AT COST • by saintsally

The baby was weak. Under-developed, born at five months with a hole in the heart and no kidneys, frail fingers and half-formed toes, its strange, strangled cry from unready vocal cords made the nurse tremble and cry as she brought it to surgery. The mother, seventeen and anxious, had not even seen it.

There were eighteen hours in the OR. There was a baboon heart; there were steel rods and kidneys grown in a petri dish, there were needles, there was thread. Halfway through, it was revealed that the left arm had no blood flow to it: the main artery was a knot in the mushy bicep. They ended up amputating.

The baby lived. In an incubator, with an IV, a respirator, and a pink fluffy bunny to keep it company. The mother, after class, would come in and cry; there was no father. After the first two weeks, there was a malfunction with its digestive situation; there was another agonizing night of surgery, another graft, more needles and thread and blood on the clean white operating table. The nurse checked in on the baby at midnight: the soft glow of the incubator complemented by the flashing lights on the respirator. The bunny looked at her reproachfully, peeking from behind the bandaged stump of the left shoulder.

It occurred to the nurse that the baby did not cry. Had not cried, since that first, desperately rushed run to the OR. She wondered if the baby knew what was happening. Would it remember? She watched it, trapped and given life by the machines around it. Did it even have a name?

It was after the third surgery this time on the lungs, in vain hopes of getting rid of the respirator that the nurse began to wonder how much of the original baby was left. Its ears and toes were tiny; would it walk out of there, one day? Could it hear its mother, choking back sobs as she read it a borrowed book from the library? The bunny regarded her with solemn black button eyes. The nurse felt a flash of pity for it. Maybe, maybe not.

saintsally can read and write, but tries not to be a snob about it.

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Every Day Fiction

  • cameli

    quite regressive

  • Gerard Demayne

    Didn’t find any merit in that at all.

  • sn wright

    Loved your story. It brought up emotions that I thought I’d outgrown.

    I like the fact that you’re not a snob about it.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    We all know that today much more could be done for the baby. Why do we face backwards in such a dull way? If this is written by a young child, say, in the fifth grade, I would say it has merit. But from a mature person its poor stuff.

  • Greta

    Tough critics today. I enjoyed the welling emotion in this. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Bob

    A tableau, not a story.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    The nurse is doing more for it than pity. If it had a father it still would be a physical wreck and the stuffed bunny isn’t making the effort for it, the nurse is. Why don’t we wait for the baby’s new body to grow and give the baby lots of attention then, along with the mother.

    Is the baby able to respond to the “welling emotion”? Lets bring them past “pity,” and reawaken honest emotions. I don’t favor snobbery, but I hope the baby grows up to have so much in her favor that people all around notice and say “she isn’t a snob.”

  • Jen

    What a sad story, but at least there’s some spark of hope at the end.

  • Judy

    Good story. I’m wondering if the nurses pity for the baby has something to do with whether the baby will ever leave the hospital. She seems to be accessing the quality of the baby’s life at the end by answering her own question, “Maybe, maybe not.” Maybe I’m just reading something into the story that’s not there.
    I enjoyed your story SaintSally.

  • Jim Hartley

    Thumbs down … as is. Might not be too bad as a flashback scene for a longer story, “The Bionic Bastard” or something like that.

  • Sharon

    This is a human being, not an “it”. Why was the child’s gender not given? I found the last line very revealing, as if the he nurse herself (himself?) could edge towards one or the other, with a different outcome.

    Whom did the nurse pity in the last paragraph–the baby or the bunny? Also, without resolution or even sufficient characterization, most unsatisfying as a stand-alone story.

  • Edward Caputo

    I agree with Bob, this isn’t a story. Accuracy aside (I don’t know what is state of the art as others allude) I thought the piece well-written and certainly driving toward a single premise. However, that premise (“clinging to life leads to suffering”?) is not realized, nor even completely articulated. Further it is not tied to the main POV character, the nurse (hesitate to label her the protagonist, because there is no conflict really either except for the infant who is more of an object than a character). More of a sketch or even the beginning of a short story, but not complete in itself.

  • sn wright

    r u people friggin nuts? do you not have day jobs? it was a flash for gods sake – and you are not critics for the New York Times book review! she said a lot with a few words – kind of like a prose poet. get a hobby and leave the saint alone.

  • kcball

    You’re a bit over the top, An. Nobody is saying anything about the author, they’re commenting on the story. We all have different tastes. If you enjoyed this pieces, then your comments should be limited to the story, too; not in attempts to bully other readers.

  • sn wright

    oh yeah, come over here and say that!

  • Bob

    Actually, I don’t have a day job, thanks for asking. I didn’t realize that fact excluded me from being allowed to comment on stories.

    EDF put the rating system and comments here for a purpose, and I’m pretty sure it’s not to stroke the writers’ poor fragile egos. They get $3 and feedback from real readers when they publish on EDF; if they’re smart, they’ll consider making use of the feedback on their next stories and buy themselves a nice latte with the $3.

    Sorry you didn’t agree with all the other reviewers, sn; but then, it’s not really about you, is it?

  • Juan

    I enjoyed this short, the atmosphere created, the desperation of the situation. This poor baby, almost like Frankenstein’s monster by the end, pieced together, alive through science. Found the details intriguing.

  • kristy

    Um, sn? If you enjoy this story the best way to defend it would be to discuss it in an intelligent fashion instead of insulting the other readers. Can’t you explain what you particularly liked about this story instead? (By the way, “flash fiction” means fiction under 800-1000 words, not short-stories-with-low-standards.)

    I really didn’t enjoy this story much, but here’s what I thought:

    The Good: The writing style. The piece reads easily. The writing is clear and has a good sense of flow. You use just the right amount of description to keep the story going nicely.

    The Bad: There is little sense of development or characterization in this novel. You have all this tragedy, but no sense of why we should care, or any idea of the future. As a result the story is easily forgettable, and leaves the reader wondering WHY he/she was subjected to so much unpleasantness when the story didn’t really seem to have a point. Also, medical accuracy is an issue here.

  • kristy

    @ Jim Hartley re: “the bionic bastard”

    You slay me! Please, please write that story for me!

  • wrtsmith

    Great story. My wife is a pediatric resident and you’ve captured the mixed bag of emotions she comes home with after a rough night in the NICU.

  • P.M.Lawrence

    Sharon wrote ‘This is a human being, not an “it”‘.

    Using “it” for a baby is standard British English. I have even come across “it” used for a somewhat older child, in a somewhat older book.

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