Two days ago, it had just been a little itch. Blake had looked at the red spot on his left arm, declared it a spider bite and done his best to ignore it.
Yesterday morning, the itch was still there, but it was like the same amount of itch had been spread over his whole forearm, from wrist to elbow. It was hardly noticeable. If that same span of arm hadn’t been a sunburnt red, he could have ignored it. The colour, unlike the itch, had gotten deeper as it spread.
Yesterday afternoon, Simmonds, the line foreman, had come to him. Blake knew he’d attracted the man’s attention when he dropped the wrench, and he cursed. He’d been having trouble keeping up with the line, his left hand getting fumble-fingered as the itch became a tingle and ran out to the ends of his finger-tips, and he expected now to get a chewing out for slowing up production.
What he got was the spectacle of Simmonds stopping in his tracks, his eyes going wide. “The fuck you do with your arm, Blake?”
“Dunno.” This was true.
“You gotta get a doctor to look at that, man. That ain’t right.” Blake had a good look at his arm then, something he hadn’t really done since lunch. He saw Simmonds’s point. The redness was running toward purple, and the arm was definitely puffy, like part of an inflatable Popeye costume.
He nodded, and didn’t argue when Simmonds told him he was using some of his sick-time. “Go to your damn doctor,” the foreman had said, walking him to the locker room. Blake knew he was probably right, but he also knew that Simmonds was well aware of the complete bullshit that the company called “health coverage.” Instead of a doctor’s office, Blake went home. After a couple of hours spent with a succession of cool washcloths laid on the worrying appendage, he convinced himself that the swelling was going down, and that the tingle had disappeared entirely.
At three that morning, he woke up in the act of trying to turn onto his side. He couldn’t, and after a moment of sleepily wondering how a beachball had gotten into the bed, he screamed and scrabbled for the light.
His left forearm was three times the size of the right, and from the elbow down it was the colour of a plum. His hand had puffed as well, looking like a rubber glove someone had blown into, fingers splayed. He wept a little when he saw his fingers moving as he wanted them to, because he could not feel them at all. The swollen parts were not just numb, they were absent.
He pulled on his sweatpants one-handed, and after stuffing his feet into shoes he drove himself to the emergency room. He had to roll the car window down and let the puffed arm stick out, because otherwise he couldn’t see around it.
He was weeping again as he walked into the ER. Panic was chewing at him, as was awareness that he had left all his insurance papers behind, but also, there was pain at last. The jostling of running the first few steps had done something to his elbow, and he had slowed, cradling his huge arm as well as he could with other.
Part of him, an observing element that soared above the panic, commented on the strange weight of the arm. Ballooned up like that, there was an expectation of lightness, but it was not light. Nor was is as heavy as something so full of meat or water should be.
The nurse at the triage desk looked up when the doors opened. There was a moment before she registered any more than the fact of someone arriving, then she leapt up, her expression almost exactly the wide-eyed amazement worn by Simmonds the day before. She rushed to meet Blake, and reached to help support his bulging arm.
Blake wondered, as the moment spun out, if she had been too gentle, or if the nitrile gloves had somehow been too slick, or if he had let go too soon. The pain in his elbow, never more than a dull ache, merely loud because there was no other sensation around it, reached a mild crescendo. It was the noise of the skin parting that made him shout when his engorged arm fell away.
He watched it drop, shying back from it as it went, and when it landed it seemed to balance for a moment on the splayed purple hand before slowly tipping over. A few drops of something far darker than blood fell from beside the bright knob of bone sticking out the end as it rolled to and fro, trying to find a place to settle in its asymmetry. It was the sight of that bone, the realization that it was his, that started him shouting, “No! No! No!” in a chant that soon became inarticulate howls.
Later, in a bed, his stump wrapped, Blake rode on the sedatives that had helped him stop screaming. It was all very far away and seemed to have happened to someone else, a sensation he was pleased with and hoped would persist. He hardly realized he was doing anything when he reached with his right hand to scratch his right leg, just above the knee. Just a little itch.
“Inktober 2019 – Ripe” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.