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“Lost Limbs”

Most people know Arthur Bradford as the creator of How’s Your News?, a documentary series that has been featured on HBO and MTV.

Most people know Arthur Bradford as the creator of How’s Your News?, a documentary series that has been featured on HBO and MTV. It centers on a team of developmentally disabled news anchors who interview people across the country about various topics and it is one of the most poignant and hilarious things to ever be recorded with a camera. Vice readers will remember Arthur as the guy who helped us put together our Special Issue, way back in 2003, which was all about the lives of the How’s Your News? cast.

But Arthur is a man of many talents, and one of his gifts is crafting funny and expertly written short stories. His skills have earned him an O. Henry Award (named after the writer, not the candy bar).
Dogwalker, Arthur’s first story collection, was published in 2001 to rave reviews. He’s busy working on a second book now. For this year’s Fiction Issue, Arthur has contributed a very special tale about a man who pursues a woman with a prosthetic arm. “A while back I knew this girl who was born with one arm, and I asked her out a few times but she wasn’t interested,” he said. “Later on I met someone who had a prosthetic hand, a rubber one, which was very realistic but not functional. This got me to thinking about how often someone with such a hand could fool people with various tricks. I myself have a chronic circulation issue with my lower right leg and expect one day to lose that foot. Maybe that’s why I wrote this story.”


It wasn’t until my second date with Lenore that I discovered one of her arms was missing. Our first meeting had been a blind date, arranged by my brother’s wife, who had neglected to mention this arm situation. I suppose I’m not a particularly observant person. This is something I’ve been told on a number of occasions. Lenore wore a very well-made prosthesis, though, and I believe it was an understandable oversight on my part.

My next-door neighbor at the time was a magician named Paul, and on the weekends he performed at a club called Singing Henry’s. There was no singer named Henry involved with the place. That’s just what they called it. I decided to ask Lenore if she wanted to go see Paul’s magic show for our second date.

Lenore agreed, and when I stopped by to pick her up I noticed there was a set of metal hook pinchers where her hand was supposed to be.

“Hey, what’s this?” I said. I thought perhaps she was playing some kind of odd prank.

“It’s my hand,” she said.

“No, it’s not.”

“It’s a prosthesis,” she said.

She rolled up her sleeve to just below her shoulder so that I could see where her flesh ended and the device began. It was held on by a suction cup and two spandex straps.

“Well, OK,” I said. How could I have I missed that?

“Did you have that thing on before?” I asked. “When we went out before?”

“It’s called a prosthesis,” said Lenore. “I was wearing a different arm that night. It had rubber fingers. It’s less noticeable, but not as useful.”

Lenore stepped back into her apartment and retrieved the rubber arm. I still don’t know how this device escaped my notice. Upon even a cursory glance it was immediately apparent that the arm wasn’t real. The fingers didn’t even move! But that’s the way things are in life, I’ve found. Once you learn some fact, then all the clues become obvious and you feel like you should have known it all along.

The magic show was extremely lousy and I kept looking over to see how Lenore managed to clap with her prosthetic arm. She would raise it up a bit and then just pat down on the forearm bit. This method didn’t produce much noise, but Paul didn’t deserve much. Watching Lenore clap was more interesting than most of the magic tricks.

After each trick Paul would yell, “And voilà!” and we’d all have to cheer for him. This became tiresome, but he did do one trick toward the end that I found impressive. He grabbed a live dove out of a cage, then he smacked it on its back really hard and confetti went flying everywhere. I got the impression the bird was supposed to disappear, but instead it just stayed in his hand, looking stunned. So Paul smacked it again, a little harder. This time the dove let out a little squawk! and more confetti flew into the air, but still it didn’t fly away or disappear. I was beginning to feel bad for the bird, and you could tell something was wrong because Paul shook his head and pursed his lips together. Then he just sighed and stuffed the dove into his pocket. His coat pocket! The show went on and I kept waiting for the dove to fly out or at least struggle in there, but it didn’t move. Where did it go? It was amazing!

Afterward I asked Lenore about this and she said, “It just stayed in his pocket.”

“A dove in his pocket?”

“Look, I don’t know, maybe he killed it.”

