At the outset, it sort of tingles, then goes all ghostly, even though it’s still there. Started with segments of digit. Top half of a big toe, two-thirds of a ring finger. The opposite of phantom pain.

It proceeds with intense anxiety, a surge of loss, separation, an unhinged joint.

 There’s little blood for such extreme lacerations. The platelets, like worker bees, cauterize the flow, and then, a loose limb, pendulous, swinging from sinew, snaps, like a cartoon piano dangling from a window at the end of a frayed rope.

It’s like invisible pins unfastening, renegade angels extracting their tips with the claws of rusty microscopic hammers.

I trust you understand my concern.

Showing up at the hospital in this condition, expecting them to reattach the tissue, might prove grounds for committal.

I can see in the nurses’ eyes: they believe I’ve done this to myself.

When I came in after that first frightening incident, they asked me how it happened. How did this happen, they said. And that first time, I told the truth. I don’t know, I said. They started inventing scenarios, posing them as questions.

Were you attacked?

Hedge clippers? Gardening implements? Power tools?

 They assumed some blunt trauma, concussion, so I went along with it. And though I knew little of how a concussed person acts, I tried faking it, willing my pupils to stay wide when they shone light into them, thinking this is how I’ve heard it’s done, though I’ve never bothered to confirm.

I’d been in denial—which I know more about than concussions—for nearly seventy-two hours, and I’d arrived with my left hand held together with duct tape. The nurses looked at me with pity. I liked that. My wife had left early that week. I’d gone on a bender, and this is why I imagined what was happening wasn’t.

You poor thing…!

Those puckered lips, scrunched to the side, eyes all wet and wide.

I’d plunked a few fingers the tape wouldn’t hold down into a mason jar filled with vodka and kept it on the seat beside me.

When the doctor told me he was helpless to help, I stole a couple quick shots.

Take ten fingers, ten toes, count backward. Regressive, degenerative. Nineteen, eighteen. A cuticle comes undone, the hard shell like an insect’s exoskeleton, molting, reverse growth, unraveling to shriveled pink flesh underneath. Thin red lines spread across the irregular fissure of knuckle, pruning like rotten fruit.

My wife had accused me of giving up.

You used to have promise, but you pissed it away and now you just sit there watching TV.

She was right, of course.

Both about giving up and the TV.

She’s like my conscience that way.

I knew it all inherently, but I couldn’t put it in words.

I accept defeat too easily.

I’m leaving, she said.

I sighed, accepting this as well.

I did nothing to research my condition, but I passed the medical establishment’s barrage of tests. They released me, chalking it up to an unexplained phenomenon. They wanted to study me, but I declined.

Despite the absence of one opposable thumb, the larger portion of both index fingers, subdivisions of the remaining wigglies, and whatever was left of my ambition, my sense of humor remained intact. To avoid loneliness, I thought up names for the stumps.

I could still type and use the telephone, which meant I could work, even though I had to move my hands differently and this took a toll on my wrists. Walking without pinky toes required prosthetics to keep me upright. Two flesh-colored slivers of plastic the size of cashews were fixed to the sides of my feet. Nevertheless, I wobbled like a cat with clipped whiskers.

After a while, I broke down and looked up leprosy.

What I missed most without my wife was sex, not that we’d been active, but the possibility existed.

Masturbating without fingers is difficult.

Nubbins Nick, James, Tyree, and Jackson Muldoon danced across the keyboard to access a cornucopia of useless information.

I had to make sure I wouldn’t lose the option of future amorous endeavors if they arose.

I worried I’d feel a tingling down there, more concerned I’d lose my manhood than become homeless, begging for loose change on the sidewalk, a flimsy cardboard sign bemoaning my plight propped in front of me.

Then I wondered how I’d maneuver a marker.

I can’t hold a pen.

 I don’t endorse checks anymore.

I discovered leprosy’s a rare disease few suffer from in the modern age.

This wasn’t the problem. Nevertheless, I renounced masturbation.

