By Alex Hayward
image by Reelika Ramot
The limb felt good in his hand. Watching a screen that sings and squeals with the skin of it. All roped slob and glossy lips and the whitened marble of open, opened eyes. Exertion and extremities and a carnival of flesh-licked origami. Candy, Nikki, Amber, Britney. Johnny, Jimmy, Jack. Then these his avatars, these dolled pretenders. As in worship he would kneel and as in ritual see the name and the face and strike at himself. Feels good in his hand. Then the hand falls away. Then in the screen he sees again. In his hand he sees the limb.
For him, his body was a riddle to which no one had an answer. Been that way since a boy, he thought, since the disgust turned. He could not remember when. An ideation as indistinct as the time between sleep and waking. As if another self had hibernated in the pit of him, all through those early years, and now grew up like a spore.
Then he wondered the purpose. He wondered the use. He felt a kind of slowing down and stupefying and it was less a hardening than a muddle. He imagined a body conspiring against its owner, like a vessel he could no longer pilot. He saw girls then, and actually saw, not in the way before but in a different way, a different way of seeing. He wondered if they saw too.
One morning walking, a thing he’d never seen - least never cared to. The rubbished inkrun red-top, foot-ground into the mud, where Charley, 21, hobbies long walks and beach holidays, looked back. The perfect trapping of a camera’s unjudging eye, preserved as a fly ambered, and the hands holding breasts were to him an offering, white teeth smiling, confirmed to him and to the limb. Pilgrimed and peering, he glanced both ways and without thinking folded her away into his back pocket. By night, the lamp by the bedside, he would look again.
Soon he knew the names, the shapes, and he knew what was under the mattress in his brother’s room. The open legs. The lacquered nail at the wink. Thirty pages and thirty yeses. And as he turned, framed, scripted, he learned subterfuge and subtlety, quickness and quietude. He could hear a footstep at the stair, the sigh of a floorboard, and he knew to snap the light. Bedsheets pulled close as he acted sleep, the limb still in his hand.
No one taught him how do to do it, like living with a secret or a shame. He thought about it most days and evenings, and in his dreams he saw their faces. He saw their lips about him and their fingers in his and he saw the limb and he saw himself the god of his own fiction. He passed through years of loving and unloving, and learning and unlearning, and drunkenness and stupidity and folly. He changed, and the pictures changed too. From the corner-bought to the click, from the print to the film. Yet the limb remained the same.
He did it when he could, not even when he wanted. He did it when he was bored. He did it when he was tired. He did it when he was sober and when he was loose. He did it when he was sad and when he was happy. He did it before and after and he did it on the weekend and he did it in the morning and before bed. He did it when he had no one and when he had someone, anyone, everyone. He did it when he was loved but he only loved himself, and he only loved the limb.
Soon enough he found no pleasure in others. Her embrace to him was a comfort short-lived, like the warmth of wind-blown embers. He feared the flesh and its betrayal. He feared his own thinking. He feared his own. He feared the limb. And in limping he would fear her and he would expect a judgement and he would turn away in a bed gone cold and he would face a sleepless sleeping, every minute a wonder, should he try, should he try once more. For he had a job to do, he had a reason then, he and his limb, and without a word between the two of them he thought he knew her too. He thought she thought about him thinking that way too. So he turned and tried and she would never even know.
He became used to seeing theatre so was compelled to play the part.
But he would rather watch than act and he would rather see than be seen. He knew every line, and he knew every move, and he knew the way she came in, and he knew the way she put her hand upon his stand-in, and he knew the way she tongued the limb. He knew the characters. He knew the innocent, he knew the corrupting, he knew the adultery, he knew the kitchen counter and poolside, he knew words like tight and slut and mouth and black and pussy and teenage and cock. This play he knew. And no matter what the plotting it would always end the same. A shivering silence at close of velvet.
The fiction bests the real. There is control, or the semblance of it, in a series of moving images. An arena whereby the impossible can be imagined and made so, and him a director of sorts, a fantasist who would see his creations stir and shake. He imagined a power he did not possess. An ordinance without counter. Simple demands without rebuke. In this world, he was throned and would content himself to easy imaginings. In thinking himself master, he was not so different any other.
He knows he’s not alone so he knows not to worry. Sees the numbers climb and is reminded of a million others and a million other limbs like his and he knows then that it’s normal that it’s like that and he is assured by the jokes that pass in polite society with a wink and a nod like the worst kept secret in all creation. Does not matter then, the distortion and the dissolution and the wondering and the willing and the way he spends a day battling his own imagination.
One day he turns it off. Then on. He lasts a week. He lasts a month. He lasts a day. There is always another time. More second chances for himself than for anyone that crossed his path, and he has crossed his own fair enough. Why stop? Why not once?
One day he stops and stops so long he forgets why it even mattered. He loves not least the limb but others too, and he is happy for it, and he is valid for it, and he imagines the lost time he could have spent had he but known his worth or better yet stopped to ask another.
One day the problem ceases and he sees no reason not to. He makes a rule for himself, having taught himself how, knowing then what he knows now. No this, no that, no hurt and harm, no fetish for ugliness and crude fashions of sex and youth and race and chastity. He is older now, and wiser, and he knows the sin of society and his own. He makes a rule, and then a dozen more. He determines to find a way for himself and for others who have known his path and hopes that this will be the end of it. Debasement needs an agent, and he looks to higher floors. But he makes an excuse.
For his sins, these concessions to grace and better judgement do not give him peace. The riddle goes unanswered. Times they change and people change and he has changed but the limb remains. Same way since he knows not when, since unclothed breasts since turning page since twenty open tabs and all telling him tits and tawdry. Since teenage, since adult. Since shamed failings, awake at night and longing in defeat. Since selfish loving, loathing for the way he thinks, sees and dreams and feels. It was never the limb. It has always been.
Him, he knows more than his limb. He knows the blame is his. He knows his agency. His loves are his decision, his administration. He knows all this. And he concludes nothing. For as the heart remembers what the mind forgets, the limb does neither.
Feels good in his hand. He almost forgot. The grinning mouths and fluttered eyes. The old puppetry. The old world of his design. Then Candy, then Nikki, then… He thinks, he sees. Then limbed, unthinking, the limb and him again.
Alex Hayward is a London-based writer who specialises in novels, plays, and short fiction. He also blogs about music and culture at alexhaywardblog.wordpress.com. Follow him on twitter @alexwhayward.