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My Gift: a short story
7 minute read
It was the morning of my forty-fourth birthday that I noticed it. The arms of the clock on the nightstand declared 3:30. I didn’t intend to wake up so early. What happened was that I noticed it, half-asleep, when I was trying to roll from one side to another. I laid stiff on my back. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve had some vivid dreams but this was no dream. Yet I was reluctant to believe my eyes. I shut them hard. There was no use as the thing had already engraved itself into the memory of my eyes, leaving an inevitable trace. Its outline made of light. I rubbed my eyes trying to erase it. I automatically used it to rub my eyes. The thing itself that I couldn't believe seeing was rubbing my eyes, with perfect pressure and empathy, making circles against my eyelids. This freaked me out. I gathered a scream like a ball in my chest, but it imploded there without leaving my body, reverberating soundlessly inside.
I opened my eyes. There it was, still erect, with palm facing me. Its limp fingers were shaking in the air as if trying to communicate. I thought it was trying to tell me something, maybe even ordering me to do something. But I somehow knew that it didn’t have a mind or a voice of its own, and I was comforted at that. The hand stopped shaking. I realized its frantically shaking fingers were only a consequence of my inward scream (I guess it had gone on longer than I thought). After all, that’s where it had sprung from – the centre of my chest. I accepted that it was not going away, this third arm of mine. It was still strange to call it mine or refer to it as an arm for that matter, as it was not quite the same as a left arm or a right arm. It was a limb for sure. Yes, a limb. No one could dispute that.
I drew a breath and pushed myself up. Sun was starting to shine through the window. Sitting on the edge of the bed I started looking at it more objectively. For the most part, it resembled an ordinary arm with all the ordinary parts. A bicep, tricep, elbow, wrist, but it didn’t have a shoulder – or at least there didn’t appear to be one. Whether there was a shoulder buried inside my chest or not, I had not yet decided. My third arm appeared to carry a sense of discipline, a sense of purpose even. While the neutral, resting position for normal arms is to hang by the sides with palms turned inward, this arm found rest in reaching out. Firmly, but not tensely. The palm of its hand faced the sky naturally as if it was holding an invisible ball. But it was absurd of me to assign words like discipline and purpose to it as it didn’t have a mind of its own. I could bend it and use it in any shape or way that I wanted, as long as the bone structure allowed me to.
The most fascinating part was the hand. It was a perfectly symmetrical hand. As symmetrical as a face. Imagine normal hands split into two halves – the left half of the left hand paired with the right half of the right hand. That is exactly what this hand looked like. It had six fingers: two thumbs, and two identical fingers in the middle. There was something poetic in the way two adjacent fingers matched each other’s height. They exposed a secret. In normal hands, the ring finger is the saddest. It’s awfully close to being equal to the middle finger, yet it’s not. The secret was that the ring finger was always jealous of the middle finger, and if the ring finger had one wish, it would be this, to be no shorter than the finger next to it. Strangely enough, my new arm made me see my normal arms in a new light.
Only that day when my left and right arm became mere reference points, I began to realize how alien my limbs were to me. Suddenly arms were things to take notice of, hands to be marveled at. So I did. I came to think of it as a gift. ‘Woman wakes up on the morning of her forty-fourth birthday with an extra arm,’ and I could use this arm as I desired. It was a shame I had never been good with my hands though. I don’t believe it was that I couldn’t be good with my hands, I just never wanted to. If I had a third arm from the beginning that would certainly change things. I would’ve made the perfect use of my hands. Perhaps I would’ve picked up painting or playing the piano. Would have become the world’s greatest pianist. Would woo the world with my gift... but what could I do now? Make sandwiches faster? Pick up extra tips at my day job?
I couldn’t help but be overtaken by the voice in my head going “Forty-four years! Forty-four!” How did I accept having only two arms for so long? Did I have the potential for a third arm all along? I partially felt that my body was in on this without me, choosing to leave me in the dark. When I sat on my bed leaning forward I could feel the skin on my back stretching. I fit my skin tighter than ever before. I had never been particularly observant of my body, but as you enter your forties, with every wrinkle you become more self-conscious. You become tormented. The worst was the extra skin around my elbows. But that was gone now. My third arm had used up all the extra skin. Could it be that my skin had anticipated this, making room over the years for what appears before my eyes today? Once again, my mind was clouded by thoughts and questions I couldn’t know the answers to. If it weren’t for my shadow moving from one corner of the room to the other, I wouldn’t have noticed the passing of time. Hours must’ve gone by because the shadow of my third hand was in a different corner than I had noticed it last. I stared at this shadow – there was nothing left to focus my eyes on except the silhouette of the symmetrical hand. My mind was still for a moment and then I suddenly remembered.
When I was a kid I had imagined, not only imagined but had made a drawing of a hand just like this. It was in pre-school when we would trace the outline of our hand on a piece of paper, one day with pencils, the next day with crayons, then with markers, and so on. The same activity day after day. Amusing at first, it became painfully dull after being repeated so many times. And I eventually became irritated by how similar my artwork was to that of my peers. Maybe even irritated by how regular my hands were. So one day I picked up the marker and started tracing. I stopped halfway, where the middle finger ends, and switched hands. Then I continued tracing where I had stopped. Two halves joined creating the perfectly symmetrical hand. And it didn’t stop at pre-school. If anything, it started there: obsessing over hands became a part of my childhood that I managed to forget as an adult. Maybe it was because I wasn’t good at using them. I lied when I said I never wanted to be good with my hands. I was around nine years old and could already feel that everyone my age exceeded me at doing things with their hands. Unlike me, they weren’t afraid to use their hands, even if the task was unfamiliar to them. So instead I imagined. I dreamed up tons of weird hands then.
I specifically remember this one where smaller hands, much smaller hands with complete sets of fingers, much smaller fingers, would spring out of the tips of my normal fingers. Each finger would have its own hand to use. In the summertime, me and the kids in our neighborhood, after playing some game, would run to a bush and pick blackberries. Boys always picked more than their share. I would stand there, slowly reaching for a spot and imagining all my extra fingers helping me pick more blackberries than I could ever eat. Other kids never noticed but sometimes the voices around me were reduced to a quiet hum and I was moved to this deep concentration. In this deep thing, just me and the blackberries. Then I could slowly see my fantasy manifesting itself in reality. Like an artist, I was so attached to my fantasy that I could no longer see the impossibility of it.