SELL YOURSELF SHORT • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

I hated my options.  Wouldn’t sell my jewelry.  Agathe said, “You can’t take it with you,” but we can’t take anything with us.  My husband had turned into a toad and hopped away; my kids were just starting out; I love what I write but had no rapturous audience beating down my door.  I needed to be creative in a more lucrative way.

The intake nurse wrang her hands over my paperwork; finally she excused herself and brought in a higher authority.

“The thing is,” the nice young doctor said, “we’ve hit the bull’s-eye with you but there’s a terrible ethical dilemma here.”  He sighed.  “We’ve never had a case like this.”

Twins, a few months old, with osteogenesis imperfecta.   My somewhat rare blood and tissue types were perfect matches.

“You’re just within the standard range for donation, but in this case, of course, double the quantity is needed, unless the parents decide to treat one child first and wait for a second match to be found for the other.”

We looked quietly at one another.  There was a wedding ring on his finger; he was probably a parent too.

“I don’t doubt your altruism,” he said without sarcasm, “but non-relatives considering this particular sort of donation usually have other, perfectly valid motivations as well.  And in that case, it’s even more troubling for me to continue this conversation.”

“I do need the money,” I said.  “Of course I read through your website and was prepared for the standard donation.  But under these circumstances I’d consider going further.”

“I could disqualify you right now based on age,” he said.

We looked at each other for another long quiet moment.

“In for an inch, in for a mile,” I said.

He gave me a scandalized look.  And they accuse older people of being straitlaced!

“I’m going to do something that could cost me my job and perhaps even jeopardize the continuation of the program.”  He paused, and I could see a little part of him hoped I would just get up, say I’d changed my mind and walk out.  But both of us were thinking about those babies.

“Go home,” he said.  “Expect a call from Mr. or Mrs. Morfogel.  Regardless of what you yourself are willing to do, the protocol for how much one donor can give to any one recipient remains unchanged.  To attempt to circumvent that protocol in any way will disqualify their children for further treatment under the auspices of this facility.  I’ll enforce that regardless of the outcome; I’ll take steps to ensure that enforcement regardless of my continued tenure here.”

But they didn’t think they could buy anything they wanted because they were rich.  They were suffering the worst form of anguish — terror that they might not secure the means of saving their children.

Mrs. Morfogel was crying so hard on the phone that her husband did all the talking, though his voice was shaking too.  He promised to messenger a written agreement to me within a couple of hours, though it was already Thursday evening at the beginning of a holiday weekend.  I guess that’s what it does mean, to be rich; to have lawyers on retainer; to be able to buy almost everything you need.

I’d read up on it thoroughly.  The precision of laser surgery, little bleeding and fast recovery; skin scarring would be minimal; and even at sixty, I healed well.  I don’t like pain very much, and they said it could be unpredictable, but could be managed pretty well; there was even some research saying the trauma spurred some regenerative growth; they hypothesized potential though unquantifiable benefits to the donor.

But the bottom line was we were all desperate, for different reasons.

The Morfogels’ document had surprisingly little legalese.  They hadn’t tried to snow me with a blizzard of arcane and convoluted phrases.

The following Monday I met with that nice young doctor again.  He looked like he’d had a bad few nights, though I was the one who should have been sleepless.

“This is much less selfless than kidney or liver donation,” I said reasonably.  “Merely cosmetic.”

He read the contract, though he’ll always have to deny he did.

“I’d call this a heck of a fairytale ending,” I said.

He wasn’t developing a taste for my humor, but then, he worked in a grim field.  I had enough irreverence for both of us.

“Because they’re so young, we think minimal grafts have the most chance of success, stimulating their own bone growth while minimizing rejection.  You’d give no more than eight annual grafts, regardless of outcome.  Because you’re small-boned, proportionality won’t be very adversely affected.  And such a gradual diminution in size will mimic loss to natural aging, up to a point.”

“Down to a point,” and I couldn’t help laughing.

“Most donors, of course, are above average stature to begin with,” he said; “I’ve never had a candidate your height.”

“This ends all my worries,” I said, “and maybe I’ll be around to dance at their weddings.  I’ll have to stay limber.”

I told my own kids, but only after I signed all the paperwork.  When they stopped crying I made them understand it was really no big deal; it beat some minimum wage job by eleventy-billion lightyears.

Eventually I needed to move from the Morfogels’ guest cottage into the sweet little gingerbread house they’d built for me at the far end of their lakefront estate.  The grafts took, those babies had an immediate decrease in spontaneous fractures.  As we grew in opposite directions, I saw for myself how they thrived.

Their photos are on my fridge, next to my own grandchildren’s.  When they’re all here, feels like kittens from the same litter.

I write any nonsense I like — never have to give a damn if it sells.

I did need to buy a whole new wardrobe, which went against the old frugal grain.  But I gleefully reminded myself — kid-sized clothes can be half the price!

Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.

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