Originally published in Hermeneutic Chaos.
I was at a stoplight when I noticed the one-armed man. He leaned against a crooked sign that read Azalea St. His nose and cheekbones were prominent — sharp; the fleshiness of his cheeks had dried and creased. They were shadowed and dusted with whiskers. His prominent nose reminded me of Cleve’s; the bridge carefully arched, the tip rounded. The wind-tattered sleeve of his white t-shirt hung limp and armless at his right side, waving in the wind. His left arm held a cardboard sign with words scrawled in permanent marker: Need a Miracle.
“What do they do with the limbs?” I’d asked the doctor before Cleve’s surgery. I’d wanted to keep it. Throw it on George Bush’s lawn. “They’re incinerated,” he replied matter-of-factly. I imagined Cleve’s body in flames. When he’d sleep, I’d stare at the empty space below the left side of his body. He had said he could still feel his toes. He could bend them, and sometimes they stung — burning apparitions. I thought, if he could feel them, maybe I could see them, too.
The armless man looked at me with hardened eyes like he looks at everyone who stops at that light – with desire for change. He lifted his sign and moved closer to the window. I reached for my wallet, wondering if his limb was taken by a senseless war, too. I wondered if the drugs and the shellshock ruined him. If his wife left after he hit her in an unfamiliar rage. If she had guilt. I imagined their bodies in flames. We needed a miracle, I thought. The light turned green, and I had to leave before I could find what he wanted.
Cleve died on a Thursday, four years later. I slept through it, hundreds of miles away, with no premonitions or peculiar dreams. I found out the next day. I lay on the deck for hours, listening to the blue jays and seagulls, willing their songs to be messages from him. “Forgive me.” I pleaded with the sky-gliding creatures. “Please fucking forgive me.” There had been few clouds that spring, and this day was no different — mid-day rays whipped my pale skin red. I pressed my face into the wood of the deck’s floor. I endured the sun’s lashes.