The missing sections were still there in spirit, just as my wife was still there as a disembodied voice in my head. I lost my entire left foot when the company I worked for decided it was cheaper to replace us with high-functioning chimpanzees. They argued they could reduce overhead by keeping employees in cages and feeding them bananas. There are no government regulations regarding primate employment. My skin, like the seam of tight jeans on a fat man, split. Threads popped around the circumference of my ankle. The bone broke cleanly at the joint, and there she went.

You used to have two left feet, said the wife in my head, now you have none.

She always was a comedian.

I named the stump Esmeralda. I’ll admit she liked the boys but took a particular shine to Jackson Muldoon. He knew how to stroke her perfectly, a small circular outcropping of bone and gristle hitting her pleasure center. I hoped they’d have children, but they didn’t. Esmeralda abandoned her post up to the knee.

Using a shovel as a crutch, I lobbed both her and the foot toward the brown plastic garbage can near my garage, but I missed and watched them mock me from the ground, tittering wildly like laughing lips: tee-hee! tee-hee!

I couldn’t return to the hospital.

I knew that some people didn’t feel whole unless they lopped off a limb, and they’d suspect I was one of them. I took the shovel and sat in my yard and dug a hole where I laid Esmeralda to rest, marking the ground above her with a now-useless shoe.

Poor Jackson Muldoon was devastated.

To think the greatest concern most men my age have is their hair falling out. I’ve thinned somewhat, but I’m the only one to notice.

I have a bald spot, I say.

A bald spot on your brain, the wife in my head answers.

Now I have other concerns. I can’t continue to walk around with a shovel. Folks would find that weird. Instead, I set about building an artificial leg, tinkering in my basement. I solder six coffee cans together, end-to-end, reinforcing them with thin steel rods. I fill them with sand, lining the top rim with a soft latex adhesive, so the metal won’t dig into my skin and chafe. I then bolt this to a black steel-toed boot and slide the whole works over my stump.

I might limp like a pirate, but it beats the shovel. And the boot’s made of quality leather.

Unlike fingers, legs are easy to replace. And though I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon, I’ll certainly scare those neighborhood kids off my lawn.

Come spring, my azaleas will bloom.

One afternoon, not long after I buried Esmeralda, I discovered a flyer for a support group aimed at helping people cope with separation. It didn’t specify what that meant, but I figured I fit the bill and went to a meeting and met a woman named Jane.

At first she looked like my wife, and then she didn’t, but I had to flip her over for that, and still, she felt the same inside. She enjoyed the offset thrust. We didn’t talk much. When I was with her, I didn’t stress about the tingling, but my wife, like the most loquacious color man in sports, offered a constant commentary, narrating our nighttime trysts, and I had to end it.

The voice in my head, I explained, hoping to lift the burden from Jane.

She was a nice girl, she didn’t take it to heart.

Soon enough, she’ll find someone new.

I was too embarrassed to admit the voice was my wife, that she’d planted the seed of doubt. Our group was supposed to address such neuroses, but it’s hard to maintain a relationship with so much missing. Maybe my wife and I should have had children. Maybe I should have been more versatile, studied more, found a career. The old lament, and the young ignore their lamentations. Now I lament. We speak of starting over, but I don’t speak of starting over. I’ve come to accept this. I’ve learned to cope. Day-by-day, I’m shifting. I expected to be an outcast. I expected derision, taunts, nicknames, cold stares, snickering, mocking. Instead, people say hello, real polite, then walk past, carry on.

I collect disability.

 I’ve resumed masturbating, tried to recount my days of passion and glory.

I never had any.

There are worse things.

I bought a comfortable chair, an anatomy textbook. I sat and learned the names of the bones I’ve lost. The tingling had even gone away for a while, but a couple days back, I felt it in my left wrist while shaving. I dropped the razor and glanced down to find the nubbins in a panic. Nick, James, and Tyree bobbled up and down, flailing about, but Jackson Muldoon was calm. He gave me a look like, here it comes, and I offered a gracious nod. Thanks for sticking around as long as you could. He’d been my favorite. I was glad he didn’t make an ass of himself like the others.

If you have to go, you might as well make a dignified stand.

We all amount to nothing in the end.

Crippled and torn, I take comfort in the fact there’s something I can do better than anyone.

I buried him next to Esmeralda.