Tales of the Asp: Marianne Mack, by Aidan Butler

     Marianne Mack was a tragic case. Born with deformed arms that looked like butternut squash, no legs, eyes that were undeveloped -- little more than knots of nerves and veins in her eye sockets -- ears attached at different levels to the sides of her head, and a double upper-lip, she was also born with a form of pneumonia that would never leave her, and which made it necessary for her to remain permanently connected to machines that cleansed her body of its superabundant phlegm, pumped in air, sucked it back out, and splashed liquid nutrients into her veins.

     Marianne Mack was also a shining symbol of courage in her community. Despite her unimaginable struggles, her relentless physical pain, she never once uttered a word of complaint or self-pity. Occasionally people would walk into her bedroom without knocking and find her slumped over a Winnie the Pooh pillow, sobbing, her liquifier struggling to make up for the fluids she lost in the form of countless tears seeping into the cloth image of Winnie and his friends. But whenever other people were around, she made an unfailing show of strength and composure.

     She excelled in her home schooling; her SAT scores rivalled those from the best prep shool students in the nation. She had lengthy correspondences with famous ministers who praised her perseverance and her indominable will, the vitality of her faith in a loving God. She was featured on stage beside numerous men and women competing for public office, and she was a personal friend of Martha Stuart, who once asked her to design a Christmas tree for her home. (Marianne's advice was not followed, but this was downplayed in the press. Her puzzling vision of the ideal Christmas tree was one with all its limbs hacked off and replaced by umbrellas of various sizes and colors.) She was also loved by Brett Hayworth, the Kentucy wrestling star who had won his country a silver medal in the olympics. Despite the fact that Marianne had no legs, tiny arms, no eyes, and could not breath on her own, she managed to defeat Hayworth in a charity wrestling match.

     Her tragic death broke the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people. Her funeral procession extended from the Billingsworth suburbs to the heart of Atlanta, and was the largest in the Nation's history not associated with a political leader or an entertainment celebrity. A little girl standing on a beach in Long Island, New York, claimed that she could hear the mourners' incessant wailing with her own ears. Four lamenting family friends had heart attacks at the funeral and beseeched the doctors at the scene to let them die, and to bury them beside Marianne so that they could accompany her to heaven, to make sure it was a good enough, holy enough, pure enough place for her.

     Marianne's father broke down while addressing the crowd, sobbed relentlessly, and became so exhausted that he had to take a two-hour nap before finishing his eulogy to his daughter. When he awoke -- begging deliriously to be told it was all a dream -- he eventually recounted how one evening Marianne's pain and despair was so great that her tears filled a four-quart wash-basin. But instead of relenting to her personal anguish, instead of wallowing pathetically in her own misery, Marianne made constructive use of the situation; she sprinkled laundry detergent into the deep basin and washed her younger brother's gym shorts in her tears. He had his first practice with the high school track team the next morning, and she wanted him to look good, to represent her family with dignity.

     The President of the United States humbly pleaded with Marianne's father for the honor of being able to address the lugubrious gathering. His eyes glistening sorrowfully, the President recounted how during one of the country's most terrifying conflicts with a puny, defenseless Third World nation, he had telephoned Marianne for advice.

     "Marianne spoke to me with superb wisdom; she spoke with a stunning clarity of mind that should make all world leaders humble. She said, `Mr. President, just be a man.' Her words have never left my heart. And today, I'm here to inform all Americans that never has this world seen as great, as courageous a man as Marianne Mack. Except, perhaps, for Thomas Jefferson. And Abraham Lincoln. And perhaps Jonh Kennedy, but if he was more of a man than Marianne, it was only because he had a penis."

     The details of her death are perhaps not worth recording, except for future historical reference. The family had just constructed a small film editing studio inside their home in which they planned to process professional-quality home movies of their daughter. When the equipment was all in place -- the family hugging each other, popping champagne bottles, delighted that they would finally be able to share the glorious vision of their daughter with the world in a suitably marketable fashion -- they ceremonially hit the master power switch. Columns of lights sparkled on the mixing board; spotlights sprayed their luminous warmth across the studio. Simultaneously, Marianne's life-support system short-circuited. She died before they could reboot her.

     Ironically, the first movie filmed of her -- and the last -- featured her eyes rolling back into her head, her face paling whiter than chalk, her stubby arms flapping violently. Her last words were really an ineluctable consonantal clutter dislodging from her throat.

     All the people of Georgia -- indeed, the people of many culturally diverse, spatially remote parts of the country -- surrendered to a blade of grief that cut through their hearts to release the airy blood of the soul. Marianne meant the same things to us all -- courage in the face of insurmountable obstacles, a compassion that ignores ones own grief in recognizing that of others -- these being perhaps the noblest traits humans can share with each other.

     All the people felt that savage blade of grief except one: a single person turned his back on our unanimous sense of loss, mocked the profound sadness that paralyzed the community, and pierced our flowing hearts with a blade of his own, purposeless, cold, infuriating.

     Several weeks before the death of Marianne, someone embarked on a highly morbid project of suburban beautification. Spending what must have been enormous amounts of money, the individual purchased hundreds of children's dolls -- simple cloth-and-stuffing Raggedy Anne dolls, elaborate plastic babies that had the ability to cough, sputter, and crap, colorful jelly dolls that could be devoured by their owners, squishy rubber dolls that, when squeezed, made squealing, gagging noises, and half-alien dolls with strangely hyphenated names, antennae, and multi-lens eyes. And these dolls -- so prized as gifts by children -- the individual hacked apart, partially burned, then hanged from trees, traffic lights, signposts, and doorways all over town.

     When Marianne died the dolls stopped apearing. In their place, the miscreant began hanging large, thick- skinned potatoes all over the place like bloated, cancer- afflicted Easter Eggs. The potatoes had crude, eyeless, deformed faces carved into them, ears notched at different levels, and the name Marianne scrawled on their backs with charcoal. Some of the Marianne potatoes were speared with colorful sandwich toothpicks, or rows of tacks; some had slips of paper tacked to them, which read

     "Asp say, Miserable potato die miserable death."

     One afternoon the elusive Asp was caught in the act of stringing a Marianne potato from a fence post outside the Thalus library. His witness was not a police officer, regrettably, or a library employee, but a small boy who had been playing on the library's lawn while waiting for his mother.

     The boy saw the Asp, with his long, torn overcoat, his reflecting sunglasses, his matted black hair, and, displaying remarkable courage, approached him.

     "Are you guy who's doing that?"

     "What does it look like, you bitter little hoodlum?"

     The child stared at the Asp silently, then reached into his pocket and took out a lollipop he had been given by the librarian. It still had its wrapper.

     "I'll give you this if you stop."

     The Asp stared at the large red lollipop. He glanced up at the child's imploring eyes, then, slowly, held out his gloved palm. Smiling, the child handed him the candy. The Asp held the lollipop up to the sun like a lens, then ripped off its plastic wrapper. Removing a fresh Marianne potato from his coat pocket, he impaled it with the lollipop, and hung it from a fence post.

     "Now get the fuck out of my sight, you vicious little twerp!"

     The Asp lunged at the child, who ran into the library crying.

Tales of the Asp
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Swagazine Special Number One
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