Welcome to week 3 of Pocket Finger, a collection of seven illustrated stories created by Ryan Call and Christy Call. Each piece was composed in alternating turns: Christy drew an image, Ryan wrote a text, Christy drew an image, Ryan wrote a text, and so on.
A new story will be released for free every week, or you can purchase a print version at PublishingGenius.com.
How and why my friend removed from his head his left eye I could never discover, though I tried—as often as I felt our meetings permitted me—to get the story from him straight. He only yielded to me that its expulsion—the eye’s, of course—was an unpleasant but necessary affair that he had forced handily upon himself for mysterious reasons concerning his decency and a certain other woman’s honor. Despite his being a man willing to talk at great length about politics, violence, and exotic cuisine, his reticence on the subject of his gone eye struck me as extraordinary. My friend refused, furthermore, to allow me a glimpse beneath his patch, for which I now cannot blame him given my own blind state.
For how could one fall so low as to let another man gaze into one’s own failed socket?
And so I was left to my own talents, I suppose, to imagine for myself the nature of his eye’s ruin. Had his insatiable desire for physical intimacy sent him towards some unattainable woman, one who had driven him, then, to punish his own body as a consequence of his seeking beyond his humble reach? Had he enraged some jealous other lover and in turn settled accounts against his own offending eye? Had some workplace accident, a whipping cargo cable or an out-of-control forklift, really destroyed the orb, and he only meant to make exotic his own loss?
Fortunately, I can still picture him in my mind: his bald head, the pinched way his face came to a point, the simple patch he wore, his uncertain and lopsided ears, the stubble upon his chin. Most days now I imagine for his lost eye all manner of origin stories. I really have very little in the way of entertainment, given my own visciously consequential blindness, so it is sensible that I might retreat into my imagination bit by bit, and what better way to accomplish my escape than to imagine this violence onto another’s face. Certainly, I ought to explain to you that this story, really, the story you read before you, is now more about me than it is about my half-blind friend; however, as with all stories, it must have a beginning.
My friend is the beginning.
My friend was born with both eyes, and I one.
A disorder, the doctor explained to my father, due to a genetic error.
An error in my mother’s disposition, I later suspected.
I suppose I could give you a lot more about my own background, especially as I now have plenty of time to myself here in the ward. While my friend had back then a certain reticence about his own half-blindness, I to this day share no qualms about revealing the source of my own. You’ll have to be patient with me, for in my exhaustion I can only dictate so much into the microphone by my hospital bed, a simple and clean bed in which I intend to pass many more days until I can become used to this newly sightless existence into which I have suddenly plunged.
For while I was born with only one eye, I have recently lost the other.
And this loss has filled me with unmistakable dread.
You see, I have long considered myself to be a calm and quiet sort of person, an individual who preferred to reside on the outskirts of town, to move about the lonely walls of a solitary room rather than through its crowded center, who in all of his actions previously attempted to negate his own missing eye, its own patch, and the attention it all unnecessarily drew upon him.
And so, for this project, I sought help.
I met my friend at an anonymous gathering of men who had all of us lost our eyes, either one or both of them. He presented himself to the group as fairly knowledgeable on the subject of all sources of blindness, both complete and partial, for he had stored within his memory every word he had read about our various conditions, and so our little group soon considered him a leader and a confidante. He seemed to understand exactly our predicaments, and so we had over several months shared with him how each loss had affected us, a series of therapeutic testimonies. He claimed to never forget a word we said during those sessions, and I now realize that, perhaps, this little talent of his fully blinded me.
One night, I revealed to him that I despised my mother.
I had not spoken aloud such a phrase, though I had approached it uncertainly in my harried thoughts, especially during those nights I could not sleep in my small, dirty apartment outside of town.
Honestly, my revelation to him surprised even me.
Shortly after I shared with him my hatred for my mother, he greeted me one evening at the door of my apartment, keys in one hand and fifth of whiskey in the other, and soon he had encouraged me into his car with promises of health and healing. He drove through the fading light as we took turns drinking from the bottle, and by nightfall we had arrived at a rundown and weather-beaten storage facility, some nearly bankrupt company that employed him on the other side of town. Soon we stood in the gravel lot, he and I, and we looked at each other in the blurry light of the security lamp hanging crookedly off the side of the building. The car engine ticked lazily in the heat of that summer night, and the headlamps illuminated the bulky grey shape of a dumpster by the chain-linked fence near the end of the lot. Beyond the fence lay more rundown commercial real estate, and in the distance we could see the brightly lit hospital where I had been born, and where I now rest as I record for you this story.
Do you want to see something neat, he said.
You drove me out here to see something neat, I said.
It’ll only take a minute, he said.
Really, I’ve got to piss and I need to sleep, I said.
It’s the story of my eye, he said.
