by Rachel Cordasco
When I got up from my chair in Cossie’s, after finishing a particularly tasty grilled chicken ceasar salad sandwich (they really outdid themselves that time), I felt that something was missing. I looked down and saw it. My arm. It had fallen off again.
This was really getting ridiculous. When my mother said (nearly every day) that if my limbs weren’t attached to me I’d leave them behind wherever I went, she didn’t know how right she was.
It’s a form of absent-mindedness, I tell myself, but that doesn’t help when you get into the car, start the engine, and then realize that you can’t buckle your belt because you’re missing a hand. Or when you get up from a chair and keel right over, like a fool, because your leg has decided to stay behind.
These were usually minor embarrassments, since I always realized that I was missing something before I was too far away. Nonetheless, I was getting nervous, worrying that one day I would leave something really important behind and someone would steal it, either as a joke or out of some twisted sense of revenge.
Naturally suspicious though I am, I finally decided to see Dr. Elliott, a therapist recommended to me by my friend Martha. Dr. Elliott, she said, was fantastic, absolutely fantastic. With a recommendation like that, how could I say no? Martha said that he had cured her obsession with mocha double-fudge brownies and could help me understand why I kept leaving my limbs behind. Maybe I had some sort of subconscious death-wish, she offered. Or I subconsciously wanted to get a full body makeover. Martha was always inspiring like that.
Dr. Elliott’s office was on the fifth floor of a ramshackle brown building in a shady part of the city. The rent, he later told me, was cheap and his neighbors were always polite and never tried to burn down their businesses. This, he explained while lowering his voice, was a step up from the last place he had used for his practice. There… well, that’s a story for another time, he said, winking. I winked back, not sure why we were winking at each other.
When I sat down on the couch and Dr. Elliott sat down across from me in a wicker chair, he leaned forward and scanned my face. I assumed that this was how he began all of his sessions. But then he said, “Where’s your left eyelid?”
I stared at him for a few seconds, felt my left eye, and whispered, “Damn!” We went out to the waiting room and looked around under furniture and on the chairs before we found it. I slapped it back on my face and Dr. Elliott said, “You really do have a detachment problem.” Thanks for stating the obvious, brilliant doctor man.
The skinny secretary with neon carrot-red hair stared at us with her jaw on her desk as we went back in to Dr. Elliott’s office. I was so used to that stare from strangers that it didn’t bother me anymore. I sat back down on the couch, Dr. Elliott settled back into his squeaky wicker chair, and we stared at each other for a while.
I started clearing my throat to say something inane and break the ice when he asked, “By what method did your mother give birth to you?”
Now that was a question I had never been asked before.
“What do you mean?” I stammered out.
“Did your mother give birth to you naturally or by cesarean section?”
“Oh,” I said, trying to think. “I do remember her saying something about a C-section. It might have been my brother, but it could just as easily have been me.”
“Hmm…” said Dr. Elliott, chewing on the ends of his long brown mustache and resting his nose on the canopy he made with his fingers.
He stayed that way for a while, so I started looking around the dim office, trying to find something interesting to muse on. There were several abstract paintings on the walls – you know, the kind with one red dot in the middle of an otherwise blank canvas, or a series of squiggles that look like something a two-year-old might have done in a fit of artistic inspiration.
I was wondering how much he had paid for that crap when my eye was caught by sunlight glinting off a gold statuette sitting on the edge of his desk. It was vaguely Chinese, with two dragon heads facing away from one another and a series of dragon tentacles curling around the base, which looked like the bottom of a squat vase. I found this dragon intriguing for some reason, and squinted for a better look. Suddenly, it was blue, made out of porcelain, and the dragon had ten heads. I blinked, and the dragon was gold again. I was about to ask Dr. Elliott what was the matter with his bric-a-brac when he started to speak.
“I believe you have detachment syndrome,” he said, stroking the ends of his mustache like they were two cats. “This is a very rare syndrome, only diagnosed in one hundred people – er –” (here he coughed) “individuals around the world, but it’s definitely real.”
“I know it’s real, doctor,” I said. “My eyelid fell off today. What will be next?”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I can help you.”
I should have felt comforted.
Dr. Elliott got up and started rummaging through a closet in the corner of the room. I saw a stuffed unicorn, a live lizard and a beach ball, among other things, bounce across the floor as he tossed them one by one out of his way. I wondered what was coming and actually wasn’t very surprised when he sat down again across from me with what looked like a metal mesh helmet that emitted little blue sparks.
“Here,” he said, holding it out to me, “put this on your head.”
“Why?” I asked, squinting at him out of the corners of my eyes.
“Just do it. I have another patient coming in ten minutes. Do you want help or not?”
So I put it on. That thing was heavy, and it was then that I noticed Dr. Elliott holding a small box, whose wire was attached to the helmet I was wearing. He pressed a button, and I must have jumped ten feet.
“Damn!” I said, reaching up to take the helmet off. “What the hell was that for?”
“Don’t take it off!” Dr. Elliott cried, jumping up with his hand stretched out to me. “You need to keep it on for three minutes.”
“But what’s it doing to me?” I whined, already plotting my revenge on Martha.
“I’m resynching your neural pathways.”
Another few shocks, and I woke up on the floor, sans helmet, with Dr. Elliott leaning over me, his mustache defying gravity like cats in zero-g.
“Whaaa…” I murmured.
Dr. Elliott helped me up and seated me back down in the chair.
He looked at me gravely.
“What’s your diagnosis, doctor?” I asked lightly, trying to hold off on what was obviously going to be a bad diagnosis.
“I had to be sure. Lora, you need to know that you were constructed, not born.”
“Um, what?” That was the best I could do.
He sighed. “It’s always hard to break the news. You’re made out of the same stuff as a mannequin, only you have neural circuits and nerves. But your model was never fully stabilized. The shocks I just gave you resynched your neural pathways.”
I sat there, like a statue – or, rather, like a mannequin – staring.
Dr. Elliott let the information sink in.
“Well,” I said at last, trying to find the bright side, “at least I’m not a robot.”
“True, true,” Dr. Elliott said, stroking his mustache.
He led me out of the office, telling me to make a series of appointments over the next few months for a few more “resets,” as he called them.
“So this will cure my detachment problems, doctor?” I asked before I left.
“Yes,” he said. “Oh, and you might want to get some super glue, too, just in case.”
RACHEL CORDASCO lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and enjoys reading, knitting, traveling with her husband, and going to the opera.