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  • The Boys
  • Ben Marcus (bio)

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[End Page 27]

It happens. A close relative dies. One who lives elsewhere. And then some time has to be set aside, even if no such thing is possible. Because of work, because of a lack of funds when it comes to traveling. And also because of one’s own dear family at home, a husband and two daughters, who need to be fed and petted and listened to and sympathized with and tolerated. Even just ignoring them or quietly loathing them takes its toll.

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In this case the family member was my sister, Sarah. She was in for a routine surgery. And you have to wonder what surgery is ever “routine.” As you live your life, you will, on occasion, be cut open and explored. It is what life is, part of the routine. Perhaps we should not be surprised. A knife will slice you open and some wunderkind wearing gloves will reach into the wound, with corrective fingers, one expects, and grope around. This is what killed my sister. The wunderkind reached too deep, reached the wrong way, the body crashed, and everyone wore black.

My husband bought me flowers. The kids cried, although they hardly knew her. My own reaction was delayed—to this day, really. It may never come, at least not in my lifetime, which doesn’t mean I didn’t love the hell out of her. I was her sister and she was mine, always—or so we had said long ago. We’d sort of stopped saying it. We had our own lives to pound away at and flatten. In some small way I was stirred to action. I had just been so bored, and now someone had died and I was needed and maybe we’d all be knocked out of our habits into a better world.

I flew out to the so-called mountains where Sarah and her husband lived with their children. Two little boys who spent their lives in toy helmets, as far as I could tell. They were not allowed to wear them to bed, but this turned out to be a struggle, a bit of a battleground, and some nights, with a mother newly dead, they won this war with their father and went to bed all suited up, ready to survive a nighttime clobbering. They had a game they played, and it involved sticks—store-bought sticks with lights and triggers on them. The helmets kept their [End Page 28] heads safe. Without them they’d have killed each other. When I was near them I almost felt like I should be wearing one myself. I’d met my nephews before, of course, but they seemed to regard me as an animal they could not ride. What was an aunt even for? What did I mean to them? I supplied presents that suffered too much from an educational vibe, and no goodies, and my fun factor was decidedly low. Where had my fun factor gone? Had I ever had one? Their world must have been filled with people like me: curious beasts lacking in magic, unable to entertain them. Could we be eaten? Could we be killed for pleasure? It seemed they had yet to decide.

I didn’t have boys myself, and I’d like to think that my profound indifference to them influenced the moment of conception of each of my two girls. It is not that boys are filthy, or brutish, or dumb and unoriginal. One might say that of anyone, of any age, of any gender. It is, as they say, a routine assessment of the human being. It’s just that little boys always seemed terribly expendable, a product of nature that was meant to exist in excess, so it could be endlessly culled by other forces. Boys themselves seem to know this. The so-called death wish is apparent in their behavior, which is often entertaining, but only from a distance. Some creatures have a low survival rate, and so the world produces far too many of them, and as...


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pp. 26-37
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