Ossie was on the subway, thinking about getting his hand redone,when it started. He was gently touching the worn mahogany with the still-fleshy fingertips of his left hand, still amazed at the way the circuitry was so completely hidden behind his wooden knuckles. He hadn’t had it refinished since he lost it in the war. He just hadn’t given it much thought.
That wasn’t true. He had given it thought. He thought about it whenever he missed the feeling of having a right hand. And he thought about it whenever he felt like less than a whole man because of it.
Ossie remembered his niece had showing up at the family barbeque last weekend, her leg all redone. She had lost it in a car accident a few years ago, and had taken to wearing long skirts and pants even in the hottest days. Not so at the cook-out, though. Ossie pictured her with her plate of potato salad, two matching legs pouring out of itty-bitty shorts. Only upon close inspection could you tell the difference between the creamy brown rubber and what was left of her thigh. Ossie
couldn’t even tell, and he looked.
Her boyfriend even said he couldn’t feel the difference, but Ossie had never put much stock in that boy.
Ossie was on the subway, thinking about latex skin and plastic nails when it started. He had noticed the girl who she had gotten on; it would have been hard not to. She must have weighed 300lbs, easy, Ossie had thought. When the girl removed her jacket in the stuffy subway car, and revealed an artfully-etched metallic arm, Ossie allowed that she probably weighed a great deal more than that.
Now the boy, the boy Ossie didn’t notice until he spoke.
“You best get your chrome ass out of my face,” the boy said. He said it quietly in a low, threatening tone. Perhaps too low, for the girl innocently felt the need to ask what he said. The boy repeated himself, loud enough for everyone in the car to hear.
“It’s not chrome,” she said, nervously trying to play the whole situation off. “Just my shoulder an on down my arm.”
“I don’t give a good goddamn. I don’t want your fat bionic ass in my sight!” The boy’s words were slurred by yellowed, broken teeth.
“There’s only so much space in here, and my stop–“Â
“Is coming up sooner than you think!” The boy pulled a pistol from behind his back, and pointed it at the girl and her fanciful left arm. He grinned as the entire subway car became very, very silent. “Yeah, that’s right. You think you all that with your fancy arm, and shit. But you ain’t nothing!”
Ossie recognized the gun as one of those newer models, that didn’t need bullets but shot some sort of energy instead. He had used a few of those in the war, and didn’t care much for them. Nor did he think much of those who preferred them. It was an intimidation weapon more than anything else.
“You don’t want to do that, son.” Ossie said, moving his wooden hand slowly toward the gun.
“Shut the hell up, Grandpa!”Â The boy was standing up now, posturing. Ossie rose slowly to meet him. “You think I won’t shoot your ass too?”
“Oh, I know you will. I know you will. I know boys like you. Knew ’em in the war. Thought a weapon would replace the courage they never had.” Ossie was not a young man anymore, but he was quicker than he looked, and had his prosthetic hand firmly over the gun’s nozzle before the boy had time to react. Ossie’s palm was jammed tight against the energy port. “Trouble is, only works against people who’d never do you any harm in the first place. I’m not afraid of you, boy.”
“What the hell is your problem, old man?” the boy tried to wrench the gun away, but only succeed in slightly scratching Ossie’s vice-like mahogany fingers.
“Losing your cool? That gun’s not enough, is it? You’re gonna have to fire it, you wanna keep that fear around you. Better
fire it. Squeeze the trigger, boy. Squeeze it. Goddamn, you better pull that trigger, or you’ll have to hear about how an old man took your gun away from you! Squeeze it! Don’t tell me you pulled out a gun like this and didn’t intend to fire! You better–!”
And then boy did.
Ossie was on the subway, thinking about what it would be like to have a soft, pliable hand again when it happened. The energy released by the pistol didn’t have anywhere to go but Ossie’s hand, and while it burned through the wood, all it did was short circuit the mechanism itself. The hand made as tight a fist as it could, crimping the barrel of the boy’s gun in its charred wooden fingers. The boy was blinded by the discharge, and blinking as he was, certainly didn’t see the girl’s steel forearm impact with the side of his head. The girl thanked Ossie, but he would have none of it.
“But your poor hand!” she said. Ossie looked down at his burnt right hand, clenched in an arthritic fist, the pistol sticking out like some sort of militaristic flower.
“It don’t matter. I was thinking about replacing it, anyway.”