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Missing

Jaime Morelli
[jmorelli@nyc.rr.com]
I

The man with no hands knocked on number 274 and was discovered by the man with no ears. The missing ears were not immediately apparent to most people, but the man with no hands was used to looking for what was missing.

           He found himself on the other side of the door. Unusual, that someone asked him in for coffee, unusual that the door hadn't closed on him immediately, the moment he held up the camera. He liked the man with no ears; felt that he had something to offer someone with so many parts gone.

           The carpet held depressions of phantom furniture. The air still smelled like children. It was much too large for one man. More than he needed -- or was it exactly what he needed, a huge space in which to wander, replacing his ears with what his eyes could contain.

           The two men left the house to see the reservoir. The man with no hands had something to show to the man with no ears. But the act of photographing a herd of deer spoiled his momentum. A thrown rock, a crushed prosthetic, and the man with no hands strode stiffly up the road, clutching stones and his twisted limb. His wrist was a shovel that gathered the shale into his good hand, which catapulted the missiles toward the first floor of the home belonging to the man with no ears.

II

I didn't intend to, but I allowed a handless man to enter this house.

           Someone had to show up sooner or later. And this space could use some filling up. I don't think I'm enough for it. At least, not in the physical sense.

           He said he was a local photographer, an artist who made his living taking photos of the Catskills and displaying them in local coffeehouses and galleries -- the Museum of the Hudson Highlands, for instance. This is a small town, friendly, sunny. It was odd to see a stranger come up this way, but not completely abnormal. There is Black Rock Forest just a mile or so away, and further, Bear Mountain.

           The house was immediately too crowded. I shifted to my left foot, and almost touched all I have left of my ears other than two symmetrical holes that catch conversations that aren't always there. "No, I haven't see the reservoir in a few years," I responded. "Let's go."

           He didn't forget that he came in to use the restroom and get a drink of water after an afternoon of trespassing on the Stillman's lawn. The Hudson Valley was unbelievable from that field, where the grass is taller than my daughters.

           We didn't make it to the reservoir. The herd was down the road, visible as dark shadows in the grass. We crept slowly, silently. The deer in this area are nearly domestic, only startled by the unseen. "Don't move," he said, raising the camera with his prosthetics.

           But I did.

           I threw a rock. It was shale picked up from my driveway, one of the pieces with the white chalky end that my daughters used to write on the larger, flatter stones.

           "God damn it!" he said. His camera dropped onto his chest. One of his prosthetic hands followed, falling out of his sleeve and bouncing on the street. With one movement my heel was upon it.

           "Ha!" I cried, and started to run back up the road towards my house -- looming, forgiving. "You can't do that, can you?" I was hysterical -- I was my elder daughter when she didn't get her way.

           "Please," he said, closing his eyes, "can you help me put this back on?" He bent down to retrieve the plastic limb, grotesque, misshapen.

           These outdoors were too big to contain me; I needed to be reined in by walls and windows. I ran, sprinted even, and when the door closed behind me, I could hear sirens.

III

You knocked on this door -- number 274 -- because the house looked exactly the way you pictured it. You thought the person living inside would permit you to take a rest, use the bathroom, have a drink of water. You cloaked yourself in your usual bravado and condescension -- something only a man with something missing needs to do.

           In your case it was your hands. You were nervous until a man opened the door and you noticed he was missing his ears. He invited you in, and you realized that there was more to it -- he was missing children and a wife. It hadn't been that long ago that they were in there. You imagined he was lonely. Finally, someone you could tell something to.

           You invited the isolated, earless man to accompany you to the reservoir, where you were shooting your "Water in the Hudson Highlands" series. You thought maybe you could get him talking, and hear all about how he lost his ears. You imagined it was his wife, all that talking that women can do.

           You spotted shadows in the field that you'd trespassed in all day. It was too beautiful a view from that field for any rich man to keep to himself. Now that you'd vacated, the deer had moved in, and they stood there calmly as you lifted the camera. "Don't move," you instructed.

           But that's the thing -- there are moments when others should not be trusted. You have to be aware when these moments arise, but you were not aware this time. The herd scattered and ran deep into the field, heading for the woods. Something fell out of your coat sleeve, caught in your camera strap. It wasn't until the earless man ground his heel into it that you realized it was your right hand.

           You heard yelling. You thought it was the anger in your head. You asked for help, but there was no one to hear you. You gathered everything together and walked up the road, back towards number 274.



About the Author (click here) © 2003 Jaime Morelli, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission



Author Notes

           This story pays homage to Raymond Carver's "Viewfinder" -- where the image of the man with no hands and the rock throwing originated. I was interested in how the story played out in different POVs -- I liked the writing too much in each to be able to pick just one and go with it. The locale is based on the home and street where I grew up

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