|Posted - Aug 28 2015 : 8:40PM|
The sun stared into him, blinking with him, and the skin on the walls crawled.
J.C. heard the faucet dripping, but it stopped when entered the kitchen, like a pot that refused to boil in front of him. He wanted there to be gods of small things, drips, lost trinkets, then he thought of Catholicism and stopped wanting little gods. The faucet seemed cowed. He wasn’t hungry, thirsty maybe, and pulled a prepackaged chocolate pudding from the fridge, licking clean the top before leaving it on the counter. He was getting a spoon when he saw a thumb, bloodless and severed clean at the first joint, mixed with the treat.
Setting the pudding on the counter, he stuck the spoon in, not to eat any, any more, he thought looking at the discarded foil top, but using the spoon to prod it a bit, falling back to base problem solving. He soon realized poking was getting him nothing and stopped, leaving the spoon’s weight to tilt and topple the cup, leaving him a mess of chocolate and a digit to clean up. He was glad he didn’t have a dog.
That done, thumb in the short-term purgatory of the dustbin, a morbid hunger set in. He stood with his hand on the fridge door, not opening it for so long there was nothing else to do but open it. He removed a pudding, eyeing the seal closely, holding it to the light to inspect its contents. Satisfied of soundness, he peeled off the lid.
He laughed, not at the thumb, but at how it sat upright, like the pudding was hitchhiking.
He held the cup to the light again, seeing the knobby white knuckle at the bottom. The first thumb, though implausible, could be explained – a tragic if bewildering accident with a mixer or conveyor belt, maybe, but this pudding cup he had checked thoroughly and was thumbless before he peeled off the lid. His understanding of quantum mechanics was scattered, but he didn’t see entanglement or probabilistic states describing events on a macro, pudding cup scale.
It was a few moments before he decided it was better off on ice and put it the freezer. After a tick, he got the dustbin, dustbunnies thumb and all, and put that in the freezer, too. He opened the fridge, looked at the four remaining puddings, and put them all in, too, and he dragged over a chair from the kitchen table and propped it against the door. He felt silly doing it – was he afraid the thumbs would get out and start pointing at things? Still, he didn’t move the chair back.
He wanted, a little bit, to call his brother Mark, but mostly he didn’t want that at all. He walked between paperbacks scattered on the floor, picking up one and putting it down, finding his place in another, checking the length of ensuing chapter, and setting it back aside.
How could someone lose both their thumbs into foodstuffs without a massive recall? Surely, it wasn’t that there weren’t two separate accidents, each removing a thumb which was then packaged for sale, and even if that somehow were the case, wouldn’t that be all the more troubling? What sort of Sinclair Lewis nightmare pudding factory would such a scenario require? Sure, he could imagine lamentable creatures, plucked from their noble jungles by a glint-eyed robber baron in monocle and blue tails to slave on the pudding lines, sleeping and giving birth on the factory floor, cowed into hiding their thumbless hands before admitting to despoiling the master’s wares, but imagining it did not make it likely.
But what was the most reasonable way to explain the thumbs in the pudding? It was at this point in his surmisses he wished he knew more synonyms for the two recurrent nouns, as the constant repetition annoyed him. The generalities “digits” and “dessert” were fine, but after that he just listed other words for dessert for awhile. “Snack.” “Treat.” “Custard,” but then thought better of it. A thumb wasn’t a finger, strictly speaking, and he wasn’t sure he knew any other words for “finger” even if he allowed the loose usage.
Language is funny.
He felt a need to look up thumb in the thesaurus. It suggested “phalange,” not immediately useful but a fun word he committed to memory, anyway. Also, “claw,” “antennae,” “tentacle,” and “feeler,” all of which he enjoyed. “Tactile member.”
The suggestions for the verb form caught his eye. To thumb, to accost, to feel out, to beseech, ply, or fumble or grope. To poke.
There wasn’t as much for “pudding.” Tapioca, custard – why were they such unappetizing words? Sweetmeats. Last course.
If he was trying to distract himself from the pointing confectionary in the ice box, he was doing a poor job of it, and reasoned whiskey may serve better.
