from MENDEL'S DWARF:


Benedict Lambert, who is a dwarf,and a geneticist, and the narrator of the book contemplates his past...


‘Where did I come from?’ I once asked my mother. I was no more than four at the time but even at that age I recognised the pain in her expression while she tried to answer - a blend of helplessness and guilt- and I never asked again. I wonder now when they first told her about me, how they broke the news. An obstetrician can recognise it immediately, of course. The diagnosis is straightforward. But to a doting mother lying in bed in the aftermath of birth one crumpled new-born child is much like another - the bones have not yet developedand the malign hand of the mutation has had little time to work its distortions. I wonder how they told her? I wonder when...?

My father never looked straight at me, can you imagine that? Never, throughout the whole of my life can I remember his looking directly at me. Always his glance was aslant, tangential, as though that way he might not notice.

I know the way your mind is working. You are trying to picture them, trying to give them shape and substance. You are trying to see if they are normal.

They are normal.

I don’t even look like them. Oh sure, I share certain features with them - the dark hair, brown eyes, my father’s cleft chin, that kind of thing; but there is no structural resemblance, no facial resemblance. I don’t look like either my father or my mother or my sister. I don’t have my mother’s nose or my father’s jaw line or my grandfather’s cast of brow. I am on my own. ‘You’re special,’ my mother would insist as she dragged me off to one or other of those specialists - paediatricians, orthopaedists, neurologists, orthodontists - who could never do anything at all. ‘You’re special, that’s why you have all these people looking after you.’

For a while I was fooled by her assertions. I even used to imagine that I had been planted on my parents by extra-terrestrial beings, a Midwich cuckoo; but soon enough I learned the truth: I am exactly what I seem - an aberration, a mutant, the product of pure, malign chance.


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And later, he discusses matters with the woman he loves...

Doctor Benedict Lambert and Miss Jean Piercey discuss the future. The future is a mere jot buried somewhere within the endometrium of heruterus, a thing no larger than a grain of wheat but infinitely more alive. They discuss the chances, which are, precisely, fifty-fifty, one to one,one half, point five. It’s the same thing, however you wish to lookat it. I chose my words with care: ‘There’s a fifty per cent chanceof it being’ ...pausing, loathing the word, finding no other... ‘normal. At present pre-natal diagnosis by ultra-sound is uncertain. Anywayit isn’t possible at all until after the twenty-fifth week which is ratherlate. So it’s the toss of a coin...’
‘Then we’ve got to stop it.’
‘Of course. If that’s what you want. I can hardly plead on the part of the child.’
Her eyes, her matchless eyes, blistered with tears. ‘You’re notbeing fair.’
‘Tossing a die isn’t very fair. It just happens.’
Abruptly she changed tone, like changing gear ina car. From muddled pleading she endeavoured to become business-like. ‘But we’re responsible. And the situation that we’re in. Imean, I’m still married. And we’re not. So how could we possibly..?’
I held up my hand. ‘There’s no argument. I agree.’
‘But you’ve got to see things from my point of view. From his point of view--‘
‘His? That’s a toss of a coin as well. Same odds.’
She snapped at me. ‘His, hers, you know whatI mean.’
‘I do. I’ve agreed. There’s nothingmore to discuss.’
‘It’d be a terrible problem for the child, Ben,’she said. ‘Our situation--‘
‘Me, that’s what you mean. Me. The childmight be like me.’ That brought a moment’s silence.
‘That’s being unfair.’
‘Of course I’m being unfair. Unfair is theonly weapon I have.’
She looked down at me. Miss Jean Piercey lookeddown at me just as I had, for so long, looked down on her. ‘All right,Ben,’ she said. ‘If you want to force me to say it, I will: the childmight be like you. And I wouldn’t want that.’
I am inured to hurt. You build bastions aroundyou, maginot lines of defences, iron curtains of barbed wire and razorwire, mine-fields and free-fire zones. Watch towers stand guard andsearch-lights play over the whole area with a chalky, bleak whiteness,throwing everything into harsh relief. There are no gates. And Jean Piercey had walked through, past the guards, over the trip wires,ducking beneath the coils of wire and skipping round the fencing and lyingdown before me with that magical, impossible thing: a normal body. Oh, how I loved her body! I’ll avoid the question of soul and stickwith matters of the flesh, things I can measure, things I can understand. How I loved the trivial imperfections of her body, the rough skin of herknees, the tiny tributaries of broken veins on her legs, the variegationsof colour on her hands, the faint brush-strokes of hair on her arms, theembarrassed flush of a blackhead on her chin, the mole on her thigh, thelooseness of her breasts, the unevenness of flesh around her nipples, thestrange, hypnotic fragrance of beast and angel, of mire and myrrh thathung about her. And this body wanted to destroy my child, which mightbe me, a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature, betrayedby mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes.
Well, of course. What would you have done?

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and later, much later, after much has happened . . .

Benedict Lambert is sitting in his laboratory playing God. Hehas eight embryos in eight little tubes. Four of the embryos areproto-Benedicts, proto-dwarfs; the other four are, for want of a betterword, normal. How should he choose?
Of course we all know that God has opted for theeasy way out. He has decided on chance as the way to select one combinationof genes from another. If you want to shun euphemisms, then God allowspure luck to decide whether a mutant child or a normal child shall be born. But Benedict Lambert has the possibility of beating God’s proxy and overturningthe tables of chance. He can choose. Wasn’t choice what betrayedAdam and Eve? They chose to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledgeof good and evil, and once they had done that they knew that they werenaked and they chose to try and hide it. That was how God found themout. It was the last remnants of their innocence that let them down. If they’d been street-wise they’d have brazened it out. They’d havekept to their nakedness and pretended not to notice -- they would havedeceived God. Presumably we’d all be a lot better off now if theyhad.
So to Benedict Lambert. What did he choose? That’s your test. Eight green bottles sitting on the wall; eightplastic tubes sitting in the refrigerator. What to do with them? Which of them accidentally fell?
I know you don’t really need this; you’re alreadyup there with me, aren’t you? You’re already confronting nature fromthe awesome viewpoint of God. Nevertheless, allow me to spell itout. Here are your options. You may:

select two of the four normal embryos and send them over to the clinicfor implantation within the willing, warm, wet, waiting uterus of Mrs.Jean Miller née Piercey, or
select two of the four achondroplastics, the four stunted little beings,the four children of Ben, and send them over instead, and curse the wholebloody world and all its machinations and injustices, or
refuse to usurp the powers of God and choose instead to become as helplessas He... by choosing one normal embryo and one achondroplastic and leavingthe result to blind and careless chance.
Which?

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Simon Mawer 2008 - 2015. This website is written and maintained by the author.