She is in for a big surprise.

Swap Meat

When Jules walked into a swap shop that afternoon, she was prepared to die; however, she didn’t think she was going to be murdered.

The clinic felt no different than any other she’d been to, and Jules had been to her share of them. She’d seen doctors, counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. None of them were able to offer her the help she needed, so here she was, at her final clinic. She filled out the forms on the clipboard the receptionist gave her, and then she waited. She hated waiting; it stirred up all sorts of stuff in her head. Was this the right thing for her? Should she reconsider?

No. She took a deep breath. This was what she wanted. She was sure.

Two other people sat waiting nearby. Looking at them, Jules wondered if they were going to go through with the procedure today, or if they were just here for the consult like her. The woman to her right didn’t seem particularly anxious, but the man across from her was visibly sweating. She had so many questions she’d like to ask them, but she stayed quiet. Soon enough the technician would tell her everything she needed to know.

Actually, maybe knowing everything was part of the problem. She’d always been someone who fretted about the little things, which was why she had such a hard time being decisive. Funny how none of that mattered anymore. In fact, she was relieved to be leaving it all behind. This time when she took a deep breath, she felt lighter. Yes. This was the right decision.

A woman wearing khaki-colored scrubs came out of a door and called her name. Jules got up and handed her the clipboard.

“Please follow me, Miss Levinsmith.”

They passed behind the door and into a long corridor.

“Are you ready?” the technician asked as Jules followed behind her.

“Wait. We’re doing it now? I thought this was just the consultation.”

They stopped. The technician quickly glanced at the clipboard. “Everything here looks to be in order. Did you have questions?”

Jules thought about how good she felt with her decision back in the waiting room. “No. I’m ready. Let’s do it.”

The technician smiled. “Great.”

They started walking again. The hallway was long and narrow. The technician took high, bubbly strides. She craned her neck around as she marched and said with a wide grin, “You’re doing a wonderful thing. Your family must be very proud.”

“They don’t know yet,” Jules said.

The woman nodded and looked forward again. “So, first things first. You’re going to meet your recipient.”

“Oh? I didn’t realize…”

“You sound hesitant. Are you having second thoughts?”

“No, I just—”

“It’s standard procedure. Most people find it to be a great comfort.”

Jules relaxed again. “Okay.”

They walked on. When they turned a corner, a series of closed doors with numbers on them lined this corridor. The technician referenced the clipboard again, then stopped in front of door number thirteen. Jules almost asked her to keep going. Everybody knew thirteen was an unlucky number. But then it struck her as ridiculous. What did it matter anymore?

“Take as much time as you need,” the technician said. “Press the buzzer on the wall when you’re ready.” Jules thanked her and went in. The door closed behind her with a loud, hollow clap. Jules turned to find a nearly empty room. It was long and narrow like the hall she’d just come down. Glistening white tiles lined every surface. A beam of light from the ceiling reflected off the sterile surface so brightly it nearly blinded her. She squinted and peered down at the far wall where she saw a square pane of glass centered on it. Through the fluorescent haze, she walked toward it.

As she sat down in the chair positioned in front of it, the light in the room dimmed. A soft glow rose up from behind the window and revealed an emaciated young woman slumped in a wheelchair facing her. The hair on her head was mere stubbles. IV lines protruded from her thin wrists. The silence in the sterile room was so thick, it shocked Jules when the recipient’s voice came through from a speaker in the wall.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Jules. I apologize for my appearance. It’s breast cancer, just so you know. That’s always the first question donors ask, so I thought I’d get it out of the way.”

“You’ve talked with other donors?” Jules asked.

“Yes.”

“So that means those others… changed their minds?”

“Yes.”

Jules spoke confidently, as if convincing this woman was her true mission. “I’m ready,” she said.

“You don’t have to do this,” the recipient said, as if pleading.

“I want to.”

“Why?”

“I just know that this is the right thing for me.”

“Have you tried medications?”

“Yes. I’ve tried everything. Trust me.”

The recipient seemed oddly hesitant. “Sometimes,” she said, “all you need is a little time.” Jules couldn’t contain her laughter. All of the scientific and technological research, the trillions of dollars in pharmaceuticals, all revolving around fixing her and people like her, yet this woman, who couldn’t have been all that much older than her, was trying to tell her the secret was actually just giving it a little time. “No offense,” she said, trying to keep her voice even, “but I’ve had more than enough time. You have no idea. Besides, the woman outside said I met all of the requirements.”

