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It’s a few days before I’m supposed to appear in court. Face a straight arrow, sipping drinks next to Dad and Jim, the man who was walking his dog when I was hit by the car.

Sometimes you don't know how or why you end up at parties. Sometimes drunk just happens.

Parties where boys don't even bother you slipping roofies because they know you'll put out in the end. In a neighbourhood where schoolbuses need special tires to drive over all the broken glass outside the junior high school nearby. Young girls want to be princesses. Difficult to build castles out of single-bedroom bachelor apartments, the kind with closet kitchenettes and no dishwasher, and princesses don't play in sandboxes where syringes and used condoms glow half-buried under the sun. Dusty treasures.

And princesses don't drink and drink and drink until the only thing left of their dignity is the vomit, like chunky Campbell's soup, on the bathroom floor.

We're sitting in a booth and my body feels like it’s sinking between the cushion’s stitches. The memories they are asking me to fabricate are misshapen and don't fit into the technicolor puzzle that's blurry but nevertheless there in my brain. Whenever I try to superimpose them on top of what really happened they taste like guilt mixed with gin. Too drunk to see the edge of the curb or distinguish between red, green, and the yellow in between, I remember stepping onto the road in time to hug the grill of a Silver Grand Am that was grumbling by. The driver was a 42 year-old dentist from suburbia driving the speed limit, in no way swerving in the manner the man and my father are discussing, coherence regressing into spit-soaked slurs.

Here, nobody is drunk because everybody is drunk and by extension inebriation is a natural state, like breathing and watching TV. My dad and the man who was walking his dog are drunk right now, and I'm sliding there, hopelessly. The man who hit me with his Grand Am wasn't drunk. FUCKING YUPPIES. My dad says this loud enough for the whole bar to hear. Someone toasts him in the background, raising a greasy hand and the dewy brown bottle it’s holding. The pub is a living, breathing, sweating organism made up of bearded pear shaped guys swathed in plaid, women in mini-skirts and push-up bras, and tall, bow-legged men in cowboy hats.

The Leafs game is on. Nobody can tell who is winning because the set hanging from the ceiling is old and reduces everything to fuzzy pixels.

*

The lawyer said that I should wear tight fighting clothes to show off my figure. He said a woman like myself, early twenties, large breasts (he said this without looking at them, which was strange but somehow reassuring), decent figure, fair complexion, full lips only slightly chapped, passable teeth, he supposed, though I should endeavor to smile with my mouth closed, he said that my body was the biggest thing I had going for me in our case.

"A pretty girl like yourself will get married to a big rich man one of these days," he said. "The more we flaunt what you've got, the more glaring what the accident took from you will be. Then we can nail the bastard."

Dad told me afterward that he doesn’t trust a professional man who’s afraid to cuss.

What the accident took from me is any feeling in my right arm from the collarbone right down my brachial vein and into my hand and wrist. As I'm sitting here my upper arm is sewed to my body at the shoulder. The doctor wasn't sure if my body would retake it. Fingers, tongues, penises - these things are smaller and require less skin grafting. Less variables. Whole appendages are a different story, the doctor said. Right now it’s in a cast with a nylon strap wrapped around my neck, the crooked elbow joint pressed to my chest to try to promote circulation.

When I hugged the Grand Am it hugged me back. Forcefully - a clean tear and break. "That's good news," the doctor said.

The lawyer disagreed. When I saw myself reflected in his eyes my body was a construct of neon green dollar signs glued together without attention to symmetry or anatomical correctness. His office smelled like leather. The whole room made of leather belts. Walls, chairs, even the lawyer: proof of just how versatile the flesh of dead cattle can be. My dad had his legs crossed, rubbing his face. Clean-shaven, until closer inspection revealed sporadic black thickets. The pungency of his after shave, cheap and bought in some washroom somewhere, made fuck with the smell of leather.

