Illustration by Ella Corder
Less is More
A little-known fact about those attracted to amputee erotica, apotemnophilia, is that many who find themselves in want of the stump and the knoll feel, whether they admit it or not, a certain envy of the stumped and the knolled. A person sans-limb seems, to the limbed, a person released. Lou Addenduman feels this way, here, now, in the oaky closet of his bedroom in his parents’ house, vision somewhat altered from the confined oil-paint fumes in the dark closet, forehead dimpled and brain thus clasped in his tight reader’s-flashlight headband, which he is pointing towards the 9×9 canvas in his hands, hands he feels are a burden to him, an Other, an appendix thrust upon him by the diseased world or by the unpitying lackadaisical gods above. Indeed these hands weigh him down, see them droop towards the shag-carpeted floor. Lou looks down and doesn’t recognize these five-membered figures below his wrists. He has known since he was a young boy that something was unmissing.
But Lou knows he must carry the burdens forever, for they are the vessel of his art. Lou uses the wretched, foreign right hand to grant the final life-breath. “Beatrice,” he says aloud, and so names her. His eyes trail from her pouted lips to her peachy shoulder to her torso to her leg, for that is all she is; that is all she must be. In oil on the 9×9 canvas is a woman unhindered. The amputated woman lies naked, obliquely, on a bed of grass, with her wrist-stump on her hip, her shin-knoll pressed gently into the dirt. The detail of her finite features is Rubenesque. Her golden hair gleams in the sunlight. Beatrice’s eyes look somewhere past him.
O sweet serenity, o lustrous freedom! The joy of life unimpeded! Lou can imagine the air flowing past his own stumps, the soft grass tickling his knolls, he and Beatrice lying there, two halves of one whole, all supernumeraries eliminated, calloused skin touching calloused—
His mother calls him for dinner. He descends to reality and scrambles out of the closet, smoothing out his hair and taking a moment to maintain certain excitements. He cascades down the stairs and sits at the table and says, “Hello, Pops,” and his Pops reads this morning’s paper, even though it’s 6:00 p.m. on the nose. Lou’s mother scurries rodentlike around the kitchen preparing food, muttering about the faulty gas stove, and she keeps accidentally banging her hips into the corners of the kitchen island and instructing Lou and his father to not expect anything that great at all. His mother wears aprons and decorates the house with myriad “WELCOME HOME” and “HOME SWEET HOME” decorations from the craft store to reassure all who enter of the swallowing and intensive hospitality they are sure to find inside, and that that which they are entering is, in fact, a home. She scoops mashed potatoes onto Lou’s plate that reads, “FAMILY.”
“How was work?” he asks his Pops.
His Pops glares down at Lou over the newspaper a minute. “Son, it’s a chemical plant.”
Lou’s face sinks to his potatoes. His Pops’d worked for a chemical company for thirty years making acrylic cement adhesives out of 60% methylene chloride and 40% ethylene chloride which is currently the most common solvent cement used for polycarbonate parts using a joining pressure of 200 psi. Lou really looks up to his Pops, not just because he’s a dark, watch-wearing, 6’2” brute, but because he’s a skillful although somewhat unfulfilled expert in the Bonding Department at PolycarboNation, Inc., the leading adhesives manufacturer.
“Whatcha reading?” he asks his father, more eagerly.
Without looking up, he reads, “’Man found dead with each limb chopped into seven equally sized pieces.’ Now how sick is that? What kinda freak world we livin in?”
A chill runs down Lou’s spine. He says he just doesn’t know what to say about that. After dinner, Lou ascends again to his bedroom.
He spent years in this dark closet studying his subjects, mixing colors and slaving over every detail, subsisting on whole boxes of graham crackers. Summers and winters flew by in the rosy apricot colors of his Ladies. There were many regrettable instances of graham crackers being used in certain unprofessional ways, when Lou hadn’t yet finished a painting but couldn’t wait to lay his mortal eyes on the euphoric finale but refused on a moral level to rush perfection, and he’d sometimes then fall helpless to the rough seams and cauterized edges of the cracker.
Lou never told his mother and his Pops about his work for fear that they couldn’t appreciate his art. Sometimes they asked him about what he was doing all that time in his room. They saw him sometimes carrying in canvas or oils he’d bought with his allowance, and his mom’d ask to see one of his paintings. He would go upstairs, panicked, and quickly paint over a Lady a simple dog or tree or something, and his mom would cry and carry on about her talented boy. But he didn’t tell anyone of the many nights he would stand nude before the mirror and hold his arm behind his back and imagine himself burdenless. How could he explain a suffering from abundance? How could he tell of his desire to become without appendages, weightless?
And so, Lou became, in isolation, a man, creating a world of women whom he loved with every seared-off finger and bulging, calfless thigh, and felt like he really knew them.
Walking home from school one day, he saw stapled on a telephone pole a PolycarboNation, Inc., advertisement announcing an AdhesiFest in the park that day, for there was a ‘lene surplus this year. Lou smiled at the thought of an impromptu visit with his father. He descended a grassy slope to find at the bottom of the hill a huge tent beneath which hundreds of shoppers and children swarmed. Lou went from table to table looking for his father, and when he finally came upon the Bonding Department’s booth, he found only his father’s coworker, Jason Thwarting, who was thirty-three and had the demeanor of a shy college girl. Thwarting stuck out his five-digited hand and said, “Lou. Nice to see you.”
