His hands never did grow back. Of all the possible reminders of this fact, from eating to drinking, to driving, to making love, the one that bothered him most was hitting the snooze button on his morning alarm. It had been three years since losing Tara and his hands and he figured he’d had to reset that damn clock four hundred times. And while he could still use his nubs to navigate a smart phone or tablet holding one was another issue. For Jim the little things always added up to big things.
The sound of tires rubbing against cement accompanied his turn out of the garage as he backed out onto the dimly lit street before sunrise. After six months the neighbors began to openly question why he visited her grave every day. Leaving before they woke up was his solution. But he knew that they knew he still went.
For a while he tried to explain why he went, but no one would listen. Most people claimed ignorance about such things. They didn’t want to hear words like guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are what drove him to the cemetery though. Guilt for knowing he could’ve saved her. Shame for not saving her because of office politics or some such shit.
They hadn’t any children, so daily visits were the only way he could think to pay his respects and atone for his weaknesses. And the visits worked for the first half of every day. Three minutes into every lunch break, as he finally folded back the flaps of his brown paper lunch sack, though, he could only feel an intense desire to trade places with her. Or join her.
I began a story that has had four parts now, and plan to continue it in order to see how it ends. I’m just going to name the future parts “Part 5, 6, 7” etc. The posts can be found under the “Creative Writing” category on the right, in the “Untitled Serial” sub-category. If you’re just joining, so far, the story has been “I’ve Had More Fun”, “I’ve Had More Fun Part 2”, “Tara”, and “Waking up.”
Jason waited patiently for Jim to wake up. While waiting, he flipped the channels on the television, pretended he was Jim and ordered a meal via the bedside radio connection to the nursing staff, and dozed off four times. Finally, Jim opened his eyes.
“Hey bud. How are you?” Jason asked earnestly. “Frank’s gone. For good.”
“I’ve had more fun,” Jim answered. It was an honest answer, but one whose sarcasm betrayed his sober awareness of the situation. “I feel pretty dumb though. Running in after Tara like that; not waiting for the rescue squad. As if I could’ve done anything to save her even if she had still been alive.”
“I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself Jimbo,” Jason said, as he pushed the unfinished plate of food a little further from view. He then reached for the nurses radio again and ordered Jim some food.
“Uh, I don’t think that’s a room service button Jason,” Jim offered.
“Hmm. Worked last time,” Jason mumbled thoughtlessly.
“Never mind. Look, I’ve been talking with the doctors Jim. There’s something you need to know. I couldn’t believe it myself when I first heard it, so it’s a good thing you’re lying down. It’s about your hands.”
Jim shifted in his bed, but was unable to use his arms to help adjust, so he ended up returning to the same position from which he began–flat on his back, head propped up by the pillow.
Jason continued, “Guys like me and you, guys who focus on only one area of life, we wouldn’t know these things, but apparently the world of amputation is quite advanced these days.” He watched Jim’s eyes, waiting for him to bite. “In the past, once a limb was gone, it was gone. And if someone lost their hands like you did, then they’d probably be done for.” He saw Jim look at his hand-less wrists with longing. “But,” Jason resumed, “you, my friend, are in luck. Because of the wonderful advancements in medical technology, cloning, and an ever increasing general attitude of compassion, the doctors say they think, (nothing is one hundred percent of course), but they think you will have the use of hands again.”
“Really?” Jim asked, finally displaying some hope.
“Really. But these new hands will work a bit differently than your old ones. Instead of just thinking what you want them to do, like you could before, like I’m doing right now, the best the doctors can offer is voice activated hands,” Jason said.
“Na, you’re just pulling my leg, I can tell,” Jim said, beginning to shake his head. “You’re sick man. Making fun of a man who lost his hands trying, in vain, to save his woman.”
Unable to suppress his contagious smile, Jason concluded, “I’m serious Jim. Voice activated. You simply say what you want, and hands will do it. Here, try it. Ask for a drink,” Jason said, not going to be deterred from finishing. Not in the mood, Jim just laid back, curious to see where his friend’s joke would end. Imitating Jim’s voice horribly, Jason said, “I think I’d like a drink.” Then Jason picked up a glass of water and began to attempt to place the straw in between Jim’s smiling, though wriggling with all their might to deny insertion, lips. Open-mouthed laughter between the two men concluded the earnest battle and clinched the win for Jason, whose victory speech was simply, “See? Voice activated hands.”
