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
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
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
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,
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
"Are you guy who's doing that?"
"What does it look like, you bitter little
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
"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
"Now get the fuck out of my sight, you
vicious little twerp!"
The Asp lunged at the child, who ran into
the library crying.