by Jeffrey Greene
The small, gift-wrapped box came inside a plain box with no return address, only a brief note attached: “For you.” Vera recognized Klaus’s elegant cursive and, upon opening the inner box, was duly horrified to find that she also knew the severed finger it contained. Was it possible that her ex-boyfriend had done this to himself? For her? Surely not. He’d seemed so civilized during their six-month affair, so continental, at once passionate and humorously detached, a balancing act that had charmed her until it didn’t.
And his reaction to being dumped was really the model of how a man should behave. His head had slumped forward when she told him, but he didn’t cry, rage or demand to know what was wrong with him or her. He just nodded, shrugged on his jacket, opened the door and, throwing a ragged half-smile over his shoulder, walked out of the room. A real gentleman.
She was almost ashamed of her relief at the ease of it all. No flurry of texts and phone calls followed, no bitter, savage rants, tear-stained poetry, stalking or death threats. Just silence, for two lovely months.
And now this. Apparently he’d been hoarding his hurt until it burgeoned into self-surgery. The rather large (as little fingers go), pale digit, probably from his left hand, since he was a righty, lay in specimen-like innocence on its cotton bed, blue under the ragged, dirty nail — which saddened her, he’d been so careful about his appearance — its raw end plasma-glued to the fine white threads, and heavier than she would have supposed.
Replacing the lid, she held the box in her trembling hands for a respectful measure, without the faintest idea what to do with it, then “Say it with fingers!” exploded Tourette’s-like out of her and she laughed, a shade hysterically, on her way to the kitchen.
How was she expected to take this lopped-off fragment of past happiness? As evidence for the police? Or perhaps as a grisly memento almost sure to become, as the years passed, a tale to be told and re-told late at night after several rounds of drinks. As a gift as grotesque as it was incalculably precious, if a good deal less to her than to the giver? Or, worst case, as both an implicit threat of more excisions to follow and a message, as in: take me back or you’ll have me back in pieces.
With some of her men, six minutes was sufficient to sound their depths, but it was now clear to her that six months had not even begun to map all the back alleys and hidden drawers inside Klaus Bormann’s head. She tried and failed to imagine this quiet, diffident man somehow moved, through enough vodka (his preferred drink), grief and misery, to raise a cleaver over his own finger — that lifelong, indispensable ally — and then not (as she certainly would have) chicken out. Was it a German thing? she wondered, then chided herself for such shallow Teutonic profiling.
How did he feel afterward? Triumphant? Ashamed? Idiotic? Or maybe purged, his suffering cauterized by blood sacrifice. Vera fervently hoped this was a one-off, that the shocking pain, blood, medical bills, and permanent inconvenience would be self-chastening enough to prevent further demonstrations of extreme faith. In any case, she wasn’t about to contact him. More so now than ever, the amputation — God forgive her — of this man from her life was irrevocable.
Until she decided who, if anyone, to tell, she stored the box in a resealable bag in the back of her freezer. Thankfully, no more body parts arrived in the mail but, for a long time afterward, she was skittish and gingerly when opening small gift boxes. She didn’t tell anyone about the frozen finger, and several months passed before she somewhat guiltily disposed of it.
Later, on her still gun-shy forays into dating, she favored gregarious men with a wide streak of self-deprecating humor, and her next lover was a jazz guitarist.
Copyright © 2020 by Jeffrey Greene