BellaOnline Literary Review
The Stairway by Debi Gardiner



Julia Friedman

“Any new ones today, Charlie?”

“Nada. Come back next week - should be getting in some new pieces.”

“Why’s that?”

“Season’s ’bout to change.”

“Right. Okay, well thanks anyways, Char. Call me if anything comes in before then.”

Nothing? How could that be? Maybe if I drive down to the Shore? They usually have some good finds. I promised Beth a new set for making the honor roll and she’s been pestering me for weeks; already has them picked out in her mind. Long, of course, and resilient. I want to surprise her with the perfect pair, but maybe I should take her with me and let her look around. She’ll see how tough it is.

“Hi! I’m back!”

“Finally!” shouted Beth from her room, “I’m starving!”

“Come downstairs. We’ll order in.”

She bounded down the staircase, plopped down at the kitchen table and opened up her laptop.

“What do you want?”

“Hmmm - I had pizza last night and Chinese the day before that, so how about Indian?”

“Fine by me. What are you looking at?”

“You know, just shopping around,” she said without looking up.

“Find anything interesting?”

“Eh, you’re better off going to the stores, you know? Better to see what it looks like in person. They Photoshop everything now, anyways, so it’s hard to tell.”

“How ‘bout we take a drive on Friday after school?”

Beth’s face popped up from behind the screen, her smile stretched across her face.

“Yes! Yes!” she screamed and ran over to hug me. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Her arms wrapped around me tightly and I could feel the smooth skin on her shoulder blades. I knew this day would come eventually, but that didn’t make it any easier to come to terms with.

She headed back upstairs for bed, but was too excited to sleep.

Friday came and Beth woke up earlier than usual. She scrambled her eggs loud enough to make sure that I would wake up. When I came downstairs, she was already dressed.

“Morning, sunshine! Ready for the big day?”

“I’ll be ready in an hour and then we can head out.”

I poured a glass of orange juice and grabbed a cereal bar before heading upstairs to shower.

I turned on the water and began to undress. As I stood in front of the mirror, I examined my scars. My hips, my wrists and collar are all still a bit discolored. The skin tone is uneven. Imperfect. Why do we put ourselves through this?

The steam thickened and coated the mirror, masking my reflection.

I came downstairs to find Beth already in the passenger seat of the car. She was texting furiously and had a wide smile.

“Who ya talking to?”

“Fran. She’s going in next week.”

“Oh? For?”

“New feet. Found them on the West Coast while she was visiting family. Maybe now she’ll be able to be the ballet dancer she’s always wanted to be.”

“Didn’t she just get a new pair?”

“No. That was Tess. Hers are kind of flat, though. She was better off with the originals.”

I have known these girls since kindergarten. I’ve seen them on their first days of school, at their first soccer practices and, now, through their first swaps. But I’ve always wondered: is it worth it? The swapping, I mean. It feels like the kids are doing it more and more these days. I once met a woman who had twenty swaps by the age of forty-five. How could you recognize yourself after that many?

We pulled into the parking lot - apparently the only thing that could make Beth put her phone down. I had never been to this market before but it was surprisingly crowded.

“Busy,” I remarked.

“They literally have everything. I’ve read about them online and I know like ten kids in my grade who’ve found parts here before.”

A blast of ice-cold air hit our bodies as we walked through the automatic doors. Luckily, the line was short.

Beth handed the guard her ID.

“B positive. Make a right and head all the way to the back.”

We passed the men and women, some with children, some with their spouses, others alone. And although they all appeared different, we were all the same: covered in scars and searching for the satisfying swap.

“I’m obsessed with these,” Beth said pointing to a pair of long, lean legs in the glass case.

“They’re nice,” I agreed, regretfully. “Personally, I like the ones you have, but if you like these better, that’s up to you.”

She rolled her eyes and walked further down the aisle.

“These!” she shouted. “Mom! Come here! Do you like these ones?!”

“They’re nice.”

“Can I get them?”

“If those are the ones you want.”

“I do! Yes, please!”

“Okay, let’s go up front to pay.”

She was a perfect baby. Beth, that is. Eight pounds, three ounces and seventeen inches long. Swapping had hit an all-time high during her first years and I knew she’d want to swap one day, but I hated to think about it.

“B positive number seventy-eight,” she told the cashier, handing him her ID. “They’re going to Roswell Hospital.”

“I’ll have them there on Tuesday by ten,” he responded.

I handed him my credit card and Beth gave me with a hug.

She could hardly sleep that weekend and Tuesday arrived faster than I had anticipated.

“All set?” asked Doctor Levy.

“Yeah,” Beth slurred, dosing off.

She woke a few hours later, screaming. That’s normal.

“How are you feeling, Sweetie?”

Tears rolled down her face and she was shivering. I tucked the blanket around her and told her she’d feel better in the morning.

I spent the night at home but came back to pick her up the next morning.

As I walked through the hospital towards the Swapping Wing, I passed through the Nursery. The babies were sleeping. Their delicate, untouched skin was perfect.

I arrived at Beth’s room and she was sitting in a wheelchair by the window. Her legs were covered in bandages.

The news was on and they were interviewing a teenager from up North. She was in a wheel chair and her legs were twisted strangely.

“I’ve been this way since I was born. I know most people would call it imperfection, but I wouldn’t change it for a thing,” she beamed.

“That girl is brave,” Beth sniffled. “Why isn’t everyone like that?”

“I wish we were.”

I was mad at myself for allowing her to go through with it, but what else was I going to do? It’s part of the world we live in, I guess. Right?

“I’m done,” she told me.

And we sat together, with an odd sense of contentment, in silence.

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Spring Equinox 2012 Table of Contents