“What?”

“I’m kidding. I bet he tossed it away when we weren’t looking.”

I mulled this over but I’m pretty sure Paul never tossed a bird offstage.

I asked Lenore if she wanted to come back to my place and she said, “No, thanks.”

“Maybe we could just drive around a little?” I suggested.

“Why would we do that?”

“I don’t know. It’s easier to talk that way, when you are moving.”

“You can just drive me home,” said Lenore. “We can talk on the way home.”

Once we’d started driving I said, “Well, Lenore, how did you end up losing that arm?”

“I was in an car accident,” she said. “Actually, it was a van accident. I was 11 years old. We were on a school trip.”

“Did anybody die?”

“No.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes.”

“Did they try to sew your arm back on?”

“It was crushed. The van rolled over onto it.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t notice it before.”

“I thought you did, but you were trying not to mention it.”

“Why wouldn’t I mention it?”

“Most people pretend they don’t notice it.”

“I wouldn’t pretend something like that.”

“It’s OK if you did.”

“But I didn’t.”

I tried to kiss Lenore good-night. She was a very attractive woman. She had these unusual irises that were light gray but had dark edges around them. She wasn’t too interested in kissing me, though. I thought about telling her how wonderful her eyes were, but this seemed like something she might have been told before. Another question occurred to me.

“Are your eyes real?” I asked her.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you wearing those colored lenses or something?”

“No, I’m not.”

“OK. I was just curious.”

“Sure.”

Our date ended on that uncomfortable accusatory note and I didn’t see Lenore again for quite some time. Occasionally I would have these little fantasies, daydreams involving Lenore and her metal pincher hand. She’d stare at me with those light eyes while we made love and that other rubber hand would lie on a table next to us, feeling left out of the action.


After the winter holidays my neighbor Paul and I took a job with the city hauling away discarded Christmas trees and feeding them into a large wood chipper. Paul’s magic show didn’t cover his bills so he often took these temporary jobs to make up the difference. I did the same thing except I had no magic act to fall back on.

On my second day at that Christmas-tree job, a thick tree became wedged in the chipper’s intake chute and I made the mistake of pressing my foot against the stump in order to force it through. My pants leg got caught in the in-feed rollers and pulled me into the machine. Luckily Paul was right there and he yanked back the feed-control bar, preventing the chipper from sucking me all the way through. People get killed that way all the time! When I tried to remove myself from the chute, though, it seemed that my leg was stuck.
 

Paul kept saying, “You’re going to be all right. I stopped the chipper.”

“Then get me out,” I said.

“I can’t do that,” he said.

“Why not?”

Paul just said, “Don’t look down there, OK?”

I wish I could tell you more accurately what it felt like to be lying there with my leg stuck in the chipper. I believe we all have this mechanism in our bodies that shuts off overwhelming pain. What’s the point of registering such discomfort? All I felt was this very strange pressure telling me something was not right.

“Well, shit,” I said to myself. Who would’ve guessed my day would be turning out like this? Not me!

And then I thought about Lenore. Perhaps this was how she felt while that van was lying on her arm. I should give her a call, I thought. It had been well over a year since our last encounter, and as I mentioned before she’d been on my mind quite a few times.

An ambulance arrived at this point and they injected me with some chemicals that caused me to pass out.


I lost the lower part of my leg, up to the knee. Chopped into mulch by that chipper! I learned this in the hospital once I woke up. To be honest, I was not overly alarmed at the time and thought it wouldn’t be a great hardship living without this section of my leg, but it turned out I was wrong about that.

It took me months to get used to the prosthesis. On several occasions I stepped out of bed thinking I still had two feet and fell over onto the floor. I had those phantom pains too, where I thought my foot was itching or cramping up, but then I’d remember it wasn’t even there! The city paid for my rehabilitation and eventually I made it back home and found an acceptable routine. It was then that I called up Lenore.

“I’m surprised to hear from you,” she said.

“I’m surprised to hear from you,” I replied.

“You called me.”

“Right, I know that. Listen, how would you like to go out on a date with me?”

“A date? OK, I guess. How about lunch?”

“Great.”

