This interesting article was written by
Nikolaus Maack (former owner of this website)
In the darkness of the bedroom, Victoria curled up close to her husband and lay her head across his chest. It had been a long time since she’d made a romantic advance, but tonight it felt right. She let her head lie there for a moment, her ear against David’s ribcage. Something was odd. It took her a few seconds to figure it out. There was no sound coming from inside him — David’s heart wasn’t beating.
“David, David! Oh my God!” Victoria scrambled out of the bed. The blankets spilled out with her, tangling around her legs. She fell to the floor with a thud, leapt to her feet, and nearly tripped again. Her hand found the lamp by her bed — light filled the room. Her husband lay there, on his back, wearing his immaculate pinstripe pajamas.
“What is it, honey?” David asked, turning lazily on to his side to look at her. “What’s the matter?”
“Your heart… It’s… It’s stopped! It’s not…” Her voice trailed off. How could he be so utterly calm?
David let out a weary sigh, as if this outburst were an inconvenience he’d been expecting for some time. “Yes, I know. My heart stopped beating about three months ago. I’m surprised it took you this long to notice.”
“Three months? But, David. Your heart… It can’t just… You should be dead!”
“I wouldn’t be talking to you if I were dead, dear. Everything’s fine. My heart just stopped beating. It’s not important. Why do you always make a big production about things like this?”
“Your heart’s important! It’s, David — you’re supposed to be dead when your heart stops beating.”
Her husband closed his eyes and shook his head. “I knew you’d react like this. That’s why I didn’t tell you about it in the first place. Look — the human body has many, many internal organs. I’m guessing my liver or my gallbladder simply took up the task of circulating blood. So the heart became unnecessary and stopped. That’s all there is to it. Come back to bed.”
“This isn’t normal.”
“Victoria, stop being ridiculous and get back in bed. Please? I have to work tomorrow and it’s late. I’m tired — I can’t deal with this right now. Can we talk about this in the morning?”
“I… I guess so,” Victoria said. She grabbed the blankets off the floor and started making the bed. “It was, just a bit of a shock.”
David got up and helped her tuck the blankets around the mattress. “I understand. I should have told you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I guess I did kind of overreact.”
They got back into bed. Victoria reached over and turned off the light.
“Goodnight,” David said. He gave Victoria a peck on the cheek.
“Goodnight,” Victoria answered. A few seconds later she heard the low snuffling snorts of her husband’s snoring.
It had been a television commercial Victoria realized, lying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling. An ad on TV had made her feel romantic and warm — that’s why she’d made an advance. A man sat in a luxurious living room reading a book before a fireplace. A woman, obviously his wife, crept in and threw herself at him, giving her husband a big surprise hug.
It was such a sincere-looking hug it made Victoria ache. Her eyes almost filled with tears. The wife threw herself at her husband, knowing he would always catch her, support her. He smiled so warmly and returned the hug with such passion and delight — this couple was so deeply in love it was almost too much for Victoria to bear. It was too perfect.
Then they started talking about insurance. That’s why the wife loved her husband so much — because he’d taken out an insurance policy. A phone number appeared at the bottom of the screen. All of that ruined Victoria’s mood a little — but not as much as she might have expected.
Victoria drifted off to sleep, cherishing the ache caused by that televised hug.
Of course they never talked about David’s condition in the morning. There wasn’t any time — they both had to rush around, getting ready for work. Victoria barely had time to wash, feed, and clothe herself, let alone have a conversation. Later she felt uncomfortable bringing it up. David made no mention of it. And he did seem fine. So really, what was there to talk about?
A few days later, after a long day of work at the office, Victoria was preparing a load of laundry. She was stripping the sheets off the bed when she heard something hit the floor. There’d been some small object caught in the folds of the sheets. She picked it up and stared at it curiously. A finger. David’s finger. She could tell right away — it was sprinkled with fine blonde hairs. Judging by the size and shape, it was an index finger. It was warm. Not cold, or dead. Simply detached.
