Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1000+ Words "The Long Finger"

I wanted to do a short writing exercise on the concept of missing limbs after reading Max Barry’s “Machine Man.” Inspiration comes at the oddest times, and from the oddest places. I have a lot of fun with these exercises (and all writing exercises, really) because of their “no pressure” nature, and in the end I usually turn out something that is not only fun to create but isn’t hard on the eyes, either. If only the stuff I work on seriously was this easy, I may not be so stressed out all the time.

The Long Finger

It all begins the day I lose my finger.

I don't have that many memories about the accident, to be honest. I can remember the drive to work that leads up to it, the unscheduled stop at a fast-food place for a breakfast sandwich and the stop light I got stuck sitting at. I was in the lead, with several cars behind me. I can also remember a glimpse out of the corner of my eye at a box truck with Erotic Party Services painted in soft pastels on it gliding down the steep downtown hill towards the same light, from my left. I can remember pulling out into the intersection when the light turned green, but that's where it becomes fuzzy, as if someone is standing above it all with a bright halogen lamp, erasing details in a blinding white glare.

My memories return a few days later. My mother is there, dark bluish bags under her eyes, half-asleep in one of those uncomfortable hospital chairs that keep your back ramrod-straight. I immediately wish I am still asleep, because my roommate is cursing loudly and uncontrollably from behind the curtain that separates us. Later on my mother will tell me that the poor girl was in a crash not unlike mine, only involving a motorcycle and a Beetle (the new kind, not vintage) full of drunk college students, and she has some kind of neurological damage that causes her to drop the f-bomb loudly without realizing she's doing so.

I expect the worst, but most of the damage consists of scrapes along my face and torso. My car is gone. I'd just finished paying it off a few months prior and was so happy to have the title in my mini safe. Now, it is worthless.

It takes a few hours for me to realize there is something wrong. Nobody has pointed it out to me, not my mother, not the nurse who's checked my vitals several times. My doctor, I am sure, would have told me by now but he or she has not been in to see me just yet. Phantom sensations can cloud your perception, I am told, and this is why it has gone unnoticed by me for so long.

I am missing the pinky on my right hand. It is completely gone, sheared off where it meets the hand. Almost as if it never existed. I turn my hand over and over, examining from multiple angles, hoping I'm wrong, but knowing I'm not. The bandaging is wrapped tightly, and I can tell there is nothing there, despite feeling like there is.

I look at my mother, slightly irritated.

She sighs and looks away. She is afraid and unsure what to say to me.

* * *

My options are limited, and time narrows it down more. My doctor, a young eastern European woman with a faint accent and a neatly-upswept bun, tells me that I can live without a finger, wear a prosthesis or attempt a transplant. If I choose the latter, she tells me, I need to do so quickly. There is a viable finger available, but it needs to be transplanted now.

I am the impatient type. I am also the don't-second-guess-yourself type. I go with the transplant.

* * *

It is a success. I now have a new finger. It is slightly thinner than the others, and just a smidge longer. It is obviously a woman's finger. I wonder if they cross genders for limb and digit transplants. Looking at my own tiny girlish hands, I wonder what it would be like to have a thick, hairy pinkie sticking out at the end of my hand.

The days go by and I get to use the digit more and more. I am told not to strain it, or lift heavy objects. Just exercise it a bit, the doctor tells me. Her name is Doctor Elishka. I think she may be Russian. That could also be her first name. I'm not sure, and I never ask.

After a few weeks, everything besides my finger is healed completely. My face is unmarred, and the various cuts and scrapes on my body have faded. All that is left now is to learn to use my new digit. I call it my “long finger.”

This long finger is not so easily integrated with the rest of my hand. I find it difficult to control, stubborn, unwilling to move at my command. It is frustrating, because I've been under the impression that once it heals it will move as fluidly as the rest of my body, almost without notice.

This is not so.

