Phantom Limb

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The first thing Teddy said to us was, “Kids, I’ll take you where you want to go, but I sure as hell won’t be cleaning up after you.” Teddy was our favorite cab driver because he never asked questions. He didn’t look twice at Pete’s BB gun or my open liquor bottle.

We took cabs to big parking lots and shot seagulls with Pete’s BB gun because neither of us had a drivers license. Pete’s dad didn’t want to teach him to drive and Pete never bothered to ask anyone else. I didn’t have a license because my mom was afraid of drunk drivers. “It’s always other people you need to worry about,” she said.

Pete had some money saved in a bank account for college from when his grandfather died, and by the time we realized we were too old to be shooting seagulls, we had used almost all of it on cab fare.

When we told him about the bank account Teddy said, “Well, an investment is an investment, I guess.” His upper lip was sprinkled with a few scraggly hairs that looked like they were there by accident. We didn’t know much about Teddy, just that he drove a cab and he liked the smell of his cigarettes more than the taste. He never told us to stop shooting birds. Sometimes I saw him squint his eyes when Pete pulled the trigger, but I figured if it upset him that much he could drive away. He rarely did. He usually waited there in the parking lots.

Art by Claire Whitehurst

Art by Claire Whitehurst

Pete lost his arm lighting a car on fire in seventh grade. Now he has a phantom limb and a shitty attitude.

He and his little brother siphoned gasoline from their dad’s lawnmower into an empty coffee can and waited in a roadside ditch for the neighbors to leave the house for mass. After breaking matches for ten minutes, he got in the trunk of the car. When it finally ignited, some gasoline that spilled onto Pete’s shirtsleeve went up with it. And as Pete struggled to dampen the fire crawling up his sleeve, his little brother accidentally slammed Pete’s arm in the trunk.

It’s weird because Pete’s dad was born without an arm. The left one. Same arm as Pete. They joked that it was hereditary because one of them was ashamed, I think. Though I’m not sure which one.

“I bet Teddy has been sticking it in the same bitch for forty years,” I said. We’d spent the afternoon hooking up an old wood paneled television in Pete’s garage. Pete twisted the antenna around for almost an hour before we got a picture, and even then it was fuzzy and distorted. We could only get some Spanish soap opera channel and it didn’t have sound.

“No fucking way,” he said, “I bet he’s got a girlfriend half his age. I bet she wears those lacy little thongs and makes him prime rib every night for dinner.” Pete put his cigarette out on the floor.

“Do you think he always wanted to drive a cab?” I asked.

“I don’t know, probably. He probably went to college and got straight A’s but realized it was bullshit. I bet he flipped his professors the bird and walked out,” Pete said.

I didn’t think Teddy was who Pete thought he was. That night when we got into his cab, I noticed that he never seemed to really look hard at anything, like his eyes had been glassed over by something he’d lost somewhere between picking up strangers and dropping them off. Teddy seemed to have moments with things, but not much else.

The first day we went out with Teddy, we didn’t know where we were going. We asked him how big a circle we could make with fifty bucks and he just started driving.

Pete leaned out of Teddy’s cab door, looking at the sky. I watched his head dart back and forth at the birds swooping down in front of us, pecking at crumpled Burger King wrappers, cartwheeling cellophane from cigarette packs. Pete made a silencer out of an egg carton. It made me nervous.

“They’re lost, you know,” Teddy said, following one of the gulls.

I didn’t say anything. I twisted the cap of my whiskey on and off.

“They think they’re flying over the ocean. They’re lost. People can be lost too,” Teddy said.

Pete’s twisted, plastic stump arm quivered. Maybe he just wanted to see something die.

Pete didn’t really talk about his phantom limb often, but he made it clear when it was bothering him. In a parking lot once, he yanked at his knotted shirtsleeve until it was nearly ragged. His eyes flashed at me like he was daring me to mention it, but I didn’t say a word, just twisted my hands around in the pocket of my hoodie.

It was nearly ten below. Teddy had left us in the lot a couple hours before. His shift was up and he told us he had “bourbon and a bed full of women” waiting for him at home. We hadn’t seen a gull in an hour, but neither of us wanted to go.

“It feels too short,” he said, looking away. He was still pulling on his sleeve. I tried not to look at him or the space where his arm should be. “Sometimes I feel like my arm steals from other people’s arms. It doesn’t remember what it’s like to be an arm. It has to pretend to be someone else’s.”

He kicked the rifle on the ground in front of him. It spun like a rotor.

I stared at the gun and thought about what would happen if it went off every time the muzzle passed my ankle. He kicked the gun again.

We’d go to Walmarts, Home Depots, Farm and Fleets, IKEAs. I was in charge of calling Teddy, otherwise Pete would shoot birds until there weren’t birds to shoot, or until he was dead.

Once, Teddy drove us to a grocery store lot we’d never been to before and Pete landed a BB into the wing of a seagull within the first five minutes. It struggled to stay airborne, winding around in the air before it landed two parking spaces away. Pete went to look at it.

I took a swig. Teddy coughed a handful of phlegm out the window. “It’s all about perception,” he said.

Pete walked into the span of the headlights. He waved to Teddy with one arm and then the phantom. Teddy waved back with both arms, as if signaling for help, before leaning back and sitting still, moving his focus back and forth from the birds in the sky to the birds at our feet.

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