Mina and Mira and Mona and Me
Ian Breen

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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