by E.M. Stormo
Four mason jars rattle above the Ludows’ bedside while the house cat watches.
After they finish, Mrs. Ludow tells her husband, “Your heart’s not into it,” and he isn’t sure if she means the lovemaking or the baby, but he wishes the jars would tip over and smash on the hardwood floors. They are the family jars, passed down by his father.
The Ludows race to conceive with their neighbors, the Holstoys. At a dinner party, Mrs. Holstoy announces her pregnancy. The Ludows congratulate them, but Mr. Holstoy breaks down in tears. Widows and single men offer their sympathies.
Afterwards, the Ludows share a drink and a smoke before bed. He says, “It might be our last.” The cat watches them as they make another attempt. They let Taffy do whatever she wants, sitting on the counter, eating whatever, and unrolling the toilet paper. The Ludows argue which way you’re supposed to load it. She insists it be “top-down,” while he informs her, “This makes it easy for Taffy to unroll.” Either way, the paper ends up in a pile on the tile floor.
The Ludows eventually conceive a baby girl as confirmed by their doctor, Ms. Coline, who prefers Ms. to Dr. She shows them a video feed of a grey pulsating fetus.
“What is that?” asks Mr. Ludow.
“That is your daughter,” says Ms. Coline.
Mr. Ludow swears the beeping is her heartbeat, but if the girl were born without internal organs how would that work? He doesn’t ask.
“The transplant is a simple operation,” she assures them. “I performed one on my husband.”
The Ludows exchange looks.
“For your daughter’s life, a transplant is necessary.”
A week before the due date, Ms. Ludow, the proud grandmother-to-be, tells her son what she once told her husband. “All children are born soulless, formless. The mother gives her body, while the father gives his soul.”
His stepfather Jeff passes down the family heirloom, a dagger reserved for circumcisions and transplants. Jeff’s father had used it last and he hoped Jeff would use it too, but Jeff married a widow instead. “Here,” Jeff hands it over, “this belonged to my father,” feeling like a father himself. Traditionally, the family jars are passed down by the father and the family dagger by the stepfather.
On the eve of the due date, Mr. Ludow allows himself a short cry but only in front of Taffy, not in front of his wife. The cat stays with him when he does it, whether to comfort him or just to watch he doesn’t care.
He places the family jars on the plastic floor and stabs himself in the heart. He disembowels himself, spilling his organs into the jars. His liver, lungs, intestines, and heart fit neatly inside.
The four jars with Mr. Ludow’s organs sit on a shelf above his infant daughter’s crib. She sleeps most of the day. After a year, the jars will be emptied and ready for reuse.
E. M. Stormo is a fiction editor by day, writer by night, and a teacher and promoter of musical literacy at all times. His recent fiction has appeared in Thrice Fiction Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, and Entropy Magazine.