I picked Lenore up at her place, the same place she had been living before, and we went for a drive out to the countryside. I’d decided we would have a picnic lunch, something wide-open and beautiful. It would be a stark contrast from Paul’s half-assed magic show.

As we were driving I said to her, “I lost part of my leg.”

“Your leg?”

“Yes, my right leg. I got caught in a wood chipper. That’s why I’m driving with my left foot now, see?”

Lenore looked down. I’d learned to drive with my left foot. It was safer that way.

Lenore looked back up at the road and said, “There’s a cat.”

A cat jumped out in front of the car and I hit it.

“Oh, man,” I said.

I stopped the car and we got out. The cat lay back there in a heap on the road.

“Shit,” I said. “Fuck.”

“I think it’s dead,” said Lenore.

“I know it’s dead,” I said.

I took a blanket from my car, the blanket I’d been intending to use for our picnic, and scooped the body up as best I could. I placed it in the trunk of my car. I didn’t want anyone else to run over it.

There was a house nearby and Lenore said, “I guess that’s where he lives.”

“He, or she,” I corrected her.

“I bet it’s a male cat,” said Lenore. “Only male cats do things like that.”

Together Lenore and I walked up to the house so that we could give the owner some bad news.

“You walk pretty well with that fake foot,” said Lenore.

“I’m getting better at it,” I said.

The house had a tidy appearance, with an American flag flapping in the wind atop a metal pole. When I knocked on the door we heard noises from inside, but no one came out to see us.

“Maybe we can just leave a note?” I suggested.

“No, no. We can’t do that,” said Lenore.

It sounded like someone was moving furniture around in there.

“No one’s answering,” I said.

“Hello?” said Lenore.

The door flew open and a wiry bald man appeared before us. He was holding a shotgun at his waist. He pointed it first at me and then at Lenore.

“What’s the problem here?” he asked.

“I believe we hit your cat,” I told him, pointing at my car back on the road.

“My cat?”

“Right. It ran out in front of me. I’m sorry about this. Can you put down the gun?”

“Is that your car?” he asked me.

“Yes, it is. The cat ran right in front of me,” I repeated.

“He’s missing his leg,” said Lenore. “He just lost his leg and couldn’t stop in time.”

This didn’t seem relevant, or a particularly good excuse, but I guess Lenore was trying to be helpful.

“Let’s take a look,” said the man.

I thought he meant to take a look at my leg, so I bent down to roll up my pants but the wiry man poked me with the tip of his gun.

“What’re you doing?”

“Showing you my leg.”

“The cat,” said the man. “Let’s see the cat.”

We walked back to the car, the man still pointing his shotgun at us.

“Do you think you could put that away?” I asked him again.

“No, I don’t.” said the man.

I opened up the trunk and uncovered the dead cat.

“Jesus Fuck,” said the man.

“I’m sorry,” I said, again.

“You sure are. Where are the keys to this rig?” he asked me.

“The car keys?”

“Yes.”

“Right here.” I held them up.

The man snatched the keys out of my hand and said, “I’m taking these.”

“Hold on,” I said. I stepped forward and with surprising swiftness the bald man swung the butt end of his shotgun around and struck my leg, the new leg, right were the joint ended. I fell over and the prosthesis snapped loose. I still hadn’t gotten the fittings right. It was embarrassing.

“Hey!” said Lenore. The man pointed his gun at her and Lenore put her hands up in the air.

“It’s just a cat,” she said to him.

That’s when the man noticed that Lenore had an artificial limb as well. She was wearing her rubber hand, the less practical of her artificial limbs, but of course harder to distinguish. “Aren’t you two a fine pair?” said the man.

“Listen,” I said, “I already told you I’m sorry about your cat.”

The man walked up and yanked off my prosthetic leg. He tucked it under his arm and then said to Lenore, “I want yours too.”

“Oh, come on,” I said.

Lenore removed her arm and handed it to the man. He got into my car and drove away with both of our limbs, the picnic lunch I’d prepared, and that dead cat as well.

Lenore helped me up and I hopped over to a tree so that I could lean against it.

“That old shitfuck,” said Lenore.

“At least we know where he lives,” I pointed out.

