It had been 6 months since the accident. I remember because Elizabeth was helping me sign my name in our daughter Jenny’s birthday card. Slowly she guided by hand, helping me create some legible signature rather than the scribbles of a child in kindergarten, the best that I was able to manage with such little practice. It seems that when one loses a limb, it’s quite likely to be the dominant one. For me, it was the right.
I was concentrating on my writing, trying not to make her do too much of the work when I felt it. I hadn’t noticed the phantom feeling of my elbow resting on the table beside me, by this point I had almost gotten used to it, although the pain would sometimes still wake me. It was brief, but enough to startle me and cause my hand, still holding the pen, to jump and effectively turn my name into scribbles despite my wife’s best efforts. It was gentle but cold. Too cold. Less like ice and more like the feeling of a deep cut, when the insides of a body part are suddenly exposed to the outside elements that they were never supposed to meet. When Elizabeth asked, I shrugged it off, telling her it was an unexpected pain in the hand that was convinced it was clenched, even though it didn’t exist. At the moment, I almost believed that that was what happening myself.
The next time it woke me. I was asleep on my stomach, with my phantom arm dangling off of the bed. I’ve slept like that as long as I can remember, and when I first felt it I thought that my hand had fallen asleep and causing the pins-and-needles sensation that I had often felt. When I tried to open and close my hand, I awoke, remembering in a sleepy haze that I didn’t have a hand to open, yet the cold feeling remained. This time it stayed a while, and I could make out the distinct feeling of fingers on my skin. I tried to shake my hand, but couldn’t. I pushed down with my left hand and shifted to roll over onto my back, yet the feeling remained, still as defined, and I wondered how long this invisible hand had held me. I shook my wife awake and explained, but she was convinced that it was simply a part of the process. She held me and talked to me in her cooing, comforting voice until, one by one, the fingers lifted, releasing me from the torture of the cold. Feeling it reminded me of the accident. There was a blizzard, and Elizabeth was driving. As a truck approached the car slid, she tried like hell to control it, but it seemed to have a mind of its own. I grabbed the wheel, spinning the car until it came to a stop, then the truck hit us. My arm was mostly severed at the time of impact, but my wife and daughter were fine. The feeling of blood escaping you chills you to the bone, and that was exactly what I was feeling while in this creature’s grasp.
For months it happened, with no warning or reason. The doctors said it was just the phantom limb, that it was to be expected. No one understood that something was wrong. Sometimes it would last days at a time, and those were the days when I would stay in bed, watching TV, trying not to focus on the hand around my wrist, trying not to think of the thing that was holding me. Sometimes it’s grip would loosen only to tighten again, as if the hand that didn’t exist was sore from holding my hand that didn’t exist for so long. One day, it stopped. For a month or so, nothing happened at all. I had gone from living with an unknown entity at my side every day to finally being free. We lived it up during that time. We went everywhere, from the Grand Canyon to Disney World. It had been forever since we had the opportunity to spend time as a family again, and we enjoyed every moment we had, grateful to have suffered only a small loss to our family.
We had opened the cafe again, and my wife was doing what she loved. My daughter and I were at the cafe. It was closing time. She and I sat at a table outside while Elizabeth closed the register, chatting about the upcoming middle school dance. My wife joined us and locked the doors. “Wanna come with me?” she asked, patting the bag of money in her hand awaiting deposit at the bank across the street. Jenny jumped up, eager, no doubt, to get one of the suckers from the candy dish that the bank kept at its counter. “I’ll warm up the truck,” I said, fishing my keys from my pocket. My wife nodded in approval and walked me to the truck, kissing me on the cheek through the window after I entered, and again on the glass after I rolled it up. They headed down the length of the truck and I turned to check the mirror when I saw it. A truck barreling down the road heading straight for my wife and daughter. I screamed her name and threw the door open when the hand that wasn’t there was suddenly jerked to the opposing side of the truck, holding me in place as I kicked and screamed. The kiss on the glass of the window was the last I ever got, and the hand never let go again.