A Suitable Donor – a short story
He realised that it should not have come as a surprise, the pain in the back and the discolouration in the waterworks department. The doctor looked up from some notes – something to do with the tests the previous week. One of his friends, David, a medical student, had explained over lunch in the college dining hall, had urged him to seek advice.
“With only one kidney you need the best help you can get, right away. No messing, Tom. Right away Tom.”
He liked the name Tom, the one he’d chosen to be known by. Away from home he had abandoned Tyler. Now the doctor told him about the need for surgery and then dialysis until a donor was found.
“It could be a family member, a parent or a sibling. Transplants are very successful – serious but reassuringly routine. There’s no history of kidney disease in your family is there?”
Tyler thought for a moment.
“Not that I know of.”
The doctor looked up. He hadn’t realised perhaps – that was what Tyler enjoyed about uni – people didn’t recognise him.
“You’re sure about that, Tyl…”
“Tom, just call me Tom.”
“Well Tom, your parents are both healthy.”
“Far as I know, but then, I don’t know about my mother.” The doctor looked up again. “Oh, sorry doctor, you wouldn’t know – I’ve been brought up by two fathers. Trouble is, I don’t know which of them is my real dad. Never been tested to find out.”
Robert, Daddy Robert, was at home, in the big room from where he ran the operation as they called it. Daddy Cornelius made films and Daddy Robert looked after him, managed his career. For a while Tyler had been part of this but once he had been sent away to school he had found other perspectives and had realised that he could detach himself from the whole business.
Now his illness had forced him back home and Robert had sent for Cornelius who was filming somewhere.
“The whole point, Tyler, is that we are both your parents. Ever since you were a little boy we have always told you that we are both your dads – and we’ve said the same thing to Maisie.”
Maisie was still away at school and Tyler had not wanted to trouble her with all this, not on the phone. Perhaps he should have gone down there first.
“Neither of us wants to be the odd one out, Tyler. We’ll both have to be tested I suppose if we really have to. Then there’s little Maisie – some one’s going to have to tell her.”
“What about my mother? Someone’s going to have to tell her.”
“Why? You know she’s never been part of our lives.”
It was what Tyler was half expecting; early in life he had learnt to ignore the existence of a mother and so had Maisie. He remembered trying to help his sister when she asked her simple, childish questions.
“Someone’s going to have to ask my mother to take a test to see whether she could be a donor. It’s not just fathers who can do things. Anyway, I can’t tell her – you’ve never told me who she was.”
The pain was not going to go away. Tyler took the pills that had been prescribed and was asleep when Cornelius was brought back from the studio later that night.
Next morning Tyler ordered a cab. He felt better for the sleep and was waiting in the enormous splendour of the entrance hall. Breakfast with Cornelius had not been easy.
“Of course I’m not going to tell you Tyler. Robert and I have always been your parents and she’s had nothing to do with us. We not even met the woman.”
“But she might be a suitable donor.”
Later today there would be tests and then the operation, probably tomorrow. Then dialysis: someone at uni had told him of the hours spent and the discomfort and the boredom, just waiting around, putting your life on hold. Cornelius was speaking again.
“What’s she to us?” There was the sound of Cornelius’ hand striking the desk. “She’s just a blip in our history.”
Quietly, Robert came into the room and sat slowly next to Cornelius, as if he’d heard the rising of their voices and now wanted to slide into their conversation. Tyler watched him take Cornelius’ arm, Robert, slim and wiry, Cornelius, dumpy. Neither of them as tall as him now – Tyler no longer concerned himself as once he had concerned himself with the business of wondering which was his real father.
“Cornelius, I explained this to Tyler earlier.”
“But Robert, the doctor told me, she might be a suitable donor.” The two men opposite said nothing. Tyler continued. “What about Maisie, I suppose you’ll get her tested to see if she’ll do.”
The two men ignored him and Tyler wished that Maisie could be here. For all they knew he and Maisie might not be related at all. That might be easier, but the matter of his mother would not go away. Robert had let go of Cornelius’ arm.
“After all the trouble of bringing you two up, you don’t think we’re going to give up on you just like that, do you.” Robert was looking straight at him now, all reassurance. “Why do you think we’ve got two of you – didn’t want all our eggs in one basket.”
“What do you mean by that? Just play things are we Robert?”
Then it had been time for Cornelius to take Robert’s arm.
Now Tyler was waiting in the hall, for a local minicab; the last thing he wanted was the fuss of being driven to hospital in one of the big cars. He turned away from the doors and looked at the group of pictures under the mirror. There in front of him was his smaller self, about two they had told him, swept up into Cornelius’ arms, all proprietorial and PR, and Robert looking down at them, relieved that everything was under control. His own mouth was open and he remembered later, when Cornelius could no longer pick him up, wondering what would happen if the crowds had got through to them. Once he had hidden the picture but Henry the cleaner had found it and he had been told to leave the picture where it was – visitors wanted to see a happy family. To one side, in another picture, Maisie joined them.
Two days later Robert approached the side of his bed.
“How you doing then, Tyler?”
Tyler lifted an arm and gestured at the chair to one side.
“I’m all right.”
“Cornelius is trying to get away tomorrow. That producer is so demanding. He one of the worst I had to deal with – so, so demanding.”
“Does Maisie know?”
