My fingers dance on the computer keyboard as I birth a short story. The phone rings; jolted out of my fictional world, I hear my neighbor’s voice.
“It’s Karina,” she sobs. “Joe cut off his finger—hospital. . . .”
I run out, leaving the door unlocked, grateful I am dressed. My heartbeat accelerates. Their Trailblazer awaits. “Come!” Karina gestures wildly, blood on her face and hands.
I stumble to get into the back and one of my sandals falls off. I let the other one drop. Karina steps on the gas. Joe moans, his hand wrapped in a towel.
“Hold on, Baby,” says Karina.
Where is the finger? I decide not to ask such a left-brained question.
“What are the kids going to think?” Karina cries. “There is blood everywhere.” I picture Jocelyn and Joseph coming home and how I will arrive at the hospital with no shoes, no purse, no cell phone.
Joe moans, “It hurts!”
I jump out and run through the emergency entrance. “This is an urgent emergency,” I announce, aware of my redundancy.
I tell Karina I will park the car.
“No, go see the children. They’ll be home from school.”
I drive their Trailblazer barefoot and without a license. When I pull into the Fernandez’ driveway, the front door is open, the kids already home. Jocelyn’s face is grave; Joseph’s unreadable.
“Where are mom and dad? Why are you driving our car?”
“At the hospital. Your father cut his finger.”
“I told myself it was only paint,” said Jocelyn.
“I’ll get my purse and shoes, then we’ll go to the hospital.” My voice is even, calm.
“Your shoes are in the road,” remarked Joseph.
Karina calls. “I need you to do something hard. Go into the back yard and find the finger. Put it into a plastic bag; keep it dry. Put it on top of another plastic bag with ice. Don’t let it get wet.”
Search for the finger? My heart convulses. At some point, the kids had let their dogs into the backyard, and I wonder about the timing. I search.
Karina calls again.
“I can’t find it.”
“What is it?” asks Jocelyn.
I know I have to tell her. “His finger.”
Karina’s sister, Mireya, arrives with her four children—five-year-old twin girls and two older boys.
All six children come out to help, the twins crying.
Mireya climbs a ladder to check the roof. “That finger could have been flung anywhere.”
My mind is a whir. I call the vet and ask if the dogs could be x-rayed and, if a finger was found, would it still be—
Yes, the x-ray would show the finger; no, it would not be useful anymore.
I tell Mireya I will go back to the hospital to be with Karina. Driving their Trailblazer, this time with shoes and cell phone, I get another call from Karina: Joe is in surgery; it is too late for the finger; no need to come.
Dazed, I find myself at Kroger’s. What do kids like? Pizza. Popsicles. Bean dip. I buy all this and frozen enchiladas.
When I get back, I pass out popsicles. I want red, I want purple, I hear.
A spatter of blood crosses the kitchen floor, trailing through the dining room and garage. I start to clean the kitchen, avoiding the blood.
Mireya returns. “I’ll take the kids home with me.” They pack. A car pulls up. It’s Stephanie, the teenager who helps me with housework. I ask if she will help me clean up blood.
“Sure.” She is nonchalant. “Coke works.”
I marvel at how this teen is so casual as she cleans up blood with coca cola. I cook enchiladas. The phone rings multiple times. I tell Karina’s mother about the accident, but she is confused about whether it happened to the son or the father. Other relatives call; some only speak Spanish. I know they wonder what a gringa is doing there.
My husband goes to the hospital during the surgery. Several hours later he tells me how badly the hand was damaged, how Joe was awake, talking during the operation.
We go back to their house to gather bloody paper towels. Joe and Karina return, with two relatives. Joe smiles, waving his bandaged hand above his head, ever the host. “Come on in.”
Every finger on Joe’s right hand has been damaged. Joe has no memory of what happened, but before going out to saw they had found out his ex-wife had just moved to Dallas.
Blood seeps through Joe’s bandages. “Get some rest,” I say.
“The enchiladas were good,” he responds.
Next morning, I wake up thinking about Joe’s hand—his right hand—held high over his head. As soon as I get home from teaching, I go next door. There are lots of cars in the driveway and unfamiliar children in the front yard.
Joe is surrounded by a circle of sympathizers. “Come on in, Anne. We’re meeting to decide who will give me a finger. So far, no one has offered.”
“I’ll give you a toe, Baby, but I need my fingers for the kids,” says Karina.
I look at the serious faces. Karina tells them who I am in Spanish. She shares the story of the trip to the hospital. “Tell them about my shoes,” I say. She does; they all laugh.
I tell Joe that friends are praying for him.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed myself,” he says. We laugh.
He holds up his left hand. “Most of you count like this—one, two, three, four, five.” He points to each finger on the right hand as he counts. “But I’m gonna be counting one, one-and-a-half, two. . . .” Again, we laugh.
Karina and I go to the drugstore together to get some bandage supplies. On the way over, she told me that recently Joe’s relatives were questioning why they had moved to Texas—away from people who would be there in case anything happened.
“But look at today,” she marveled. “Just look at today.”