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An Offer: A Pair of Stories by Meghan Lamb

02/28/2010

Prosthesis

My arm is rigid, clutching at my hem. The train is late, which means that I must stand in place. I didn’t need to hurry, but my skirt keeps blowing up, enchanted by the breeze. The morning’s cold and pale, but I can see the shadows cast upon the train tracks. The shadows move as well, unfurling as the wind cuts wires of gray light through the clouds.
     That young couple has been staring for awhile now. They’re both wearing brown denim jackets. I see the young man pointing something out to her. The woman whispers in his ear. I look at the tracks so they won’t get angry, but it doesn’t work. The man approaches with an ugly unconscious smile.
     “Have you got a false arm?” he asks. I’m too busy waiting for the train to hear him. This time, perhaps I’ll hear the shadows rising underneath. But all that comes out is his flat low voice, unassuming and oddly uncurious. “Your arm,” he repeats, “is it fake?”
     I say, “Excuse me?”
     “My wife told me to ask you,” he explains. “She said it wasn’t moving.”
     “That’s a funny thing to notice.” I wave my hand to show him I can move it. He looks skeptical.
     He says, “That means it isn’t fake?” I’m unsure how to properly respond. “The arm,” he says, “the whole arm. You just moved your hand.”
     He thinks I’m hiding something. He keeps looking at my skirt as though the answer’s underneath. He doesn’t seem to care which way the wind moves, so I think, small wonder that his wife was looking at my arm. I raise it up as a distraction. “No,” I tell him, “it’s my real arm.”
     I sit on the bench to wait. The couple sits down at the other end. I notice they’re still watching me, imagining the metal rods and rainbow wires beneath my sleeve. I shrug off the strap of my bag.
     Their eyes are making waves in my direction. Something starts to rattle in my bones. When I try to look back, they both look away. There’s nothing that annoys me more than failed secrecy. I feel the urge to offer up my arm, somehow, and let them make it what they will. Instead, I readjust my coat. I check my watch. Damn train isn’t due for another fifteen minutes.


An Offer

It’s time for the old man’s bed bath. I test the water with my wrist. I turn him on his side so he won’t have to see what goes into the trash. I look up so the old man cannot look me in the eye. I squint against a beam of light refracted from a set of hanging crystals.
     “Those are nice.” I dab the unseen skin.
     He nods. “My wife bought those in Ireland. You’re Irish, aren’t you? You look Irish.”
     I tell him, “Yes, I’m Irish,” but I really wonder why his shit looks gray.
     I feel his gaze move down my body, head to waist. He weighs my words against my features, trying to decide if they’ll be good enough for now. He knows that in another hour he might not remember. “That bothers me,” he says.
     “What bothers you?” I ask.
     “You know what I mean,” he says. I shake my head. No, I do not. “That mole,” he says, “on your chest. You ought to have it looked at.”
     I try to look down, but the mole must be out of my reach. I towel off his face and shoulders. I hand him a wet rag for cleaning his privates. He winces as he takes the rag. I say, “Turn over, now. I need to rinse your back.” He does.
     He says, “I know a dermatologist. I know his wife. His daughter goes to Notre Dame. Good people. You must promise me you’ll have him take a look at you.”
     I tell him that I promise as he offers me the soiled rag.

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Meghan Lamb lives in Oak Park, Illinois. She drinks a lot of wine. Her cat's always trying to drink the wine. Together, they live by the train. Meghan's fiction is featured or forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Thieves Jargon, Titular, apt, and Pear Noir!.

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