ARMS by Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind

I get a room in a motel off I-95 and collapse onto the hard bed and let the right arm touch me. The air is thick and musty and smells like sweet clay, which makes me nauseous. I come into a sock. I stagger half-asleep into the bathroom, I drink bitter water from the sink, I look at — or maybe through — myself in the mirror as the right hand switches off the faucet, I get back in bed. Fall asleep to the faint sound of wheels on a road and dream of a man so tall that his head curls halfway around the globe, comes back through the earth (crust mantle outer core inner core outer core mantle crust), and pops out between his feet. I wake up maybe an hour or so before sunrise to the scream of a fox. Think: Fuck you, asshole, stupid fucking fox, go to hell. Then I take a deep breath and forgive the fox, who probably doesn’t know any better. Feel my forehead with the back of my left hand. Hot hot hot, hot pocket, hot potato, Venus lava Marlon Brando. Fish a pill out of the fat bag and swallow it dry with a curl of the lip. I come into the other sock. I stagger half-awake into the bathroom, I spit a wad of congealed night-goop into the sink, I flash myself a dead-eyed smile in the mirror, I get back in bed. Two minutes later, I run back into the bathroom and vomit into the toilet. The stuff smells like sweet clay, which makes me nauseous, so I vomit again. Sorry, I whisper to the toilet. Sorry, please, just, I, please, not, would. Every word is an exhale. Pink light oozes in; just like that, it’s day, and I sigh because nothing bad can happen during the day. It’s a rule, and we don’t break rules. Count to three thirty times, flush, stand, spit again. When I ask the receptionist if there’s breakfast, he looks at me with such derision that for a moment, I can’t breathe. I let him get back to clipping his nails.

In the parking lot, I open the car door with my left arm, and the right arm turns the key in the ignition. The car comes to life. I let it idle for a minute as I look out at a waveless sea of macadam and painted lines. But then the car starts to smell like its own gas, and there’s something deeply wrong about that. Short circuit circle circular oval ovalic loop de loop a car is made to create lines not circles go go go god damn it, so I pull out of the lot and merge onto I-95 and head south as the sun tickles the tops of the big green signs. The voice of the man on the radio is going on and on about pomegranates, and I wonder what the man is doing as his voice goes on and on about pomegranates. Maybe he, too, is clipping his nails, or maybe he’s got some desperate intern under the table clipping them for him. I look at my nails on the steering wheel. It almost looks like they’re growing sideways, over and down into the flesh on either side of the nail beds. Before I can worry about why my nails are growing sideways, my voice starts counting to three, thirty times, and all else is forgiven, assuming forgetting is forgiving, which is definitely true, no doubt about it.

Who do the clippings belong to, anyway? If the interns clip the man’s nails under the table, don’t they own the little bits of keratin that fly off the hand like gray sparks? Who’s to say the sparks are still his? Do sparks belong to anyone? Do they belong to the fire? Maybe the clippings belong to the nails. But the nails belong to the man. Does this mean the clippings belong to the man? And who is the man? Does there need to be a man? Why can’t there just be a voice? “Are actually berries,” the voice is saying. It doesn’t sound like the sort of voice that’s attached to something physical. Now that I think about it, my fingertips do hurt a little, especially the ones on the right hand. Like how an insult hurts when you hear it used on someone else. Distant, ghostly pain.

And I think: What about me? Where do I belong, and why do I belong, and to whom do I belong? And are those really three questions, or one? And if those are really three questions, then three one two three one two three one two three. Thirty times, driving north now. When I get back to the motel, I park and part the automated sliding doors like a highway Moses and walk by the now short-nailed receptionist. The right arm waves to him. Wave wave jazz hands shimmy wiggle ocean wave sound wave. And as it waves I tell it to stop, please fucking stop, I grab it with my left hand, a struggle ensues. The receptionist pretends not to notice me fighting with my own limb. I take refuge in the elevator. Back in my room, I realize I’m all out of socks. So I get in bed and turn on the television, covering my nose and mouth with my left hand to dull the overwhelming scent of clay, like is there a pottery studio around here? Someone throwing a fucking mug on a potter’s wheel? Why does this motel smell like clay? “Some light traffic,” the voice on the television is saying. The right arm holds down the volume up button until all I can hear is a screaming newscaster. I don’t even try to stop it.


Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind is a sophomore at Yale, where he serves as a literary editor for the Yale Literary Magazine. He has strong opinions about olives.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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