The woman just stared at her for a long time with sunken eyes. Jules didn’t know what to say to make this complete stranger understand. There were so many things she would have liked to convey, but her mind was turning into jelly again. She had too many thoughts and emotions coursing through her. She’d gone from nervous to excited to angry all in the last five minutes. She wondered if this was why there had been others who had walked away from this woman.

“I understand exactly what you’re going through,” the woman said softly.

“I highly doubt that.”

“Let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Ami. I’ve been happily married for three years. I recently had a baby boy. My milk wasn’t producing. At first they thought it was just a blockage but the x-ray revealed a mass. It’s stage four.”

“See? This is perfect,” Jules said. “Your husband and son need you. Why don’t I just go and tell the woman waiting outside that we’re ready?” She started to get up from her chair.

“Wait,” Ami said. “There’s more. I need you to hear this. Please sit down.”

Jules hesitantly lowered herself back into the chair.

“When I was about your age, I actually sat right where you’re sitting now.” Ami paused to suck on an oxygen mask hanging next to her from the IV stand. “My recipient was an old woman. I mean really old. Pushing eighty. I asked her why she thought I should choose her. Why did she deserve it more than someone else…someone younger? She looked genuinely surprised I would ask such a question.

“Then she told me the thing that changed my life. ‘When I was younger,’ she said, ‘I tried to jump off a cliff. We didn’t have these fancy swap shops on every street corner like they do now. No, if we wanted to meet our maker, we had to do the messy job all on our own. So I stood on the edge with my eyes closed and just as I was about to launch myself, someone grabbed my wrist and pulled me back. It was an angel. A man had seen me from the highway and stopped to save me. He didn’t realize he was going to truly save me. Long story short, I married my angel and I’ve had an amazing life.’

“The old woman went on to explain to me that the irony of it all is that you had to live long enough to see the true meaning. There isn’t a cure. It’s not that easy. You have to fight. Not everybody wins. You have to be one of the lucky ones who comes out on the other side of it. She said she believed life was a gift. It’s not perfect, but that’s what makes it so special. Pain is a measure for how good we can feel. Black is only dark if there’s white. She said now that her time was near, she was able to see the good in every little thing, even in the worst case scenarios, and as long as these clinics existed she was going to fight for every moment she could get.”

Ami inhaled oxygen from the mask again. “I started to wonder if maybe this old lady really did know some secrets I didn’t. She convinced me to go out and to give myself a little time. I was too young to get it. Maybe somebody would grab my wrist and show me to the other side, too. And low and behold, wouldn’t you know it, I started to slowly see the good sprinkled in with the bad. It wasn’t night and day, but when my son was born,” she took another breath, “well, there are no meds that can make you feel as good as cradling your baby in your arms. Anyway, now I get it. I assume the cancer is my penance for wanting to end it all too soon, but I don’t care. Just like the old lady, now I want nothing more than to fight.”

Jules sat quietly in the chair for a minute processing everything Ami had thrown at her. “Well you aren’t doing a very good job of it. I came in here certain I was ready. Now I’m having second thoughts.” Unexpected tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. “I just wanted to do something, just one thing, that would make my family proud of me.”

“This isn’t the answer. I don’t care what the brochure says. I was lucky enough to have someone pass along a gift to me when I was your age. I want to do the same. Please. Go home and think about what I’ve said. For me to be comfortable with this, I need to know you’re truly ready. I don’t think you are, Jules.”

“The woman with the clipboard said I was ready.”

“But what do you think?” Ami asked.

“Honestly? I’m not sure about anything.”

Ami nodded. “That’s what I thought. Can I ask you a personal question?”

Jules wiped her eyes. “Okay.”

“Have you ever been in love?”

“I’ve dated.”

“Tell me about that.”

“The last guy I was seeing dumped me because he said I was holding back.”

“What were you holding back?”

“Love, I guess.”

“Why were you doing that?” Ami asked.

“It don’t know. Nobody understands what it’s like. He thought it was my fault, that I was trying to make us fail.”

“Was he right?”

“No! Of course not,” Jules said with a bite.

“Were you upset by the breakup?”

