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A Walk by Marc Lowe

As I went about my daily walk, minding my own business, I happened to pass an overweight woman with a tube hanging from her throat. How terrible, I thought to myself, That must be very unpleasant indeed. The tube, which was baby blue and ribbed, swung to and fro like an elephant’s trunk as she waddled from side to side, carrying a recyclable paper bag from the natural foods grocer just down the street. I wondered what the tube was for: feeding, perhaps? Would the items in her paper bag first have to be put into a food processor, pulverized like baby food, and then ingested through the tube? Could she talk with that thing hanging from her throat, or would it interfere with her vocal chords’ capacity to produce clear, understandable words? The more I thought about it, the more terrible it seemed to have to live that way. But people lived with all sorts of things, all sorts of disabilities, and life isn’t always kind. Before I’d realized it, the overweight lady with the bag and the feeding tube—if that’s what it was—had already walked by, and I tried to put the image of that rubber object swinging back and forth out of my mind and simply enjoy my walk. It was a lovely day, sunny but not too hot, and my mind was relatively free of any pressing concerns. Sure, I had things I could be worrying about: my job, my family responsibilities, the debt I still had to pay off. All of this seemed so trivial, however, after having encountered the lady with the tube… And so, I continued to walk, my gaze softly focused on the pavement beneath my feet.

After some moments of walking like this, thinking only of what I should perhaps make for dinner, I was suddenly startled; my shoulder was brusquely bumped by a stranger’s shoulder, going the opposite direction. The first thought I had was, It’s probably my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. I looked up, but my eyes did not immediately focus on the face of the man who seemed to be trying to apologize to me with exaggerated gestures. I shook my head, said it was nothing, and then realized, suddenly, that a ribbed length of navy blue rubber tubing swung like a pendulum from the place where the man’s Adam’s apple should have been instead. It’s nothing, I repeated, slightly disoriented and utterly distressed by my second encounter with yet another unfortunate soul who needed a tube through which to eat. I walked on; the image of the man had deeply impressed itself upon my mind, and it was difficult to break free of its grip. Dinner, I whispered to myself, What shall we have for dinner tonight… But my thoughts were again interrupted when I glimpsed, walking on the opposite side of the road, a teenage boy with a purple tube dangling limply from his throat. I told myself that perhaps these people had all come from the same clinic or hospital, that all of them had just happened to be leaving said clinic or hospital at around the same time. This explanation didn’t entirely satisfy me, however, as they weren’t prisoners in an insane asylum who would need to be watched over; they were just regular people who happened to need the colorful tubing in their rubbery throats in order to…

As I approached the residential area I saw, in rapid succession: a mother pushing her infant in a stroller, tubes in both of their throats (the mother’s was green, the infant’s pink); kids playing street hockey, all of them with blue or brown tubes swinging violently from their necks; and a policeman carrying a coffee, a translucent tube with an emblem resembling a blue and white badge pasted onto it hovering just inches above the steaming beverage, as if about to slurp some of it up. I blinked my eyes, blinked them again, but the images remained. Soon the sound of sirens started up, began to grow louder and then louder still.

As the pitch increased to an intense wail, I realized that an ambulance had pulled up beside me. A lady was lying on the ground about three and a half feet in front of where I stood, white tufts of hair spreading out in all directions. Three men in white coats jumped out of the back of the truck (they too had…dangling from their…). I did not move, waiting to see what they would do. Would they insert a tube into the lady’s pale, naked throat? I wondered. But the men did not go anywhere near her. In an instant their hands were all over me, and an instant after that I felt myself being lifted up on a stretcher into the back of the truck. It’s still a bit uncomfortable when I swallow, but they say I’ll get used to it in time. One can adjust to almost anything if one tries.

——————

“A Walk” was inspired by, well…a walk. How such a harmless activity was herein transformed into such a horror is a question its creator must leave unanswered, for even he hasn’t much of a clue. A glimpse of something grotesque dangling from someone’s chin, perhaps, a desire to answer the question “what if?” Stories are mysterious, their sources often obscure or weaved quietly by the subconscious while we are thinking about something quite different. What better way to let the mind wander into such strange territory than to take a pleasant little stroll?

Marc Lowe is the author of a chapbook and a free, downloadable e-book/collection, both from ISMs Press (see: http://ismspress.wordpress.com/marc-lowe/). His work has most recently appeared in elimae, Sein und Werden, and Weirdyear. Marc currently resides in southern Japan, where he teaches classes in ESL and Literature.

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