Oppositional Thumb (After Lu Xun) by Kayla Miller
April 20, 19— I feel my ghost thumb strong tonight. More than just its usual slight prickling—a magnetized kinesthesia suspended above my skin, above the nubby joint of raised, pokey flesh and bone. Where my once-real thumb once was.
I've felt it change, felt it swell and grow stronger, that ghost thumb. I don't know from where it draws its strength, and even if I did, I don't know if I'd want to interrupt its re-apparition. Who am I to speak to the afterlives of lost digits? Perhaps it is a natural thing, a timely thing, that now, six years after I first lost it, the thumb is making its reappearance. Maybe it takes six years to wade through thumb purgatory, or to earn angelic thumb-wings, or to muck through similar mythology until resurrected, floating about an inch above the unfinished nub in the “L” of my left hand.
As I type this now, the bone juts short and awkward from my palm and feels sharp against the inside of my skin as I reach for each key. Feels sharper than the tips of finger bones draped in appropriate amounts of fingertip cushion as they tap, tap, tap.
April 22, 19—
I study Grandma's hands sometimes. The skin so thin and bones so engorged and swollen. Her blue veins thick, pumping weakly, visible through her sheer skin. Fingers that gnarl, yes, but dance with needle and thread and do not feel the ache of arthritis. I wonder, had my thumb been given a long, full life, would it have grown to look like hers? Is "only the good die young" true of left thumbs?
April 29, 19—
I don't think things happen for a reason. At church, the pastor and Mom and Scott and Grandma laid hands on my nub and prayed for healing, and Mom said things happen for a reason. I just can't believe that's true. Mom and Grandma and the pastor have both their thumbs, every one of them. They do not feel haunted by a thumb that was there for most of a life and then wasn't. Plus, what do they think God’ll do six years later?
It's clear to me, after feeling the pulsing and growing pressure just underneath my uppermost layer, a thin magnetization just between the pointy bone and the skin: this thumb of mine had intent. It had goals. Still does. And now it aims to move beyond an eternity of being disconnected from its fellows. It is haunting me. Even now, I feel it. A small pull of bone toward the space above it, a ruptured air; crackling and static electricity in the inch hovering above my nub that I can feel with my other, intact fingers.
It wants to come back.
May 4, 19—
There is little recourse for me now but to be a receptor to my ghost-thumb's wills. It is more intentional with each day, and I feel less inclined to resistance. I haven't mentioned this to anyone yet, not even Baby Sister, because it's a secret I know she couldn't keep. She loves the nub too much, likes to touch it and rub her fingers over the scar tissue. I watch her eyes cling to it as I gesture and talk. Something in the shape of my outstretched palm that reminds her of lily pads, she says. Amphibian.
Baby Sister talks about my nub often. Asks how it feels to do things with it. "How does it feel to hold your toothbrush?" or "What's it like to flick your cigarette with your nub?" I don't mind these questions and understand. Since the car accident was when she was just a baby, she has only known me with my nub, and refers to it affectionately, as curious about it as any six-year-old is as curious about anything else bodily and unusual.
Though I haven't disclosed the new feeling, I sense its desires for apparition and hope to aid it. I keep close documentation of the feeling's progressions throughout the day, on an hourly basis. The journal runs something like:
Thumb's Mood: _____________
This way, I try to note patterns in what makes it feel acutely sensitive, or prickly, or twitchy. Sometimes, the nub seems to pull in a different direction than my other fingers without my awareness. It is more of an effort to type this during these times. I must focus my will strongly to make it cooperate.
May 16, 19—
The space about an inch above the nub has become so infused with energy that it causes physical reactions if encountered. When I pass a full finger through the ghost thumb's atmosphere, a sudden arthritic ache stabs the knuckles and passes as quickly.
I've experimented with Baby Sister to see if it can cause a physical reaction in others. Thrice this week, when she takes her nap, I have stood above her bed, dangling my limp arm over her soft, sleeping face. I let the nub's atmosphere rest on her forehead, just between the eyes. Thrice this week, Baby Sister has stirred from sleep to see me, not touching but feeling the friction of her face and the ghost thumb's space. All her baby hairs stand on end, then pull and lean toward the phantom digit. She awakens each time with a start.
May 19, 19—
There is a clear preference our mother houses. A doting on Baby Sister and love-looks passed between Mom and Scott that locks me outside their world. Though Baby Sister can occasionally achieve a sort of endearing quality that makes me tolerate her, she is nonetheless Scott’s. And he barely older than me, closer in age to being my brother than a stepfather, and Mom so much older.
I see Scott look at my nub sometimes. Like he's unsure of what he sees. Like he can’t believe I’m his daughter’s sister.
May 22, 19—
Baby Sister, what I know that they don’t is that you are no good. Scott is a dog and you may as well be a bastard. He talks to you in a lilt that hurts my ears.
May 25, 19—
You are too young to know. But Baby Sister, I will tell you when you’re older, I’ll say: Look! He stole Mom away from my father. He knocked her up before marrying her. He is twelve years younger than her and works for a pizza place slapping dough. Look at my nub and into my eyes and see your father’s sins. How he wrecked that car and left me with both a loss and a burden. How he took my thumb from me and in its place gave me you.
June 1, 19—
Baby Sister, you have two thumbs you are not using.
June 2, 19—
Besides, this is all Scott’s fault: your father's drunken swerving, the slight drift of our car pushing into the lanes of others’ heading in different directions. If we hadn't crashed on that drive back from a Savannah vacation, I would still have my thumb, Baby Sister. Our mother was pregnant with you and your father drove sloppy. She almost died, and so did you by extension, and so did your daddy, getting flung out of the car like that. But nobody lost anything, everybody was just fine, except me.
I remember crawling from that mishmash of steel and broken glass and seeing more than feeling the thumb that wasn’t there. I kept trying to move it. It took years to remember it wasn't there. Never would be again.
June 11, 19—
Baby Sister, you don't deserve that thumb. So cute and small and dainty, all clean fingernail beds and short little nails that don’t scratch hard enough. You don’t suck on it for comfort or play video games for amusement; hell, you’re right-handed. A left thumb, you wouldn’t miss. Much.
June 18, 19—
So many days, so much waiting for the opportune moment. I'll write my thoughts here, only to ensure that they're straight, only to keep them from spinning. Baby Sister has two thumbs she isn't using, not even to suck on, and the pulsation underneath my skin grows more unbearable, a poison ivy rash I want to rip. Baby Sister has two thumbs she isn’t using; I'm sure that, given the chance, my ghost thumb waits for reemergence.
I’ll wait until Mom’s gone and Scott's gone and Baby Sister sleeps. Really though, as long as they're both gone, it doesn't matter if she's asleep or not. No one will hear her cry and scream.
June 18, 19 — [later]
Everyone’s gone. The house is still. Baby Sister isn't sleeping, but no matter. Even if she was, she’d wake with the first cut.
Kayla Miller is John Wayne. She is also the author of the fiction chapbook See & Be Seen & Be Scene, published by Five [Quarterly]. Currently, she lives in the Wild West, where she’s an MFA candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and revising a novel.