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By Karly Schnorrenberg

“Have you made a decision?” Nancy whispered, fiddling with the rosary around her neck.

John examined the woman rocking slowly in front of him. Her skin was white as a full winter moon; it seemed almost translucent as he eyed the thick blue veins bulging under the papery barrier. Her ankles were swollen to the size of his fist. Angry red marks covered her from head to toe where she had scratched relentlessly, sometimes so violently it seemed like she was trying to dig something out from inside her. John’s nose wrinkled at the sour odor of urine that  reeked from the old rocking chair; the smell of it had become saturated in the wool fabric after all the times the woman had unintentionally relieved herself. 

How could this be the same woman who had raised John? The woman who had chatted with just about everyone she saw on her way home from the grocery store; the woman who had run five miles a day, everyday, without fail, since she had birthed her miracle child; the woman who had reprimanded him constantly to keep his room “clean as a new penny”? Nancy had been so fierce, so determined, and yet here she sat limply, gazing at nothing in particular, almost a shell of the person she once was.

Her last good kidney was failing her. 

93,000 people in the United States were waiting for a donor kidney, and being that she had just turned seventy-one, it was highly unlikely that she would ever get a transplant. She’d Googled the odds and sat staring numbly at the glowing light of the computer screen as she read of a 30% decrease in the chances of getting a transplant for each decade lived. They’d need kidneys to fall from the sky as often as rain in order for her to obtain one. 

Nancy’s sister had volunteered to donate her kidney, but the blood tests didn’t match, much to Nancy’s distress. She had wailed until dawn along with the buzz of the crickets and the low hooting of a burrowing owl when she’d found out. The rest of her life would consist of biweekly visits to the urology center half an hour down a windy lane from her home, where they would poke needles into her skin and a machine would clean her blood, doing the work that her stupid, good-for-nothing kidneys couldn’t handle on their own. 

So this was a last resort. Of course, Nancy didn’t want her son to have to give up his kidney, but what choice did she have? Her breathing hitched and her heart raced whenever she thought of the bleak gray of her future. No, this was something she wasn’t going to be able to bear. 

John stared at his mother in despair. 

He wished, more than anything, that donating his kidney was easy. In theory, the doctors would just cut it out of him, and he’d go on as normal with one kidney, and his mom would be healthy, and everything would be perfect, like nothing had ever happened. 

But of course, it wasn’t that simple.

There was the possibility of Nancy’s body rejecting the transplant, in which case all their efforts would go to complete waste.

There was the chance of complications for John; there was no guarantee that he would be flawlessly well after the surgery.

And, probably the most threatening of the possible scenarios, there was the risk of John developing kidney failure himself. Kidney problems had run in the family for centuries. If John’s last kidney let him down and stopped filtering his blood…

He’d seen what had happened to his own mother. He’d felt the anguish of learning that his mother was sick. He’d taken her to all the doctor’s appointments; he’d paid a lot of the bills. He was constantly checking up on her, anxious every time he called her that she wouldn’t pick up. The dread was like mud in his veins, threatening to weigh him down to the ground the second this fear became reality.

He couldn’t do that to his wife. To his daughters and son. He just couldn’t endure it if he put them through that same pain.

Nancy read her son’s expression and immediately knew what he hadn’t yet said.

She stared, unblinking, at her hands, which had begun to quiver.

“It’s okay, son,” she breathed. “I understand.”

Did she really expect John to give up such an essential part of his body for her? She was his mother, after all. She had given him that body, fed and nurtured it, watched it grow into what it now was for the forty-five years of his life. What a waste it would be for him to ruin his perfectly beautiful body, his perfectly beautiful life, so that his mother could have a few more short years. 

Again, Nancy cried through the whole night. But now, it was not uncontrollable sobs that rocked her body, but instead muffled torrents of pain that crashed into her and pulled her down, down, down, until she was drowning under the realization that her life was soon to end.

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