Post Road Magazine #30

Limbs

Jennifer Murvin

I'm terribly sorry, Mother, but the doctors say the leg has to go. They told me you won't return their calls, and they asked me to check up. I'd come over, but Don is in the shower and he had an incident with a student today. Won't you call the doctors? They have information, Mother, about how this works. Your leg. This isn't new, they've been telling you for weeks now. If you wait too long, the cancer will spread. Please don't say that, you know I don't like it when you say Fuck. It reminds of me of Dad's last days, and you still owe me for that. Mother, they're hoping you'll listen to me. It needs to come off this week. I know it sounds like we're talking about a haircut. I called Jessica and she refuses to get involved, says you should see a healer, says chemo is poison. Our Jessica, so helpful as always. Don says she's a hippie but I think that man has brainwashed her, brainwashed all of them, and did she tell you there's a child there now? A child with Down syndrome. I don't even think they have working toilets in that place. Don says it's not a cult if there's no religion involved, but I told him what you told me about how they've given her a new name, and that freaked him right out. What is it again? Is that French? I can't even pronounce it. Is a spirit name like a spirit animal? Like a patronus? Nevermind. This doesn't have anything to do with your leg, no, I'm sorry. Please, please call the doctors. Goodnight, Mother.

* * *

The doctors say the leg has to go this week, or else the cancer will spread. It's like she's a child, Don, like she's putting her fingers in her ears and singing "la la la" and meanwhile Rome is burning. Here's a towel. Look at your legs, look at them. They're so hairy and muscular. When we girls were little, Mother used to wear her bathing suit to plant flowers in the garden. Dad got so mad, told her she was making a fool of herself in front of the neighbors, but she would bend over again to snip the deadheads and he'd shut right up. I used to hold onto her legs in the ocean and sometimes the tides were so strong it was like I was a flag on a pole. She showed me how to shave my legs with Dad's electric razor. Why on earth. She probably didn't want me to cut myself. Dad was furious. Jessica got the real stuff, the blade. Mother looked good in her bathing suit, everyone thought so. You knew because the women on the block asked her to put some clothes on. They'd only do that if she looked damn good. I keep thinking about my mother's legs, about how she'd tuck both her feet under my butt on the couch when we watched a movie. She'd wear socks and panty hose and sometimes the ones with the larger holes in the nets. Dad loved those, and I used to stick my finger in the holes and she'd get so mad. They looked like lace. Don, darling, look at those two socks on the floor, look at them. A pair. You know I should call Shelly after. She was telling me some story about the guy who ran on those prosthetic legs in the Olympics, and I told her to go to hell. Wait, here, let me hang up my dress. Oh, darling. Oh, I love you.

* * *

Hi, Shelly. I just wanted to say I'm sorry, and I really appreciate what you said about the man at the Olympics and I told my mother about it and she said Wow, and I said I know, and she said Isn't science amazing, soon we'll all be living on the moon. Fine, I didn't tell her. Jesus, Shelly, will you just let me apologize? Things aren't easy over here, and I just found out there's a kid at that farm where my sister Jessica's being brainwashed. Don and I had, well, you know, last night, but the whole time I just kept staring at my legs wrapped around his hairy body. I always hated my thighs, thought they were too fat, but I just kept squeezing them around Don, watching the muscles underneath, and you know, my thighs aren't bad at all. Don and I did it twice and he brought me coffee in bed this morning. Mother's getting older and she hasn't done much dating since Dad died, but still, as a woman? Will she want to try to have sex again? The right man wouldn't care, a good man. But would she? How long until she felt comfortable? First a leg, and now celibacy. Shelly, doesn't a woman suffer enough? Two children, one in a cult, and she's still not over my divorce even though I can tell she's in love with Don. You know he told me yesterday that a student of his turned in an essay about his grandfather who was a Nazi during World War II. This student, he's writing about how this grandfather has a basement full of stuff he stole from Jewish concentration camp victims. The essay said this grandfather used to take it all out during Christmas. Don thinks this guy's full of shit, but who would make up something like that? Who'd want to claim a Nazi? I'll tell her you said hello. I heard you, but I don't know, Shelly, I mean, my mother doesn't even watch the Olympics except for the divers.

* * *

Calm down, Don, calm down, I can't hear what you're saying and the signal is terrible out here. I'm on my way to that damn farm to talk some sense into Jessica. Is this about the Nazi? No, I don't think you should call the FBI. What makes you believe him now? How many pictures? Of course I've seen photographs of the Holocaust, Don, Jesus. You know we read Night when I was in school, and I couldn't sleep for weeks thinking about the babies. And the piles of shoes. I used to wake up crying, I could see it like it was happening, and it was always a tall man in rubber boots taking me away from my mother and father and sister. My mother came into my room one night after I had woken up from one of those nightmares, and she told me that I would have done just fine in the Holocaust, because of my blond hair and blue eyes. I could go to sleep after that, Don, I slept great from then on. What does that say about me? About the kind of child I was? Don't bring those pictures home.

