tom vowler  

There was a lull once the ambulance left and everyone had stopped hollering, silence where all the machines had been cut. A few guys sat there trying to process it all, this look on their faces like they’d witnessed their own hanging or something. The bosses were already trying to cover their backs, checking the guard was working properly, taking statements. And that’s when he saw it, lying next to the chuck, his co-worker’s arm, the stained shirt holding it torn neater than he’d expected, the hand flattened a little but intact. He wondered how they missed it, the crew and the bosses, why it hadn’t accompanied its owner to the emergency room.

An argument started up, about when production could begin again, the bosses talking about targets, but he just walked over, gathered up the limb and left the factory. He recalled something about ice, how it could preserve stuff, but there seemed little prospect of finding any, let alone a bagful. And so he went out through the gates, thinking a bus would be faster, but also thinking who the hell gets on a bus carrying an arm? A little way along the road he realised his cargo was spotting a trail behind him, so he turned it upright, fingers facing down, which seemed to help, and for a moment it looked like his own arm was twice the length.

He remembered as a child this dog getting into the yard, cornering their pet cat and, after a brief brawl, the animal clamping its jaws around the cat’s tail, shaking it so violently it detached, the cat fleeing over the wall, leaving the dog baffled. He’d taken the sock of skin and fur in to show his father, thinking that it could be reconnected, and his father laughed so hard he coughed for an hour after.

It was heavier than he expected, the arm, like it held each ounce of effort the guy had used it for. Every now and then the breeze caught the hairs, bringing it to life. Perhaps you could no more re-attach an arm than you could a tail, he thought.

There was training when you started on the machines, but not really enough. You got careless, was all, careless or tired, your mind on an argument from the morning, or tonight’s bar stool, and that was all it took for a hungry mechanism to haul you in.

He wondered if his co-worker knew of the loss, if he felt its absence through the haze of morphine or whatever they’d given him. In his twenties, he reckoned, new to the job, perhaps a family at home. He glanced down, to see if there was a ring, but it was the wrong hand. He thought about everything those fingers had done and everything they might now never do.

He was glad the streets were quiet and it surprised him how little attention people paid to each other’s business. A stray dog took to following him and he had to shoo it away, imagined getting to the hospital only to tell them a dog had ran off with it. Halfway there he stopped in front of a homeless man squat in a doorway, put some coins in his cap, the man taking it all in, nodding at all the things you could lose in a life.

Author Bio

Tom Vowler is an award-winning novelist and short story writer living in the UK. An Arvon tutor with a PhD in creative writing, his work has featured on BBC radio and been translated into multiple languages. His forthcoming book is a collection of flash fiction.