My husband’s thumb lies nestled among the mushrooms on the countertop. Not twitching and jumping like the body of a live fish when you cut off the head. Just resting, as the head itself would do. A small amount of blood, a soupçon in cooking terminology, fans out from the point of detachment in an irregular pool.
My husband is on the tiled terrazzo floor. He’s doing the twitching, writhing really, getting his chinos and Italian linen shirt mussed as well as stained. He’s moaning too. I can’t think.
It’s a good thing I don’t want to. Who could ignore the moaning?
And the screaming: “You’re fucking INSANE!”
Cutting off his thumb hadn’t been that difficult. Harder than slicing through a chicken drumstick, but easier than a lamb bone. Lambs are surprisingly sturdy creatures.
“I’ve called 911,” I say. I’m sitting at the kitchen island, on one of the bar stools where our guests perch while I cook so we can have an interactive dining experience. My meat cleaver is set out in front of me like part of a place setting.
Another scream: “My thumb! Crazy BITCH!”
“I gave you a towel. Keep applying pressure.” I twirl the apple-green beads of my jade necklace around two fingers. I won’t react to pedestrian name-calling. If I did, I might feel something.
The cleaver’s still too accessible for that. Right now my emotions are operating under a scorched-earth policy. Anger, love, despair, everything—burned to the root. “It’s a clean cut, right at the joint. Maybe the doctors can reattach it.”
My husband had come into the kitchen while I was getting dinner ready. He loved for me to cook, whether I made a simple supper for the two of us or dazzled his clients and boss with such culinary masterpieces as coq au vin or paella. I’d been vegan when we met. That didn’t go over well with him or his guests, so I put aside my moral qualms. I learned to cook animal flesh and spent inordinate amounts of time handling body parts on my husband’s behalf. Last Christmas he bought me a set of Shun handcrafted Japanese knives from Williams-Sonoma. The cleaver alone cost $225.
So there I was, chopping vegetables with my chef’s knife. He walked in to stand beside me, facing the counter like I was and spreading his hands wide to rest his weight on the granite. He kept his eyes on the cold, glossy stone. He cleared his throat, then exhaled hard through his mouth in that way that men do.
“Honey?” I glanced at him, knife in air.
“Sarah, I’m in love with someone else.” His eyes still down.
I put the knife in the block without wiping it.
“You’re in love?” I willed him to look at me. “In love?”
Silence. The granite’s patterns, spawned in streams of feldspar and quartz, appeared to entrance him. I looked too, at his hands resting there, the fingers, the thumbs, casual and in control even with this. It was just his eyes that were shifty. The hands showed no remorse.
“With someone else?” I said.
“Yes. I’m moving out. I’m sorry, you have to know that. But we’re in love.”
A whole new we. One I wasn’t a part of.
My husband and I were the perfect couple. Me, the fashion writer, blond, blue-eyed, petite, and willing to endure four-inch stilettos so I’d look hot. Him, the fast-rising sales rep, black-haired, broad-shouldered, and thrilled by the discounted Hugo Boss and Armani suits I found for him. He traveled a lot for his job. Yet we talked, we shared, we fucked. We were us.
Just this morning: Sex. “Love you.” He said it too.
Monogamy never merited discussion. A given, I thought. I was on the pill because he didn’t like condoms. Did he not like them with her? I felt infected, as if pustules were spreading through me, a flash fire of deformation.
I’d felt it before, this white-hot, roaring flame that whelps a white-cold, silent ash. One Friday night when I was 15, I stayed up late to see an old science fiction movie. My brother, just two years older, came home around 2:30 and found me in the den. Our parents and little sister were asleep at the other end of the house. My brother was excited to see me. That didn’t happen much. He said he wanted to talk. He flipped on the outside light switch and pulled me out the sliding glass door to sit on the back step.
He turned toward me and circled my ankle with his left hand. His fingers brushing against my skin reminded me I hadn’t shaved. The stubble creeped me out. I was wearing an old T-shirt and loose elastic-waist shorts.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said.
The yellow glow of the light wavered as moths dived into the glass. My brother leaned in. I could smell alcohol on his breath.
“What? Watch me when?”
“When you go jogging. You want me to look.”
“What? No, I don’t.” Sparks of amazement, pride, repulsion, shame.
He drew closer, almost across me. His right hand moved up my right leg.
“I need to go to bed,” I said. “It’s late.”
“No, let’s talk.”
He tightened his grip on my ankle, and his other hand kept climbing my leg. I froze. The hand went inside my shorts and didn’t stop until my brother’s thumb rested in the center of my underwear. Then his thumb moved. Back and forth, back and forth, sweeping away all trace of innocence.
“Stop. You have to stop,” I said. “I’m your sister.”
“It’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
I jerked upright, more panic than bravery. His thumb fell away.
“Let go of my ankle,” I said.
He did. Without a word.
I went inside, gently closing the door behind me. I still felt his thumb years afterward. I thought it was a permanent imprint, like a brand, until I met my husband, and he made me trust him.
It only took a second, maybe less, to pull the cleaver from the knife block and slam it down. I couldn’t stand the thumb’s strength, so innate, so careless, so like my brother’s after all.
I hear sirens.