“Does Maisie know about what?”
“This. All this.”
“No probs – she’ll be home soon and we’ll sort out a test for her.”
“But does she know?”
“No. We’ll tell her when she gets back.”
“What about my mother?”
“Tyler, we’ve been over all this.”
The man watched Tyler move suddenly in the bed then hold himself still, as if afraid that further efforts to move would hurt him again. Tyler looked back at him.
“You’ll have to let me know – you can’t keep her ID from me – I’m nineteen now.”
Tyler lay back and looked at the ceiling, more like an angry adolescent, determined now not to be mollified. He felt Robert’s hand on his shoulder and eased himself away, slowly, resentfully.
“Don’t worry, Tyler. Cornelius and I’ll get things sorted.”
Tyler said nothing.
Once he was discharged there was a conference back home.
“Got to get this sorted, Robert.” Cornelius turned to one side. “And you can just stay put, Maisie – this affects all of us.” Maisie, tightly curled brown hair, jeans and a light top, slim and bent over the chair from which she was trying to slide away – stopped but made no effort to make herself comfortable again, as if the minute they took their eyes off her she would make her way out of the room and take herself back to school, to her friends. Cornelius continued.
“You’d better listen to this young Maisie – you might be the only one who can help Tyler. You could save him and you’d still have one kidney left. That’s all you need; Tyler’s managed with just one kidney for years.”
“And now that one has packed up and he needs a spare. But why should he have my spare? Precious bloody Tyler.” Maisie came abruptly to a halt and turned to her brother. She was back on her feet now and could reach over and touch his arm. “Sorry Tom.” She ignored the look on Cornelius’ face and continued. “Look Tom, if it was life and death….”
Maisie sat down again. Robert came over to her and circled round so that he could approach from the side. Before he reached her she got up and sat herself down again the other side of Tyler and further away from Cornelius. She looked up at her brother. “You all right Tom?” She watched him shake his head and heard Cornelius get to his feet. Then she was on her feet. “Come on Tom – let’s get you some water.”
Tyler let her take his hand and before Cornelius could move she had shut the door behind them. Back in his chair Cornelius spoke again.
“Have you arranged tests for the two of us, Robert?” His partner nodded. “What about Maisie? Can we get her done before she goes back?”
“I’ll call the surgery in a moment.” Robert paused. “Don’t want a scene – you know – if she really doesn’t want to do it.”
“Why not, she’s his sister for Christ’s sake.” Cornelius shook his head. “Well, half- sister. Robert, there’s a good chance. Can’t she see that?”
“I think, Cornelius, she sees that only too well.”
Back at uni there was David.
“You’re entitled to know who your mother is – now you’re over eighteen. They’ve got to tell you.”
“They said that the law couldn’t apply here because she’s an American. That’s how they paid to get me – rent a womb.”
“Take them to court?”
“That’s what I told them – why force me to take you to court? Didn’t like that – Robert had kittens thinking about bad PR. No, they said they’d contacted my mother. What was it Cornelius said – didn’t want to know – said it wasn’t in the contract.”
There was a pause now and David watched his friend.
“I might be related to Robert, or to Cornelius, or to Maisie, but there’s no doubt I’m related to this woman.” He was cross now – this woman, his mother whoever she was. “Perhaps they could offer to pay her for a kidney this time.”
The next time he saw David Tyler was in the university hospital, hooked up to the machine.
“Hi, Tom.” His friend smiled, quizzically. “Getting the hang of all this?”
“Sort of. Nothing else I can do.”
“What about the tests?”
“Neither of them’s suitable.”
“What about your sister?”
Tyler shook his head, slowly, as if that was all he could find by way of a reply. Then there were some words.
“She called me yesterday, poor kid. They’ve been on to her again – she’s my only hope and all that, but she’s terrified of the whole business. If she has the test and she’s suitable, what then? She knows I want a kidney but it’s a big ask.”
Tyler sighed and leant back. Dave was more intent now and leant forward. From his pillow Tyler grinned.
“You know, Dave, you’re beginning to look like a bloody doctor now.”
For a moment Tyler closed his eyes while his friend said nothing. Then he looked up again.
“I think Maisie threatened them somehow. She’s a bigger headache than I ever was – like a time bomb and, guess what, she told them to watch out for bad publicity out of all this. That shut Robert up.”
Tyler felt the tiredness returning and allowed his eyes to close. He felt his friend pat his arm and heard him take his leave.
“I asked you to come in because we’ve some good news for you, Ty, er, Tom.” The doctor had not bothered to sit down.
“We think we’ve found a suitable donor.”
Later, a week later, it was Robert who called again at the hospital. He walked in briskly and sat himself next to Tyler’s bed.
“Well, then, Tyler, making progress?”
“Sort of. Seems I got lucky.”
Robert nodded. “You could say that.”
From his coat pocket the man removed a long envelope and tossed it onto the bed, within easy reach of Tyler’s hand. He watched but Tyler did nothing.
“You wanted her details.”
Tyler looked away from the envelope and across to his visitor.
“Thanks for coming. It’s a long journey.”
Later the door to the private room hissed shut and the silence was restored. On the floor, to one side of the bed there was a small rubbish bin. Tyler eased himself forward and took hold of the envelope. Once it was secure in his hand he leant over the side of the bed then let it fall gently into the bin.