* * *

Jessica, Jessica Harris. My sister. Tall, brown hair? What is this anyway, like a little guard shack? Are you guarding what's inside or are you guarding against what's outside? This is a free country, ma'am, and I need to see my sister in person. Jessica. No, I don't know her spirit name. No, I'm not getting mouthy. Our mother-Jessica's and mine-our mother has cancer, she's dying. It's all right, it's not your fault. She has less than a week to live. She needs to see my sister before it happens. You know my sister was a miracle baby? The doctors told my mother she couldn't have any more babies, and she goes into the doctor to get a hysterectomy and lo and behold! she's pregnant. Mother didn't get up once while she was pregnant with my sister, gained a zillion pounds and Dad and I waited on her hand and foot, bringing her gingerale and peanut butter and the cookies that look like Oreos but they're all white. Can't you see why we need Jessica to see her? Please, ma'am, Ms.-what is that, I can't quite make out the writing-what does that mean? Why can't you just say wind? Fine, just get her please. I'm sick with grief, that's my attitude. My mother is dying. She'll be dead in a week, and what would you say to Jessica then?

* * *

Did you call the doctors yet? Oh, Mother, you have to call them, they need to set this up. I don't know how you make an appointment for something like this, but you have to, there's no choice. The house looks so nice, did you clean? What's different? I can't tell. Remember these? Like Oreos but white, I was thinking about them today, about how we'd bring them to you when you were pregnant with Jessica. No, she wouldn't see me. This woman at the guard shack wouldn't let me in and when she called up to Jessica, she said she wasn't available, that she was in meditation for the next three days. Like Jessica was some executive communicating through her secretary. Not available. I know what's different in here. It's the paintings, isn't it? You took down the ballerina paintings. Oh, Mother. Please tell me you didn't throw them away, you might want them later. You always loved Degas, and those prints are lovely, high quality. I always preferred his nudes. Sexy stuff, and his women are always curvy, I love that, a man should admire the back of a woman's neck. Why won't you eat a cookie? You're right, I wouldn't know a woman can't eat her pregnancy foods. How could I know that? You're absolutely right, Mother, aren't you. I have to go. No. Goodbye. I don't want to take the cookies. Just throw them away.

* * *

Dear Jessica, I'm writing you because our mother is very ill and whether you like it or not, they are amputating her leg on Friday. She made the appointment. She won't say this but I know she wants you to be there. I can't do this by myself. Don will come with me but it's not the same, he doesn't know how this feels. Why are you in that place? What could that man offer you that you couldn't find out here? When did we lose you, darling? How can we call for you if we don't know your name?

* * *

Dear Jessica, Mother doesn't really have a week to live. I was just saying that because I thought the woman at the guard shack would let me through. But really, she won't be the same after this. Dad was terrible at the end, and Mom didn't need to see him like that, and you were in South America or something digging holes. You know he'd tell me to go fuck myself, every day. He didn't know who I was half the time. He thought I was stealing from him, stealing Mom's jewelry. Maybe if it had been the two of us there, he would have remembered me, remembered us, his daughters. Maybe he only knew me as part of a pair.

* * *

Don, where are you? Don't go in the house, I beg you. What if he still has a gun? What if he's really a Nazi? That's serious shit, you know, those guys are in hiding. Old men can still shoot guns, Don, and Nazis don't play around. Call me immediately after. Please. I am holding the phone and I won't stop looking at it until you call me back.

* * *

Dear Jessica, You don't know this, but I've had five miscarriages. Mother took medicine when she was pregnant with me and it damaged her so she almost couldn't have you, and it damaged me so I could never have anyone. Sometimes I touch my stomach and I can still feel them fluttering inside. That's the closest I ever came: the fluttering. They never got big enough to move around or show a foot or elbow under my shirt. The first time I miscarried was with Tony. We were both in college and I was just starting at the gallery, and Tony knew how excited I was about my job. He thought I had an abortion. I couldn't convince him that I lost the pregnancy. How do you prove something like that? When we divorced, he told me he was convinced I had an abortion, a botched job, too, and that's why the other four. He was not a nice man, Tony. You were right. I should have never married him. You and I, my sister, we get taken in too easily, I think. We share that like we share our blood.

