whispered, pointing a shaking finger, “You’re the reason. Logan is going to die and it’s all your fault,” Charlotte’s voice quaked as she reached for something to hold onto. Her knees felt like they were about to collapse and everything seemed to be spinning around her.
“Is this what you wanted? You’re a murderer. A murderer,” Ethan cowed at her words and wiped the tears from his eyes, smearing the trickle of blood that ran down his chin from where the glass had hit.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him,” he said, head down, shoulders hunched.
“You don’t have to,” Charlotte softly said, her fingers holding onto the coiled telephone wire, “You can be a hero, you can save him,” she continued. Ethan looked at her, not understanding what she meant.
“Do you want him to live? We can cancel the appointment you know,” she said. Ethan nodded and nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He glanced down and noticed a small red drop of blood staining the collar of his pajama shirt. Another tear started to form and he turned away as not to let her see.
Behind him, he heard the phone beep and Charlotte’s voice rose.
“Yes, hello. Yes. Yes, you did just call. Uh huh, yes I’d like to cancel. I’m sure. Thank you. Yes, you too,” Charlotte took a deep breath and turned away from the phone to face Ethan, her eyes dark. He’ll probably be gone in six months, she thought. Had she made the right decision? What if Logan would resent her for it? Her head spun with thoughts. The room was quiet and the only sound was the ticking of a clock near the entrance to the kitchen. Ethan started to back away. The look in his mother’s eyes confused him.
“It’s all going to be okay now,” she said, carefully stepping towards him, trying more to calm herself than her son. For every step she took forwards, he took one back. They circled the room like boxers in a ring. Abruptly Charlotte stopped and knelt on the hardwood floor.
“Ethan, come here. I promise I won’t hurt you,” she whispered, reaching out her hand. Cautiously, he approached his mother and let his palm rest in hers.
“You did the right thing. I promise. It’ll be better this way,” her voice was hushed, almost soothing, “He’s younger than you are, he has more time left to live. You’re saving his life, and one day I’ll join you in heaven. Nothing can take that away from me,” she held his hand tightly as a tear slipped down his cheek. “I promise. I really do.”
“But what if you don’t come to heaven too?” Ethan asked.
“I guess we’ll just have to take that chance,” Charlotte said, squeezing his hand even more tightly, “Do you still love me, Ethan?”
Ethan’s expression suddenly turned hard and he stared into his mother’s eyes, trying to read them. “Of course I do,” he whispered, “I’m not like you Mama, I’ll never stop loving my family.”