Post Road Magazine #8

Flap by Rick Moody

The thing is that I've developed this flap of skin on my wrist. I think it was after the argument with Leslie, where she was saying that anti-bacterial soap didn't do any good. I get passionate about things. I know I had to get up really early one morning, and right when the alarm was screeching I was having a nightmare about postal delivery. There was a part about some entity reaching up from the interior of the mailbox and grabbing my arm and pulling me down. When I woke up, I remember seeing the flap. Not a little flap, either. More like a gill. Like I have a gill on my wrist. I didn't panic, you know, I didn't think, well, this must be some kind of dangerous medical condition. This is kind of embarrassing, but the first thing I thought was that the flap might be a sort of vaginal flap. I consider myself one of those guys who's always had a certain amount of vagina envy. I mean, I think vaginas are pretty. So my first thought was: maybe I had developed this flap through some kind of vagina envy. Maybe if I had a vagina I could know more about them. On the other hand, it's true that I did quit therapy after the session where my counselor fell asleep, and sure this experience made me skeptical about therapy and about the kind of ideas you might spend your money on in therapy. I wasn't sure if the vagina theory wasn't just, you know, a first take on the issue. If I'd been smart, I would have just felt up the flap, to see if there was anything clitoral up there. If it were a vagina, there would have been a clitoris there somewhere, right? I mean, I don't always know where the clitoris is, but if I felt a little shiver that would be a pretty good sign that I had a flap and a clitoris on my wrist. On the other hand, you know, maybe the flap was a wound, even though I couldn't remember anything like that. A slash of some kind. Some barely healed wound. Guys often think this about vaginas when they are young and naive, that vaginas are wounds. Also, I read about the Salem Witch Trials one time, and apparently the witches in Salem, used to get right up next to people's beds, and, while these people were sleeping, the witches would bite them. Just sink in their front teeth. So maybe I was being slashed in my sleep. Maybe there was some witch getting right up next to my bed at night. Maybe Leslie was slashing me. Because of the argument about anti-bacterial soap. Maybe my girlfriend was a witch. She had a pretty awesome pair of scissors in her desk drawer. And her teeth were in good shape. It'd be easy to slash me. At night I'm pretty trusting. I sleep hard for the first few hours, any given night. Maybe my girlfriend was a witch, and I was slashed at night, around eleven or so, and I was bleeding, and the flap was a wound. It'd be a pretty compelling theory, you have to admit, except for the fact that I wasn't bleeding. The flap was getting bigger, but it wasn't bleeding.

I needed to go to the post office. For stamps. I know a guy there. Mitch. Mitch says it's a good job. The pension is great. I was trying to buy some of those new Stars of Hollywood stamps. I forked over a twenty, asked for stamps featuring the guy from North by Northwest, chased by a crop duster, when Mitch said, astounded, “That is some flap you got.” Looked like my skin was unwinding. I was seeing it from the other side of the service window, through Mitch's eyes. Mitch was in the middle of counting back. He was agape. My skin was a bandage, and it was unwinding, and whatever was underneath there was going to show through. And what was underneath? Wiring? Sheet rock? Asbestos?

Later that evening: I had to get my kid from my ex-wife's place. It was my night with the kid. On the way over, I noticed that my flap was actually flapping in the breeze. Like it was a little prayer flag. Or a pennant. My flap was saluting the breezes. Definitely some part of my body was coming off. In middle age, all the surfaces start coming off. Like you're moulting a layer. Like aluminum siding is shearing off of you. My daughter noticed right away. My daughter said I looked like I was made of wet cardboard. She wouldn't hug me at first. She stood in the center of the living room, by the coffee table, arms crossed, like she never wanted to cooperate with visitation again. I didn't care. I was daydreaming. And what I was daydreaming about was my flap. Maybe I liked it a little bit. I was thinking maybe my flap was an actual flap, like flap A, which needed to be put in slot B somewhere. You know? Like with those instruction manuals that come with complicated gifts. I was an envelope, basically. Standing in my ex-wife's living room. And my daughter was crying, and saying she didn't want to go with me. I was too weird, my daughter said. However, an incontrovertible fact was about to emerge. My ex-wife had places to go, nails to be manicured, and she wasn't going to get into any discussion. Visitation would take place, without interruption. I said to my daughter, “So what if I have a flap? I'm still your dad.”

