Even a half-brain like me can see that Celia misses the hell out of her left index finger. It’s a tiny loss in comparison to folks who’ve auctioned off muscles, organs, or whole limbs. Or those who, like me, wear the invisible scar of an absent chunk of frontal lobe. But it matters to her, and Celia matters to me.
“I just want to know what they’re doing with it,” she says, rubbing her intact hand over the stump.
I shrug. “Who knows?”
“I’m taking it back. They can’t do this to me.”
“You did it to yourself.” Tough love, but it’s true. “Besides, it’s good for the economy.”
“The economy,” she mutters bitterly. “Like some rich asshole is going to need only a finger.”
I drift, because that’s what I do now, and find myself transfixed by the television bolted above our heads. The mayor’s latest skin graft stands out in stark blue-black against his pale skin. He’s saying the market is stagnant, and that we all have to dig a little deeper to discover those parts of ourselves we can live without. When I come to, Celia is shaking me by the shoulders.
“And that’s what I’m going to do. Are you in?”
“You’re in,” Celia says. “Get in the car.”
I used to be vain. I didn’t want my body carved up, so when things got rough I auctioned off a small piece of my brain for a luxury condo and free food for a year. You’ll never miss it, the broker said, and most of the time he’s right. I can’t focus too well anymore, and my memory is shot, but it’s actually kind of nice sometimes. Like living in a dream.
Celia only got a car. The economy really is weak right now.
She stabs the air in front of her with her remaining index finger, as if popping invisible word balloons. “This car doesn’t even run that well. It stalled out in the middle of the highway just last week! Now, how is that fair?”
“Still, a car for a finger. That’s not a bad deal, Celia. You’re not even left-handed.”
“That’s not the point!” She slams both of her palms on the steering wheel. “Oh, why do I even talk to a half-brain like you?” The car squeals to a stop.
Like many of the affluent people of this town, the mayor built his house on the side of a cliff, in order to better appreciate the sweeping vista of the landscape. A young woman with a third arm reaching out of her chest is rappelling down the side, nimble as a spider. A lot of the rich are into extreme sports: rock climbing, sky-diving, wrestling with sharks. It’s because they have nothing to lose… at least not permanently.
“Go in there,” she says. “Get it back.”
“How do you know it’s with the mayor? It could be in any of these houses,” I say, indicating the half-dozen manors dotting the horizon.
“Then get me anyone’s finger. This is about justice.”
As I ponder what stealing a finger has to do with justice, the familiar fog settles over me. What was I supposed to be doing? I look back at the car.
“Go. In. There. And. Get. Me. A. Finger.” Celia waggles her mangled hand. I fix the words in my head. It’s very important not to forget what she told me.
The mayor’s throwing a party. A throng of many-limbed guests surrounds a little boy at a piano. The holo-screen in front of him displays a riot of notes and symbols, like five pieces of normal sheet music superimposed upon one another. He cracks his knuckles. There are at least eight fingers on each of his hands, including a pale brown one wedged in the web between the thumb and original forefinger.
If it’s not Celia’s finger, it’s close enough to count.
I wait, unobserved, until the little boy finishes his piece and the crowd begins to disperse.
“Hey, that was pretty good.” It really was.
The boy looks me over. I wonder if he’s checking me for extra parts, to see if I belong here. “Thank you.”
“I don’t think I’d be able to play like that.”
“You couldn’t.” He holds up his hands. The patchwork quilt of skin tones and sizes is both grotesque and oddly mesmerizing. I find myself drifting, thinking of the beauty such hands brought into being only a short while ago. “They were my birthday present.”
Stay focused. “Hey, how’d you like to go for a walk?”
His eyes narrow. “Do I know you?”
“I’m your long-lost aunt. I have a present for you. It’s, um, a puppy.”
His face brightens. “Puppy?”
Celia’s got the kid in the back under a blanket. She’s mad I didn’t just chop off the finger and make a break for it. But what if he bled out? I don’t want to be a murderer as well as a thief.
We’re stopped by the cops only a mile away.
They give Celia a choice: prison or a hand. She bursts into tears. I watch the scene, all of it, from my spot in the holding area. The police won’t charge me with anything. I don’t know what I’m doing.
I think of the missing sliver of my brain, lodged deep within some rich academic’s skull. I think about Celia, about all of us. I walk up to the cops.
“Take mine instead,” I say, after figuring out which hand is my non-dominant one.
I won’t even miss it.