Debth

fiction by jim poyser

Stan set in the waiting room, nervously fingering his black eye patch. He lifted it for a moment, exposing the empty socket to air, and placed an I Love Billy button through the patch. He hopped over to the mirror next to the receptionist's window, and checked the effect. Its slightly crooked angle, he decided, gave it that extra individuality.

The receptionist, at his desk, smiled at him.

"That's real nice, Stan.''

"Thanks, Harry.''

"How is Billy, haven't seen him in many moons,'' Harry said, watching his typewriter.

"And you won't, either. I keep him far away from this hellhole.''

"I hear you, Stan. How old is he by now? Sixteen?''

"Fourteen. Helluva good boy. Like his old man,'' he laughed. "Shit,'' he said suddenly, looking down at his missing left foot. "Goddamn.''

"What's the matter?'' Harry said, not looking up.

"Been two years, damn thing still hurts like hell sometimes.''

"Oh. Phantom pains.''

"Phantom my ass. It's real pain, Harry, real pain.'' Stan stared in wonder at the floor, where his foot should've been. "Now why do you suppose it does that, anyway?''

"My theory,'' Harry answered, "is that it's a kind of echo of your real limb.''

"Echo, huh,'' Stan pondered. "My theory is that damn doctor's got my foot somewhere alive, sitting in a bottle of chemicals, and he's sticking pins in it.''

"For one thing, Stan,'' Harry began, a bit perturbed, "all the 'tates we get--limbs and organs--are taken to the bank--every day. Dr. Pound doesn't keep any, for goodness' sake. He's much too busy to be dabbling in voodoo.''

"Shit,'' Stan said aimlessly. He hopped back to his seat.

"And use your crutches,'' Harry scolded.

At that moment, a woman entered the door and walked up to the receptionist's window.

"Harry,'' she said.

"Oh, hello, Louise, on time for once.''

"Present me a trophy,'' she said, sitting down across from Stan.

"Figures the day you're on time,'' Harry said, "is the day the doctor's behind.''

"Figures,'' she said, smiling at Stan.

He smiled back. She was, he estimat-ed, in her mid-thirties, wearing blue jeans and a button down white shirt.

"Hi, ya," she said.

"Hi," she said, eyeing him. He was pushing fifty, she decided, with a finely wrinkled face. He was pale skinned from lack of sun. Probably, she decided, from working inside all day.

They looked at each other for a moment, then both reached for magazines. Stan noticed her left arm was missing up to the elbow. With her right hand she flipped through the lap-held magazine. He saw that her hand had all but the last digit, and sighed. He looked at his own hands. Both were down to a forefinger and a thumb on each hand.

He could not afford to lose any more digits.

Again, the phantom pain throbbed his invisible foot. He bent down to rub it, finding nothing there. Embarassed, he looked up at Louise.

"Phantom, hum? I know all about that, believe you me. My arm'll just burn with pain sometime," Louise offered.

"Yeah. How long's your arm been spent?''

She thought for a moment. "Must be four years now, huh,'' she gave a short quick laugh, "seems like yesterday.''

"Not something you get used to,'' Stan said, staring off.

"Something you have to get used to,'' she replied, watching him.

He recalled the amputation of his foot--not so much the physical aspect, since powerful anaesthetics were em-ployed--but the emotional side, the loss and the grief, like a friend you'll never see again. Of course, there was always the possibility of financial change, of a turn for the better, of a grafting of a new left foot to replace the old one.

Chances were slim. He knew that. AM General wasn't about to give a 52 year old man a raise, let alone a promotion. His wife's real estate work wasn't netting much. And the children--Becky and Jan had their lives, their families, and their own frustrations. Both girls had spent digits and ears on just establishing a home.

And Billy, little Billy. "Course four-teen isn't little,'' Stan thought, "but he's the baby of the family, the boy I always wanted, the one we--especially Dana--took the risk having.'' Pride and joy, that boy worth any expenditure.

But that's how it is these days, he thought, it's not anything specific you spend a limb on, not like the old days, when a deal was clean, you bought a car with a hand, you bought a house with an arm. Not anymore, he mused, you just lop something off for the damn bills, give up an eye or a damned kidney to make ends meet, got nothing to show for it but your loss.