Jim realized he was actually kind of thirsty, so despite not wanting Jason to feel too good, he took a drink.
“What are you doing here?” Jim asked, immediately realizing there was only one reason the director would be there to greet him at his bedside. Tara was dead.
“Jim, Tara’s dead. I’m sorry for that,” Frank said. “Your hands were your fault, however.”
“Jesus Frank! Don’t you have any compassion. The man is barely awake and you’re nearly attacking him,” said Jason.
“I don’t care how long he’s been awake for. I’m not attacking him, he attacked me, remember?” Turning back towards Jim, he continued, “You broke my nose asshole.” Frank had a bandage over his nose. Jim also noticed that Frank was self-conscious of his inability to speak clearly. Looking more closely, Jim could see the cause of the difficulty. Frank had to be careful when he spoke or else parts of his lips would unnaturally flap out into view. Jim’s capacity to fly into a rage would not be soon forgotten.
“What about my hands?” asked Jim, confused by both the gulf between Frank and Jason’s attitudes and the medication that was still in his system. He had been so distracted by the implications of Frank’s presence that he totally forgot what caused him to be in the hospital in the first place. Looking down, he saw, in place of his hands, two stumps that were wrapped in white gauze. He was amazed at how sharply the perpendicular lines that gave texture to the gauze stood out, and not surprised to see the classically blood-stained red ends. Then he threw up. Then he passed out.
Jason glared at Frank as two attractive nurses quickly cleaned up Jim’s mess and re-positioned his body. All the many medical monitors indicated Jim was fine, just fast asleep.
Over the year’s Jason had seen a resigned person or two. But he had never seen anything like the look on Frank’s face. Frank looked Jason in the eye one last time, as if to demonstrate he believed words were not useful or necessary, then he turned and walked away. Frank and Jim were never seen in the same room again. And all Jason could do was wait. So he waited.
He noticed the mask that was over his mouth and nose didn’t seal perfectly. Upon pointing this out to the bedside nurses, he was told, “Just breathe normally.”
He inhaled deeply before realizing that that wasn’t a normal breath. Then he exhaled and tried to think of something besides breathing. He thought about Tara. He wondered if she was dead or alive. He tried to remember first meeting her. It was one of his favorite days.
“Can you believe those guys?” he remembered her saying on the day they met as she stormed into the room after a shift in the containment pod. Her head fully forward, her finger pointing back to the door, a look of disgust covered her face. “They’re acting like this is a joke. One of these days they’re going to get us all killed.”
“What is that little bit of hair called that falls on a woman’s face again?” he tried to remember, the sleeping gas beginning to work. “A tendril. That’s it.”
A tendril had unintentionally dropped from her pony tail as she took off her helmet and oxygen mask that day. He was a sucker for tendrils. When he noticed that she had some fire in her to boot, he became weak in the knees. He would never forget her first words to him.
“And what the fuck are you staring at asshole?”
She asked him that question, she later told him, because he failed to heed her nonverbal social cues that told everyone that while she was used to being ogled, she was not in the mood at the moment.
Jim laid there, waiting for sleep and thought about women. For him, a woman needed to be so much more than a pretty face or a fit body. Like any man, he knew his preferences for exterior qualities, but unlike any man, he could also list all the internal qualities a woman should aspire to have. At the top of his list was a backbone. Tara clearly had one. Number two was a passion for living. He needed a woman to love all the nuances of life as much as he did. He needed her to fight for life. The gas taking effect, he chuckled at his word choice. “Fight for life. Yeah, that’s my girl,” he mumbled. “You better be fighting now woman. You can’t fly yet,” he said, only noticing the slip-up as it entered his ears. “Of course you can’t fly. No one can fly,” he said, laughing at his own joke. Then with a forced seriousness, he said, “People can die though. But not you. You can’t die yet,” he ordered, the last “t” not quite being enunciated. Finally succumbing to the anesthetic, his body was ready for the amputations.