“You seen my Pops around?” Lou asked, taking the hand.
“You’re awful young to be here alone,” Thwarting said, sheepishly and with a drawl. “No, your father couldn’t make it today, problem with the new trainee in the department. Something about a little ‘lene spill on Mr. Addenduman’s Italian leather shoes. Your mom coming around later?”
The table was stocked with adhesives: liquids, gels, powders, aerosol cans, x-tra-thin tablets, sheets, EZ-move, dura-strong, industrially strong, and Toddler-Hang™, a name coined by Mark in advertising after groundbreaking research which showed the adhesive to be able to hold the weight of an average-to-stocky toddler on the wall without incident. Lou scanned the products. Thwarting scratched his head with his right hand and pointed with his left to the x-tra-thins. “Could sell ya these for a school project or something.”
Lou looked and saw Jason Thwarting from the Bonding Department’s left hand’s thumb, pointer, middle and index fingers: that was all. No pinky to be found; only a small nub the size of a bitten piece of a baby carrot.
“I’ll take four of each,” Lou shuddered. He watched Thwarting in awe as he bagged the adhesives, and then Lou forked over his allowance money and quickly walked home.
When he got home his mother was starting dinner. “Lou, honey, where you been?” she said as she darted around the kitchen. “Stir this for me.” Lou put his bags on the counter by the stove and grabbed the ladle.
“What’s all this? Is this from your father’s company?”
He watched the baby carrots bobbing in the soup broth. “I thought you might could use it, Mom.”
She tousled his hair and turned up the gas heat, telling him to watch the stove while she stepped outside to hang on the front door a plaque that read, in bold, white cursive letters, “BLESSED.”
Lou thought about Thwarting as he stirred: a real-life subject. Lou trembled in sweet recollection of the light’s effect on Thwarting’s nub not two feet from Lou’s own real face. He lifted a baby carrot out of the soup with the ladle and picked it up and held it gently between two fingers like a cigarette, and looked at it for a long time before leaning down and biting off the tip, and the clean sound of the snap echoed in the kitchen. His hands shook.
He dropped the carrot and ran bedroomward and opened his paints and summoned the colors to capture this divine scene; he could see the edge of the bone of the non-finger hovering in the cool crisp air. “Lou? Do these interest you?” Thwarting had said so innocently. Was Lou interested, he’d asked! Lou painted maniacally; he slashed and swirled with his brush, painting Beatrice once more, but now, now Lou could grant her all he’d ever wanted to: the sweet flame of reality. O, free woman! Tears ran down his face; he was unhindered, smoldering; and in the lucid flood of passion and the blood rushing through his ears he’d forgotten about the soup on the stove, and the baby carrot which he had bitten and dropped in his moment of euphoria had bounced off the counter to the stove and under the burner, and had subsequently caught aflame, and the fire spread through a small trail of oil which the carrot had left upon bouncing, and the flame crawled slowly up to the counter, and in the closet Lou was nearly finished with his great masterpiece, and the flame crawled up the plastic bag of adhesives, and outside Lou’s mother was pressing the sign up against the wall until her arms hurt, waiting for the adhesive to dry, and the flame finally crept into the bag and caught aflame the EZ-move ‘lene, which spread to the powdered ‘lene container, which spread to the Toddler-Hang™, which according to the label was notoriously combustible, and right as Lou’s Pops’d pulled in, tired and a little pissed off for having to stay late with the incompetent trainee, as soon as he’d parked and stepped out, at exactly the moment when the toe of his Pops’ damaged Italian leather shoe tapped the driveway, finally with one huge billowing thrust of gas and wind the bag blew, with all the ‘lene in it, and in a microsecond the gas from the stove exploded, and the house blew in one big blue and orange supernova, and Lou’s mother fell and the sign shot back and hit Lou’s Pops square in the groin and immediately broke to spell “LESS,” and Lou was shot from the closet onto the lawn, and felt a slicing pain in his left arm, and through a cloud of orange smoke he coughed and looked down and could hear his mother screaming and his Pops groaning, and looked down and saw his left arm was just a raw red bleeding stump, completely cauterized by the soup ladle, and his eyes and mouth were all wide, gaping zeroes, and the smoke whirred as his mother screamed and they all looked at the house and saw, through burning newspapers and shards of glass and fire, hundreds of blackening white squares, and Lou, bleeding, recognized these as all his paintings he’d squirrelled away upstairs and the faux-paintings of dogs and trees he’d forged for his mom, and with deafening horror he saw that the mixture of 60% methylene chloride and 40% ethylene chloride also functioned as a very effective paint stripper and thus worked to Lou’s utter terror to strip away exactly one layer of his paintings, simultaneously dissolving his masterpieces and revealing the underlayers of his faux-paintings, and his parents stood horrified at the scores of images of nude, amputated women scattered around the blazing house with their faces and bodies melting and dissolving, and Lou stood on the lawn, bleeding out of his left arm, face all zeroes in the orange smoke, standing aghast looking at the fire.