I spend several hours a day grappling with my new finger, bending it to my will, forcing it to discontinue its habit of sticking out from my hand at an embarrassing angle. After a few days it seems sufficiently tamed, and I take it to the task of touching things and lifting small items. Everything seems to be working well enough.

A few weeks later, at breakfast, I idly scratch my eyelid with my long finger. It's not itchy, but I do it anyway. It's an old habit of mine, scratching my face gently while I'm daydreaming.

A few minutes later my eyelid begins to itch something fierce.

I wash my hands and try to stay away from the eyelid, but I end up rubbing until it's red and puffy. I spend the night trying to fall asleep only to be distracted by the soreness and persistent itching. By morning it has subsided enough to ignore for long stretches. I force myself not to touch it again.

The following day I am sitting idly at the kitchen table again. I have finished my morning tea and, on a whim, decide to test the strength of my new finger. This is the first time I will have picked up and held something with that finger alone.

I loop my new pinky through the handle of my light china teacup. It is a cheap imitation of a piece of formal tableware, and I am not too concerned about dropping it. It does not drop from my finger though, as my new digit is surprisingly strong. It is just like any other finger, I suppose, only it once did not belong to me. I have difficulties wrapping my head around this concept.

I watch in silence as the first crack on the handle forms, and then another, followed by several more. In the span of a few moments it appears as if a thousand tiny rivers have suddenly formed on the china's surface before it all crumbles apart. The cup lands on the carpeted floor below, intact save for the handle that has disintegrated into nothing.

Later on that same day, after showering, I am leaning in close to the mirror over the bathroom sink. I am scouring my face for blemishes and checking on my eyelid. All redness and swelling is gone from my eye, and it doesn't seem like I have anything on my face. As I wipe the steam that continues to form from the mirror's glass, I notice something odd. I pause, my hand still on the mirror.

Cracks. Tiny cracks. Radiating from the right side of my hand.

I pull away as the mirror spiderwebs into dozens of growing fractures, and I am halfway out of the room when the first glass piece falls from the mount on the wall. I run into the garage for a cardboard box, and as I put the pieces in and sweep up what is left with a hand broom I begin to wonder.

Call me superstitious, call me foolish and irrational, but now I feel I need to check.

I look all over my house and belongings to see if anything else is amiss. What else has this finger touched recently?

Several keys on the right hand side of my laptop keyboard are visibly warped.

The right-hand side of my car's steering wheel cover, the one with the flower petals embroidered on it, is unraveling and shredding in several small places.

The very end of my toothbrush appears to be melting, as is the very end of my hairbrush.

It seems to be too much to be coincidence, but too little to be panic-worthy. I begin a small series of tests to confirm the impossible. I run my hand over several things, waiting to see what happens.

I grab a coffee cup and, once again, it falls apart. I move on to flatware, and several pieces lose their luster and appear as if being held under a flame as I run my long finger over them.

I rest my hand on the front door and a small, barely noticeable scorch mark appears. It could almost be mistaken for a natural darkness in the wood if viewed by someone else.

I go out on the porch and run one final test. A few years before I quit smoking, I made several ashtrays in a pottery workshop I attended once a week. I still have one, and it sits outside atop my patio table. It is grey and black and has a flat, glossy surface. It is the largest ashtray I made in the class.

I extend my long finger and draw two perpendicular lines across the ashtray. For a moment, there is nothing, and then it shivers, extending tiny cracks along my imaginary lines, finally falling apart into four dusty pieces.

I go in the house and wrap my hand in a thick bandage. I am shaking, nervous, excited. Mostly I am afraid, afraid of where this finger may have come from and what I will find when I ask. I am also afraid Doctor Elishka will refuse to tell me anything, or that I will have to have the finger removed. Not being able to touch something without damaging it is frightening. It makes me feel isolated. I am now worried about my ability to return to work or live a normal life. Many things flash through my mind, few of them positive.

I sit at my kitchen table, my phone in my awkward left hand, and dial the hospital.

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