Nadine Darling

When Ms. Baker returned home from her cruise to British Columbia she was married to an arm. It was quite the controversy. Like me, she’d never been one to stick to another; it was odd to us, to the town, but you couldn’t see Ms. Baker and the arm and not feel for them because they were so much in love. A fool could see. Ms. Baker carried that arm with her everywhere, upright, the fingers tangled in her hair. In summer she slathered it with Coppertone; during cold months she knitted it a glove and wool sleeve. And it was very well maintained, the arm. The knuckles and elbow were never dry. The nails shined slick to the eye like teeth and held.

And you had to like this arm because it made Ms. Baker so happy and because it wanted to make everyone happy. It was one of those arms. Good with small talk. Always glad to see babies and dogs in the street. They fought at times, Ms. Baker and the arm. At times Ms. Baker could be seen about town in scarves and long sleeves and sunglasses, but these times didn’t last and the others were easier to focus on. People just wanted to see Ms. Baker happy and in love. They didn’t question how she arrived at such happiness.

To see the arm with Ms. Baker you would not know how quiet it was, how thoughtful. I saw it once by itself outside the free clinic. It was that day—the day that I found out—and I hung around the arm closer than I might’ve because I wanted to see if it’d found anything out, if it felt what I felt, but the arm played cool. It showed me its splayed palm—what can you do?—and then its hand turned over and the knuckles cracked one at a time, slow like this.

We all knew what would happen. And it did happen, that last month before I did what I did. I saw Ms. Baker in the grocery store by herself, in the shampoo aisle staring at shampoo like that’s all there was to know. I went up to her but she didn’t know that I was there so I stared at her. Ms. Baker, thirty-two and already graying, soft, face lined hard after a smile or thought. She hadn’t been much before but she’d been younger and things had affected her less. I could tell that she was tired and that the radio had failed her, that she was sort of woman who could work and struggle all her life and still wind up not being enough for an arm in the end. And a thing like that will wear a person down.

Everybody says that after she was gone the arm disappeared. Some say it hitched a ride to Salem, where it now works as a fry cook and is married to a mulatto country singer. Others insist it tangled with a big Armenian in a bar outside Medford and was broken to bits, left to die beneath neon lights in the muted hum of the mechanical bull. But I know better; I saw the arm leave town because I was leaving town. We were on the same bus headed north. It boarded before me and when I walked up the aisle it patted the seat beside it.

After a while, I said, “I am sorry for your loss.”

The hand dipped a bit on its wrist, sunlight catching the fine hairs on its back and I said, “I know what it’s like to love someone that much, to be owned and trapped by that, something so cruel as that.”

Then I reached out a bit and the arm reached out a bit and we shook hands strangely, politely. Its palm was sweatier than you would think.

We rode in silence after that and it was fine. That is a good thing about riding a bus with someone you don’t know very well, I think. There’s no pressure. The same thing is happening to everyone anyway and nobody has to say anything about it.

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