The Arm

When we are children, we learn to name emotions. We all know what sad is, and happy, and scared, and in love. Those are all common feelings that we can easily recognize. Overtime we learn complex ones, like uneasy, anxious, homesick, envious, and much more.

When I was just out of medical school, I knew I would never be a doctor. I found a job at a t-shirt shop and got a small apartment near the docks. It was a bad neighborhood and my life was in a bad shape. I started drinking and got myself a girlfriend who liked tattoos so I soon got into tattoos myself. I set money aside every week so I could get another part of my skin decorated with colorful ink and it felt good for a while. Or at least it did not feel terrible.

I lived from paycheck to paycheck and kept fighting with my girlfriend all the time. She was saying I should be making more money, making use of my brain more. Yeah, well I did not think my brain was any good, so there is that. And I knew one thing for sure, I could never ever be a doctor.

On my day off, I was sitting at my small apartment, making a sketch of a new tattoo I wanted when my phone rang. It was my girlfriend.

“Hey, Veronica, what’s happening?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she sounded tired, “Can I come over to the shop?”

“I’m not at the shop, it’s my day off. I told you, didn’t I?” I said, slightly irritated. I guess things were not so good between us anymore and I was growing more and more fed up with her.

“Oh. Can I come over?”

“Sure,” I said.

I thought I could clean the place up a bit before she comes, but then I decided I did not care about that, so I just continued sketching until she arrived about forty-five minutes later. We kissed hello and I let her in. She threw herself on the couch almost immediately and put a cushion over her face.

I took some time to examine her body. With her face covered, the other body parts were free for inspection and I took pleasure in the sight of her slim legs, her flat stomach, her shapely arms, one clear, and one tattooed all over. It was covered with a baroque tapestry of colorful ink. Among all the creatures on Earth, only humans have this kind of skin; not evolved but engineered for purely decorative purposes. Skin that serves as a means of expressing the soul.

I sat on a stool across from her. “What’s going on, baby?” I asked with care. I was not sure whether I was only feigning concern and it did not matter to me.

“I just got off this really creepy shoot,” she said, but the cushion was muffling her voice so she removed it and covered her eyes with her hand. As she spoke, her lip piercing bobbed up and down, “This guy wanted me to get undressed, so I said no, but he threw in a couple hundred more, so I thought what the heck and showed him the goods. And then he wanted to touch, so I said no, and he offered more money, and I said no, so he got angry and kicked me out, and did not pay me at all.”

I was angry. The very thought of another guy seeing her naked made me furious, and now what was I expected to do? Find him and get her money? Act like I was her pimp? I bet I could not intimidate any creep to give anyone any money. I lashed out.

“What the fuck were you thinking? Going to seedy studios, posing for perverts.”

She removed her hand from her eyes, furrowed her brow and looked at me for a minute in silence, not believing my reaction, trying to figure out what to do. Then she fought back.

“What I do with my time is my goddamn business. And with my body. And what do you care, anyway?”

Things escalated from then and we had our biggest fight ever. Later at night, I lay in my bed alone, trying to fall asleep. Thoughts were rushing through my head. Violent thoughts followed by remorse, followed by more violent thoughts. I shifted in the hot sheets for hours until I got up around four a.m. and walked into the dark living room.

The lights of the street cast window-shaped spots onto the walls but the rest of the room was pitch black. Something in the fabric of reality seemed to shift and fill me with a sense of dread. I imagined the walls covered with intricate tattoo patterns where I could not see and I found myself split into two, the weaker part of me going to the bathroom to vomit.

My mind returned to my senior year in medical school when I was assisting in the trauma room. The sight of blood and broken bones sticking through tortured skin sickened me and I spent more time than I wanted to admit on my knees in the bathroom hugging the toilet seat. Then there was the incident which left me with the resolution not to pursue a medical career. An incident which revealed the true structure of my psyche to me and to the world around me.

I was left alone with a pregnant woman who had been in an accident. Both her legs were broken, as were a few of her ribs, and here face was bruised and swollen. Luckily, her baby was alive and stable. She was hooked up to two heart monitors just in case, one to monitor her life signs, and another to monitor her baby’s. I was in the room when she came to.

“Hey,” I said, “Are you awake? Do you know where you are?”

“What?” she said, still a little confused, “Is this a hospital?”

“Yes. You were in a car accident. You are safe and the baby is fine.”

She looked around, still confused, and then made an “aha” face. “Oh, the baby. That’s right. I should not have been drinking and driving.”

“Drinking and driving,” I repeated, “You should not drink when you are pregnant. It can be very bad for the…”

“Stop telling me how to live my life,” she yelled at me, “Who are you, anyway? Some kid in a white coat. You don’t know shit.”

I looked at her like you look at a piece of meat. I had not been sleeping well and it was catching up with me, but I reached a strange moment of clarity. Of lucidity beyond what most people will ever experience. I saw her for what she really was, an intricate mechanism put in replication mode about to produce another immensely intricate mechanism. But she was faulty. She was going to give birth to an alcohol baby and raise it to be a no-good hellraiser, or abuse it until it became a sociopath.

Luckily, I was the mechanic and I knew just how to make the two mechanisms right again. I knew the chemicals I needed to put in her so she would no longer operate. At the same time, I knew the baby was developed enough to survive on its own if ripped from her dying womb. I also knew how to make it so I was not detected.

I made one small change to her chart to make it look like the attending doctor’s mistake. A decimal in the wrong place. Nobody could blame the intern for following instructions to the letter. I filled the syringe.

I was flooded with new emotions I could not name. Emotions that did not have names in the human language because people would never admit to having them. That is the few great people who did experience what it is like to hold life and death in your hands and make a conscious choice for the betterment of all humanity.

The following day, after a few hours of sleep, I saw things from a different perspective and made the decision not to pursue medicine anymore.

But now, back in my apartment, I knew my true self would only surface in moments of strain, such as this one. A broken heart of a doctor was no different than a broken heart of a lover and it led to truth. Truth is beauty, as the poet once said, but he failed to describe the full complexity of truth. The hidden fields of human experience only available to those sensitive enough to reach them. For fear of sounding overly dramatic, let me use the word “demigods.”

The dark corners of the room whispered and crawled with arabesque patterns. I switched on the light over the kitchen table to chase them away and saw the notebook of my doodles. I just then realized that tattoo my designs have been filled with violent images of gore, babies with their eyes taken out and women with snakes bursting out of their uteri. Amazing imagination, too rich for the soft bourgeoisie palates. I flipped the pages in frantic fascination until a heavy whisper broke my calm.

I reeled back and waved my hand about my head to chase it away. Some more unnamed emotions flooded my skull and made me uneasy. The weak me was done vomiting and he was standing in the bathroom door, shirtless, staring at me like an idiot. His white chest was so narrow and reminded me of a turkey on Thanksgiving.

I picked up a large French knife and took a step towards him, but he was gone. Another me was writhing in bed, but I decided magnanimously to let him live. I put the knife away and moaned with pleasure. Reality was mixing with dreams and it was a good feeling, but I needed to make sure constants remained constant.

I opened the fridge and crouched by its soothing light. Wrapped in transparent plastic, there it was, the prettiest item in my fridge. And if cared for properly, it would remain beautiful for weeks. I had gotten rid of the body, but the tattooed arm was right where I had left it.

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