by Jack Stewart
When the shell burst, the veins in his wrist hung down like reins, and when he pressed a handkerchief to stop the bleeding, the blood streamed like reins though his fingers. With a stick, he twisted the knotted cloth until the bleeding slowed, sunset and sunrise slamming into each other in every direction overhead, and staggered off hoping to find a stretcher emptied of the newly dead. At home, in a starched and folded sling, he writes letters, though he has little left to say, to practice writing with the hand he has left. The sleeve pinned over the stump, the gold buttons shine like medals no one envies or admires. His salute now mirrors the officer’s, a kind of mockery he does not intend. Most everything—holstered revolver, spoon, glass of water— is on the wrong side. At night when he goes to bed his arm under the pillow feels likes something that should not be there. He hadn’t even thought to look for the hand. He only remembers his arm seemed to be having a seizure or waking from a nightmare he somehow had to calm. He remembers mostly the stick and tying the handkerchief with his teeth, which got slick with blood and slipped twice. He knows he did not faint, though someone said he did. He feels all he needs to write is his new signature. The different angles and sloppy vowels say all anyone needs to know. He doesn’t resent the cut-up food or laid-out clothes; he just practices. Tying shoes, shaving—he would like to go to the range and shoot the gun that is just for show. At night, when he prays, he puts his hand over the ball of the stump, as if God could think nothing has changed. In a month he’ll “mail off” the envelope of the sling, and the stump will be enough to shield his eyes against the sun. He has the proper hand left for dancing and enough right arm to press on the small of a back. He’s whole enough that sometimes nurses flirt, and he flirts back, and only in a slightly different voice. There are limits to what he can do, but when he dresses each day, the necktie falls across his hand like reins.