Victoria put the finger down on her bedside table and continued to pull off the sheets and shook them in the air. Several more objects hit the floor. Once the sheets were in the hamper, she got down on her hands and knees and hunted around. Three more fingers, a thumb, and four toes.
There wasn’t any blood. Where she would have expected a wound or a cut was smooth, seamless skin. It was as if the body had outgrown these fingers and toes and simply spat them off — a tree dropping fruit. Victoria looked down at them with worry. There definitely was something wrong with David. First his heart, now this. But how was she going to talk to him about it without upsetting him? He was so sensitive about this kind of thing.
She tiptoed up to the kitchen doorway and peered inside. David was chopping a green pepper for a stir-fry. His hands were missing several fingers. When had that happened? How could she have not noticed it before?
“David, can I… show you something?” Victoria asked.
“Sure, honey. What is it?” David wiped his few fingers on a dishtowel.
Victoria held up one of the fingers. “Do you know what this is?” she asked carefully. “I found it in our bed.”
David leaned over and squinted at the digit. “It sort of, maybe…” He took it from her hand and stared at it thoughtfully. “It looks like a finger.”
“Come on,” Victoria said softly. “You know it’s a finger. Look at your hands.”
“What do you mean?” David put the finger in his shirt pocket, and held up his hands, giving them a quick scan. “Are you trying to suggest that it’s one of my fingers?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s yours. Look! Really look at your hands. You’ve only got five fingers.”
“Five fingers is normal,” David said.
“Not normal for both hands! Ten is normal — ten.”
“Okay, but I don’t see what the big deal is, even if I am losing fingers. I still have enough of them to make dinner. And I’m sure the ones I’ve lost will grow back.”
“Fingers don’t grow back.”
“Are you a doctor?” David asked. “Are you a finger expert?”
“No, but… It’s… Fingers don’t grow back, David. They just don’t.”
“Why are you getting all worked up about this anyway, Vickie? Are you okay? Is something the matter with you?” He smiled. “When’s the last time you counted your own fingers?”
“No, I’m fine.” She cast a nervous glance at her hands — but all her fingers were there. “I’m just worried about you. There’s something wrong with you, and you don’t… You seem unwilling… We need to talk about this, David.”
“It’s sweet that you care, Vic, but I’m fine. Really. Why don’t you go watch some TV while I fix dinner? I’ll take care of the laundry later.”
“But, I really think you should see a doctor, I…”
“Vic,” he said, “I love you, but I’m fine. Stop worrying.”
“Oh… David, I… Okay, but… If you want to talk about it later…”
“Sure, later. Go on, darling, really. Relax. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”
Victoria backed away from the kitchen, still looking worriedly at David. There was something wrong with the way he was behaving. He seemed like a bad actor — someone playing the part of the dutiful husband. His face was a smiling plastic mask. Victoria reluctantly turned away and headed into the living room.
She sat on the couch, her hands in her lap. Maybe she was taking this too seriously. David seemed fine. And really, she wasn’t a doctor — she didn’t understand the human body and how it worked. A few biology classes in high school hadn’t covered anything like this. But when you lose fingers and toes, and your heart has stopped — something is wrong. Isn’t that obvious?
The remote was sitting on the coffee table in front of her. With a sigh, Victoria picked it up and pointed it to the TV. She watched a few minutes of a boring sit-com, and then a commercial for margarine. Then it came on again — the insurance commercial. She felt her chest tighten with anticipation. It was her hugging commercial — that’s how she thought of it now. Hers.
There was the husband, sitting in his chair, reading his book. The fireplace crackled pleasantly in the background. Even now, before his wife came out to hug him, you could see the man’s blue eyes dancing with laughter. He was so happy and expressive. His short, dark hair was perfectly parted. He wore a suit, the tie slightly askew — that just home from work look. And here came his wife, sneaking around the corner.
She was blonde, a few years younger than her husband. She wore a dark green dress — a little ambiguous. It was hard to tell if she’d been at work, or if she’d stayed home, looking after the children. Victoria liked to think she was a teacher, at a college — sociology, maybe? She was intelligent, sophisticated, and playful.