Jim pounded more slowly now. The endorphins were wearing off, and his hands finally began to hurt.
He couldn’t stop watching her–watching them–lay there, likely dead. His tears ran dry and his wail fell silent as he let his forehead come to rest on the bloody glass. He shut his eyes and hoped to wake up from a nightmare. Opening his eyes, he was surprised to see the pink cloud rapidly ascending to towards the ceiling and then towards the two vents that were specifically designed to be used if there was a mishap. Not entirely the same as waking from a nightmare (though a close second), he saw the light over the door turn green and heard the familiar click of the door unlocking. Not waiting for anyone or anything to stop him, he opened the door and rushed to where Tara lay.
He reached for her suit and in touching it, he collapsed in immobilizing pain. The chemical agent was out of the air, but not out of the suit, it seemed. He kind of wished he hadn’t destroyed his hands as he stared up at the ceiling, becoming the sixth victim of the mishap. What can only be described as the friendliest looking firemen imaginable suddenly appeared. To Jim, who laid there in agonizing pain, they looked like a cross between his childhood mother and Kurt Russell from Backdraft, shaky cheeks and all. Jim counted at least fifteen of them as he was lifted onto a gurney and rolled from the room.
The last thing he saw as they wheeled him away from the danger was the glove-wearing rescuers cutting Tara and the others out of their protective suits.
“I’ve had more fun in my life,” she said, attempting to rise from the prone position in her XB-2134 chem-warfare suit. She understood why it had to be so heavy, but at the moment, she couldn’t believe they never trained for this. She was on her back and knew she couldn’t sit up. That meant she needed to roll over. The trouble was that the arms of the suit were so heavy that the designers built into the suit a feature which took some of the weight off of the wearer’s shoulders. The feature prevented the arms from lowering past 45 degrees. In effect, they were sticking out, both to the side and front. Through her helmet’s face shield, she could only see a slight cloud of pink smoke thickening and the ceiling. “No more effing around, Tara, you have to get out of here,” she told herself.
Up until she found herself on her back, she had been working on a new chemical weapon and been payed very well to do so. Rocking back and forth, back and forth, she finally made it to her stomach. She was on her stomach, arms extended over her head. “I’m not sure this is any better,” she thought. For the first time since she was knocked off her feet she felt a pang of fear. And now on her stomach she couldn’t see anything but the floor. It was smooth cement. She had never really looked at the floor before. It reminded her of the skating rink where she used to play roller hockey with her brothers.
Deciding that perhaps her side was a better position to start from, she rocked and rocked some more, gaining more and more momentum. She did it. She made it to her right side and was able to use her extended right arm to keep her from rolling back on her stomach. It was then that she noticed no one had said anything over the suits comm system since she woke up. Scanning the room from her new vantage point, she saw her four co-workers struggling to stand back up just as she was. There was no noise beside her own breathing. And the pink cloud was not only thick now, but starting to attack the suit.
“Jim! Jim, do you read me?” she shouted, hoping that anyone listening could hear her distress. She realized what part of the room she was looking at, and quickly decided to at least turn towards the containing door, with its one small window. She had to rotate clockwise about her right shoulder or else she’d end up back on her stomach. Feeling as foolish as she imagined she looked, she began to make progress. But not faster than the pink cloud. As she began to make out the hinge to the door, the chemical came nearer and nearer to eating a hole in her suit.
“Help! Anybody!” she screamed, totally aware of what was coming. She kicked her feet harder and harder.
Outside the door, Jim’s hands bled. It wasn’t until they smashed against the program director’s teeth over and over again that he even became aware of the blood. But now that he heard the squishy sound of pummeled flesh smacking against an immovable object, he realized the deep red substance that obscured the window he watched her through was his own blood. He frantically tried to wipe the blood away with his fingers. Making little progress, he saw Tara and the others speed up their movements the way ants walk faster on a frying pan over a flame. Then, just like the ants, everyone stopped moving at the exact same time. Everyone except Jim.