I SHALL be told, perhaps, that all Blood Cells stream in one direction. I’m regretfully stupid about that. Rufus the Ruffian, (that was his proper address in the Blood), could surf against the foaming tides of the Aorta. His course defied natural path and flow. We will search the Blood in vain for a cell great and glorious as he. The other cells used to eye him severely, (even enviously, I suspect,) as he devoured each turbulence. Much is made of how his corpuscle cleft through the Blood; how he rode the waves, steering through the palpitations and overcoming the tremors. He glided with a grace most pure, a grace that exceeds a cell’s natural competence to assume. Against systoles and diastoles, he could withstand any shock.
Okay, I was stretching the truth a little just now when I said Rufus could surf against the tides of the Aorta, believe me, no cell can subdue the Aortic turbulences. But the rest is true, except, of course, the systoles and diastoles, which, too, no one can overcome. But that’s it. My clever reader will regret to learn so early in the page that this commentator is not very much apt to going back to edit what’s already writ, and that he only narrates the story off the cuff, as best as he remembers it. He will excuse any insolence on my part, but time is pressing and we must make haste.
Rufus had been the recipient of innumerable orders. A character of many trades, he had earned his standing as “a cell most illustrious” and as a “true maverick.” He was the “Vigor of the Blood,” the “excellence of dignity and the excellence of finery.” Above all, he was the “Defender of the Many.”
It would be superfluous to mention them all, but these and such other lofty appellations as cannot be exhausted here had become synonymous to his calling. There were even composed panegyrics upon his honor, most popularly “May the Red Paragon,” the verses of which most of us could recite by heart. But he was also Brutus— a cell of enterprising temper and with a creative taste for brutality.
It sounds hyperbolic, I grant, but gentle cells, it’s not my own invention. I give you my word of honor: a chronicler follows the story only, without looking for words. We, Retinal Cells, have a privileged omnipresence in the Body. Nothing is hidden from our sight; we see everything. Not to say that I witnessed everything I’m about to narrate as they actually occurred— some of it is admittedly out of recreation.
Let me concede, as I begin, that a narrator oughtn’t itemize events in the manner as I’m about to, and should rightly let his readers exercise discernment. But I beg the pardon of our dear sirs, probably we shall be having better chroniclers in future. For the present they must content themselves, I’m afraid, with this impudent one.
I suspect that many wordsmiths worthy of psalms will agree that the narrator must stamp his authority early in the page. Authors who admit their inadequacies, they will further pronounce, are redeemed of their shortfalls, and gain permission to indulge with impunity. And so I will do only such as pleases me: I will preempt whenever ease of narration calls for it, or tell when showing is indeed called for, merely out of gall.
I am beginning to act out of character— I see it. Let us rest the matter here and presume it is all understood.
Rufus had a thick skin— a thick cell-membrane— it might have been called, over which he donned a glycoprotein coat. All cells wear glycoprotein coats, but his might have deserved the calling of a jacket, on account of its certain leathery, ultramasculine elegance. The female cells, do you know, were too often in fevers vying with each other over which outfit befitted the hero better— whether with the jacket, or without it at all.
There was a saying in the Blood those days: “the membrane often proclaims the cell.” True to the old adage, on his membrane Rufus bore a mark attesting to his great courage. A laceration that tore deeply down his hind side had left a scar that had healed wrong. But he bore the mark with pride, as a brand of distinction and as a badge of honor.
The laceration (which had earned him the calling of “Lachero”) fueled mystery to his persona. It inspired numerous tales that proved especially common amongst the tongues of the peasant cells— whom, I must declare early, didn’t make my list of favorite cells. Why, one might think that scandal-mongering was their usual resting state, and that mouth-shuttedness was a seizure that sometimes possessed them.
I understand well that my reader derives no pleasure from going on and on about Rufus’ scarred rump, but I invite him to endure just two more paragraphs together with me.
Some peasants, for instance, spoke of the time many weeks prior, when Rufus the Ruffian had single-handedly slain a colony of invading Giant Cells, sustaining casualty in the process. This, manifestly, was an old and undependable legend. But there was yet a more recent narrative that was told by the maids around the public square, about how the hero had narrowly escaped the grand guillotine of the Spleen, barely breaking away with his toilet half-scathed. The peasantry made it a major pastime to bare their dental gratings, laughing away to the fact that he had particularly scathed his fundament. They exaggerated certain details to it, as a matter of course, but still ended up praising the hero.
