Fiction by Courtney Craggett
Body turned to bread, blood to wine. Broken, poured, consumed. Wafer placed on tongue, cup tilted to mouth. Ash smeared. Fingers raised to forehead, chest, shoulders, lips. Dust to dust. Life to death to life again.
She sees it written on the back of a pickup: Wife needs kidney. Mother of three. Blood type O. The traffic is still, the sunshine thick. She feels her kidneys heavy inside her, feels them purifying, filtering. She’s always been interested in something like that, the giving of one life for another—a type of motherhood, or salvation. There’s a number to call on the back of the truck, and she writes it down. She learns it’s an easy thing to give away a kidney. The body hardly misses it at all. The mother she saves sends her pictures of the children through the years, birthdays and Christmases and graduations. “Thank you,” the mother scribbles on the back.
When donated, if only donated in part, the liver will grow back, regain full function. There is a boy who needs hers, a little boy with curly hair and big eyes, who loves everyone without trying, who saves up his quarters to give to the homeless, feeds feral cats his leftover lunch on the way home from school. She sees his picture on the evening news, and she puts her hand under her right breast, where beneath her rib cage her liver breaks down insulin, stores the vitamins that give her energy, metabolizes toxins. She thinks of the poison piling up inside the little boy’s body. She schedules the surgery.
She hates the word “hero” more than any other word. People remind her of the two lives she’s saved. They tell her story with cocktails in hand, her sacrifice a party trick. They don’t know what she has always known, that her body aches to be poured out, given away. That she can feel each of her organs inside her individually, full of life that could save others, and she longs to be rid of them. Her sacrifice is necessary, not heroic. If she could, she’d chop off her arms and legs, dig her eyes from their sockets, knock her teeth loose and wear dentures instead. She cuts off her hair for cancer patients. It grows back, so she makes the donation recurring. She visits blood donation booths weekly, offers her bone marrow and plasma. She takes iron pills, eats big red steaks and piles of spinach. The doctors say her blood is the richest they’ve seen, that it will save many lives.
There are ways to make oneself important, ways to change the world with passion and hard work. Some people serve in soup kitchens, cook food and wash dishes and hug strangers, and some raise children, teach them right from wrong, give them the education they need for success. Some move abroad. They build health clinics or dig wells or plant gardens. But she wants something that will cost her more than that. Something she can’t have back.
A man writes asking for a lung. His letter is a prayer that lists the reasons he deserves to live, the recipient both his judge and savior. She loves to run. Her lungs have carried her to marathon finish lines, have pushed her over mountain trails when her feet have long wanted to quit. Her donated liver grew back, and her single kidney does the work of two, and the cells in her blood multiply and divide and replace, but with only one lung, she will gasp for breath the rest of her life, run slow little circles around the schoolyard track, content herself with participant medals. For the first time, she wants to tell the man no, her lung is hers to keep. But is a sacrifice that costs nothing truly a sacrifice? For the first time, she feels heroic.
The donations are easy after that, and fast, one after the other. She gives away her intestines and pancreas. She gives her skin, her bones, her stem cells, one of her corneas. Everything that can grow back. Everything she can do without. Her body spreads to others, goes into the world. More of it exists outside herself than within, and she likes to think of the life that was once her own, becoming new life, falling in love, raising children, burying grandparents, traveling to Paris and Cairo and Rome.
Her heart is the last to go. She has given everything else away but wants to give more. Besides, she is tired of it, the way it swells and falls, feels too much or not enough. It can do better work in a body that is whole. “Do you want to listen one last time?” the doctor asks before he takes it, and she holds the stethoscope to her chest, feels the cold against her many scars, listens to the heartbeats that kept her alive.
When she was a child she prayed to become a martyr, one for whom the world was not worthy. Her life was never taken from her, though, and so she will give it freely. There is no greater love than this.
The doctor places the mask over her mouth. He tells her to think of something happy, to count backward from ten. She closes her eyes and begins:
Ten. Nine. Eight.
She thinks of confession and absolution, baptism and rebirth. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
She feels the blood and nails in her wrists, the thorns in her forehead, the water in her side, the surge of love for this world and all who live in it.
Five. Four. Three.
Children sneak to the table and swallow the last drops of wine, stuff wafers into their mouths. Mice eat the crumbs. They carry the host away, the body and blood of our Lord spread throughout alleyways and sewers, across forests and fields.