Kevin Fanning is a Storyteller, and this is a story. Joru loses his hand and what should grow from it? In the space the hand has left, is the question of how to live a life, how to grow up, how to love your family. —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
My brother Joru lost his hand. Lost is the wrong word. We still know exactly where it is, at least for now.
There had been a long-standing and ever-escalating series of dares between my brother and sister and I, involving a leap off the roof of the porch at the abandoned Volynski place. Personally I’d never even set foot inside the house–on top of being dilapidated beyond repair, half-sunken into the ground, and safe haven for all manner of woodland vermin, it was also haunted for sure.
But finally one day everyone’s moods fell into place, and Joru accepted the dare, if only to shut Kalia and me up, while earning something he might hold over us forever after. He had me boost him up into a side window.
Kalia and I ran around front and a few minutes later Joru appeared at a window on the 2nd floor, waving. As he pulled open the window I saw that the porch roof was still wet from the previous night’s rain, and there was a steep drop-off where part of it had caved in worse than I’d noticed previously. I considered mentioning it, but then he was out, yelling and cheering and taunting, and then he was slipping and tumbling down the shingles. He gathered speed as he went, his wrist got caught in some wires running into the house, he yelped and slid over the ledge. He landed on his back at our feet, and his hand landed square on his chest a slow moment later.
It took time for everything to sink in and click together. Gross, what is that thing on Joru’s chest? And where is all that blood coming from? And why isn’t Joru moving–he’s fallen plenty of times before, much worse that this. And where did that hand come from? And then suddenly all the information was accounted for and Kalia ran to call for help. I hesitated–unsure if I should stay and help Joru, or go and help Kalia. Joru was unconscious but breathing, so I ran to get a bag of ice for his hand. But we didn’t have any ice, since someone, probably Joru, had forgotten to refill the trays, and we also didn’t have any frozen vegetables, so I put his hand in a box of freezer-burned rocket popsicles.
Joru was moaning and barely conscious as I bent and picked his hand up. My discomfort in touching my brother’s bloody hand was offset by the odd relief I felt, noticing how much easier it was to hold his hand in mine now that it wasn’t attached to his body.
Kalia and I rode in the ambulance with him and Mother met us at the hospital, having come straight from her job at the office. The doctors said Joru was basically going to be fine, we’d gotten him there in plenty of time. Mother fell into a chair, relieved. She asked if they were going to be able to reattach Joru’s hand.
“About that,” the doctor said. He was suddenly glowing. “No. I mean yes, OK, sometimes we can do that. It’s hard, but sometimes. This time? Not so much! There’s been a complication with the hand.”
Well what kind of complication with the hand, we all wanted to know.
“It’s growing an arm,” the doctor said. He smiled at the thought.
“The hand is?” I asked.
He nodded. “Uh-huh. All the way up to the elbow so far. Never seen anything like it. We’ll keep you posted. We’ve got the hand under observation for now.”
He smiled reassuringly and turned to leave, then stopped and called back over his shoulder, “We have your son under observation too.”
Joru recovered very well, all things considered. He was bandaged up and on all kinds of drugs, but after a few more days the doctors said it was OK for us to bring them both home.
Both? Mother looked at me. I shrugged.
A nurse rolled Joru over in a wheelchair. And then a moment later, another nurse wheeled another kid over, about the same age and build as Joru, but with darker hair and more angular features.
“All right!” the nurse said.
Mother looked at her. “Who’s this. What’s the deal,” she said.
The nurse looked from one wheelchair boy to the other and back, trying to remember something. “This one is your son,” she said, laying a hand on Joru’s shoulder. Which we knew. “And this one is the one who grew from your son’s hand,” the nurse thought for a moment, checking her work, then nodded. Yes.
We stared at the nurse.
“He’s coming home with us?” Mother asked.
“Well sure!” the nurse said.
“What’re my responsibilities here,” Mother asked. “Is he even on my insurance?”
Joru just stared at the kid, who gave us a half-hearted wave. He had two hands.
The next few days were difficult. We were each in foreign territory. Mother was stressed. Her insurance from the office wasn’t great to begin with. She spent a lot of time on the phone arguing with them about what was covered and what wasn’t, and how exactly one defines an inciting event in a situation like this. And why, if someone needed to go to the emergency room, hadn’t we called to notify them in advance?