He grabbed my collar and pulled me towards the dumpster, but I twisted away from him, unzipped my shorts, and urinated into a pothole behind the car. After I finished up, I staggered in the direction the headlamps pointed and found him crouching behind the dumpster, the moon shining suddenly upon him. He quickly beckoned for me to join him.
He was crouched down, digging into the gravel and mud with his hands.
It lives here, he said.
I drank and set the nearly empty bottle by my feet.
He pointed down into the shallow muddy pit he had dug and there I saw a severed arm, dirt caked upon it, a deep wound cut down its middle, and a bloodless stump at one end. It appeared to have all of its fingers, which I thought was an incredibly important detail to keep in mind.
It’s an arm, I said.
Yep, that there is an arm, he said.
I leaned down and threw up into my hands. The vomit pooled in my palms and ran out between my fingers. He reached up and rubbed my back to comfort me. Together we gazed into the shallow pit and listened to the rain plinking against the bottle, falling into the puddles, scattering across the gravel around us.
Heat lightning flashed in the sky beyond the hospital.
I realized then as we stared at this arm that I knew very little about my friend and the kind of life he had lived before urging himself up against my own. I knew nothing of his half-blindness, though he knew everything about mine. I knew nothing about how he made a living, nor did I much know about his family, his habits and tastes, his whereabouts in this odd world. To this man I had given much of myself, and he had returned very little.
And yet here he was offering to help me.
He reached slowly into the pit and removed the arm, and I thought it odd that he held it by its stump.
I would have held it by its hand.
Or at least its wrist.
You don’t hold it by its hand, he said.
It gets angry if you hold its hand, he said.
I looked at the arm. It seemed like any old severed arm you would find sitting around, I mean, if you were in the habit of discovering severed arms about the place: pale, bloodless, dirty, almost downright natural in this odd context. Dirt clung beneath the fingernails, streaked in the folds of skin at the elbow, clumped up at the stump. I felt sick again.
I found it a several weeks ago, he said.
And you didn’t called the police, I said.
No, he said.
The arm said I couldn’t call the police, he said.
I looked at him.
It only talks to me, he said.
I’m done here, I said.
I pushed my hands on my knees to stand up, but he grabbed my neck and pulled me roughly down into the mud. We lay there together in the mud, rain now stinging our skin, soaking our hair, running down our faces.
The arm doesn’t want you to leave, he said.
Get away from me, I said.
No, don’t stand up, he said.
Whatever you do, don’t stand up, he said.
Please don’t stand up, he said.
I stopped. Something about how he said those words made me reconsider my decision. Okay, I thought. I can wait here to see what’s going on. I can sit here and wait this one out, I thought. Then tomorrow, I’ll stop drinking, and I’ll get serious help, and everything will be fine. I say this to you so that you understand that I truly believed, even then as I crouched in the rain with this severed limb, that I might still escape my fate. I say all of this to somehow justify to you my actions, and to put into perspective the rest of the story, to set down for you just what exactly you can think so as to prepare yourself for this next part. For, from this point forward, you will not at all believe what I tell you, but I must tell it to you straight. I cannot not tell it to you, for to keep silent would send me deep into certain madness. Of course, I do not care if you do not believe me, and yet I do care. Your believing makes my story all the more legitimate, makes what I’m about to tell you all the more real, and reminds me that I have much in my life that I have yet to escape. So please know that I tell you the truth when I speak these remaining lines to you.
You see, the arm moved towards me then.
Jesus, I said. Don’t fuck with me.
I’m not fucking with you, he said.
Nor I you, dear reader.
The arm moved again, a slight jerking motion as its fingers contracted and pulled it once through the mud towards my face. My friend held my neck tightly, would not let me move away.
It wants money, he whispered into my ear.
Do you have any money, he said.
No, I said.
He squeezed tighter, his fingers digging into the skin of my throat.
You have money, he said.
Yes I do, I said.
He took my money and held it up in the light. I had given him, to my dismay, a couple tens and a twenty. All I had in my wallet, it seemed, which meant I’d have to forgo my nightly stop at the corner store.
This’ll work, he said.
The arm will help you if you give it money, he explained matter-of-factly.
I could not help but think that I had somehow entered some other world. I watched as he held up the money and crumpled it together into his fist as if to test its resiliency. Then he leaned over and held the arm down and slowly inserted each bill into the wound along its fore length.
Now you make a wish, he said.
Just any wish, I said.
What other fucking kind of wish, he said.
Okay, I said.
I made a wish.
I made a wish, I said.
Now you wait, he said.
What, I said.
We go back, he said.
Fuck you, man, I said.
We go home, he said.
Okay, I said.
So he dropped me off at home.
I didn’t bother to watch his car pull away into the night. Instead, I turned and stumbled towards my building, climbed the flight of stairs, and jangled my keys in the hallway outside my door to find the right one.
I could never find the right one.
