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Martin by Annin Brothers

There was a warp before his eyes, before his right eye, an uncommon warp—something like two faces, like two halves of different faces. One for real, living, responsive to the world. And the other . . . about which, echoing your senses, you would say: Whatever for? It shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t be born in the first place, because whatever’s born is there to embrace life, not repel it, not clam up, not frighten it, not for it to repel the born, not one about which you would say: He’s stamped with life’s anti-sense. And the secret of the other face was hidden inside that ‘something’ there, instead of the left eye. And this ‘something’ was looking out of the eye socket as a bunch of black filaments that made whoever looked at it shudder.
     Martin was standing in front of the mirror when Samuel came in.
     ‘That you, sonny? What’s wrong?’
     Martin smirked.
     ‘I don’t often go to look at myself in the mirror, you know . . . No, you don’t. How would you? I mean, I came up to the mirror to look at myself . . . I hadn’t done that to admire myself in a long time, you know . . .’
     ‘Stop beating around the bush. Out with it.’
     ‘Uncle Samuel, answer my question. Please, do.’
     ‘Shoot, sonny, ask your loaded question. I never prevaricate, you know.’
     ‘Uncle Samuel, what do you know about me that I don’t? Tell me.’
     Samuel thought for a while and said:
     ‘You know all there’s to know . . . about your mother, about your father, about yourself. All except what I thought might be painful to you . . . It’s your eye . . . your left eye.’
     ‘What about my eye?’
     ‘What about your eye? You know you were to the manner born: the lightning that struck Martha was to blame. But when talking to you, I never mentioned another thing, and I’m not sure it’ll be plain sailing this time . . . What about your eye? The physicians—some quite eminent among them—couldn’t answer this question. Or wouldn’t. At least, there was some understatement about it all. After examination, they gave it up for lost, each of them. I think we shouldn’t have taken you to all those clinics. All to no avail. However, the first of them, an old dear (I believe, it was his strange ways that put us off), warned me that there had never been such a case in modern practice and no one would go beyond initial examination. We should’ve given it up as a bad job, just as he’d suggested, and let you be.’
     Samuel shifted his eyes to the window—he needed a pause—and continued after a silence:
     ‘You wanted it without reservations, and I’ll be frank with you, to the bitter end . . . He said your eye . . . had developed a new quality, an unknown quality . . . He also said—it was probably a bon mot or a resignation for all I know—that the quality wasn’t . . . I can’t get my tongue around it; it’s such a mouthful . . .’ Samuel could get his tongue around it, all right, but he seemed to have lost confidence in his agitation (Martin had not known him to be that agitated before). ‘It didn’t quite go with our idea of being as we regard it with our brains, our brains not all that clear-visioned as all that . . . I’m not in a position to judge how much of it’s true, how much idle talk. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s all for the best, their having resigned themselves to non-interference. You want to know why?’
     ‘Why, Uncle Samuel?’
     ‘Because what doesn’t go with our idea of things is the stuff of the bag of tricks with all sorts of secret services, and they would’ve surely pried into it. Whenever I’m lost in a reverie, I think the doctor hinted at just that. When talking to me, he mentioned a certain case. It, too, involved a patient that didn’t quite go, with a hidden third eye that could see as well as his other eyes had been able to before he lost their use in a fire. He could see not just what other people could, but something else besides. He could see . . . through obstacles: walls, you name it. The non-medico feds let the sawdust out of the poor thing . . . That’s that . . . I don’t think you wanted to hear that sort of thing from me, sonny.’
     ‘I hardly know what I wanted to hear. But I wanted to hear and I have. It’s okay.’
* * *


    Seventeen years earlier . . .
     Francis and Martha Garber were racing on their way to hospital spurred on by the son, yet unborn but scrambling on his way out before term and making the minutes of the essence.
     They had been staying with Samuel, Martha’s older brother: both the mother and the ‘bun in the oven’ were in need of wholesome air, and the forester’s hut made of wood and in the middle of a wood were just what the doctor ordered. Those were the fine days in July, and, it seemed, nothing would upset yet another two to three weeks either in nature or in Samuel’s home or in Martha’s womb. Martin would have waited another day or two to see the light of day, if he had known that he would come by his name not through the grownups’ exacting choice or their last-minute whim, rather in memory of his mother whom he was never to see—if only he could have known that there would be no light in the space between heaven and earth, that thousands of black clouds would darken it and disgorge a mighty force that would consume Martha when she . . .
     ‘Frank, I can’t . . .’
     ‘Hold on, darling: it won’t be long.’
     ‘I’m out of breath, I can’t. Stop, please, stop . . .’
     ‘Martha, pray hold on, there’s not a minute to waste. Our kid . . . You’re sick because he’s impatient to be out. But he’s before his term, and we can’t risk his life . . . your life. You must hold on, darling . . .’
     ‘Why talk? Why talk and talk?’
     Francis knew his words irked Martha, they were probably out of turn. But he had to play for time, while the wheels were winding on mile after mile (there were just a few left).
     ‘Oh that we could make it! Oh that the three of us could make it! You must understand you shouldn’t move now, trouble the kid, or shift your position by an inch until we’re there. Or else . . .’
     ‘Shut up! I can’t, can’t, can’t!’
     ‘Or else it’ll be all over. If we stop now, it’ll be all over. Hell, I can feel it. It’ll go to hell in a handbasket. I can feel it.’
     ‘You don’t understand!’
     ‘I don’t care. I love you.’
     ‘You don’t understand!’
     ‘I love you.’
     ‘Frank, Frank, Frank, I’m sick. I’m ever so sick . . . I’m out of breath . . . I’m suffocating, Frank. I’ll be stifled next!’
     ‘I can quite understand, darling, but . . .’
     ‘Stop that frigging car: I’ll be dead in it next!’
     Francis looked at his wife and braked down, unable to persist in his being reasonable and cruel.
     ‘Wait a mo, I’ll help you out.’
     She pushed the door (she did not give a damn to the moment or to Francis’s words; she did not hear them probably; she did not care for the mind-boggling warps of space in throes of the darkness, or for the fiery stings probing the strength of the metal skin that protected her) and had hardly stepped down when . . .
     ‘Maternity ward, quick?’ the doctor called as he examined the lifeless body of Martha who had been struck by lightning, for he had heard a life in it.
     A quarter of an hour later, the obstetrician looked away (for just a few moments) unable to keep his composure while the midwife fainted as the infant was extracted from the burnt-out flesh, turned face up, and they saw instead . . .
     ‘Jesus!’ whispered the convulsed lips of the doctor who had seen it all, as he forced his eyes to look back at the mask, whether dead or alive, that they resisted seeing again.
     The mask gave a sharp squeal as it paid tribute to the darkness . . . the darkness that had left the freak alive for some reason . . .
     Two years later, when Francis got married on the rebound, it was definitively decided to entrust the education of Martin to Samuel, the father, while officially remaining one, providing child support for the growing boy’s needs and, on top of that, for nannies and teachers (thank goodness, there was no talk of him going to school, whether ordinary or a special-needs one).
     So the word ‘sonny’ Samuel had used for many years now when addressing Martin was charged with anything but a condescending or age-related meaning.
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