"The loss of your future is what's going to make or break it," the lawyer said bluntly, tapping his fingers on his desk. "We need to make them believe that you were going to be someone, before the accident too whatever future you might have had."

Tomorrow written off, cribnotes on the back page of my life. "She was going to be somebody," Dad said with conviction. He rocked onto his feet and stood up, pointing at me "Christ, look at that face. There wasn't a man in a ten mile radius that hasn't fallen head over heels for her!"

That should have made me feel loved, wanted, desired, but I felt nothing but the smell of leather and after shave assaulting my nostrils and the strange sense of lack hanging off of my body.

*

Right now the men are calling for another round, snapping their fingers and getting rowdy. My dad's wallet is thin and he only has a single five dollar bill with dog-eared corners peeking out. His credit card is in shambles but the waitress confiscates it nonetheless for collateral. She chews gum and winks at my dad when she sets the drinks in front of us. They haven't fucked for real, but I've heard dad tell stories. Sometimes I think she keeps quiet because it's better for business if every patron thinks they can fuck her.

Bigger tips.

Two more gins in front of me. Dull my nerves with glasses of liquid nail files, rubbing away inhibition, any desire to resist.

*

The bras I buy are cheap and warp in the dryer. I have to hang them in the bedroom to dry. Dad sleeps on the couch, but half of his things are piled next to my bed, because our place is so small. Sometimes I can hear him masturbating, watching rented porn or low-budget foreign erotica on channel 24. There are nights when I sleep on the couch and he brings someone home from the pub and fucks them. The sheets smell like him and her, some anonymous woman like mom but not quite, until I can't stand it anymore and take them down to the laundry room. It's in the basement of our building, drafty and cold. Only two ways to go when I get off the elevator: into the laundry room or out a side door into the underground parking garage.

Dad was asleep on those sheets when the EMTs called, a groaning blonde body curled up next to him. I was also unconscious, comatose under a giant oval light bulb. Latex gloves stabbed and pinched, trying to sew me back together with infinitely long lengths black twine. When I woke up a nurse was wiping my face and chest. I had vomited and hadn't even realized it. When Dad finally found his way to the hospital, he stared at me, unblinking, not saying anything, taking me in, a mangled coathanger holding up light green hospital fatigues

*

"So can we win?" Dad said. Words needle sharp, straight to it. Bored, or maybe more apathetic, I stared at the pen that the lawyer was spinning absently through his fingertips.

"Oh yes, definitely," he said, equine face suddenly animated.

"Even though she was pissed?"

There it is.

Knitting fingers, putting the pen aside, he said, "Yes, well, that might be a problem. Unless we can take the jury on sympathy..."

The word SYMPATHY drawn up my left arm, coiling around it in ivy-like strands. Both my father and the lawyer see snakes of invisible letters and numbers marked all over my body. I turn my upper torso nervously, twisting my spine with a subtle vertebral crack in an attempt to shield my arm from their line of vision. How much sympathy can one part of me buy? A hand, a wrist, forearm, shoulder? Dad asked the question for me.

"I'd say, if we're lucky, $10,000. And of course we'll need collaboration from any witnesses."

And then my dad remembered my blood staining the hair of a poodle that happened to be walking along the sidewalk at three in the morning. And its owner, smoking homerolled cigarettes.

Jim McCaskel, convenience store clerk, Leafs fan and heavy drinker.

*

"Just say you tripped and hit it against a table or something," Dad's saying. I'm outside, barely able to stand. Everything in my field of vision is soaked in gin.

The parking lot behind the pub is black. Spraypaint shadows cover walls and obscure trashcans. I don't say anything because I know what's happening is beyond spoken word, that it’s something ineffable. He’s holding me with one arm, strong, dad-like and wiry, and pulling me apart with the other. My body transforms into a tug-o-war and I scream until a hand covers my mouth.

