Whisper to Scar

The boy thinks I've stolen his hand. He thinks I've hidden it. Locked it away in a cupboard. That's what I do with the food. I lock it away so that he can't find it. If I didn't he'd eat everything. Then he'd get fat. Fatter than he is. Thirteen years old and 300 pounds. Pale thick fat slapped around him, as if God was making a snowman, but used fat for snow.

And the smell. He can't stay clean. His body rejects itself. It sends beads of sweat racing out of his pores even though he rarely exerts himself. He's a slimy bubble of lard, with the heavy-pepper reek of obesity mayonnaise. I wish he weren't my son.

At the moment he's staring at the place where his hand used to be. Before it got infected and had to be removed. It's a gentle lobe. With a rumor of incident. It looks like a hot dog end, sewn up into itself.

I've caught him talking to it. Whispers.

"Come back out," I once heard him murmur into the folds.

But it won't come back out. I've told him it's gone.

"Where'd you put it," he'll ask.

"I didn't put it anywhere," I tell him. "It's just gone."

I never tell him the truth. That I had the doctors throw it out. They asked me if I wanted it. I suppose they would have put it in a jar. Sent it home with me in a paper bag. That way people couldn't see it. Can you imagine? Walking through the hospital with a hand floating in liquid. Children crying fearfully. Weak stomached patients vomiting onto the linoleum.

The thing rotted. The boy was with his mother. He severed his finger on a tin can of soup. Cream of asparagus. He got into the pantry when she wasn't looking. He opened up the can and ate it with his fingers. Cold. Congealed. His hand must have been too big to reach the bottom. Instead of getting a spoon he just forced it. Mashing his fingers against the tin cylinder clawing at the last remnants of green soup on the bottom. I can only imagine how he bled. The blood probably came down into the container. He probably ate that too. Drank it from the can. Making those pig sounds. Those grunts. And always giving his approval.

"It's good," he says. "It's good."

No matter what it is he's eating he always says it. Could be raw potato. Could be cottage cheese. He wouldn't know the difference.

His mother didn't find him for hours. She was probably out with her boyfriend. Huffing paint. Snorting meth. Videotaping sex acts in some basement. She's like that. A small town fiend. Shoulders that push up through her flesh. Gums receding. Pimples. Tattoos. Stringy unwashed hair, and cigarette breath. She's a waitress at a Waffle House. We've been separated for seven years.

She blames me. Blames me for her addictions. For her struggles. I remind her why we got the divorce. That always kills her.

"It was an accident."

That's her defense.

She was pushing Timmy on a swing. He bounced from the saddle. He landed on his head. Skull busted open into the gravel. She scooped the gravel up into his skull. It must have mixed up his wiring. Changed his mechanics. Because he used to be normal.

At the moment he's sitting Indian style on the floor, the fat from his abdomen cascading over his trunk-thick legs, smelling like hot-peppery-mayonnaise and whispering into the scars where his hand used to be.

His mother is in jail. For neglecting her child. For leaving him alone with a can of soup. I still don't know where she was when it happened. I've asked her. She won't tell me.

But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that she didn't clean it. She just wrapped it up in gauze. Two days later, when he came home to me, I unrolled the crusty bandage and a stench like garbage disposal poured out across my face and I began to vomit.

In court she said that she had tried to clean the wound but that the boy would not let her.

"He's so strong," she told the jury. "He wouldn't let me at it."

"Did you try notifying anybody that could help you," the District Attorney had asked in cross examination.

"I just didn't think about it," she said and started to cry.

She got 18 months and lost all split-custody privileges. The jury was probably lenient on her because of Timmy being a retard. It's not like the boy was ever going to do anything terribly productive with his hand. But hell that was her fault too. No matter what child protective services think.

Timmy sometimes asks about his mother. He's always asking for something. Food. Mommy. His hand.

I tell him she's away. I don't know if he understands or not.

My current girlfriend Jennice thinks I should take more time explaining it to him. But what good would that do?

Jennice has a retarded kid too. A girl named Kendra. She's blind, deaf and paralyzed. Sometimes she makes some noises. Sometimes she drools. Every now and then she smiles. It's kind of adorable.

Jennice is probably a better looking woman than I could normally get. I met her at a function for Timmy's school. Her husband left her shortly after Kendra was born. Most of us at the function were single parents.

Jennice has blonde hair and a smooth face. She has pretty nice tits, and a firm ass. She's real good in bed. She makes noises. She likes to move around.