"Hey,'' Louise called softly, "Hey, mister.''

"Wh-what,'' he said, startled.

"You're purple, don't forget to breathe,'' she smiled.

"Oh,'' he said, embarrassed. "I, uh, got a lot on my mind.''

"I'll say.''

"Who's Billy?''

Stan was surprised, then remembered his eye patch button. "My boy. Four-teen.''

"I've got a twelve year old and an eight year old,'' she announced proudly.

"Hmmm,'' he said, "You're about my oldest daughter's age. She's 31.''

"I'm 33. And my name's Louise.''

"Stan Drucker.''

They smiled at each other.

"So, Stan, what're you in for today?''

"Uh, nothing major, more like a checkup, you know. You?''

She gestured toward the remaining half of her left arm.

"No,'' Stan said, sympathetic.

"Not doing much of anything anyway. Besides, health insurance for the three of us--my husband's been gone awhile now--is pretty vital. Plus my car needs new rings. But you know how things are.''

"Yeah,'' Stan said flatly.

"And I checked into it. It's not that much more for grafting on a whole arm, than it is for a half.''

"It's the hand that runs you so damn much,'' Stan pointed out.

"Right, so I figure it's worth the risk.''

He eyed her. "Where's your husband?''

"Florida. He's sending child support, but in today's world, it's peanuts.''

"Peanuts,'' he echoed.

"Almost spent an eye one time,'' she said. "Couldn't bring myself to do it--no offense. Spent the hand instead.''

He held up his sparsely fingered hands. "Need these for work.'' He mimed the screwing of bolts with his forefingers and thumbs. "Had to to for the eye.'' He recalled the accident a few years back, when Billy had been struck by the car.

"Where do you work?'' Louise asked.

"AM General.''

"You do? You know Otto Kinser?''

"Otto? You bet. But he's carburetor and I'm exhaust system. We don't cross paths much.''

"Otto's such a character,'' she beamed. "He's my sister-in-law's dad.''

Suddenly a patient exited the doctor's office, entering the waiting room. He was in his early twenties, a tall, thin, dark haired man with a bandage wrapped around his head. He walked up to the window where Harry took down some information. He steadied himself with a hand on the wall.

"Say, Buddy,'' Stan said, "Why don't you have a seat?''

"Uh, yeah,'' he said, somewhat dazed. He found a seat beside Louise and sat down.

Stan eyed him. He was well dressed, with a nice watch and a couple of rings. Fingers intact. They looked like the original fingers, though you could never tell for sure, Stan mused.

"Say, Buddy,'' Stan began, "first time?''

"How'd you know?''

"Just a guess. You all right?''

"I think so,'' he said.

"What's your name?'' Louise asked. "I'm Louise.''

"Rick.''

"Stan.''

A quick look told Rick that his new friends were well versed in amputation.

"Ear?'' Louise asked the obvious.

"Yeah,'' Rick replied.

"Hope you spent it wisely,'' Stan said.

"Oh yeah,'' Rick said, perking up. "I sure hope so. Dirt bike.''

"What?'' Stan said, his mouth open.

"Dirt bike. A 550. Mountain wheels, bumble bee black and yellow--''

"You mean you spent an ear on a motorcycle?''

"Yeah,'' Rick said, standing up. "You got a problem with that?''

"Yeah, I do,'' Stan said, standing up also.

"Well it's none of your damn business, mister,'' he said, walking to Harry's window.

"A dirt bike,'' Stan said, "I'm trying to feed my family and you're buying a stupid toy.''

"Stan,'' Louise cautioned.

Rick took his receipt from Harry.

"You better be careful, old man,'' he said, his lip quivering, "someone'll shut you up.'' A moment later, Rick was gone.

"Goddamn,'' Stan said. "Stupid kid.''

"All the same, Stan,'' Louise said, "It isn't any of your business.''

Harry leaned out the window. "It is, in fact, Dr. Pound's business, who employs me, Stan, so I would appreciate it if you quit alienating the customers.''

"That's the point, Harry, we used to be patients, now we're customers,'' Stan said.