Flayed strands like cotton candy with a hiss no louder than a whisper. I open my eyes and I'm pinning a grey sweatshirt between my shoulder and the passenger side door in the back, wedging the stump into a molded plastic groove under the fog-stained window. The car’s overworked suspension roughly grinds over every crack and asphalt aberration from here to the hospital, bouncing its metal frame under the floating globes of streetlight that scream past. Everything is quiet, almost dead except for the static reverberation crackling from the car speakers. It carries a tune for a second or two, then breaks apart.

$10,000 is heavy and bloodied on the vinyl seat beside me, ready to be converted from flesh to a more useful currency, one that can be traded for other things or slipped into your pocket. Not a loss, Dad keeps repeating, white knuckles spotted red and wrapped around the steering wheel. An opportunity. Trading one imperfection for another. I reach over and squeeze my own hand, its fingers still warm, crimson fluid trickling backwards, out of the arm and leaking onto the avocado interior. Maybe it's the shock, the loss of blood, maybe the booze, but it’s speaking a language only I can hear, in sentences that ride severed nerve endings and glide across torn ligaments. It still thinks it's a part of me, not understanding why I'm whispering goodbyes. I don't have any answers for it. The world outside speaks a different language altogether.

------
"Imperious, choleric, irascible, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change."

From his Last Will & Testament, Marquis de Sade


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Comments

The following comments are for "Body Language"
by strangedaze

Nice Body!
Smart, nasty writing, full of little things to like. The bleakly-detached observational tone of your protagonist – the kid to whom drunk ‘just happens’. Those pervasive seams of petty ambiguous morality. The way the car hugs back. That construct of dollar signs (hell, I wish I’d written that sentence!). The way you take a banality like ‘smelling of leather’ and make it insightful.

And that ending – like it or not, and I couldn’t – it hit me doing 90 on the wrong side of a slow road. (And I’m stone-sober…)

In fact, stylistically, there were startlingly few things to bug me (the words like ‘coils of ivy’ fell oddly – is this really a girl with bosky green creepers at the forefront of her mind?... and I know you can do better than ‘assaulting my nostrils’). As for the ending, I honestly can’t decide if you sold short by blowing things way out of plausible control, or whether that was exactly your intention. It does kind of work, if you’re willing to trade sympathy for sheer shock value. Either way, I like the way you finesse your stuff before posting it (at least, I hope you do!). It shows.

( Posted by: MobiusSoul [Member] On: December 1, 2005 )

Mob
Smart AND nasty - now I can definitely live with that ;)

I was never happy with the ivy coils and assaulted nostrils are kind of old.

Your thoughts on the end concern me. Yes, it's pretty sensationalist. Can the story stand without her arm being ripped off? Should it be more understated or maybe taken out altogether? Is it, gasp, TOO sensationalist, even for me?

I don't know exactly what you mean by 'finesse', but it sounds like a compliment so I'll take it. Get back to me with your thoughts, if you have ze time.

andy

( Posted by: strangedaze [Member] On: December 1, 2005 )

Gimme Five
Housekeeping first, before I forget: "We need to make them believe that you were going to be someone, before the accident TOOK whatever future you might have had."

"Christ, look at that face. There ISN'T a man in a ten mile radius that hasn't fallen head over heels for her!" This one's a judgement call, it just sounds like the "men" are in the past rather than their interest.

It wasn't clear to me that Dad was ripping the arm off until the next paragraph. But I can't figure what the benefit would be to their case. The hospital records would show that it was re-attached and then removed in another incident. Maybe I'm being too picky. I think it needs to be clear why they're doing this, maybe something the lawyers says and they misunderstand.

In general, I like this very much. The writing is great and the images are powerful. I'll throw in with the comments above though.

( Posted by: Philo [Member] On: December 3, 2005 )

Body Parts
Hi Andy This is charming. Your style of charming, any way!
First:
"Flayed strands like cotton candy with a hiss no louder than a whisper." Is that a complete sentence or is it me? I do really like the sound to these words and the envisioned riped-ness of this poor girl, though.

