Monday, 6 May 2013

The Stone Thrower

My shortlisted feature piece about Adam Marek's second short story collection, The Stone Thrower is now up at the Thresholds blog. Here's an excerpt: 

"When my first daughter is born she is quiet and sleepy. Soon after birth she loses consciousness. A team of specialist doctors arrive in a screaming ambulance. They dash down the corridor, a portable incubator coasting between them like a bobsled. My daughter is raced to another hospital, and hours and miles later, when I am finally allowed to join her, I find out she is blind. The consultant peels back her lids and the spheres underneath are uniformly blue-grey, like balls of glass or ice. I will learn Braille, I think. As soon as she is old enough I will teach her how to fill her darkness with stories.
As the days pass, her condition worsens and I learn she has a mitochondrial disease. These diseases are extremely rare – I don’t realise how rare until doctors who don’t work in Intensive Care start popping in to have a look. They try not to sound excited when they say “I’ve never seen this before”, and they thank me as they leave, making my creation of such an imperfect child seem deliberate and clever. I don’t know what mitochondria are; I scraped a B in GCSE Science, a subject I approached with all the enthusiasm of someone who had already selected humanities A-Levels. The consultant says the mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell. She says every cell in my daughter’s body is missing a vital metabolic enzyme, and although they have removed a slice of muscle and enough blood to require a transfusion, they don’t know what is missing.
The back cover of The Stone Thrower states, ‘sometimes only outright surrealism can do justice to the merciless strangeness of reality.’ I learn this as I sit beside my daughter. When the consultant says mitochondrial defects are inherited via the maternal line, I imagine a game of pass the parcel: my grandmother passes to my mother who passes to me and the music stops just as the genetic booby prize lands in my daughter’s lap. When there is talk of cloning, I envisage rows and rows of glassy-eyed babies, even though the consultant says the technique would only involve the replication of individual cells. As my daughter weakens, I picture tiny cell mechanics racing around her body in a last ditch effort to restart her engine. They push buttons and pull levers, but lactic acid continues to pour through permeable cell doors like something out of Titanic. The cell mechanics retreat. They batten down the hatches, allowing the kidneys to flood in an effort to save the heart. And they fail."

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