"Oh Jesus, Stan, what's the difference,'' Harry said, disgusted. "Now calm down. Dr. Pound will be ready to see you in a moment.'' He disappeared through his window.

Louise moved over to sit beside Stan. "You okay? You turn purple pretty easy.''

"But the fool--''

"You're not gonna do that wife and kids of yours any good having a heart attack, Stan.''

He looked at her. "You're a good kid,'' he said.

She smiled.

Through the door walked a man, who stood in the waiting room, bewildered.

"Am I in the right place?'' he asked, looking around.

He had a total of five arms: two extra in front and one that had been grafted onto his coccyx to simulate a tail. He stood steadily on a tripod of three thick legs. Four ears ringed his head. Two extra thumbs sat adjacent to the last digit. He turned to look at Stan and Louise with his three eyes, the third one in the middle of his forehead.

"Hello,'' he said, smiling his double row of teeth. "Is this the grafting clinic?''

Before Stan knew it he was standing directly beside the man. He stiffened, seeing the man turn purple.

"I see,'' he said slowly, "I am in the wrong place.''

"Is that my eye?'' Stan asked, pointing to the one in his forehead.

"I beg your pardon?'' the man said.

"I recognize that eye.''

"Stan, calm down--'' Louise began.

"Excuse me,'' he said, "I believe it's the next door.'' He turned but Stan grabbed his back arm. "Mister, I don't believe you want this kind of trouble.''

Harry leaned out the window. "Stan.''

"You're not going anywhere,'' Stan told the man.

"Stan, let the man go,'' Harry said.

"Go what? Get another arm, another ear, how many does it take til it's enough?''

"How much do you need?''

"Look, mister,'' the well limbed man began.

"Shut up, Frankenstein--''

"Frankenstein?'' he bellowed.

"You heard me--''

"You Limbecile,'' he yelled. "I've never been so insulted.''

"You're looking at me through my own damn eye and you're insulted?''

"Stan, you don't know that's your eye,'' Louise said.

Stan turned to look at her.

"Come on, Stan,'' Harry said, "let the man be. Or I'm calling the police.''

Stan turned to face the man. "Tell you what, Frank, why don't you wait right here? Huh? So you can get your parts fresh off the line, eh Frankie? There's an ear in there fresh as a daisy, and stick around, you'll have another eye to stick in your fat face--''

"An eye, Stan?'' Louise broke in.

Stan turned to look at her.

"But, Stan, you said--how will you work with no eyes.''

He raised his forefingers and thumbs into the air and screwed imaginary bolts.

"Tell you what,'' he said, turning to face the man. "Let's just perform the operation right now. Why don't you just reach in and grab it with your fingers.''

"You're nuts,'' the man said. "It's not my fault you're a limbecile--you can't blame me.'' He started to walk to the door but Stan pulled him back.

"Just take it out. Take it out of my head, Frank, use your fingers, cone on--''

The man shoved Stan away, then took a step. Stan was on him the next moment, but was quickly thrown to the side.

"Don't mess with me!'' he yelled.

Stan hopped over to the man and swung, landing a blow on one of his ears. The man yelled out and swung two arms, sending Stan flying into one of the chairs.

"Stop it!'' Louise said, rushing over to Stan.

There were sirens approaching.

"Stupid limbecile,'' the man muttered.

Stan got up, taking his crutches in hand. He faced the man. The sirens grew loud, stopping just outside. Stan turned and headed toward the doctor's rooms. Harry and Louise called out after him. He ducked into the first room he came to. He went to the window and opened it. As he started to climb out, he noticed something on a nearby table.

A box. He knew by sight that it was for carrying smaller limbs and organs. He quickly moved to it, and saw numerous packages. He didn't hesitate. He closed the box and headed out the window. Hopping furiously, one hand holding a crutch, the other holding the box, he sped down the sidewalk, onlookers watching in horror.

He heard someone yell, "Stop.'' He turned to see the police, fully limbed, racing toward him.

The box flew from his hand, its contents spilling on the sidewalk. He slipped and fell and layed there, breath-ing hard, among the eyes and the ears, the fingers and the tongues, a crowd gathering around him.

by Jim Poyser