“He better come back here,” said Lenore. She was really mad. With her remaining arm she picked up a rock and threw it down the road in the direction he had gone. Her empty sleeve, the one that had covered up the artificial arm, waved about in the breeze.


We waited around for nearly an hour. I found a sturdy stick and used it as a crutch to assist with my walking. Lenore and I examined the man’s house and thought about breaking in but a large dog lay asleep in the living room. He seemed friendly enough, but we opted not to take our chances there.

Instead we made our way down the road, me hopping with my arm draped over Lenore’s shoulder for support. After a short distance we arrived at another house, this one less well kept than the old man’s. Lenore knocked on the door and a hefty woman in a smock answered.

“We got robbed,” said Lenore.

“Out there?” said the woman.

“We hit a cat,” I explained, “and the owner stole my vehicle.”

The woman let us inside, shaking her head. Her house smelled of cat urine and there were felines running everywhere.

“That was Henry who took your car,” she told me. “Me and him don’t interact much.”

It was like a zoo in there! Cats pranced about on every surface, the shelves, the countertops, the stove. There were plates of stale food sitting on the floor.
 

“I don’t suppose it was one of your cats I hit?” I asked her.

“It wasn’t Henry’s,” said the woman. “He has a dog.”

“Some people with dogs have cats,” Lenore pointed out.

“Henry doesn’t have any cats,” said the woman.

“It was a black cat,” said Lenore, “with some white spots.”

“That was Elliot,” said the woman. “He’s deaf.”

“Then I’m afraid he’s dead as well,” I said, “if that was him.”

“I told you it was a male cat,” said Lenore. She had been right!

The woman let us use her phone and I offered her $25 for the cat. I hoped she wouldn’t take it, but she did. It was all the money I had.

The police arrived and the woman made us talk to them out front so that they wouldn’t see all of her animals. There was likely an ordinance against such hoarding. The police were unimpressed by the entire incident, including our lost limbs, but they gave us a ride back into town.


Lenore invited me back to her apartment and we ended up having sex on her couch. It wasn’t as enjoyable as I had previously imagined it might have been. Perhaps we were both tired. It was a wool couch as well so the fibers scratched our skin and made things itchy.

Afterward Lenore said, “I have a husband, so I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now.”

“A husband?” I said, “Where is he?”

“He’ll be here in a few hours. He works late. He’s a professional bouncer so you really should leave.”

“When did you get married?” I asked her.

“A while ago,” she told me. It was a vague answer but I didn’t feel like pressing the issue.

I called a taxi and as we were waiting Lenore told me something else. “I was born without my arm,” she said. “I know I told you it was a car accident, but actually I was born this way.”

“You told me it was a van accident. You said a van rolled over on it, not a car.”

“Well, either way it’s not how it happened.”

The taxi arrived and Lenore helped me down the stairs. They’d given me a crutch back at the police station but it was the wrong size and those stairs were pretty tricky.


About a week later a police officer showed up at my house with a package for me. It was Lenore’s arm.

“This isn’t mine,” I told him.

The officer looked down at his notepad. “It says here you lost a prosthesis.”

“I lost a leg prosthesis,” I said. “This one belongs to my friend.”

The officer looked down at my leg. I’d gotten a replacement by then. It was an ill-fitted temporary thing.

“Well, I don’t understand this then,” he said, holding up Lenore’s arm.

I convinced the officer to leave the arm with me and I made arrangements to bring it over to Lenore myself. When I arrived she was sitting on the wool couch with my leg attached to her arm. She waved it at me and smiled. A funny joke! We exchanged limbs and I tried to kiss her again but she wasn’t having any of that.

“I’m moving to South America,” she told me. “I’m going to work in an orphanage there.”

“What about your husband, the bouncer?” I asked.

“He’s gone. I’m not married.”

“Oh,” I said.

Her South America plan impressed me and I asked if I could join her, permanently. It sounded like a good, wholesome life. Lenore said it would be best if I thought things through before making such a move.

“That’s a big decision,” she told me. And she was right! I had no business in Ecuador, or whatever country to which she was moving. Visiting her was an option, though, she made that clear, and lately I’ve been thinking I might take a trip down there to see just what’s going on.