Walking Toxics

by Ben Marcus


Deleted from an early draft of The Flame Alphabet.


I was the cleaner, the feeder, the shielder, the spokesperson for the home.  Claire was, if anyone asked, which they had mostly stopped doing, resting.  She’d had a bad night, she’d had a bad morning, she’d had a bad day.  Esther said, in her bitter little way, she’s having a bad life.  Call or come back later, was what we said, if we said anything.  We did not need to tiptoe around her if she fell asleep on the couch, because her sleep was rigid and cold and stubborn.  It was a great struggle for her to fight off such a state and wake up again.  I couldn’t watch it.  It looked as if she was rising from the dead, but only halfheartedly.

Leave dead enough alone, I hadn’t heard.

Sometimes I picked up Claire’s arm when she slept and checked her wrist for a pulse.   Sometimes I even felt one.

Children, with their chemically thick speech that antagonizes one’s very body, are the ultimate death of the imagination.  This information should prove useful to the people who come after us.

I have chosen not to embellish my account in any way or to add details that I am now unsure of, but in those last few days at home my faculties were extraordinarily compromised and I functioned at a very low level.  The word ‘function’ would seem to glorify just what kind of behavior one might have seen at our house during those times.  I must assume, even though I cannot recall it, that I moved through the house in some basic way, such as this night I am recounting when I saw the figure pushing in at Esther’s door, but my noticing apparatus was essentially disengaged, my attention was damaged, and I warrant I may be filling in some blanks.

A Walking Toxic was the term that would issue from Rochester, once they finally named the various stages of decline, leaving out anyone who might have artificially built up a resistance, or the non-Jews who seemed immune.  Walking Toxics.  Such were we in our town in November of that year.  The speech-saturated civilians with membrane-thin immune systems, a cortex that had shrunk and turned black, a spoiling in the joints.  Full up on the poison and yet moving through the world, walking, talking, and breathing, as if we weren’t about to die.