When the first finger fell off Jane’s hand, she attributed the loss to old age. People lost plenty with time (their hearing, their temper, their minds) so why not a pinkie—and when her middle finger fell off soon after, Jane thought, well, why not two fingers? On the day that she lost her ring finger—the one with Olly’s diamond, pink and round—she began to think something was wrong. By then, the skin around her shoulder had loosened, and her arm dangled as if dislocated; the limb was steadily detaching itself from her body, taking the bone, the blood. Everything.
In her right hand, which was still intact, Jane grasped her phone and called her doctor. Not her medical doctor; her psychiatrist. Ring, ring, and then, a voice:
“Doctor Harraty’s office,” said a woman. “Please hold.”
“Wait!” Jane said. “It’s an emergency.”
“If you have an emergency, please call—”
“Wait!” Jane breathed deeply and steadied herself. “I have an emergency for Doctor Harraty. It’s about his Wind-Up treatment. Something happened.”
The woman on the other line didn’t respond. For a moment, Jane wondered if she’d hung up, but before Jane could redial, the woman sighed. Her voice came out flat as she asked, “Which finger?”
Jane answered quickly, far too worried about her injuries to question the woman’s own question. “The pinkie. And then, the middle one. And most recently I lost my—”
Jane blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Your fingers. You’ve lost more than one?”
“Yes,” Jane said. “Three.” She hesitated. “Is that strange?”
Papers shuffled on the other line, and Jane could imagine the woman—likely short, frizzy hair, a frown—looking for something, tearing her desk inside and out to find it. As the sound continued, tiny bubbles filled Jane’s stomach, popping like cysts. She rubbed her left index finger and thumb together. Finally, the shuffling sounds stopped, and the woman got back on the phone. “I’m scheduling you for a 3:50 appointment,” she said. “Can you get over here in 10 minutes?”
Jane looked at the clock—an old, dusty clock on an old, dusty wall—then looked at her left hand. If I can drive like this, Jane thought.
“Yes,” she answered. “Thanks for—“
With her wobbly thumb, Jane hung up, too.
The ride to the doctor’s office was surprisingly easy. Feet were more important to driving than hands, and even though Jane’s ankles rolled in their sockets, she still maintained command of her toes. Her fingers, of course, were less helpful, and as she pulled into the parking lot, the loose thumb of her left hand slipped from the steering wheel. She nearly crashed into the large, grey building. Instead, she stuttered to a stop and walked up to the property; her stomach filled with more bubbles, and something clenched against her heart.
The waiting room of Doctor Harraty’s was large and dark. An unsettling room without posters or paintings. Haunted, Jane secretly thought, ever since what had happened to Olly—her Olly—by the double doors. She’d been there that day, waiting for Olly to finish his appointment. She would never forget his face.
“Keep it together”, he’d said, and he’d laughed—laughed like it was the funniest joke, like it was something he’d never heard before, or heard too often. His face had been loose and grey, and his blue eyes had widened as his laughter grew.
Jane walked up to the receptionist desk. There, a small woman with frizzy hair—the one from the phone, most likely—told Jane not to worry about signing in, but to go directly to the patient room.
“Doctor Harraty’s waiting to see you,” she said.
Jane thanked her, then walked past. The woman’s eyes lingered on Jane’s left hand.
Doctor Harraty had hair like a snowstorm—white wisps scattered around his head with thinning grey debris. His eyes were packed tightly in his head, leaving almost no white, only pupil and iris. His smile was worst of all: two red lines, layered and flat.
“Hello, Jane,” he greeted, as Jane entered his office. “How can I help you today?” Before she could answer, he looked at her hand. “Ah, that’s happened, has it?”
“Doctor Harraty,” Jane began, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’m—“
Jane took a step forward, and her ankle rolled. Her foot slipped from under her with an icy Crack. She fell to the floor, thrusting her hands to soften the landing, but her left hand hit hard, hit with a Thwack, and her thumb flew off, straight at the doctor.
He caught the thumb like she’d thrown him a baseball, then placed it in his jacket pocket.
Jane looked at her hand, the hand that had nothing left but a pointer finger. Each of the knuckles was red and raw, and the joint that had attached to her thumb was bleeding tiny red tears. She rose the hand to her mouth and sucked. The flesh stung, like she’d been punctured, and the popping in her stomach continued. Grew hot. Boiled.
“You really should bandage that,” Doctor Harraty said as he extended his hand, intent on helping her rise. With her right fingers, Jane pushed herself up. She stared at the doctor’s own hand, completely intact.
“Doctor, what’s happened to me?”
Doctor Harraty stroked his chin, using the same hand he’d extended. “Have you adhered to your treatment?”
“Twice a night,” said Jane.
The doctor leaned closer—so close, in fact, that Jane could smell his sweat. Doctor Harraty smelled of expiration, like roadkill fried by the sun.
Jane bent forward. She reached beneath her shirt, crawling her remaining fingers up her spine. She stopped midway up her back at a metal pole—a pole that created a tiny tent on the back of her clothing. The pole was affixed between two of her vertebrae, and it connected to a metal key, which she turned. Once, then twice.
