Mina and Mira and Mona and Me
When my sister-in-law, Mina, came to me with the offer, I was
desperate. I need to say that at the outset. I was in fear for my life,
and by extension Mira's life. There was nowhere else I could get the
money, not even if we sold the cars and everything in our rented
apartment. I was going to be first beaten, and then broken, and then
possibly killed. And I'd gotten to the point where I could accept that
as a fair compromise. Mira would be left to deal with the aftermath
alone, which would surely be horrible, but she would be spared the
anchor of my debt to Johnny Mac, which she neither knew about nor
deserved. And then Mina called.
She wanted to see me, she said, which was strange. Mina and Mira didn't
get on, as they put it, and we saw little of her older sister. The
volcanic animosity of their shared childhood had already hardened and
set before we even met, resulting in a scarred crust that was best left
alone. It had been years since we'd seen each other. I have an offer,
she said, something to help you out of your jam. I stood silently in
the kitchen, holding the handset, various stories Mira had told me and
I'd only half-believed flashing through my head. She's sneaky, Mira
said. Sneaky and smart. What— I started to say, and she told
me to meet her that evening at Peele's Bar downtown. I went.
There is a curse in our family, she explained. The first child of every
first child is born sour. Ugly and awkward and friendless from the
start, and destined for a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment.
She stared at me evenly as she said this, and I wondered, not for the
first time, why her hair, jet black like Mira's, seemed so lank and
lifeless, and why her pale skin made her look sallow rather than
beautiful. I'm the first child in our family, she said. My mother was
the first born in hers. You knew her before she lost her marbles. Make
sense? My first child will be sour, if I have any. I didn't
used to want to, but now I do. Except I don't want a sour child. I want
a good child. Mira's child.
Mira and I had discussed children, of course, and agreed early on that
we would go through life together, but without kids. As we passed
thirty-five, the subject of freezing some eggs had come up, but we
never went through with it. It felt like the last highway turn-off had
been contemplated and not taken, and I felt fine about it. So when Mina
made her proposal, I was able to look beyond the surface insanity and
grapple with the base practicalities.
She would pay me one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to convince
Mira to freeze some eggs at a fertility clinic where her friend, Zola
Mae, worked. Mina would then freeze her own eggs. When the time came to
perform the fertilization, her friend would take an egg from the sample
that was one letter off from the correct sample, and Mina would have
her 'good' child. Since we didn't want children, there would be no harm
done, and Mira need be none the wiser.
I saw that there could be Johnny Mac and death, or there could be a way
out and a chance to fix my life. No matter that the idea of a curse was
absurd, no matter that Mina was nuts. I didn't believe in such crap,
but if she did, who cared? Perhaps having a child would even
soften Mina. As to the issue of my consigning a child to life with her,
it would happen if she wanted it to happen, whether from Mira's eggs or
someone else's. I also didn't believe in the idea of fate or
predestination, so whether a child was born from this egg or that, once
they were here, they were here. And I needed the money. So I agreed.
Mira was surprised, but not resistant. I've been thinking about it
myself, she said. It's supposed to be painful, but having the option is
worth a little pain. We went, and I held her hand in the waiting room
and again afterwards in the car when she got a little tearful, and that
was that. The worst I got from Johnny's guys was a few smacks in the
head when I swore I needed one more week but could pay it all off. Mina
made good, producing a paper shopping bag filled with banded stacks of
cash when we met in a parking lot two towns over. I didn't ask where
the money came from. My gambling days ended, we headed toward forty on
becalmed seas, and a year later Mina became a mother.
Eve was beautiful, with a matching disposition. We saw her several
times over the course of her first few years, which was the most time
we'd spent with Mina in a decade. She doted on the child, and was
happier and brighter than I'd ever seen her. She and Mira seemed more
relaxed together, more able to leave the past behind them, or at least
to be pleasant. It had all worked out. Except a few times when Mira was
cooing to the baby or sitting with her and playing, I saw an expression
on Mina's face that made me uncomfortable. It was a look of
anticipation, almost, or amusement. Something sour.
When her daughter was three, Mina moved to Arizona, and that was the
last time we saw them. In the past five years we've communicated only
occasionally, and watched Eve grow up on holiday cards. It was only six
weeks ago, when our own daughter, Mona, was born, that we began
discussing the idea of a visit. Mona was conceived and implanted with
IVF using Mira's frozen eggs. Turned out we wanted to be parents after
all. Somehow Mira going through menopause caused a change in both our
attitudes, and on the day we agreed, I said an inner word of thanks to
Mina and her crazy ideas for getting us to the donation room. Fifty is
the new thirty, became my running joke with Mira. It better be, she
said. The kid seemed bent on putting us to the test. She cried all the
time and didn't sleep well, although the doctor didn't think it was
colic. Just part of the adventure, everyone said.
Last night Mina called. Just checking in. How was parenthood?
Tiring, Mira said, and laughed. We might be in for a tough haul. They
talked a few minutes longer, and said goodbye. Mira went upstairs,
walking on tiptoes to preserve Mona's precious and precarious nap, and
came back with a sheet of paper. What's that, I asked? She
showed me the material from the IVF clinic. Mina said a funny thing
just before we hung up. She said we might recognize the name of the
tech who handled the case. Her finger traced its way over the text on
the first page and came to a stop. IVF facilitator: Zola Mae
Elkins. Upstairs, Mona awoke and began to wail.
Ian Breen's work has appeared in Front Porch, Five Chapters, Atlantic Unbound and others.
He lives in Western Massachusetts.
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