“No. But not because I didn’t care about him. It’s because of the condition. You think I want to be miserable? You think that I can just will myself to be different? If I could, I would. I can’t! I’m glad you found happiness, but that doesn’t mean everyone can.”

“You’re right,” Ami said nodding. “I’m not saying you can. Believe me. I would never insinuate that what you have isn’t real. And I’m not saying love is the answer to everything. All I’m saying is…you’re so young. I want you to at least get the opportunity to experience true love once in your life.”

Jules was conflicted. “Maybe I’m not lovable. What if that’s the real root of my problem?” It was her biggest fear, the secret she’d kept to herself. She’d been relieved to have been diagnosed with the condition just so she didn’t have to face the possibility. What if she were to find her angel, but they didn’t love her back? But now she faced this woman who was dying, this stranger, who wanted nothing more than to keep going for the love of her child, and yet she was willing to let Jules walk out of there so she could give her another shot at figuring herself out. Something sparked inside of her that she’d never felt before.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Ami said. “I think maybe you just haven’t found the right person yet, or maybe you just haven’t come into your own yet. Maybe you just needed…this experience to put it all into perspective. Just like me. I just want to make sure that you’re really sure.”

A silence filled the small space again. This time is was Jules’s own voice that shocked her when she spoke. “Okay,” she said. “I’m going to take your advice. I’m going to try again.” She got up.

Ami smiled as if it caused her pain to do so. “I’m glad. I hope you find something good out there this time just like I did.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Thank you, Ami.”

Jules moved to the door. Next to the call button on the wall she took note again of the number thirteen on the door. She thought to herself how she’d been wrong about it being unlucky. It had been the exact opposite. This was actually the miracle she’d been seeking. It wasn’t a hoax or a quick fix. It was just some sage advice from someone who’d been through it herself, someone who was a few steps ahead of her in her life journey, someone who understood what she was going through and had come out on the other side.

Jules smiled. She was feeling clearer than she’d felt in years. For once she didn’t feel like she was underwater. She was going to leave this clinic and turn things around. If not for her, then for Ami, who was selfless enough to let her see what she’d been missing all this time.

Confidently, Jules pushed the button to call the technician back.

The moment she did, she felt a wave of heat coarse through her. The light above her got intensely bright before it flickered and the small room went dark for a moment. When the light came back on, Jules understood immediately something had changed. She looked down at herself. Her skin was sagging and pale.

Her breath was now coming in shallow increments. She felt…not herself. She turned and walked back toward the glass. Standing on the other side, staring back at her…was her.

“Jules?” the person in her body said. “What happened?”

“Ami? Is that you? I don’t know! I just pushed the button to call the attendant.”

“No. That button was to make the swap.”

“Oh, God! I didn’t realize.” She examined herself in the reflection of the window. “I’m…you now?”

“Yes,” Ami said.

Jules suddenly felt sick. Because she was sick; in fact, she was dying. She sat down in the chair. Everything in her body hurt to do so. “What have I done?”

She looked back up at Ami who was breathing deeply from her new set of lungs. The expression on her face was not one that Jules even recognized as her own. It was one of pure bliss. “I feel so good.”

Jules watched as Ami examined her new exterior, touched her new thick head of hair. “It’s amazing.” Ami walked to the glass separating them and put her hand up to it. “My God,” she whispered. “I look terrible. I hadn’t realized how bad…”

“Please,” Jules pleaded. “Swap me back! I made a mistake. I changed my mind. I can’t do this. I don’t want to die.” She tried to calm down. She grabbed the oxygen mask and inhaled deeply.

Ami didn’t break eye contact. “I want to. I really do. It feels so good to be able to breathe again.” She began to slowly back toward the door on the opposite side of her room.

Jules yelled as loud as her new body would allow, “What about everything you said to me, about making sure your donor was ready? Oh God. Please, Ami. Swap me back!”

“I’m sorry, Jules. It’s done now and I just… I’m really sorry.” Ami turned and opened the door. She gave a quick glance back…

“Wait,” Jules said faintly, but it was too late. She was already gone.


Jody is a self-published author of over seven mystery and psychological thriller novels. She enjoys writing in many different genres and have published a few shorts in various science fiction anthologies, as well as in mystery magazines. You can find more about Jody here:

@JWenner_Author