A loose straw pinches the tender flesh between my nail and the tip of my middle finger. I hesitate, unsure if I should withdraw my hand or if I should let the pain linger for a bit longer. I am unloading the basket my husband had received from the bone marrow society as a compensation for the holes he got in his ilium. That’s just a fancy word for the pelvic bone, one I learned when the doctor explained to us what they were going to do to him so he can help a very sick stranger. I remembered it because it sounded just like the name of one of those characters in World of Warcraft. I would lose my husband to it on a regular basis. I’ve lost him now, too, but it’s a bit more permanent. I won’t be able to wrench him back by turning off his computer.
One after the other, I discard the contents: homemade raspberry jam, pickled beets, a fancy tomato sauce, tiny chocolates in a golden package. The kind of jars which make you think of somebody else’s very rich grandmother. Though I’m sure no rich grandmother bothers to make her own jams.
I feel like desecrating a tomb, though by now they have all long expired, just like gratitude. The only thing that I can rescue is a bottle of red wine.
His bone marrow went to a seventeen-year-old in France. At least, that’s what it said in a letter from the bone marrow society.
Try to Google ‘donating bone marrow’ and let your cursor hover for a moment, like suspending your foot in mid-air. Look at the suggestions. ‘Donating bone marrow risk’. ‘Donating bone marrow pay’. ‘Donating bone marrow pain’. In this order. I can tell you the pain is excruciating. After the teeth grinding at night, for weeks after the extraction, the days spent with his eyes on his watch, calculating time left until his next dose of painkiller, my husband could never bring himself to open the basket. It was a somewhat of a rowdy reminder, resting on a cupboard, that he was actually a good man. He would pass by it every time he would go to his room to play some WOW.
Nobody asked about the pain. They all wanted to know how much he got paid. As if doing something noble is another privilege reserved for the rich. A concept foreign to a construction worker. Nobody believed him that his reward had been a goodie basket. And knowing that a teenager would be able to eat as many croissants and foie gras as she wants to, for years and years to come. His pay had been giving the gift of life.
I look at the bottle in my hand and barely don’t smash it against the floors. I barely don’t press its severed neck against my wrists. He had donated so that she can have fresh, healthy blood. Old blood in a young body.
Half a year after the first letter, they sent us another one saying that the young girl didn’t make it.
The disease had returned to her blood.
Without the bottle, all that would be left of my husband would be an empty basket and an inactive character in a game. Empty carcasses.
I carefully put the bottle down, willing it to break. But it doesn’t. Some things are meant to endure, even against their will. I press the flesh under my fingernails against the loose straw in the basket. I’d like to keep the splinter buried there for a few days, just to remind myself that no pain lasts forever.
Sophie van Llewyn lives in Germany. She is an Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes. Her flash fiction has been published in The Molotov Cocktail, Sick Lit Magazine, 101 Words and is forthcoming in Flash Frontier.