THE AMPUTATIONS by Salvatore Difalco

It took time to grow accustomed to the amputations. I wasn’t permitted prosthetics, so at first I found it difficult to imagine how I’d get by without my arms. Tasks I’d normally need my hands to complete now had to be negotiated with my mouth, my forehead, or my feet. I dropped ten pounds after a month; one of the most difficult tasks, even more so than bathing and dressing, was the preparation and consumption of food. Something as simple as opening a can of beans with your mouth and feet presents insurmountable challenges. In time I learned to toss together simple, easily edible meals. As I couldn’t safely handle a knife and fork with my feet, even after hours of painstaking practice, steaks and chops and large pieces of chicken were off the table. More often than not, I prepared porridges and ground meat dishes that required little manipulation and finesse. After three or so months, I could whip together a meal in minutes, although, admittedly, not something I’d offer to anyone else, not even my neighbour Moe, who’d only recently lost his arms and was showing the telltale signs of malnourishment as he adjusted to his new life.

I ran into Moe one morning in the hallway. Bloodstained bandages still covered his shoulders; his clothes were wrinkled and filthy; misery twisted his face. Though the answer was abundantly clear, I asked how he was doing. The painkillers they prescribed are shit, he said. How the hell am I supposed to adjust with this kind of pain? He was right; initially the pain was as debilitating as the missing appendages. But that would pass in time. What wouldn’t pass was the disquieting phenomenon of phantom limbs, particularly at night. Sometimes I’d awaken from a deep sleep and rub my eyes with phantom hands—actually feeling the roughened knuckles scraping my eyelids— only to realize with horror after a moment that I had no hands. It was too early to ask Moe if he’d experienced such a thing, though I’d heard it happened to most amputees. The pain will pass eventually, I said. And you’ll get used to doing things you used to do, maybe not as well, but look at me. I’m managing. Not the best life, but it’s a life. Moe stared at me with his lidded eyes and said, I’ve thought of killing myself. Have you?

I let a moment pass before I answered the question. I didn’t want to tell him that as recently as that morning I had contemplated swallowing a bottle of Tylenol, which if taken in enough quantity will shut down your organs, and kill you, albeit slowly and painfully. My ex-brother-in-law, Duncan, tried to kill himself with Tylenol, after he lost his arms, but only managed to damage his liver. Last time I saw him his eyeballs were yellow and he said he only had months to live. That was two months ago. I have thought of killing myself, I told Moe, and he almost looked relieved. I think all the guys experience thoughts of suicide, I said, it’s understandable. Losing your arms because of a law passed by psychopaths is hard to swallow. This idea of equalization is positively evil and ridiculous. How are we supposed to be equal without our fucking arms? Moe’s chin dropped to his chest. My words weren’t helping. I tried to think of a bright side, but nothing came to mind. There was no bright side. When wiping your ass after a dump becomes a logistical nightmare, something is wrong. 

I left Moe in the hallway, struggling to unlock his door with his mouth. In time he’d learn a few teeth-saving shortcuts, or submit to his suicidal urges, something witnessed across the board since the equalization law came into effect a year ago. Not all men could adjust. Boys had it easier; they adapted quickly, learning to do everything nimbly with their feet and of course their mouths. And while prosthetics were taboo, mouth extensions were not, and the youths learned to wield a wide variety of these appendages with dexterity and panache, able to punch computer keys and handle small objects, and some masterful enough to pluck stringed instruments or paint pictures. A form of ice hockey had been invented by an armless ex-NHLer in Minnesota to replace the old game, where young players learned to stickhandle and shoot with ergonomically engineered mouth-attachments. Still in its infancy, the sport continued to iron out some kinks and install safeguards for inherent hazards, but the very effort to adapt received effusive media coverage, though some complained the sport was ugly and dangerous, and a waste of time and money that could have been spent promoting and funding worthier causes.    

Life is complicated, a given. Why complicate it further? An unanswered question. A small but overzealous lobby persuaded the world that equalization via amputation was our best way forward as a species, not pragmatically, but emotionally, for emotions are what define our humanity. Perhaps the lobby was right, after all. Gun violence has plummeted. Violence and crime on the whole is trending downward. Given all the competing arguments and counterarguments, we’re starting to adapt. I must report that even I’m adapting well—though the same can’t be said for poor old Moe, who’s become a shambling shell of himself. My wounds have all but healed, and my dark moods lighten day by day as I learn to care for myself almost as well as I did before the amputations. Granted, self-defense presented a problem. But I joined a new savate club in my neighbourhood and after repeated drilling can throw a roundhouse kick like Jean-Claude Van Damme in his heyday. While sadness and self-pity are the easy roads to take, overcoming obstacles satisfies the soul and validates one’s self-worth. Am I a gentler, more loving man because of the amputations? Is any man? That remains to be seen.

Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto. Recently completed the surreal novella THE MANNEQUINS, due out in 2023.