And then, the hug. The wife threw herself, just abandoned gravity altogether, and her long, pale arms wrapped around the man’s broad back. She squeezed him, her eyes closed tight. The husband laughed — even as he caught her in his arms. Where did the book he’d been reading go? He must have dropped it or something.
Reassuring piano music played and a soothing narrator said gentle words about taking care of the one you love and buying Best Eastern Life Insurance. He read off the 1-800 number at the bottom of the screen. But Victoria didn’t really hear that part clearly. It was the hug — that passionate, beautiful hug. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes. Oh it was silly, to be this moved by a stupid commercial, but she couldn’t help it.
A loud thud came from the kitchen. David yelled, “Damn it!”
Victoria turned off the TV. “Honey, are you okay?”
“I just… I’m fine! I… I dropped… something.”
“Everything’s okay? Do you need a… Do you need, any help?”
She heard movement in the kitchen — it sounded a little frantic.
“No, no, I’m…” David stepped out of the kitchen, carrying a plate. “I hope you’re hungry.”
He only had one arm. His right arm was gone. The right sleeve of his shirt dangled empty by his side. Victoria jumped to her feet.
“Oh my God, David, your…”
“Everything’s fine,” he interrupted, annoyed. “Let’s just enjoy our dinner. I just want to have a pleasant meal with my wife.”
“But your arm is…”
David handed Victoria her plate using his three-fingered left hand. She took the plate a little hesitantly, and put it down on the coffee table in front of her. The stir-fry smelled wonderful — but how could she think of food right now? David walked off to the kitchen, and came back with his own dinner. He sat down next to her on the couch, put down his meal, and picked up the remote control.
“Want to watch the news?” he asked.
“I… Sure. I guess.”
He turned on the TV and they watched the news in silence. Victoria did her best not to stare at the spot where the arm used to be — just a lump near the shoulder under David’s shirt. The newscaster talked about taxes. The stir-fry was delicious.
While David was brushing his teeth in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, Victoria snooped around in the kitchen, looking for the arm. She couldn’t find it anywhere. Not the cupboards, not under the sink, not in the ‘fridge or the freezer. Why was this happening to him anyway? It’s not like David worked with chemicals or nuclear power. He was just another civil servant, working in an office all day. Victoria wished he would talk to her about his condition. He’d always been a little distant, emotionally. But no more than any other man she’d ever known. Feelings — they’re always a little difficult to talk about.
She looked at the kitchen window. Had he opened it and thrown his arm outside? She stood on tiptoe and peered through the glass, but couldn’t see anything. It was too dark.
Victoria gave up looking when she heard David coming out of the bathroom.
The next morning was a Saturday, so they got to sleep in. Victoria slowly woke up, approaching the waking world an inch at a time. When she opened her eyes, she saw David. He was just a head, lying on his pillow, detached from his neck, staring blankly at the ceiling. The neck was a rounded fleshy nub, like the arm of a hat rack.
“David!” she gasped.
“Okay,” he said slowly, “maybe something is wrong. Maybe I should see a doctor.”
“Oh my God! David, David…”
“Yeah, I guess you’d better call the doctor. I don’t think I’ll be able to place the call myself.”
Even now, he was calm. Victoria wanted to scream, pull at her own hair, grind her fists into her temples — all the things hysterical women do in black and white horror movies from the fifties. It seemed only proper. But even as the feelings coursed through her, they seemed ridiculous. David was so calm — it paralyzed her. She felt her insides turn to ice, and then the ice thawed and she was calm too.
“I’ll call Dr Waybin. Maybe he’ll be willing to make a house call, under the circumstances.”
“That would be swell,” David said, smiling.
Victoria had to resist the urge to pick up the head — pick up David — and kiss him. Instead she leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
Dr Waybin, their family doctor, arrived an hour after Victoria called him. He was a short man, bald and fat, dressed in a dirty white lab coat and brown corduroy pants. In his hand was a white, fake leather bag. Victoria assumed it had his medical tools in it.
