Unexplained H. V. Patterson
One second: I have ten fingers
The next: I have nine.
I’m sure you’re picturing the scene: the bright, sharp smell of blood. Emergency surgery. Months later, a morbidly funny story to tell at the office Holiday party, the jagged scar a ring branded into my flesh.
But that isn’t what happens.
I’m chopping carrots for dinner. My husband, Bashir, is on his way home, and Ruya is playing with her Legos in the living room. I’ll never forget the feeling of my capable fingers curled around the knife’s handle. The surety of my hand as it moved up and down, the soothing staccato clap of the blade hitting the cutting board.
The knife doesn’t slip. There’s no fountain of blood. My left ring finger is simply gone between one blink and the next, as if it’d never been. Where my finger should be, there’s only a smooth expanse skin unmarred by scar tissue or any wound.
My wedding ring clatters to the counter, the only concrete evidence of the sudden, impossible absence. The two-carat diamond winks up at me from its nest of tiny rubies.
I’m still looking from the bloodless knife to my wedding ring, to the smooth space where my finger isn’t when my husband arrives.
* * *
The first doctor thinks we’re lying. When Bashir brandishes pictures of our wedding day, our wide bleached smiles, my ten fingers curled around a bouquet of pink roses, he waves dismissively.
“It’s not!” Bashir snaps. Ruya presses against my side for comfort, and I pull her into my lap. She’s five, but small for her age.
“There’s no sign of recent trauma or scarring,” the doctor says. He doesn’t look at me. He has barely glanced at me this entire appointment. “It’s my professional opinion that your wife always had nine fingers.”
“My name is Amanda,” I say.
“Fingers don’t just disappear,” he continues, still not looking at me.
“But that’s what happened!” I say.
“Get out of my office,” he tells Bashir, disgust visible. “Don’t waste my time.”
I pull on my glove, and we go. Ruya reaches for my left hand as we leave. I jerk it away as if my loss is contagious. I offer her my right hand instead, but I can’t erase the hurt from her honey-colored eyes.
* * *
The next doctor is sympathetic. She believes that I believe “my own truth.” She tells Bashir to wait in the lobby and asks me probing questions about domestic abuse. When I angrily tell her that there’s no abuse, that I’m just trying to figure out what happened to my fucking finger, she smiles tightly and recommends a psychiatrist.
* * *
I used to love my hands. I kept them immaculate, moisturized and manicured. Now, I can’t bring myself to care for them. My skin is chapped, my polish chipped. My wedding ring gleams on my middle finger, an uncomfortable fit over the gloves I wear to shield myself from the curious eyes of strangers and startled exclamations of friends.
Ruya stops asking about my finger. When we’re crossing the street, she only reaches for my right hand.
Between the unending cycle of laundry and dishes and errands, I scroll through Reddit threads. I lurk on message boards devoted to demons, UFOs, witchcraft, government conspiracies. I read about flesh-eating bacteria, leprosy, parasites which hollow out their insect hosts from the inside. Nothing like my own situation.
* * *
“Are we wrong?” I ask Bashir one night, months later. “Did we somehow imagine–all of this?”
He holds me while I cry.
“Don’t let them gaslight you,” he says. “We both know the truth.”
“It’s impossible, though! Everyone says so.”
By now, we’ve seen a dozen specialists. None of them believe us.
“Just because they have medical degrees doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about,” Bashir says.
I settle against his shoulder, sniffling snot and tears onto his pillow. He grabs his phone and starts pulling up photos. This has become a ritual on bad nights. The two of us examining the past, enlarging pictures, tracing the two-dimensional lines of my ring finger, proof it was really there. We stay up late, scrolling through pictures, evidence of a shared life, a shared reality.
* * *
I dream of mangled toes and pulled teeth. I dream my hair falls out, turns to wire, strangles me. I dream my rib cage deflates as my ribs vanish, one by one. I dream I cut my fingers off with a carving knife and they turn into limp carrots. I wake gasping. Bashir holds me while I weep with gratitude. Minus one finger, I am still here.
* * *
Three years later, life is almost normal. We’ve stopped seeing doctors. My nightmares are gone.
I’m humming to myself as I clean the kitchen. Bashir is upstairs putting Ruya to bed. He screams. It’s a high, despairing shriek, like a rabbit caged in a hawk’s talons.
I bolt from the kitchen, up the stairs, down the hall, into Ruya’s bedroom.
She’s sitting upright in bed, hands held rigid in from of her. Ten fingers. Relief surges through me. But then, she lowers her hands.
“Mom?” she says. “Is that you?”
Her mouth moves. Her nostrils flare. Her eyebrows crinkle with confusion. But where her eyes should be, there’s nothing but smooth, blank space, like an unfinished drawing.
“I can’t see anything, Mom,” Ruya says, reaching for me.
There are no words to offer her. I step forward and embrace her as Bashir dials 911. Ruya can no longer cry, but I have tears enough for both of us.
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