Now in his cups, he wondered about calling the wholesaler and asking, in a round-about way, after workplace conditions, federal inspections and the like.
So when his phone rang, he eyed it with suspicion, which doubled when he saw Mark’s name came up on the ID. Most of him still didn’t want to talk to his brother, but he called back.
“Hey, I was leaving you a voicemail.”
“Yeah. I missed your call.” He hated his brother for making him say such stupid things.
“Yeah, so what’s up?”
“Nothing much. Hey, who’s responsible for health checks? At like supermarkets and stuff? Is it the FDA?”
“I dunno. Isn’t it the state health department?”
“Yeah, that sounds right. Thanks. What’s up with you?”
“Not much. I started the new job this week.”
“Yeah, I was going to call you. How’s it going?”
“It’s good. The hours-“ He continued and J.C. got the whiskey bottle from the other side of the room, and when he got back to the phone, his brother was still talking about his job, so he got ice.
When he got back this time the line was quiet and J.C. wondered how long the silence had been hanging and if Mark had heard the ice machine.
“Sorry, I’m making dinner.”
“Yeah. So what are you doing with yourself these days?”
J.C. found the whole basis of the question pejorative.
“A lot. Reading. Would you ever use the word “feeler” in place of “finger?”
“I won’t say no never. Maybe if I’m having a stroke say, the onset of brain death.”
J.C. didn’t want to talk about any personal things, so he began describing a short story he read recently, sketching vaguely at points but with vivid in circumstance, relating passages in near quotation. Where the plot begged a final twist, it ended instead in vague anticlimax, the feature which impressed J.C. most, and he felt it impressing on Mark it in silence hanging between them.
“So he was crazy. It didn’t happened.”
“He was crazy, so who knows what happened,” J.C. corrected.
Mark asked for the author and title again, pretending he’d read it, and soon hurried off the phone. J.C. felt he’d navigated the conversation well, providing no real personal information.
He soon realized there was an important aspect of the story he had neglected to mention. Knowing his brother would never read it and feeling duty to the author to email Mark, he elucidated the point more fully, providing helpful links.
That done, he felt a sort of forward momentum pushing him to the kitchen. He moved the chair, sat, opened the freezer, looking at the chicken breasts and homefries. He picked up the bag of French fries before casually pulling out the four unopened puddings and closed the freezer, as if he had to sneak up on pudding. He still hadn’t looked at them when he closed the freezer door and sat them on the counter, eye-level in front of him. He sat and didn’t think about chocolate.
Ol’ Grippy, he named the thumb in the dustpan, then. And Pointer.
What if they were both rights or both lefts? Could he even tell if he tried? He pictured his thumbs, sans hands, and he couldn’t say for sure which one went where.
He realized he successfully wasn’t thinking pudding – he was thinking about thumbs, a poor trade and he lost the pudding game in the realizing. No use throwing good money after bad.
He pulled a pudding cup free.
There were six, so it was like throwing dice, probabilities. Of all things that could be, what are the odds of a pudding thumb? Slim indeed. Two pudding thumbs in a row? Miniscule. Exponentially more remote. But the odds of him, sequentially, opening three seemingly normal packages of an item available at any grocery store to discover each contained within in it a severed human thumb?
No, sir, he thought, softly shaking the homogeneous comfit. It was pudding, inspecting the light through the brown mucus inside for the now half-expected phalanx. He shook it again, for luck maybe, and looked away as he pulled off the top.
It didn’t seem heavier, right? He tried to gauge its balance before looking.
“God Damn It” and he threw the pudding cup against a cupboard. Chocolate slopped and the thumb fell thump dully.
Someone was playing a joke on him. But where would they be getting all the thumbs? He stomped from the room.
Stinker. That one was Stinker. He wished he has dish gloves. He used a paper towel to drop Stinker with Pointer and Ol’ Grippy. He sat on the floor, resolving not to clean up the pudding, and cried for a bit.
It took hours for the sun to go, and the browns of evening began hiding things under creeping haze.
J.C. had sat and planted himself in chocolate for the last time, removing his clothes to sop up the mess. He dropped them in the wash, toweled himself clean, and sat on the kitchen floor in his underpants, facing the fridge but not really looking at it.
