The Finger

The ad-soaked magazine behind the bookstore register claims the way I sleep—on my right side, curled into a ball, fists shoved between my legs—means I’m eager to please. Bullshit.

The door flies open and this retired guy speed walks to me. He’s gripping his right index finger with a red napkin. “Miss, you guys have a band-aid?” Then I realize it’s not a red napkin. It’s a bloody napkin.

“Yeah, hang on,” I say, reaching under the counter. “What happened?”

“Slammed my finger in the car door. Stupid.” He raises the napkin and blood cascades down his hand. A third of his finger is missing, gone. I imagine it sheared clear off by a sensible compact sedan.

We have band-aids for paper cuts, not for this shit.

“You oughta call an ambulance,” I say, rifling through the first-aid kit.

“No, I’ll be fine, stupid thing. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Hey, maybe you got gauze, too?”

There’s no gauze. I duck under the register and pull out a roll of paper towels. A spilled latte is no match for these things, but blood pouring from a chopped finger?

“Really, I think we should call an ambulance,” I say, bristling at the we. I’m involved now, procurer of bandages and paper goods.

He leans onto the counter, rests his full body weight on his elbows, winces. Is this guy in shock? What are the signs of shock?

“Maybe,” he says through gritted teeth. “Maybe you should call.”

I call, give them the address, all the while patting this guy on the shoulder as he becomes one with the counter. “Hold it above your heart,” I tell him, just as the dispatcher instructs me.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he repeats. Yeah, we’ve established that.

I’m not prepared for the next question.

“Do you have the finger?” asks the dispatcher.

“It’s on his hand.”

“The tip. You said the tip was missing.”

I did say that. And it is.

“Hey, do you have the missing bit?” I can’t bring myself to say finger.

“The car,” he says. “It must be by the car.”

The dispatcher hears him. “Ma’am, you have to find the finger.”

Ma’am? Really? “No, I can’t do that. I can’t leave the bookstore.”

“Ma’am, the finger can be reattached. You need to find it.”

“I’m the only one working today.”

“What’s his name, ma’am?”

“Who?” Oh, the guy with the finger. Or, more accurately, without the finger. “Hey, mister, what’s your name?”

“Frank. Frank Dumas.”

“He’s Frank.”

“OK, ma’am, give me to Frank while you look for the finger.”

Damn it, there’s no way out of this. I put the phone on speaker, grab a plastic bag and ask Frank for his keys.

“In the ignition. Why I grabbed the door.”

“Where are you parked?”

“To the right. Navy sedan. Dented quarter panel.”

Dented. Of course.

Seagulls flock our parking lot, diving, swooping, pecking sandwich entrails out of garbage cans, shitting everywhere. Someone forgot to tell them the ocean is a hundred miles east. Maybe they see an expanse of dark, flat space, and assume it’s paradise.

I hold onto the side-view mirror of Frank’s car and bend down, looking around the driver’s side. But what am I looking for? What does a finger look like, detached from the body? Would it roll under the car? Would the slamming door catapult it ten feet away? What if someone drove over it?

The gulls caw and circle above. I flip up my hoodie and, not seeing it on the pavement, open the driver door. Which makes it obvious. Not a bite of hot dog with ketchup. It’s unmistakably a man’s finger, salt & pepper hair above the knuckle, plastered to the door jam.

I handle it like dog poop, my own hand protected by the plastic bag. Damn, I should have gotten ice. Don’t these things need ice? And a cooler with a red cross? I have so many questions.

Why is a college graduate working part-time in a deserted strip mall bookstore? Why do I sleep in the fetal position? Where the hell is the ambulance?

The birds swarm like gray shadows around me. I hear the faint warning of a siren as it slowly rises in volume and pitch. Eager to please, huh? I hurl the finger over my head and a gull swoops down to pluck it from the sky.

When I swing back into the store, Frank’s not at the counter. He’s below it, lying flat on the linoleum in front of the new releases.

“Jesus, Frank, are you OK?” I ask. Dumb question; of course he’s not. But his eyes are open, so at least he’s still conscious.

“Did you find it?”

I give a heavy sigh. “Nah, Frank, I didn’t see it. Sorry.”

“Damn gulls, I bet.”

“Damn gulls.”

* * *

A week later Frank strolls into the bookstore with a bow-topped bottle of wine.

“I have to thank you for taking care of me that day. Much appreciated. I was a little out of sorts but you were a calm presence through it all.”

He uncoils the bandage and shows me the finger. “Frankenfinger,” he says. “Get it?”

I say it’s healing nicely. It doesn’t look too bad. For a stump.

He buys the new James Patterson, leaves with a wave of the good hand, the door tinkling his exit. I flip open my magazine and it lands on that damn sleep position article again.

Sleeping on your left side marks the pensive. Facing a lover signals a healthy relationship; turned away suggests tension. Falling asleep on your back means you’re content. On the stomach, the opposite is true. In the fetal position, eager to please.

Oh come on, anyone can make this crap up.