“An interesting case,” he said in way of greeting when she opened the door. “Very interesting.”
“Will you be able to help him doctor?” Victoria asked.
“Yes, yes. Medical science is capable of all sorts of wonders,” the doctor said, distractedly. He was searching the room at floor level — Victoria realized he was looking for David.
“In the bedroom.”
“Ah, yes. Yes, of course. Bedroom,” the doctor said. He tucked his bag under his arm — it seemed to be empty — took out a notebook and wrote something down.
David — what was left of him — was still lying on the pillow. Dr Waybin nodded and smiled. “Yes, yes,” he muttered, and made some notes. Victoria snuck a peek at the notepad. All she could see were incomprehensible scribbles.
“How do you feel?” Dr Waybin asked.
David didn’t answer for a moment. “Oh, you mean me? Sorry, I thought you were talking to… I feel fine.”
Dr Waybin raised an eyebrow and drew a scrawl on his notepad. “No discomfort?”
“Yes, yes,” Dr Waybin said, and made another scrawl. Victoria snuck another peek — all his scrawls looked identical. Waybin noticed her peeking and pulled the notepad closer to his chest, clucking his tongue in mock disapproval.
“Doctor,” she said, “what… What’s going to…”
“I’m going to have to take him,” Dr Waybin interrupted. “To my lab. Tests. And… It’s very serious, I’m afraid, Victoria. Very, very serious.” Dr Waybin smiled and there was a merry twinkle in his eye.
“Oh, I… Uh…”
Dr Waybin put his notebook away and put his white bag on the bed. He carefully picked up David’s head, holding it in his fingertips as though lifting a fragile piece of art. Once David was tucked neatly in the bag, the doctor zipped it shut. Some muffled noises came from inside — David saying something — but Dr Waybin ignored them. He picked up the bag and walked past Victoria, towards the front door.
“I’ll get him back to you by, oh, maybe this evening, if everything goes well. Thank you for calling me.” He shook Victoria’s hand, and then turned to leave.
“But, Dr Waybin, don’t… Don’t you need to take the rest of him with you?”
“The rest of him?” Waybin said, and blinked. “Oh. Yes. I see. No, no. I won’t need those pieces.” He turned the doorknob and opened the door.
“Oh,” Victoria said. “All right.”
There were some more muffled sounds in the bag as David said something. Victoria wanted to ask if David could breathe in there — then remembered he no longer had any lungs. Dr Waybin walked out the door.
“I… Good luck doctor,” she called out after him. “And David, if you can hear me… I… I love you.”
The doctor didn’t pause — he walked down the front walk, turned right, and headed away at a brisk trot. Victoria thought she could hear some mumbled noises in the bag. Maybe she was imagining it.
Victoria didn’t know what to do with herself while she waited for some news. At first she considered tidying the apartment, or maybe doing some grocery shopping. She still had some laundry left to do. But none of that appealed to her. After a bit of puttering around, doing a dish or two, she found herself in front of the TV. She flipped through the channels restlessly — nothing appealed to her. It took her a while to realize that she was looking for her hugging commercial. It was out there somewhere, waiting for her.
The sound of the doorbell startled her out of a daze. Victoria shook her head, clearing it. The room was dark. The clock on the wall said it was five in the afternoon. Already? Had she really been watching TV that long? She’d seen her beloved commercial a half-dozen times — there was a pile of used Kleenex on the table in front of her, from blowing her nose and wiping away tears. Yet she still wanted to see it again. It made her feel so… Not good, exactly. It just made her feel.
Dr Waybin was there, at the front door, all smiles. He seemed to be alone. He didn’t even have his white bag with him.
“It was touch and go there for a while, but David pulled through,” the doctor said. “I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“When can I see him?” Victoria asked.
