Monday, August 4, 2008

The sole survivor of the family

When I told my colleague how our pet rabbit had died suddenly this morning, after struggling as I was trying to administer the 0.5 ml dose of antibiotics that was intended to stop her dying from pneumonia – how I had virtually killed our rabbit by insisting that she take all of the medication, despite the desperation of her struggles, when instead she might have died in peace, her lungs filling up with bacterial fluids – this colleague then said that she would comfort me by telling a story too ghastly to believe.

On the weekend she had run into an old classmate and this old classmate had told her how, some years ago, another classmate of theirs had gone to hospital to have her fourth child and, learning that it had been born with severe disabilities, had left the child at the hospital to return to her family. Subsequently – and my colleague wasn’t able to remember how long after the birth this had happened, but together we conjectured that it must only have been a matter of a day or two, if not a matter of hours – the husband of the woman went mad, as my colleague said, and murdered all three of the children, his wife and then finally himself, and so the child with the severe disabilities became, by virtue of its neglect, the sole survivor of the family.

The story had indeed comforted me, if ‘comfort’ could be the word to describe the way my mind moved for a moment beyond the repeated image of a rabbit struggling and then lying still – as I attempted to give narrative form to the gruesome plight of six people I had never met and now will never meet, unless it is to meet the last: the sole survivor of the family.

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