He thought about making little doll clothes for the thumbs. Top Hats and a bonnet for Ol’ Gripper, somehow the most feminine. Adorable little bow ties and parasols. It was a joke, not a plan, an attempt to get his spirits up. They could go to the theatre, a shoe box with curtains, and see My American Cousin with a bearded Abe Lincoln thumb, the already tragic visage of Mary Thumb beside.
It wasn’t really as funny as he’d hoped. He couldn’t think of a funnier play for them to see.
He didn’t remember picking up the next pudding cup, but he had been holding it awhile, no longer cool. He thought he was going to sip his drink and looked to his hand puzzled. He was a comedy of errors, he thought as he picked up the whiskey ginger with the other hand. He remembered he forgot to start the wash, so his clothes were congealing in chocolate goo.
He sat a long time. Browns gave way to light in darkness.
Little Rudy Valley thumb crooners with their old-timey megaphones taped in place.
Two propped against movie poster. A Halloween costume – glue three thumbs to a pole and call yourself the ambivalent hitchhiker.
He studied the pudding and opened one corner, so the lid curled up a bit and he could a sorta mime bit with it.
“So what should I call you?”
It was his own answer, J.C. knew, another free association, a half-gag call back to Lincoln, but he didn’t like it.
“I think you’re a smart-assed custard.”
“I’m a thumb.”
It was. A ladies thumb, painted, but it was dubbed Major Seward all the same, J.C. having conflated the former Secretary of State with an officer who pursed Booth, a fact noted without prejudice to merely preclude the obvious objection on the part of the reader.
Mark knew his brother screened his calls, but it had been a week and Mark didn’t really trust his brother when he was ducking him for that long. He knew J.C. would bristle, rant a bit, when he knocked on his door, but Mark had brought Spike, and J.C.’s heart melted every time he saw the little mutt.
But J.C. seemed calm, distant. He invited his brother in, not even acknowledging the dog. He’d been meaning to call, of course, but his phone had died. It was dark inside, for afternoon, mungie. Dank is the word. Mark tried to walk further in but the floor was a labrynth of knee high book stacks, trash bags, bottles, and unwashed – he stopped himself from listing the things that ought be washed. J.C. moved deftly into the kitchen, but Mark couldn’t see a path to the couch. He focused on keeping Spike from eating paper clips. J.C. snaked back with two drinks, hip checking aside one of the larger formations and gesturing a way to the sofa.
“What’s the city pay you to dump here?” and nodded a fake thanks for the drink.
“Yes, it’s funny.” And it wasn’t, anymore.
“How are ya, Jay?”
He chewed it over for a bit, and Mark waited for his brother to meet his eyes. He wanted to say something when J.C. left the room, but in that moment before his brother came back, Mark was relieved.
But J.C. wordlessly, solemnly put a pudding cup on the table between them.
“Please open this for me.”
“Sure, Jay, but-“
“I’m sorry, I’ll explain but please first, I need you to open this.” His eyes pleaded, then Mark saw mania there. What was happening in him?
“Should I get a spoon?”
With his eyes then his hands J.C. searched the lid and cup, fingering out pudding onto the carpet and mashing at it.
His brother broke, on his knees, or the room broke from him. When he looked at Mark, neither man knew the other.
Mark didn’t hear Spike, but reacted first, moved ahead of the moment, feeling the tug on the string as the echo reacts, time wonking, effects-causing, only thing real being that Spike would choke any moment now, the next one, and the books stacked themselves and tumbled, time a wanging yo-yo, and J.C. couldn’t stop him, entranced by the pudding crawling to its home, sneezing itself into the container and righting, the carpet clean, or cleaner.
And of course, caught in Spike’s throat was Abe Lincoln, the thumb, but Mark focused on saving his dog, not seeing until the obstruction was cleared the little beard, the human digit, the tiny coat and tails.
When he saw the shoe box Ford’s theatre with beer cozy booths, Mark had to admire the craftsmanship, and J.C. proudly pointed to the more finely wrought and minor details his brother might have missed. It was rare, Mark thought, to see J.C. so proud, and Mark fawned appropriately, not having the heart to point out to his brother the Seward thumb ought be miles aways.
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