Image by Christine Renney
This story has been published previously in the journal ‘Yellow Mama’ – my thanks to Editor, Cindy Rosmus.
A chain link fence runs along the back of the terraced houses and the posts have been pulled across the path. Taking giant steps, the boy walks on the green plastic mesh. Avoiding garden refuse and a rusty bicycle frame, he reaches the gap between the garages on his right. He leaps clear of the web and stumbles onto the ground. Flies rise in his face but he stays down and, collecting himself, he crawls forward on all fours.
Keeping to the centre of the narrow cut, he pushes an old Coke can in front of him. A little of the drink spills onto the dirt. Flies buzz around the sweet and sticky droplets and he notices now the swarm, a little to his left, close to the wall. He stands and peers down but it is impossible to see through the flies. He unzips and urinates, clearing them with his stream. It is a finger. He steps back, splashing onto his trainers. A severed finger.
He sees how it was done. Where the hand was held against the wall and where the blade has scarred the bricks. He notices too the gouged area, where the flies are concentrated, and that the congealed blood tapers until it is just a stain on the wall where it has run.
He knows that he really should leave, get away. It seems like the sensible thing to do, the only thing to do. But he doesn’t move. He stays put. He is rooted to the spot. He looks down but the ground under his feet tells nothing of what has happened here. There are no footprints, no scuff marks and no trampled grass.
The flies are working on the blood, it won’t last long. It will soon be just a stain and then not even that. He glances again at the finger. It seems to him like something you could buy in a joke shop, like something he would buy.
Head down, he scans the rubbish gathered at the edges on either side of the cut but he doesn’t find what he is looking for. He needs a cigarette packet, an empty packet, a discarded packet and it seems to him unfeasible that there isn’t one.
He reaches the end but isn’t ready to step out into the open, not yet. And so he starts back, slowly now, kicking through the cans and the sweet wrappers. He must use something from here or try somewhere else.
He grasps a red and green shiny paper sheath and the stick from an ice lolly. He uses this to coax the finger into the bag, folds to seal and carefully tucks the package into his pocket.
He hasn’t looked at it yet, hasn’t even so much as taken a peek. It is still wrapped in the waxy paper and stowed in his pocket. Resisting the urge to run, he walks away from the cut and once clear wanders aimlessly. For hours he meanders back and forth, eventually making his way home where he slips unseen into the garage and then buries the package in the chest freezer under the pizzas and the pies.
He still hasn’t found the ideal container for the severed finger which is slightly shorter than a cigarette and certainly shorter than the brand his mum smokes and he scans the ground for empty king size packets, any of which will do. He will pull out the silver foil and it will easily slot into place, he is sure of this.
When he removed the finger from the freezer it had been almost perfect. He had been able to feel it through its tiny sheath, tracing with his own fingers, from the nail to the knuckle and a little lower where the knife had hacked its way through flesh and bone. Now he can feel it melting, the wet patch spreading and he can feel it pressing against his thigh. He doesn’t have much time – he needs to find a box, a container, something and make the transfer.
There is a bus stop ahead and he can see quite clearly that the bin beside the shelter is overstuffed. Reaching it he begins to rifle through it, the litter spilling over the sides. A woman who is waiting at the stop is about to say something but the boy glares at her and she changes her mind. Shaking her head she turns away. At last he has it, a king size packet and it is his mum’s brand. Chuckling, he kicks at the trash, spreading it all over the pavement. Head down he walks past the others standing in the shelter. He can hear them grumbling but he doesn’t look back. Thrusting his hand into his pocket he pokes at the finger and it feels weirdly soft and almost spongy. He now needs to find a place where, unhindered, he can peel away the paper and take a proper look at it.
Dragging his hand along the brick wall he studies the pavement but, at regular intervals, he jerks his head upward and glares at the sky. He sees some kids from his school up ahead and he hops up and over the wall on his right and slides down the bank. He runs on the level grass in front of the boarded windows to the ground floor flats and he wonders if the block is empty, uninhabited. He pulls at the entrance door but it doesn’t give. He tries the trade button but still no luck. Pressing his face against the wired glass he peers in – it is dark, a murky little scene. Someone has scrawled on the walls with a black marker but he can’t read it, not from where he is standing in the glaring sunlight.
Stepping back he hears the kids from school again on the road above. He ducks down at the side of the communal waste bin and sitting he leans back against the hot metal. He could do it here but the boy can’t help but crave for the cool of the foyer where he could huddle under the stairs and take his time. At last he hears the main door open and as he leaps up an old woman appears. She pushes the door and, taking hold of it, he waits for her. She stands on the threshold, uncertain and seemingly unaware that he is there. He could step around her but doesn’t. He leans back against the heavy aluminium door and at last she slowly makes her way up the steps, toward the road.
He fishes the finger from his pocket, peels away the soggy paper, dropping the cigarette packet, and there it is, in the palm of his hand. Like a metal cylinder, it is corroding. Already, it is much the worse for wear.
The old woman is stalled again, at the pavement’s edge. He watches her as she manages not to topple and closes his hand, holding decay in the hollow of his fist.