I was driving her toward the fast food joint next to the aquarium, and I got this idea that maybe my flap was more like a flipper. Maybe my flap was pre-historic somehow. Atavistic. I was doing a lot of theorizing. That's just how it was going to go. I was a dolphin or a manatee. I was a guy with an ancient aquatic flipper, the kind of flipper on a mammal that lurched up out of a muddy swamp and onto dry land where grubs and insects were more plentiful. I was going down through evolutionary history, like in that William Hurt movie. I was going to be one of those amphibious mammals, and then maybe after that I would be a giant squid, and then a jellyfish. This would be interesting. Although it was true that there were lots of people who could make something more important out of turning into a jellyfish, like one of the experts at the aquarium, or maybe a performance artist, like that guy who wanted to have an extra ear grafted onto his arm. I was the divorced owner of a successful chain of car washes. Not first choice for a guy who should be an evolutionary miracle. I was kind of a fuckup, in fact. I couldn't even get Leslie to let me move in with her. I had messed up more things than a lot of people I knew. Maybe the flap was a curse. Maybe my flap was some biological tendency that had been triggered after I cheated at golf two weeks ago. I never should have lied about three-putting. I could tell that Mitch's brother-in-law knew. I'm a blusher. There was also the lie I told Leslie about having flirted with that nineteen-year-old after some drinks at the Chinese place last month. Nineteen? After a certain point, the girl just walked away, probably, because I'm old and I have a kid, and I owe massive child support, and the loans on my business are crushing me.

That reminds me. My company operates best in a climate of respect. I treat the guys who work for me with respect. But it's hard to meet your employees on the level playing field when your arm looks like it was borrowed from the Mummy costume shop. Everyone around the car washes has skin ailments. It's hard. From the water and the cleaning agents. That's why I keep on believing where anti-bacterial soap is concerned. On Thursday, everyone at the office wanted to believe that the flap had to do with this stuff. Pete Bowes, one of the guys on the line downtown, asked me if I wanted him just to cut off the flap. He had a really good pocket knife with him. Natch, I'd considered going to one of the many cosmetic surgeons here in the Miami-Dade area, but I don't really trust surgeons, they're all about cutting, never about rapport, so I decided, why the hell not, why not Pete, as long as he sterilized properly. I had a few snorts from the desk flask, and he cut off as much of the flap he could get. I promoted him to ass't manager on the spot.

Next day, it was back. If anything, a little bigger and more infected than it had been before. You know how those cylinders of dinner rolls look when you first pop them out of the container. My arm looked like that. I wanted to butter myself. There was no way around it. I had to go see, Arnold Piccolo, M.D. I'd known the guy in high school, when he was a teenaged alcoholic. He'd long since cleaned up, and his office had that isopropyl smell. Problem was, I think maybe Arnie had some kind of nerve damage from all the drinking. He had this tic where it seemed like he was looking over at his shoulder. He'd do it a couple of times every sentence. It was like he'd sprouted an additional eye on his shoulder and he wanted to make eye contact. He seemed to be having trouble concentrating, which would be natural if you had to look over your shoulder that often. “Arnie,” I said, “Can you tell me what this is?” I whipped off the suede glove I'd taken to wearing. Arnie managed to get the tic under control long enough to give me the once over. He probed at the diaphanous sheets of flesh coming off. There was a silence. He put some of the skin under a cheap microscope. While he was looking he said, “Look, I gotta ask, do you ever think about those days?” And I said, “Which days?” Like I didn't know. Jesus. Arnie said, “Those days.” He was pushing the tissue sample around under the microscope. I said, “Arnie, once I was quick-witted, once I carried a six-pack on my person, once I could charm any girl on the beach out of blouse, once I could surf a little bit, and once I could open a beer bottle with my teeth, but now Arnie, I'm kind of too busy for this kind of standard-issue nostalgic conversation, because time is money, Arnie, for you and me both, and the whole top layer of my body is coming unglued, and I need to get to the bottom of it.” Arnie said he needed to run more tests. Of course, I was still out ten bucks of co-pay.

