Posted on: June 12th, 2011 Tincture of Regrets

By Kate Marshall

He defines himself by subtraction. Not a poet, not an athlete. He lacks spontaneity and the urge to settle down, has no sense of wonder, little prejudice; he is missing half a thumb on his right hand.


In the photo he stands by a house and a lazy, swollen river.

He does not remember the river, or what he did there. Nor does he recall picking up the knife, laying it against his flesh, the creases of his knuckle a convenient guide. He does not recall drawing back his arm, striking down in a swift blow, parting bone from bone and flesh from flesh.

He does remember the blood, packing a dishcloth against the stump, the pulsing pain of the thing. He knows the why: willing the part of him he could not bear into one lump of meat, and carving it away. All his evil coagulates the blood; not a drop seeps from the severed digit. He would throw it away, but he can’t recall what evil he forced into the thing. An incurious man by nature, he keeps it nonetheless, tucked away where he need not watch it shrivel.
The thumb: sliced neatly at the knuckle, withered, brown, skin pulled tight at the ragged nail. It sits at the bottom of a Ziploc bag, hidden in a drawer with leaky ballpoint pens and paper clips bent straight in fits of gradeschool habit.


They meet in a bar; she checks off the steps of courtship in her mind. Smile, touch, head cocked to send hair tumbling to her cleavage.

She is a singularly unimaginative woman, every trajectory and moment mapped, plotted. When they make love it’s like she’s solving an equation, and every variable must balance. She’s the sort to alphabetize her hand creams, and when she laughs her teeth cut off the sound.


She finds the thumb but says nothing to him. She has no real sense of wonder or intrigue, but it’s a variable she has no value for. She tucks the thumb in her purse. She thinks and waits and wonders.

A sliver of desiccated flesh is enough, steeped in alcohol and blunted with water. She drinks it down with a grimace, and digests his secrets. They do not sit well with her, and she stares at her own hands, the instruments of sin.


She starts at the last knuckle of her pinky, but she still sees water and weeds and the current lapping, tugging. She raises the knife again.

When her hand lays divided on the cutting board the blade moves up, and up, and when they find her they are sure she could not have done it to herself.


He finds the river in the photo. The leaves are bright as her blood, the river a narrow rope choked with silt. He leaves his memories in the mud, and drives away.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

--Brain Harvest