Everything smelled like trash in my apartment: my clothes, the carpet, my furniture, the bags of trash I had set out in the kitchen. I stripped off my shirt and pants as I went inside. I thought I’d take a bath to clear my head, as I was still really drunk. I could not remove from my mind the image of the bloodless arm out there in the rain, its hand clenching into a fist and then unclenching to reveal its foamy skin. I half thought I’d imagined everything, the drive out there, the arm in the muddy hole, my friend pushing me angrily towards the car. I poured the last of the whiskey into a glass and padded to the bathroom in my socks and underwear. I vaguely thought about the arm, his frantic insistence that it could help me, and the wishes it granted.
There standing in the bathroom, her back to me, was the figure of my mother.
Or what I believed at the time was my mother.
I thought certainly this was my mother for the image echoed a memory I had held in my mind from childhood, a memory of my mother standing naked in the bathroom, drying her hair out as I, a small toddler, stood behind her in the bathtub.
She had a small towel looped about her waist, and just above it, I saw several slash marks, bleedy and scabbed, as though some fiend had grabbed her there to twist her around, to own her, to keep her, leaving on her skin dark bruises that marked her for its own.
Mom, I said.
She touched her hair.
What are you doing here, I said.
I had not seen my mother since she had left our family when I was a young child. Unfortunately, she had always considered me to be an error as little as I had known her, and she had treated me as such: of course, she took care of me, she nursed me, she fed me, she bathed and aided me; however, in all of her actions not once did I find a trace of fondness, of love, of affection. No, instead, I was a constant reminder that she had failed, that her body in some way had failed to produce a fully functional offspring, a complete son, and despite my father’s protestations, this perspective influenced how she mothered me. It prevented her from fully bonding with me, her child. As a result, she and my father separated, and I lived with him until I could finally fend for myself.
My father had discovered her unconscious, huddled on the floor of the kitchen, the bloody knife she had used on her eyes beside her, a note of apology pinned to the front of her shirt.
So you can imagine my surprise to find her standing in my bathroom.
Please, Mom, I said.
She finally turned around, and I started back at the sight of her, for she had aged dramatically, and her face had become a gray sort of moon, pockmarked and cratered, dead-seeming, and she had a void of a mouth beneath her cheeks, sunken nostrils above her lips, and then above those the awful twins of her eye sockets, two obliterated holes in the face of her head, out of which stared nothing.
She fixed me with her empty gaze.
She had, it seemed, showered for some reason, but despite this, I smelled her body, a faint ancient sort of scent, the stink of burnt hair and days old sweat, a kind of sulfuric odor too that burned my nose, and her breath, a rotten sort of breath that ran over me when she spoke.
Son, I have had visions, she said, of so many distant lands and peoples and events in my own complete eyelessness, wonderful visions that charmed me for many years since I left you. You’ll understand soon enough that blindness brings with it a kind of clarity, you see, that many others who live now will never understand or experience, she said. As she spoke, she moved about the bathroom, touching the fixture above the sink, easily folding up her towel, dressing herself before me. I marveled at how gracefully she carried herself in her blindness. She seemed to sense exactly every detail of her surroundings. As she moved, her head remained steady, upright.
In blindness, she continued, now approaching me, the constant darkness actually contains its own entirety, a sort of life and existence that has become sharpened into a pointed sort of light, one free of the distractions of seeing. In blindness, I have learned that one can remake oneself, find a certain wholesomeness in that other world. It is what I have now done, and it is what I hope you too can do, she said.
I must now offer you that experience, she said.
You are, after all, she said, halfway there, while I must return.
I’ve often wondered what about your creation made you half-blind, she said. And I now realize that it was the hint that I needed in order to fulfill my final duties to you as your mother. Of course, I took quite so long to come around to this understanding, so you’ll need to forgive my tardiness here. I only mean to make up for all that you and I have missed together, she said.
She reached for me, then, and I made to avoid her grasp, but in my movement, I slipped on the wet of the bathroom floor and fell as my drink shattered beside me, sending liquor, ice, and glass across the tile. I struck my head on the side of the bathroom sink, and I last remember before I collapsed into unconsciousness, my mother leaning over me, a sickle of sharp broken glass glinting in her hand as she grasped my face.
And now I sit in my hospital bed, blinded, still grieving the memory of my own blood puddled around me, the crunchy sense of the bits of glass everywhere.
I know not for how long I lay on the bathroom floor unconscious, but when I awoke, my mother, as far as I could tell, had long since departed, and in her wake she left an intense pain coursing throughout my skull, emanating from my now-empty eye socket. The pain seemed to throb and thrum into my ears, and I remember that between its pulsing and the beating of my heart, I thought I could hear slight scuffles of activity in the bedroom adjacent, and those soundings terrified me in my newfound darkness, for whatever creatures attached to those sounds, I knew then, would forever remain unknown to me.