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The man with no hands is telling me how he held his newborn in his hands this morning. The bar is dimly-lit yet I can still see his face laced with long, shoe-string tears. He says when the infant cooed, he could feel electricity in his fingers for the first time since the blast in Afghanistan. He tells me love is the only real medicine, even the kind that isn’t necessarily reciprocated.
He orders another tumbler of scotch which the bartender puts in front of him with a straw dangling over the lip of the glass.
“I can tell you don’t believe me.”
“How do you know?”
He leans forward and lips the straw as if it is a pesky cigarette, then sucks the glass empty.
The man with no hands goes on: “My mother read tarot cards when I was a kid. Worked right from the kitchen table. She gained quite a reputation and by ten am when she opened the front door for business there were often long lines starting at our front porch and winding all the way down the sidewalk.”
“My mother said her secret was trusting that love would show up in the cards. Others let the cards do the work, let them fall where they may, but first thing my mother always did was take the client’s hand in hers, just holding it for a while until the transfer happened.”
“Aren’t you listening to me?”
I am listening to him, but he’s confusing and I’m thinking about my own mother who left us when I was five. I have three photos of her, but they are only black and white paper. I found out later she was a junkie and eventually became a prostitute in order to feed her habit. I don’t tell the man with no hands any of this.
“I’m telling you, brother,” the man with no hands says, “life is so good I can’t stand it sometimes.”
I sneak a quick glance at the stumps that end at his wrists. I feel queasy then guilty as hell for feeling that way.
I motion to the bartender for the check and when he brings it I pay for both our drinks.
“I’m not a fucking charity case,” the man with no hands says.
“Never said you were,” I say. “Good to meet you.”
I leave before he tells me his name, but just as I slip out the door I hear him shout, “Life is good and love is the reason!”
At home, my wife is where she always is, lying on the couch with a blanket pulled up to her chin. No matter if it’s ninety degrees and sunny, as it’s been the last several weeks, my wife hardly moves from the sofa.
When I kneel down beside her, she doesn’t open her eyes even though I know she heard me come in and can likely smell the alcohol on my breath.
I haven’t told her that I’ve been fired, haven’t told her about the accident last week when I got into my car drunk and totaled the thing, leaving before any police arrived. There’s only so much she can bare and up until this point I’ve always been a secret keeper.
“Hey,” I say. “Open your eyes.”
It takes a moment, but she finally relents, her lashes fluttering like moth wings. “It’s so bright out,” she says, shielding her brow with a hand.
“That’s just the moon,” I say. “It’s full tonight.”
“Can you close the drapes, please?”
I do what she asks and come back and kneel down beside her again. I take her hand in mine, moving both of them inside the blanket to her stomach where our unborn daughter was only a month ago, before the botched delivery.
I say, “I love you,” and I know I mean it this time. I say, “We’re going to get through this, all of it.” I say, “Even if you don’t believe me.”
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. His work appears widely in print and online journals and his story collection, "The Dark Sunshine" debuted from Connotation Press in 2014.