We left on a school day, so Esther wouldn’t see us. In my personal bag, packed when my wife, Claire, had finally collapsed in sleep against the double-bolted bedroom door as it was getting light out, I stashed field glasses, sound abatement fabrics, and enough rolled foam to conceal two adults. On top of these I crammed a raw stash of anti-comprehension pills, a child’s radio retrofitted as a toxicity screen, an unopened bit of gear called a Drager Aerotest breathing kit, and my symptom charts.
This was the obvious equipment, medical gear I could use on the fly, from the car, at night. That is, if I even got the chance.
I did not bring LeBov’s needle. I had tried the needle and the needle did not work.
My secondary supplies consisted of medical salts and a portable burner, a copper powder for phonic salting, plus some rubber bulbs and a bootful of felt. Eye masks and earplugs and the throat box that was functioning as the white noisery, to spew a barrier of hissing sound over me.
Tucked into the outside pouch, for quick access, I placed a personal noise dosimeter, hacked to measure children’s speech. I wanted to be able to hear them coming.
In my pocket I carried the facial calipers, even if by now finer measurements weren’t required. You could perform the diagnostic just by looking.
Murphy scoffed at this gear, called it salt on the wound. He called it things worse than that, said I was fooling with toys. Medicine, said Murphy, was a vain decoration inside of your body. Invisible war paint, ritual and superstition, typical Jewish smallwork.
Murphy had other plans. Murphy was arming from LeBov’s list and LeBov’s orders came straight from Rochester, where reports on the speech fever had first collected and the cautions were so total now, it was a wonder people weren’t burying themselves alive.
Of course I have no evidence that they were not.
Finally in foil shielding I packed the volatile artifacts themselves: some samples of our daughter Esther’s speech, recorded and written. A language archive of the girl. Paper and tapes, a broad syllabus of topics, a spectrum of moods. Our viral girl, fourteen years old, singing, laughing, yelling, whispering, arguing, speaking sotto voce, making up words. Reciting letters, numbers, crying out in pain. Even some foreign language statements, which I had instructed Esther to recite phonetically.
These I sealed in the woolen dossier because I could not look at the writing anymore without feeling what I could only call the crushing.
Pain is too soft a word for the reaction.