Henry Jekyll is dead.
I whisper the words and then listen, as if I've dropped a stone into a well and await the plunk and splash . . . But inside my head there is only silence. All around me a chorus of celebratory noises fills the void: the simmering pop of the coals in the stove, the nautical creak of the whole wooden cabinet, and a faint, high-pitched cheeping from beyond the windows that sounds almost like baby birds. Here I sit in Jekyll's chair by these three encrusted casement windows, with his mildewed overcoat draped about my shoulders like a travelling cloak. My journey's end. The transformation has never felt so smooth before. No spinning sickness, no pain. Just a gentle dissolution: Jekyll evaporating like atomic particles into the air and leaving me behind in the body. This time for good.
Extinction. That was the word Darwin used in his book, which Jekyll befouled weeks ago and then dumped from the chamber pot out the window (no doubt it still lies down there in the yard like a spine-broken bird tumbled from flight). Extinction. Do the races of men, Darwin said, encroach on and replace one another, so that some finally become extinct? Jekyll refused to explain this concept to me. But now I begin to glimpse what extinction really means. I have been singled out. Selected for survival.
The fine hairs along my forearm rise into filaments. I look down at my left hand, resting in my lap like a pale crab, belly-up, the fingers loosely curled. The fraying cuff of Jekyll's shirt is folded back once, revealing the lavender tail of the vein that runs to my wrist. Gingerly I draw the cuff farther up the arm and see the purple lines of infection fork and branch into darkened tributaries that reconverge at the crook of my elbow, which I bare with a hissing wince. The abscess in the notch has gone black, juicy and fat, like a blood-gorged spider at the heart of its web, its abdomen a-throb. I brush my thumb down the cubital vein, hard as a violin string under the skin and scattered with systematic punctures, some scabbed over and some red and fresh, my various points of entry. Look at what he's left me. What he's made me do. All those experimental powders, those double injectionsand for what? The end is the same.
My pulse thumps in vindication as I turn in the chair and stare across the cabinet laboratory at Jekyll's writing desk. The white envelope sits propped up against the brass-and-bell-glass lamp. Just as he left it an hour ago. Even in this wan light I can read the elaborate contour of ink across the envelope face: Gabriel John Utterson. For the past week I have watched Jekyll scratch out those buckled pages of frantic confession that are folded inside this envelope. Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case. Possessed by his own demented monologue, Jekyll would scribble, lips twisting, for hoursand then he would stop cold and glance up, as if he'd detected a furtive footstep from behind. Amazed, I peered out, surrounded by the pump of his blood, the fizzling whisper of his thoughts, and watched him ease open the lowest drawer of the desk, lift the false wooden bottom, and stash the accumulating pages in the secret under-space compartment. As if he somehow hoped to hide them from me. As if he believed I could not read through his own eyes every word he was writingbelieved I would rip his precious manifesto to scraps if he were to leave it lying in the open. Lunacy! And yet after all that, this very morning when he is finally finished, what does he do? He stuffs the pages into that envelope, addresses the crazy thing to his best friend and solicitor, and props it up right bloody there on his desk for me to destroy at my leisure!
I won't destroy it, of course. I have no reason to touch it. Let Utterson find it and read it. The solicitor is no fool. From the moment he first heard my name fall from Jekyll's lips, Utterson knew he was not being given the story entire but rather a carefully manicured account. Why should Jekyll's written confession be any different? From the first line, Utterson will see that the statement is anything but full, that it is little more than his friend's dying, desperate protestation of innocence. Why should I waste the effort? No, I won't deny Jekyll his pathetic self-exoneration. But neither will I let him have the final say.
Excerpted from Hyde by Daniel Levine. Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Levine. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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