Second:
"I reach over and squeeze my own hand, its fingers still warm, crimson fluid trickling backwards, out of the arm and leaking onto the avocado interior." Too excellant!

I could go phrase by phrase to praise you, however, time is limited. A nice write with a surprise at every turn. Captivating. good fun!

Best at ya Andy!
Elizabeth

( Posted by: emaks [Member] On: December 3, 2005 )

De-armed and dangerous...
Hmm. Have reread and considered. True, your ending /is/ sensationalist, but I'm no longer seeing it as a copout - a Tarantino moment just for the sake of the lush blood bath. Perhaps on my first reading, you were a victim of your own success - you'd created a scenario I could believe in and care about, so I felt betrayed when it finished with such a bizarre overstatement. Now, though, I'm reading it more as a morality (amorality?) tale: 'In a world defined by dehumanising valuation and avarice, where will it end? Why should anything be sacred - even human flesh?' In this light, your ending is a clever 'So there' to emphasise the point.

Oh, and what did I mean? 'To accomplish by the use of finesse, i.e. refinement and delicacy of performance, execution, or artisanship' (Dictionary.com). You: delicacy of performance? Surely not! But artisanship, yes - the crafting of words. The careful culling of pedestrian 'he said, she said' filler. The replacement of cliché and banality with something richer. Most amateur writing (self-included!) reads like easy-listening rock when it could read like vintage Miles Davis. So it's refreshing to read someone who makes the effort to improvise.

Oh... it's 'fewer variables'. Not 'less'. Sorry - can't let Philo have all the grammar-chewing!

( Posted by: MobiusSoul [Member] On: December 3, 2005 )

Farewell to arm

Once again you harshly illuminate the murky shadows of human existence, where a lawsuit, lottery ticket, or life of crime are the only apparent means of escape, yet much of the misery is inflicted by oneself or loved ones. One might indeed 'give their right arm' (or their daughter's) or chew off a limb to free themselves from the steel jaws of squalor.

I, too was unsure if the 'tug of war' was literal or figurative until the next paragraph.

I like your unconventional descriptions. Perhaps a tired phrase or two serves to accentuate the rest in contrast.

'Grammar chewing'- 'Tight fighting clothes' made me think of a pro wrestler in spandex costume.

Setting- Canada? Some American bars are self-proclaimed 'pubs' with pretensions above the type of 'dive' I would expect here. Type of car, Leafs, and dollars suggest North America. Probably something only I would wonder about.

Great fun! thanks.

( Posted by: drsoos [Member] On: December 4, 2005 )

Arms of nuclear proportion...
Philo -

hi friend, thanks for dropping by! youre absolutely right in saying that things need to be a bit more clear, so ive added a bit based on your suggestion and the suggestions of other. always a pleasure :)

emaks -

well, i AM a charmer, after all ;) your comment makes me smile, because content aside, a lot of my pieces are self indulgent and i sometimes look at them as honing my technical writing skills, so its nice knowing that im at least doing something right. write? thanks, luv!

mob -

yeah, your original commento on the ending perturbed me. in my next draft ive made it a bit more...plausible, while still retaining, i think, the sudden jolt of 'wtf?!' im really happy that you can see the piece slightly differently to make it a better reading. you bring up an interesting point about character development, since you mention that it turned from a sympathy story into something a bit bizarro and sort of overstated. does the character development enhance the piece, or are there instances when having developed characters hinders one's reading of certain pieces? anyway, that's kind of gibberish, but fun to muse. and i can live with the word-smithing metaphor ;) cheers!

soos -

illuminating the murk and mire of human existence is definately an aim of mine, though im not particularly sure why im not more positive in my fiction, since i tend to be a pretty positive person. and the setting is Canada. ill inject more national identity into it, just for fun ;) yes, the fighting clothes are a particularly glaring, erm, 'oversight' on my part. im on it, chief ;)

thanks all!

andy

( Posted by: strangedaze [Member] On: December 4, 2005 )





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