Beaming, Dr Waybin reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag full of water. It was the kind of baggie they give you when you buy a goldfish at a pet store. Except there wasn’t a fish in this baggie — there was a single floating blue eyeball, a perfect sphere. David’s eye. Dr Waybin handed the baggie to Victoria, and said, his voice full of triumph:
“Marvels of medical science! Don’t thank me. It’s my job, it’s what I do. Now, I must rush. I have an appointment across town. Good luck, good evening, goodbye. Call me if there are any further difficulties.”
And Dr Waybin stepped out the door, gently closing it behind him.
Victoria held the bag up, peering into it. The eye stared back at her. Not just an eye, she corrected herself. David. She could sense, somehow, that the eye was alive, had an intelligence. For one thing, the pupil dilated, focusing on her. Victoria smiled, trying to remain optimistic. How could she reassure David that everything was going to be okay? She decided to go with tradition — and gave the plastic bag a peck, as though it were David’s cheek.
“I was watching TV,” she said. “Do you want to watch some TV?”
The eye just floated there. Victoria decided that was a yes – or close enough anyway — and carried the baggie into the living room. She gently placed it on the coffee table, aiming his line of vision more-or-less towards the TV. The remote — where was it? It was so annoying to lose it. After a few seconds she found it lying on the floor.
When she turned on the TV — and wasn’t this a nice coincidence? — there was her favorite ad. She’d never told David how it made her feel. Now was her chance.
“David, David, this ad, it just… Watch! Oh… Watch it.”
The hug. That powerful, moving, delicious hug. The woman throwing herself, arms wrapping around her man…. Victoria wished it would go on forever, but it lasted only half a minute. She reached for the Kleenex, anticipating the tears. It was so wonderful. That hug — as soon as the woman’s arms hit the man, she felt her whole body lurch with that all-consuming ache. Too perfect…
When it was over, Victoria tried to find the words to explain to David how she felt, how the ad hit her in the belly, in the heart — how it made her swoon. Nothing else had ever touched her like this silly commercial did. But she and David never really talked about their emotions. And really, in his current condition, it was rather insensitive to talk about her feelings, wasn’t it? She felt strangely shy and private — embarrassed.
If only she could hug David, experience what she’d seen in that commercial, show him what she felt. She could throw herself at him and hold him tightly, hold him that way forever. But David didn’t have arms anymore. There was nothing to hold. There was no way to experience what she’d seen on TV. It made her so mad she wanted to kick something.
Then Victoria had an idea. She could hug David, in a way. And it would be a hug that lasts forever. The idea made her tremble. It seemed wrong, and yet perfectly right at the same time. As Victoria got to her feet, giddy with anticipation, she swore she could hear that comforting piano music playing. And was that the sound of a fireplace crackling?
She picked up the plastic baggie and stared into it. “David, I love you so much. I just, I want to hold you in my arms forever. I know you, we… We’re sort of, distant, and… We don’t talk about our feelings but…”
Could he even hear her? Maybe read her lips? She had no idea. But it seemed a little silly, talking to him. Instead she could show him how she felt. Victoria untied the plastic bag and reached inside. The eyeball was a little slippery — she had some trouble scooping it out. When she got hold of it, of David, she examined it for a moment. He was a warm little ball, utterly expressionless. But she would show him love.
Before she could change her mind, she popped the eye into her mouth, pushed it to the back of her throat with her tongue, and swallowed. David slid down her throat like an oversized olive.
The ache — that delicious, beautiful ache of love, pain, and perfection — struck her then. Victoria fell back on to the couch, wrapping her arms around herself, squeezing her stomach. She rocked back and forth, hugging herself, hugging David.
“I love you David, and I’ll hug you like this forever,” she said. Tears ran down her face. She was so happy. She’d never been this happy before — delirious, mind-blowing ecstasy. Finally, she and David had a real connection. Victoria sat like that on the couch, for two hours, weeping merrily, savoring the sensation of intense love.
Then the feeling subsided. She wiped her tears away, blew her nose. The ache became a throb. Then it was just a twitch. Then nothing. The feeling was gone.
With a sigh, she picked up the remote, and turned on the TV.