If you’d just met her, you’d never suspect a thing. An already statuesque woman, she wore the highest of heels, which I believe was an effort to appear authoritative. Instead it accentuated her vertical span. Makeup was applied heavily, but not excessively, likely a way to intimidate more than dazzle. But even then, she sometimes gave off a wounded, vulnerable, lonely air. Behind it, something was sorely out of place. One peered closer, instinctively searching for some visual clue to piece together the full picture.
The missing piece was her arm, the left one, to be precise. A birth defect presented her with only one fully developed appendage. The effect was shocking once one caught on to it, observing the prosthesis that stood in for where nature had not. An attractive woman by any of several metrics, the cruelty of fate had complicated her life considerably. Disability had thrown a wrench into her love life as well as her self-esteem.
Many men might have overlooked her above-average stature, in the way some women can overcome being regularly taller than their dates. Lacking as she did in the arm department was often a disqualifying factor.
One strange, boozy night in college I’d ended up in a girl’s bed one night. She was too fearful to go any further than embracing and, for that matter, I wasn’t out yet. I’m sure I probably could have put up a good act, but one without much conviction. Beth’s disability was similar to that woman from my past, but not identical. In that situation, the woman’s right arm was shrunken like a child’s to a third of its expected size. In comparison, Beth had no forearm at all. What she had ended at the bicep and went no further.
I often wondered whether an elaborate system of elastic bands was responsible for keeping it in place. The prosthesis looked a bit like a toy, but care had been taken for it to be properly positioned. It held firm but maintained an aspect of the grotesque, one certainly not intended as such.
That earlier experience had been a disaster. Once I left her bed somewhere around four o’clock in the morning, I realized I now had potentially damaging autobiographical information. If I’d wanted, I could have played kiss and tell with fellow classmates, but I didn’t. Even when I later slept exclusively with men I never shared those kinds of detail. She would have been devastated and I was not a mean-spirited person.
I must admit, however, that her complete and utter freak out the next day made me resentful. How was I to know that she worked at the coffee shop I frequented throughout the week? Upon my entry, she acted as though I’d hunted her down. She believed that I’d learned where she worked through obsessive detective work, all in an effort to somehow harass or humiliate her. That would have required time and effort, and more than I could have put together in less than twelve hours. Hangovers rarely are conducive to inspiration.
It was a testament to effort that I even managed to leave my apartment the next day.
Hey, hey. Her voice was adamant. Hey! She was trying to catch my attention.
We now return you to the present day. I found I was currently slouched over by the elevators, as usual. Every story looked the same in this palace of serious polished marble and hushed tones. The only thing distinguishing this floor from the others was the Polish accent of the secretary. She wore a headset and was unfailingly polite to everyone, though reserved and not much inclined to small talk.
I kept telling myself don’t stare don’t stare don’t stare. I started to stare, and then caught myself. The process kept repeating itself, comically. I’m sure this happens to Beth all the time. Even the people with the best of intentions can’t help but get distracted by fake rubber arms, with especially crudely shaped fingers. The fingers were the most problematic aspect of the entire apparatus. The arm section seemed somewhat plausible, provided you didn’t gaze upon it at the wrong angle.