‘Kyatkya, kya! Stay, let me take a breath! I say it’s better to get away with one’s hindquarters half-scathed than without hindquarters at all, kyatka kya!’ so they routinely concluded their cackling, wiping off their tears.
Particularly absurd, and yet most popularly, was held a strange belief in Rufus’ esoteric origins. Stay, have you heard the story? Many claimed he was a godsend cell transfused into the Blood from an extracorporeal heavenly body, with the commission to save them. How outlandish! They went on protesting, even more strangely, that Rufus “moved in a fourth dimension” and that he enjoyed “a higher degree of freedom.” It was impossible to kill Rufus, they swore by the saints, for “his soul resided three paces ahead of his corpuscle.” These rumors noised abroad to the most distant Organs and Tissues. Nobles and ignobles alike were given in to them, even though the general scholarship dismissed it as wild talk.
Before I’m accused any further of trifling, let me own that I’ve only been testing the waters, or the Blood, if one likes. Ah well, all formalities observed, and all authority stamped, to the story now.
The following events took place in the bloodstream of Abigail during the hundred and twenty days culminating in her fortieth year. The memories return to me in all their colors. Terrible urgings jostle in my heart when I contemplate the assignment of narrating this bizarre tragedy to its finish, but gentle cells, it remains to be seen. My composure against the reader’s.
It oughtn’t surprise us that Rufus had unanimously been elected at the First Grand Assembly of Red Cell Organization (FIGARO), to steer an uprising that had covertly been on course for some time theretofore. The fact was later established that Rufus had indeed been elected in absentia, unopposed, and that neither lobbying nor campaigning had been carried out on his part to claim the prestigious position that fell vacant following his predecessor’s demise. Though an acceptance speech was traditional, he didn’t give it. It is upon this appointment that our story really begins.
On one faithful night, (a calm one, without question), just after all the younger corpuscles had retired for the day into their respective Organs, word would make rounds to the effect that Rufus had summoned all able-bodied Red Cells to The Dome for an all-important announcement. Time? At the stroke of midnight.
This message was momentous on the following score, which asks the reader to note just one more fact about Rufus. What though he practiced the labors of charity, he favored anonymity. The gift of the gab he had all right, but he had rather not use it. By all means he preferred silence. It was therefore that, being a cell of a few words as he had been, the unexpectedness of his summons effortlessly gained import.
As the Red Cells gamboled toward the Sternum in whose Marrow “The Dome” was spectacularly curved, they got engrossed in conversations in pairs or in small groups. This Second Grand Assembly of Red Cell Organization (SEGARO) was long in coming. What possibly could be the matter at hand? Jubilantly they conjured up fantasies about what they thought the well-regarded Captain might say. Some speculated that his paramour perhaps was with child, and that he had finally decided to announce an engagement. But the more serious ones were convinced he would finally launch his book “Consolations Upon Silence” which he was widely known to be writing.
They took care to be discreet and not to chatter too volubly, lest other cells catch wind of their brewing secret. The assembly was so ably concealed from the rest that not even the Cytokines had an inkling of it— or so it was thought. It was common knowledge that the Cytokines, thanks to their extremely sensitive surface receptors, were conscripted by the White Cell Regime into the “Cytokine Intelligence Agency” (CIA). More about these little, secret agents later.
Well before the biological clock struck midnight, The Dome was already teeming. Not as much as a distinct voice could be heard over the rapturous, burgundy flock. Across the distance, Rufus was a small bright spot at the dais, the red scepter glistening before him, as was the tradition. Resplendent as ever, his Hemoglobin was glowing under his red protein jacket. His hand was twiddling with an ampoule, which we later understood to contain the Anticoagulant Factor. I was among the frontbenchers, and therefore you can trust me to relate to you all the proceedings as accurately as I can recollect.
Rufus’ red hair had been parted tidily, and was flowing over the stiffened high-standing collar of his jacket. Under a pair of broad, austere eyebrows, he had been observing the biological clock intently, tick-tock; and being the faithful timekeeper as we all knew him to be, he promptly arose at the stroke of midnight. Whispers hit a crescendo before quickly fading out. My eyes travelled from Rufus to the clock back to Rufus, and found him signaling the masses to quiet down. This he accomplished with a single sweeping gesture. It was as if his hand bore divine order, for a great calm swiftly overcame the sea of corpuscles. It was time.