She met him in the emergency room, giving him eight stitches for what he claimed was an occupational hazard of flower arrangement. Startled, he jerked, tore a stitch, and passed out, bleeding on his already bloody shirt. When he came to, she helped him adjust himself on the bed and finished the bandaging. In a notebook she wrote “occupational hazard of flower arrangement” under How Men Explain Flesh Wounds. She pursued a narrative account, a deep ecology of self-mutilation. Certain questions codified. He looked pale, like it was an occupational hazard.
“You’re a bleeder.”
“I’ve lost many good shirts. Shirts with strong character, Hawaiians. My learning to ride a bicycle was a spectacle. A reputation followed.”
“How, exactly, was this wound inflicted?”
“I was preparing a bird of paradise for an arrangement,” he said.
“You’re a florist?”
“No. The flowers are a hobby,” he said.
“Not my strong suit,” he said.
“That’s just my natural complexion. I’m, well, a graduate student.”
“Of course!” She rolled her eyes with a smile. “Okay, the stitches will dissolve in a couple of weeks.” He left the hospital looking like the victim of a chainsaw massacre.
As promised, during the next couple of weeks the stitches dissolved, but unbeknownst to him, an infection had taken their place. The initial throbbing of the cut had transitioned to an ache. He took ibuprofen, only as directed, to dull the edge. The medication ineffective, he figured the matter was psychological and self-prescribed a regimen of breathing exercises, which agitated his allergies. Only after the chair of the philosophy department pulled him aside, choosing to renegotiate the distance between them and claiming students had complained of a foul odor during office hours, did he willingly unwrap the offending hand. Fortunately, he performed the investigation later when he could vomit in the privacy of his own bathroom.
Again at the hospital, she found him sitting on the table with a plastic grocery sack duct-taped around his hand. She’d given him daily cleaning instructions but guessed he’d been too busy dissertating to notice his hand being eating from the inside out.
“Can I ask why you have a plastic sack taped around your hand?”
“It smells. Bad.”
“On a scale of one to—”
“Exploded deer carcass,” he said.
She found a surgical mask in the drawer. After the hand’s unveiling, the smell played rough with her gag reflex. This meaty thing before her looked like a bacteria grenade had gone off inside a pig stomach. She gathered tools. “It appears you have an infection that’s been promoted.”
“Meaning?” he said.
“It’s the gangrene. We need a doctor.” While she paged, he looked at his hand and passed out. He awoke to the doctor’s lecture and a clean bandage. Only after leaving the hospital did he wonder if the nurse had seen the exquisite bouquet he’d made just for her. Dinner was likely out of the question.
A brief Philadelphian, Benjamin C. Shaw now lives in Ithaca, New York.
Nelson Lowhim is a writer, artist, immigrant, veteran. Published in Rigorous, Tayo Lit Mag, Red Rock Review, Adbusters, Genre: Urban Arts, and others. Author of Satan's Plea, Ministry of Bombs, and The Struggle. For more, visit nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com.