* * *

Mother, Don's been with the Nazi for two hours and I can't reach him on the phone. No, this is not your drugs talking. What drugs are you taking anyway? Well, who am I to judge, take all the drugs you want, come Friday you'll be down a limb. No, I'm not drunk. Fine, I'm a little drunk. Jessica's not coming to the surgery, she said she'd be better for you where she is, meditating. To the spirits. She didn't even call me herself, some other woman called. They have guards and secretaries, apparently. And they don't receive mail, so there you go. There's a show tonight at the gallery, some college kid who takes photographs of children standing on each other's shoulders. It's amazing, these kids, their balance. They're all dressed in these interesting outfits from different time periods. There's one with a child dressed like a little Louis XVI standing on a girl wearing disco bellbottoms, and they're in a field of purple flowers and I swear, it is gorgeous, just magical. MOMA's picking him up, his agent says. I am not shitting you. Do you want to come? I'll pick you up in an hour. The Nazi can have Don, I told him to call. I'll explain in the car.

* * *

Jesus, Mother, what are you wearing? I've seen seven-year-olds with longer skirts! Can I tell you something? I have been jealous of how thin you've become. Isn't that sick? You have cancer, and I keep thinking, if only my arms were that thin. What has society come to? Please, you don't have to apologize. Cookies are cookies. It's really all right, I've had years to grieve the miscarriages, and really, would I have wanted a child with Tony anyhow? The baby probably would have come out with a Scotch in his hand, hitting on twenty year old waitresses. I am very blessed. My cup overfloweth, if not-eth my uterus. Fine, yes, you may drive. There's one specific photograph I want to show you tonight. It's the only one with two boys in the same photograph-most are girls, or girls mixed with boys-and in it, the boy who's standing on top of the other boy is much taller, so much taller, in fact, that it looks painful, but the little boy on the bottom is smiling like he's carrying nothing at all on his shoulders. The photographer says it's real, and these two boys are from a circus in Canada, they're acrobats. They travel all around and he says they did these tricks after the photo shoot, like one of the boys was standing on the other's palm. These boys are orphans and they've attached to each other so deeply they won't be parted, not for a moment. Don's writing a story about it, he hopes it will be published. In it he's making the boys Siamese twins, but to me that's not as interesting.

* * *

Mother, Don called, I need to go home. He's finished with the Nazi. He wasn't a Nazi as it turned out, the grandson was lying all along. The old man makes model sailboats and hangs them from fishing line, took the whole afternoon showing Don around his studio. I think Don was very disappointed he couldn't turn in a Nazi to the FBI. The world is full of disappointments. George, can you finish up here? You're a doll, George, thank you, remind me to bring you cinnamon rolls on Monday when we go over the receipts. You'll take her home? Mother, is that all right with you? Look at her legs, George. Look at them. Aren't they beautiful. I would stand her up on my shoulders. Mother, I'd hold your calves in my hands and smile for the camera. I'd hold you up until my legs gave out, and even then, I'd let you have them for your own.

* * *

Dear Jessica, I'm about to take Mother to the gallery where we will look at photographs. I wanted to tell you I saw him. I saw the child, the one with Down syndrome. He was standing underneath the tree, and even from the guard shack I could see his face, unmistakable. He was beautiful. Ageless. I could love him, I thought. I could wipe his mouth and sing him songs, and I could save him from you and that cult. Remember when we were little and Mom would dangle her legs into the pool, and we'd grab onto them when we couldn't tread water anymore? She'd kick us off and call us tadpoles. Her legs were always so smooth, we'd slip right off. The edge of the pool was safer than her legs, but we'd try them first, every time.

* * *

Here's a glass of water, my love. You are wonderful. Did I tell you how much I love you? Hold me close, please. Tighter. You smell so good, like mint. Write a story about the sailboats, please. The world needs a story about sailboats and little acrobats.

* * *

Dear Jessica, Tonight I'm leaving the gallery to come home, and I get halfway and I realize Mother's left her coat in the car. So I drive back to the gallery and walk in to find her. She's nowhere to be seen, so I go toward the back to check the office, thinking George has maybe taken her on a tour of the place. You remember George, we hired him a few years ago? Widower, silver hair? So I'm about to walk into the office, but then I realize. They're in there. Mother and George. They are together. It's hazy through the frosted glass in the windows but I can see enough to see that George is kissing her legs. She's on the desk, he's on his knees, and he is kissing her legs. I left the coat by the door and got back into the car and drove home. Maybe I can imagine it, the feeling of a man's mouth on my calf, his hand on my other ankle, these two legs, Legs, some man might even call me on the street should my skirt and heels be high enough. Do I cry? Does she? Or do I just let myself feel it, my whole body, all its parts, loved, and alive.



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