The Esther Repellant

by Ben Marcus


Deleted from an early draft of The Flame Alphabet.


Without consulting Claire I purchased an Esther repellant, an electronic one.  To warn me of Esther’s approach, or indeed of the motion of any living creature through our halls and rooms, I rigged a system of alarms that puzzled into the wall switch plates.  But I crossed the wiring or somehow failed to close the circuit for this contraption, because the high siren pierced the air even when no one roamed through.  It seemed to trip due to movement of the air itself.  I thought of it as an alarm that sounded as long as the world still existed.  One might have felt worried to find our home encased by silence.  When the alarm was triggered, the walls shook with the sharp tone, which burst out so fiercely that one’s whole face felt violated.  Each time the furnace coughed back on in the morning, sending up huffs of filthy heat from the floor, the siren peeled away any semblance of peace, cutting right through the white noise I had programmed out of the old slab radio, until I fumbled over to the remote to silence it.  Soon I disabled this feature entirely, which left us with a collection of yard bulbs as small as bugs’ eyes, positioned indoors and strung about like track lighting, that flashed when someone entered or left a room.

Lights of this sort, blinking in a sputtered pattern, sending hot white codes deep into my brain, did not help us with regard to seizures.  But there was a point when a seizure could be mastered, squeezed back down into the body when it erupted, so basic motion and control could still be achieved.

Such protections protected almost nothing.  The warnings simply strengthened my aversion to my daughter.  But Esther was not interested enough to corner me, and I took solace in her disdain for us.  ‘Interested’ would be an entirely inexact word in relation to Esther and her style of attack.  A pyramid of disgust might be sketched out to illustrate the psychological spectrum she had traversed as she accustomed herself to our aversion of her, our decline, and the silencing requests we put to her in the humblest terms we knew.  By script and on digital recorder, and in person when conditions permitted it, we begged Esther’s patience and indulgence.  We asked that she consider to share, by communication, only what was absolutely essential, just to indulge us, of course, to see if it was possible that we might fail to worsen under conditions of what we could only call radio silence.

Didn’t she want to help us discover if this might make us better, we asked?

Such pleading tones, cast in voices that were by now desperately sick, would no doubt seem dramatic to Esther, overplayed.  Even if she became silent as a result, she threw herself angrily through rooms and used her face to advertise her high irritation.  Her face came loaded with the most transparent kind of anger.  Indeed our evasions of Esther, our strategic hiding, our new habit of leaving detailed notes when we needed to communicate to her, and above all our amplified generosity when it came to money, seemed to be giving her special ideas of a new role she might play in the family.