Sunday, December 10, 2006

Night Train to Frankfurt

By Marisa Silver

They were going to boil Dorothy’s blood. Take it out, heat it, put it back in. The cancer would be gone. Well, that wasn’t exactly it. The treatment had a more formal-sounding name, thermosomethingorother, a word that was both trustworthy (because you recognized the prefix) and lofty, so that you didn’t really question it, knew you were too thick to really understand whatever explanation might be given you. “They’re going to boil my blood” is what it came down to, and this was what Dorothy had told her daughter, Helen, when she called her from New York. There were statistics, affidavits. There was a four-color brochure from the clinic in Frankfurt, Germany, printed in three languages. As they waited for the train in the Munich station, Helen studied the pamphlet’s fonts and graphics. A frequent dupe of advertising herself–how many depilatories and night creams had she bought over the years, and at what expense?–Helen understood the significance behind the choice of peaceful, healing blue over charged, emotional red, the softening elegance of the italicized quotes from Adèle de Chavigny, a woman from Strasbourg who had not only survived having her blood boiled but had gone on to live a life of graceful transcendence. There were no concrete images of the clinic itself, no pictures of whatever this boiling machine might look like. Helen imagined huge vats like those in a brewery–wide, clear tubes with viscous, viral blood moving sluggishly in one direction, while bright, animated, healthy blood rushed eagerly back toward the patient. On the roof of the brewery, she imagined enormous chimneys expelling the sweet-sour-smelling residue of defeated disease into the air. Poof, poof, the smokestacks would go, and all the German townsfolk (yes, in her fantasy they were wearing lederhosen and small peaked caps) would look up, proud to know that, in their town, death had been conquered.

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