When my son had both his arms amputated, he was less anxious about the recovery and more anxious that people wouldn’t like him.
“Mom,” he said, “will people still like me?”
“I have no idea,” I told him.
He had gotten brown recluse bites on both forearms. On the left, a few inches down from his elbow. On the right, on his wrist. Only a very special boy can manage to get two brown recluse bites in the same afternoon, playing in a tame backyard. Calamine lotion did not work.
Now he has a stub of a left arm and down to the elbow of his right arm. He’s recuperating adequately.
A neighbor gave us a three-legged poodle—as though everyone expects me to knock the legs off the chairs and tables too. My son is not doing as well as the poodle, who, according to the neighbor, recovered its ability to squat and poop mere hours after waking up from its amputation.
I spoonfeed my son. Oatmeal, ice cream. He flops his stubs around uselessly in their tight white bandaging and moans.
“Shall I cut off my arms?” I say. “Anything for you, dear one.”
“Tell me about my brother,” he says.
“Oh, your brother,” I say. “A sweet child. He knew how to smile.”
My son smiles.
“Would you look at that, a smile,” I say. “You know, your brother had so many arms he was always begging us to cut some of them off,” I say. “We never did.”
“Did you leave them on to punish him?” says my son.
“Yes,” I say.
“Mom,” he says, “will you close the window?”
“What am I, your slave?” I ask, but I do it.
“Never mind, I want it open,” he says.
While I’m opening it, he says, “What happened to my brother?”
“People without arms aren’t allowed to ask that question,” I say.
“I still have arms,” says my son.
“Your brother grew very lonely because everyone hated him because he had the wrong number of arms,” I say.
“Mom,” he says.
“People hate people with the wrong number of body parts,” I say. “There’s no way to get around it.”
“Stop,” he says.
“Your brother had some run-ins with the law,” I say. “They had to call in special police forces to handcuff him, because of the unique situation with his arms.”
“I don’t believe that. Close the window,” he says.
I go to the window.
“Where’s my brother? Where’s Dad?” asks my son.
“One day, when I least expected it, they turned into brown recluses and left for the back yard,” I say, closing the window and returning to the kitchen, where my table is supplicating on the floor.
In the evening, my chief activity is picking up things I’d already flung to the floor in a rage and flinging them to the floor again.
The next day, I painkill my son and sponge-bathe him. His little trainwreck of body.
“It’s not true about my brother and dad turning into spiders,” says my son.
“Right-o,” I say. “Good one.”
“Tell me the truth,” says my son.
“You’re a great kid, everyone thinks so,” I say. “Despite your astonishing susceptibility to spider bites.”
“Do my brother and dad think so?”
“They love you more than I do,” I say. “And that’s the truth.”
And finally one quiet morning the doorbell rings. The poodle yaps. My son, prone on his arm-rail cot in the living room, does not stir.
I answer the door. “It’s your brother!” I call to my son. “Your brother!”
It’s the man with the prostheses.
“I brought these for you,” he says to my son, pointing at him with four arms.