“I mean,” Mother whispered to me, “Is he even related to us? Is he family?”
Luckily the boy spoke, which made things easier. He seemed to have the same basic vocabulary and mental abilities as Joru, for better or worse. He said his name was Einar. He didn’t have any history to speak of, no memories before waking up in the hospital. Didn’t know where he came from any better than the rest of us. But he could talk, and as far as we could tell was about the same age as Joru. And healthier, even, on account of having more hands.
It had always been just the four of us in our family. Kalia and Joru and I were all close enough in age that none of us remembered a time when there had been fewer of us. Mother worked long hours in the office, and as a result the three siblings had become a kind of team–a self-policing unit within the family. When one of us was doing something stupid, the other two were there to yell at them. When two of us were doing something stupid, the other was there to threaten to tell. It had nothing to do with liking or loving each other, it was just the ever-shifting scale of annoyance and tolerance that defines any set of siblings.
But after Einar arrived, our loyalties scattered and began to settle in new ways. I felt some responsibility for Joru’s situation–Kalia had been the one doing the most rabid taunting this time around, but I certainly hadn’t dissuaded her. And now as a result, Joru had difficulty with even the simplest tasks. Buttoning his shirt. Cutting his food. Putting soap on a washcloth. The hand he had lost had been the one he favored. Now he had to learn to write again. He had to learn most things again. He was struggling to find himself in this new life. So I helped where I could. I tied his shoes. I helped him with his coat. Joru was quiet. He didn’t ask for help, but he let me.
Kalia was a different story. While the rest of us were hesitant, cautious around this new stranger in our house, unsure of who he was or what he meant to us, Kalia rushed to him. They spent long hours together, talking in hushed voices in her room, or walking the streets of our neighborhood. She was his ambassador in this new land of our family.
She said you had to see it from his point of view. No history, no memories, so many questions about who he was and where he came from. But I didn’t see Einar as needing help. He seemed to be getting along just fine, especially compared to Joru. And the thing was, Einar was kind of a jerk.
One time I came out of the bathroom and saw Einar standing in Joru’s doorway, watching him struggle to button his shirt. He finally got it, first time since the accident doing it on his own. It was great. But Einar stood there and began clapping, holding his hands apart and bringing them together, loud and slow.
Kalia said we had to be forgiving on account of him being new but I wasn’t sure. The way she smiled at Einar, reaching out to him, lacing her fingers into his as she pulled him away, back to her room.
The insurance company said we could consider Einar a new addition to the family, as long as we provided an official copy of the birth certificate.
“Did the hospital give us a birth certificate?” Mother asked me. “Does he have any paperwork?”
“He wasn’t born,” I said. “He grew. You don’t get a birth certificate for that, you get a receipt.”
I could help, and go to the hospital while Mother was working, and argue with them to give us a birth certificate. But he wasn’t part of our family. I didn’t like how he acted towards Joru, or how Kalia acted around Einar. Although, it had to be said, kindness towards each other had never been a prerequisite for membership in our family. If anything Einar was demonstrating our native language of kinship more adeptly than Kalia.
One night Mother got home late. She settled into her chair and picked up the phone, preparing herself for another long evening of arguing with people far away about debts and responsibility.
I put on some tea for her, then went upstairs to get her a blanket.
In the hallway I crossed Joru’s room. His door was closed, as it usually was now. He was still withdrawn so far inside himself. I could feel the anger and frustration bleeding out from the crack beneath his door, flooding out into the hallway.
I kept walking and crossed Kalia’s room. The door was open a crack and the light was on inside. Quietly I peeked in and saw Kalia and Einar sitting on her bed. They were holding hands, and her leg was intertwined with his. She was whispering something to him. Her face and lips burrowing into Einar’s neck.
I wondered what would happen if they ran away together. Would we miss them? How long would it take for the family to heal itself up around them? I felt that we would adapt very quickly.
As I descended the stairs a peel of laughter erupted from Kalia’s room, the echoes darting through the hallway behind me like ghosts.
I put the blanket on Mother’s lap, then went to get her tea. She was saying numbers into the phone, repeating them over and over again, and asking, as calmly as she could, to speak to a human.
–photo Flickr/Dominic’s pics