My cousin Jeff did prosthetics, and when I was a kid I remember being
scared to go and visit him in his workshop in back of the house because
there were body parts everywhere. Legs and arms on shelves, and hung
from chains from the ceiling so they could be rotated, and held in
clamps while different components solidified. There were silicone molds
of hands and feet, jars of glass eyes. Posters up on the wall of
cross-sectioned bodies. When I had to deliver Jeff a sandwich or a beer,
I’d open the door a crack, slide in the plate or the can, and then run
like hell before I saw something that would haunt me.
The day I found the box turtle with a leg chewed off down by the
creek, everyone I talked to thought that it would be kindest if someone
took it away from me and quietly bashed it with a rock somewhere. I
could see that look in their eyes as they reached for it, and I snatched
it away and ran and hid in the one place that even the adults didn’t
like to go. I shut my eyes as I went in the door, which was how Jeff was
able to sneak up on me and grab the turtle.
He took it over to the work bench and said, “we’ll need to stitch ‘er up.”
I opened my eyes. He had his first aid kit out, and was treating the
turtle’s stump with a bottle of peroxide. The turtle had completely
retreated into its shell. I stood by the table and watched.
“We’ll put a hot wheels car on ‘er here,” he said. “Or maybe two baby
carriage wheels on an axle, with a pad here and a strap here.” He was
already drawing in his head as he pointed at the parts of the turtle.
“It’ll be the fastest turtle in the west.”
The turtle didn’t live to the prosthetic stage, but I brought him
other animals, and started telling people what he could do. By the time I
was twelve, we had a host of bionic animals: a cat with a pistoning
paw, a very old dog whose teeth were mostly artificial, a large
ornamental koi fish with a cleverly-constructed aluminum and ripstop
Cousin Jeff was not supposed to be a good friend for a girl child; he
chain smoked and kept girly magazines around, scattered in between his
books of medical illustrations. He read them while he ate his sandwiches
and smoked his unfiltered Newports. He subscribed to one that was all
pictures of amputee girls in boudoir lingerie, and he’d sometimes show
these pictures to his lady clients, women in wheelchairs or on crutches,
or with one foreshortened arm clutched protectively to their side.
Cajoling them into looking at the pictures, they were first alarmed, and
then pleased by what they saw, blushing furiously.
My mother ultimately blamed Cousin Jeff and his girly magazines for
making me what I was, but if anything, he made me more interested in men
than I think I would otherwise have been. He was tender with animals,
unapologetic in his yen for his lady clients. And while he never pressed
either his cigarettes or his pornography on me, when I stole them from
him he seemed proud, almost brotherly. I thought about him while I
looked at the ladies in the pictures, and I stared out at his still-lit
workshop when I smoked out of the window at night, with Tripod the Cat
kneading my legs with a gentle hissing sound, getting piston grease all
over the floral sheets.
Rose Wednesday is an MA student in fiction at the University of
Maine. She has been published previously in “The Armchair Aesthete” and
was the 2013 winner of Maine’s Grady Award for fiction. She writes in
Maine and blogs at rosewednesday.tumblr.com.
See Rose’s list of “5 Things That Are Slowly Killing Me” in our ongoing contributors’ series on Wednesday, June 25.