Photo Bobby Doherty
That autumn, Charlie Theopolis and his wife Wendy Kim had both turned thirty-three and, quietly, they entered a new phase in their lives, one in which they both grew sick of everything—their apartment, their jobs, their clothes, each other. They blamed the city for their sickness: the stink of the subway, the gum on their shoes, the exorbitant cost of preschool and good produce, the germ-soaked vapors shimmering off the filthy sidewalks, and the fact that their dog had no good place to defecate. Charlie swore that he was starting to lose his hair because of the city. Wendy could not sleep and suffered from constant heartburn if she ate dinner after five o’clock. Their son Wilson, aged two, had developed a dairy allergy and a fear of sirens, and he woke up many times a night, shouting and crying over a passing ambulance or an errant car alarm. Even Lucky the Dog seemed afflicted. He had a dry, flaky coat and a bad hip. They were spending a fortune on things to keep them all sane—Pilates and vet bills and homeopathic remedies— and still, sadness, restlessness, aching, loss, these things grew around them and between them like nettles. They walked a great deal; they even learned to eat dinner out of to-go cartons while walking. They walked from their apartment on the Upper West Side all the way downtown and back, or they ambled aimlessly through Central Park all afternoon. This was largely because Wilson would only nap in a moving stroller. As they walked, they talked about work, allowing work to keep their conversations meaningful and grown-up, but then there was suddenly no work.
So, finally, they focused on the leaves on the trees, so brilliant, so golden, and then the leaves started to fall.
And then in the middle of November—jobless, the trees bare—a howling autumn cold front descended on the city and Charlie woke up gasping in the middle of the night—not unusual—and found that he was missing his left hand.
He had staggered out of bed to piss and get some Midols from his toiletry bag. They were for PMS, he knew, but they were also the best cure for a hangover and he always carried some in his shaving kit. It was creeping towards dawn and he felt like hell. He stumbled to the bathroom; a pain in his left hand starting to throb. He flipped on the light with his right hand, and reached for the cabinet with his left.
He jumped, opened his mouth to shout, but let out no sound. He stared at his empty wrist and blinked hard three or four times. The hand was gone. No blood, not much pain, just a fleshy stump at the end of his arm.
He wanted to scream, but he didn’t want to wake up Wendy. Not yet. It must have been the drugs, he thought. Just some bad weed. He’d only had a couple of hits of it, hours ago, but he was clearly hallucinating. He shut his eyes as long as he could stand it and then opened them, slowly. He let his head gradually move down and looked up again at his left arm. Handless. Motherfucker.
He sat down on the cold bathroom tile, bare-assed, and tried to think. If he was hallucinating, he had to figure out a way to stop. Maybe he should get up and make some coffee, quietly, in the dark, and try to jolt himself from this scene. But he’d never made coffee with one hand before. Wendy had turned the coffee operation into a series of complex procedures that included grinding beans, boiling water, folding paper, and a large glass beaker. She went around terrified of having to drink shitty drip coffee. He’d have to grind the beans, use the Chemex. He’d wake Wendy up for sure. Just the smell of coffee brewing would probably wake her. He’d only been asleep for an hour, give or take, and so, what was it, four in the morning?