I never even called him back. I was bored of explaining. I was bored of making bad jokes. Hey, I'm trying to get work as a mail slot. Never mind about the weird moisture that started coursing out of the warm, clammy space under the flap from thumb joint to elbow. It had a salty taste, not poisonous. Like tear juice. Could have been salivary, I figured. Okay, I did try one more thing, I tried feeding the flap. I could stuff something nutritive in there, I figured, as long as it came from the health food store, and if the flap wanted to ingest whatever I put in it, then I'd see that the flap was actually another mouth. Kind of creepy, I know, but not that horrible. I mean, I do like to eat. I was having sushi in town, even though I don't really eat the raw fish anymore, what with the microbes. And I just shoved the roll with the fish roe in under the flap. I never eat the roe anyway. Too fishy. I shoved it under the flap, while Leslie was telling me about the affair her boss was having, and immediately the flap gobbled up the sushi roll. It was the weirdest sensation. I mean, I just should not have a throat in my wrist, especially since I'm right-handed. What if there was a choking incident? Leslie said, “Jesus, Ed, did your wrist just eat that sushi roll? You don't even like roe!” The enormity of my situation began to sink in. “Do you think it has its own stomach or something? Or another esophagus?”

Did I say this already? I always thought Leslie was too beautiful for me. And too young. I always thought she'd realize that I wasn't good enough, because I'd had my adventures, like I was telling Arnie that day. I'd hung out in the parking lots before concerts, tailgating in the company of people with dreadlocks. I'd done all that stuff when I was young, but now I just needed to make the child support payments. Leslie didn't want to spend the rest of her life with a guy who owned a car wash business. She'd get to a point where she'd just say that she had a prior engagement. Leslie was in possession of the facts: I was bald, old, didn't want my workers to unionize, I was obsessed with hygiene. All these worries were like a chorus yelling in my head, so much that at first I didn't hear it. Didn't hear it at first because I thought it was coming from the next table. I thought I was listening to someone really irritating at the next table. But it wasn't the next table, because there was no one at the next table. It wasn't Leslie doing some ventriloquist routine. It wasn't me. The maitre d' was a young Japanese woman romancing the sushi chef across the room. That left only one possibility. The flap had started talking. Right at the table, like it was going to seize control of the situation. The flap had a bit of a lisp. Which was sort of embarrassing. I mean, my flap should have had a virile, masculine voice. But it did turn out to be a strong persuader. It wouldn't give up. And the biggest difference between me and the flap was that the flap believed in me, even if I didn't believe in myself. And here's what it said. It said to Leslie, “What are you waiting for, honey? Are you waiting for Mr. Perfect? Because if you're waiting for Mr. Perfect, you're going to be waiting a long time! This fella here loves you! And he may have some flaws, but those flaws are only skin deep! This guy loves to be loved, and he loves to give the gift of love! He loves the gift of giving! And he's neat and he picks up after himself, and I personally have seen him empty the garbage can without even being asked! Plus, he's a successful business owner. So if you're just waiting for the better thing to come along, you're going to wait a long time! You should try to see the beauty that's underneath the surfaces, because that's the beauty that lasts. Not that you need my advice—” The flap said advice like it rhymed with scythe. And it spit food. Talked with its mouth full. It was definitely a free spirit, if a little bit sloppy. And it sure was sentimental. Still, I was personally moved to tears by the flap's defense. Even more so when Leslie pulled me close. And reached into her pocketbook for the anti-bacterial wipes •

Rick Moody is the author most recently of Demonology and The Black Veil.

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