Dave sat in his manager’s office, stared at the door. On the back of it hung a poster of a cat dangling by its claws from a tree limb. It wasn’t the kind of thing Dave would typically have hanging in his office, but it had been a gift and the image had been personalized just for him. The cat’s left arm had been whited out with liquid paper. The alteration was obvious, but the message was clear. The poster was the first thing that made him smile after he lost his arm in the pin setter five years earlier. The giver was Connie, the girl who ran the snack bar.
Hang in there, Baby! the poster read. Dave stared at it. Silly or not, it was the only thing that had pulled him out of his funk. Was it Connie’s innocent candor? The easy ribbing of personal tragedy? Dave couldn’t put a finger on why exactly the image had been so effective, but whatever it was, it had given Dave his drive back. Where he once thought everything futile, he realized the flipside: nothing, was equally futile. So he made a choice he’d forgotten was there. The stupid picture of a hanging cat saved him when family, friends, and God had not. Connie and her stupid poster. And of course, there was the fucking.
Dave removed his tie and took off his shirt, unhooked himself from the cheap prosthetic. He laid the plastic and metal arm on his desk, smelled his own funk and the fabric lining the inside, where the arm fitted the stump protruding from his shoulder. It was a retched thing and five years ago it was all he could afford with his insurance, but now, with the alley doing better business and Connie’s annual salary about to be cut from the budget, he could finally approach some kind of normal.
The box had come by courier. Dave used his feet to pinch it and pull it from under his desk. He found the handle and hoisted the heavy thing to the desktop with a grunt. He grabbed a pair of scissors from the drawer and cut the zip ties that held the case locked, flipped the two clasps that held the lid and opened the case. He beamed like a child, a child whose only wish was for an advanced prosthetic arm with a near-million dollar price tag.
It was so lifelike. Anyone who walked into the office would wonder where the hell Dave had acquired a human arm. It should look real; it was a mirror image model of his right arm, except the insides were wire and titanium steel instead of vein and bone.
Dave slid his stump into the open end of the arm and attached the Velcro straps together around his torso, slid the tiny metal prongs into the battery pack. He exhaled, breathed life into the thing as he went through the exercises, just like he’d been taught at the hospital, rotating the wrist joint, flexing it back and forth, touching each finger to his thumb, index to pinky and then back again. He bent the elbow, rotated his real shoulder and the arm followed, obeyed joyfully. It had been six months since the prototype study had ended, six months since he had worn the arm and Dave had worried that the neural connections may have atrophied. But they were still there. All he had to do was think and the arm moved.
Dave used the prosthetic to open the drawer in front of him. He pulled out the company checkbook and wrote out a check for two thousand dollars. He would be writing the same check every month for the next thirty years.
Connie sauntered into the office without knocking, saw Dave’s shirt off and began to unbutton her blouse.
“You wanted to see me, Mr. Jones?”
Dave shook his head and slid back into his shirt, folded the check and put it in the front pocket. From the same pocket he removed his wedding ring, a thick platinum band. He slid the ring onto the prosthetic. It was a bit snug, but he could always get it resized.
Connie watched him. Made connections the same way Dave had in the hospital. When he looked at her, Connie was at his desk, no tears, not yet, just the bared teeth of a wounded animal. She grabbed the old arm from the desk, clearing the surface of the invoices and paperwork and plans, turning them into trash as they hit her feet. She cocked the arm back like a major league slugger. And swung for the fences.
published 13 May 2013
click below for more stories in this series:
• Recovery Period (#3)
• Fire (#4)