But sometimes the noises she makes remind me of Kendra. The way she moans. Then I start thinking about her drooling. While I'm having sex. It's terribly distracting. It kind of makes me sick. It makes me wonder if there is something wrong with me. But don't get me wrong. I don't like thinking about Kendra. At least not that way. But the thoughts just kind of whisper around in my head. They're attached to the noises.

I doubt Jennice and I will be together too long. It's not just the Kendra thing. There are other issues. For one Jennice is always questioning how I raise Timmy. I don't question how she raises Kendra. She's always trying to get me to do all kinds of things with him, and to spend more time explaining things. She wants me to send him away to a camp every summer where he can be with other kids like him.

"They'll teach him how to work," she tells me. "They'll teach him how to function on his own."

I can't see how they could teach him much. I can't even get him to quit talking to his scar. And besides I don't tell Jennice how to raise her child. All she does is sing to Kendra, and wheel her around in her chair and wipe her drool. And yet somehow she's the better parent. Huh.

One of the guys at the garage where I work has a boy Timmy's age. The two boys were even friends before the swing-set accident. His kiddo plays basketball, and baseball and football. He's always going to games and telling me stories. He's always showing me trophies and photos of the kid in his uniforms. I think he does it just to piss me off. Bragging to me about what his kid can do. Reminding me what Timmy can't.

Two years back I bought a fishing boat. Nothing too special. Just a 15-foot all-weld. Fifteen horsepower out-board motor. Just something good enough to go out and spend time alone in. Go out. Drop line. Catch fish. But I haven't gotten many chances to take it out since the boy's mother was put in jail. Nobody takes him for the weekends anymore. It's hard to find a sitter that will watch him.

One day Jennice told me that I should take Timmy. That it's something he would enjoy. She must have argued the point well, because I took him.

We woke up early and packed an ice box. We motored out past the flats to fish the edge of the canal. It was early. It was calm. Not even the shrimpers were out.

Timmy asked his scar if it liked to fish. He was sitting with his legs dangling over the side of the boat. His feet breaking the surface of the water. The weight of his body was a strain on the ballast. The boat dove violently where he sat. I had just casted a fresh shrimp out into the canal. We were right on the ridge. Beneath us the bottom sank from three to 12 feet. I could stand off the back of the boat. But in front, where Timmy sat, was above head.

I thought about how easy it would be. Like an accident. Him falling into the water, then splashing around in circles as his left hand pulled across the surface and his nub pierced through clean.

I reeled up the slack in my line. I set my pole in a holster.

"Hey Timmy," I said.

"Yes daddy."

"That life jacket don't look too comfortable on you," I said. "Why don't you hand it here."

"Ah, sure thing daddy," he said. "Sure thing."

So with his one good hand he unlatched the jacket. It was struggle for him, but he got it off eventually. Then he handed it to me real slow and went back to staring at his scar.

"Hey, Timmy," I said.

"Yes, Daddy," he replied.

"I think I know where your hand is."

Then he got real excited, and I was also breathing real heavy. My heart was racing in my chest. Small waves were lapping across the side of the boat. I could hear birds calling out as they worked the shallow water behind us.

The boy started slapping his one hand against his nub. It was like he was clapping. The motion moved the boat. Up and down. And the boy began to kick his feet a little in the water.

"Oh where is it daddy," he said. "Where's my hand."

Then I got real quiet. I swallowed. It was hard.

I took a cigarette from my front shirt pocket. I placed it in my lips. I lit it. I took a drag.

Timmy watched all of this quietly, his face beaming with intense satisfaction.

"Look over the boat," I said and Timmy cast his gaze over the bow down into the dark green water. "It's down there in the water."

"I don't see it," he called out. "I don't see it."

"Oh, it's down there I told him," you've got to get closer. I blew smoke toward the surface. I pointed with my finger.

Timmy put his face down toward the water. He was hunched low over the side of the boat. He could see his own reflection. He was smiling real big.

He moved in closer. The boat sagged. His hands were on the edge. He was rocking gently. And then, just as he was about to take the plunge, his muscles tense against the metal frame as if to push his body forward, my line whistled out, screaming into the distance as some unseen fish had taken the hook with my fresh shrimp and gone running.

I grabbed the pole. I pulled back in one swift motion. The rod pulled down, arcing like a rainbow. It was a big fish. I could tell by the drag. Then I was standing. And Timmy was standing too. His body right next to me. Nestled against my arm. Large and soft. His stub was on my shoulder. His eyes were on the line. And as I fought the fish he kept on screaming "Daddy you got my hand, oh daddy, daddy, you got my hand."

About the author:

Brian Allen Carr is a Special Education teacher in Deep South Texas, and an MFA candidate at The University of Texas-Pan American. He was born with one kidney. He has the normal amount of everything else.