“Oh, don’t do that,” Doctor Harraty said, but it was too late: Jane turned once more. The metal clicked and churned, and something cold blasted down Jane’s spine, then rushed through the rest of her body.
As always, the effect was immediate. First, Jane’s stomach relaxed. The bubbles didn’t pop, they simply flattened, filling her with ease. Then, her heart beat slowed. The clenching stopped, and Jane felt light. She stood upright, then turned to Doctor Harraty. She smiled; he did not smile back.
“Twice a night,” Jane repeated. “I wind myself then go to bed.” As she spoke, her left arm sagged. She looked at her shoulder, where weblike threads of skin held the arm in place. She shrugged, and the arm sagged farther.
She looked at her hand—the unbroken right hand. All her fingers remained, but the pointer was crooked.
Doctor Harraty didn’t speak, not at first. When he found his voice, it was low and quiet: “How often do you really do this?”
Jane laughed. “Ok, you got me.” She shrugged again. “I don’t know.”
Doctor Harraty took a step back. His face had grown grayer and older. Sagging, just like Jane’s arm. “When I installed the key, I told you the consequences.”
“That you did,” Jane responded, and she laughed again. She didn’t know why. “Wind once for relief, twice for the hard days. No more.” She snorted. “And not too often.”
The doctor had been clear in his warning. Both times.
Doctor Harraty shook his head. “This treatment was meant to ease your emotions, not delete them. All of your emotions are bubbling under your skin, trying to force their way out.” He pointed to Jane’s mangled hand.
“I know,” Jane said. “I know.”
The doctor sighed. He leaned against the wall, and what he said next came out even quieter: “Did you do this on purpose?” He didn’t look at Jane as he said this, and Jane had to wonder if this was the first time he’d asked someone.
For a moment, Jane stopped laughing. For a moment, her heart beat faster, too fast—painfully. But then, it slowed, and the relief returned. She brought a hand to her mouth, because the laughter was about to come back, but she raised the wrong hand, the one fingered hand, and oh, wasn’t that funny?
Jane didn’t know if she’d wound herself too much intentionally. She didn’t know if, last year, Olly had done this to himself, either. If Doctor Harraty had said, “Wind once,” and once hadn’t been enough, because Olly had been the doctor’s first patient. The first to undergo his treatment.
Experimental. That’s what Doctor Harraty had called it, and that’s what Olly had told Jane the day he’d come home with a large metal pole in his back and asked her to help him wind it.
“Why do you need this?” Jane had asked, and Olly had gestured around them. At their home—broken, dirty furniture with no photos of children, friends, even dogs—at their age—new wrinkles on faces, under eyes, on hands—at their relationship—held together by the same weblike threads, what else? Her love?—and she’d understood, and she’d felt it, too.
Maybe that’s why, when she’d lost the first finger, she’d told herself, “That’s normal.” It was normal. Normal for her. Normal for Olly. Normal for a chance at normal, because without winding, the emotions came. But with winding, too much winding—what then?
Jane looked at her arm. The skin hung like melted cheese, and bone peeked through her muscle. It wasn’t painful, but oh, it hurt. Jane looked away, but that didn’t help—she could still hear the ripping. She still smelled the iron.
Jane’s stomach rolled, and her heart beat faster, and she reached for the metal pole inside her. The doctor stepped forward, tried to stop her, but she pushed him away—pushed with her good hand—and ran.
In the hallway, her heartbeat surged. Beads of sweat ran down her neck, down her back, then down her legs. Her face was hot, and her legs were cracking, and she remembered her husband, remembered it all.
She’d seen the same thing last year with Olly. Her Olly, coming out of the office. Olly, staring at her with rabid eyes, breathing heavily like he was burning, but laughing, unable to stop.
(Was Jane laughing? Yes, she was).
Her Olly, slowly becoming undone—first, an eye, a big blue eye, and then his teeth, and next, his knees. There was no reason to the order; no reason why it was happening that day and not earlier, when they’d had an argument—something about nothing, she couldn’t remember—or the day before when their bank account had frozen, or the day before that when he’d found a bump, a menacing bump, on the back of his left shoulder, felt the bubbles.
“Nurse!” Doctor Harraty shouted, as he had shouted last year. Shouted too late. Because whatever had caused Olly’s undoing the doctor had been unable to fix.
Maybe for you, it will help, he’d told Jane. Experimental. But the emotions—it helps.
Jane kept running, right past the nurse, straight toward the double doors where Olly—
The spot where—
Olly’s body gone Olly gone My Olly
Jane grabbed the pole attached to her back, and she tried to yank it, dislodge it. It stayed. No other choice, she turned it again, then again, then again, until her left arm fell to the floor with a Clunk, until three of the fingers on her right hand fell beside it, until blood dripped down her back, down her legs, her feet, which gave way from under her, caused her to fall, caused her body to break and crumble, to pop, as every bit of her burst from the pressure, leaving nothing but a smear on the carpet, the sound of her laughter, until her throat bubbled over, and then, was silent.
Marisa L. Manuel recently earned her MFA in Fiction from the University of Memphis. She currently works as an Editor for Novice Writer and Reviews Editor for Harbor Review. Her publications are present or forthcoming in HuffPost, Cosmonauts Avenue, Tiny Spoon, and others.