The Demon Arm by Alice Pow

Ginette took from the dryer a big hoodie, a pair of sweatpants, and a pair of fluffy socks. She dressed and returned to her room where papers and clothing decorated the floor and her dresser. After moving a pile of books from bed to floor, she crawled under the covers.

Cold corrupted the Chicago streets outside her home. Thermal capital passed from feet to cold, contracted wooden floors, and the vacuum of Chicago winter stole that drop of warmth from the broken-heater house.

Awake but absent from her head, she kept quiet, squeezing eyes shut, squeezing herself into a ball of heat under blankets.

She found a bruise of unknown origin on her left shoulder muscle. She poked the raw spot with her index and middle finger; flesh stung and pressed against bone.

Under her touch, the shoulder skin bulged and she pulled her hand away. A contusion swelled and stretched skin with a rubbery sound. The skin popped like a pimple, pus streaming down her arm, and from the break, a thick arm, its surface dark with red prominent veins, slithered, tearing through the seams on the shoulder of her hoodie. The demon arm, or Daerach, to which we are all prone, had arrived.

#

“The arm is trying to choke me.” Ginette held the Daerach in her right hand and her phone in her normal left. Her bedroom lamp shone through the window, adding to the greedy, light-polluted night.

“I know it’s easier said than done.” Flo sat on her own bed in St. Louis. “But it’s best if you just saw the thing off now.”

“I know, but like, it’s a part of me and…”

“I know. But, it’s better if you do.” Flo said.

“I’m going to wait.” Ginette looked at her new appendage. “Maybe it’ll calm down. And think about how great it would be to have a third arm.”

“I’m not going to make you do anything, but you should be careful.” Flo said. “With such a large one, all those extra blood vessels and nerves might take a toll on your body.”

“I know. I know.” Genette moved to hang up, but caught herself. “Have you ever had one?”

“A Daerach? Well, yeah, but, “ Flo sounded uncomfortable. “Just a small one after Sadie and I broke up. About the size of a dandelion and it couldn’t even reach to grip my neck, so occasionally the little guy pinched me. Pinched my shoulder, pinched my arm, pinched my back.  Never a threat, but I complained to anybody who’d listen until I realized I needed to cut it off myself.”

They ended the call.

#

The Daerach slowed its assault on Ginette’s neck by the end of the day, and she wondered if the thing really could relax and be tamed. But once she pulled up her covers in bed and decided to really get some sleep, the arm picked up a second wind.

It grabbed at her neck, but she caught it by the wrist.

She positioned herself so the arm might be held under her weight, but it struggled and shook her. She picked up her phone and opened the conversation with Jessica, but Jessica was all the way in Bloomington and was not her girlfriend anymore anyway. It wouldn’t be right, so she dropped her phone back on the bed.

In a moment of exhaustion, Ginette let go of the hand and clamped normal hands over her neck for protection. The Daerach pried her hands, but eventually gave up and struck Ginette’s stomach.

Wind knocked from her lungs, each subsequent punch rattled her. She curled over on her side, left arm folded across her stomach, unsuccessfully hindering the arm’s beat. The churning in her abdomen signified imminent death, she thought, or at the very least she might soon expel something from her insides. She launched her right hand from her neck to the wrist of the demon arm. With the arm again in hand, she took out her phone and texted Jessica.

“This feels wrong. I miss you.”

No reply.

“I know I shouldn’t be sending these, but I need to.”

No reply. It was, after all, three in the morning.

#

One week later, one week wrestling her Daerach, she sat on the floor of her room and answered a call from Jessica. The Daerach gripped the back of Ginette’s neck and squeezed.

“I got scared.” Jessica told her and the Daerach relaxed some.

Ten minutes later they were dating again and her Daerach calmed its attacks. That night, she returned to her usual broken sleep schedule.

From then on, the Daerach held hair from her face, but then sometimes ruffled and pulled it. It skimmed fingers over her back, raising goosebumps, then scratched the itch left behind.

With help from her new limb, she finally cleaned her room. Many hands make light work, she thought.

This time, she made sure Jessica knew how much she loved her.

“I love you, too.” Jessica would say back, but neither of them had the same eagerness behind their voices. The words had become too abstracted from any concrete meaning.

Two weeks later, fatigue weighed on Ginette. The arm deflated like a balloon in the sun, only pinching her now and then. It sagged, mostly. Her body really was not built to sustain extra, symbiotic limbs.

One week after that, Jessica called her.

“What’s wrong?” Ginette sat on the edge of her bed.

“I…” Jessica’s voice broke. “It’s just.”

“Just say it.” Ginette knew what was coming.

“I just really don’t think it’s working.” Jessica caught an escaping breath and Ginette could almost see the tear.

“It’s ok.” And Ginette meant it this time.

“I just, I really don’t think I’m a lesbian.” Jessica said it and Ginette wished she had just left it without that. Her stomach churned slightly with the memory of the blows it had taken from the demon arm a week earlier.

This time, Ginette could feel in the dead weight of her rock-like stomach that this was for good, and maybe even for the best.

They ended the call and Ginette turned towards the benign demon arm. She considered its aspects and then took out a pair of scissors and a sweatshirt, Jessica’s sweatshirt. She laid scissor blade against husk-skin at its base. Biting down hard on the sleeve, she started sawing back and forth, cutting through her Daerach, careful not to harm her own real skin. The arm itself, weak and shriveled, thrashed helplessly against her stomach. The motion caused a fleshy, squishing sound and sent blood spraying, trickling down her side, sticking shirt to skin, and dropping to the floor. Each drip tap, tap, tapped cold, contracted wood. She cried through the sawing back and forth, tears dropping to floor, adding to the tap, tap, tapping. Teeth ground against the sweatshirt until the fabric broke and her jaw came together.

When the arm fell to the ground, Ginette followed and laid in a shallow, smeared puddle. She smelled Jessica’s perfume on the torn sweatshirt. Jessica still had a few of her sweatshirts and she wouldn’t ever ask for them back or else she might have to surrender the bite-marked sweatshirt and then she’d have to explain about the Daerach.

#

Wrapped in three grocery bag layers, the arm, dead with corn husk skin, joined everything Ginette had received from Jessica in a box. The sweatshirt, folded neatly to hide the bite, covered the other contents. She would not decide what to do with the box until she could think more clearly. She pictured burying it, or setting it ablaze on a lake. For now, she buried it under her bed.

#

“I don’t know why you couldn’t have done that weeks ago when it tried to kill you.” Flo said. “You went through all that, finally the damn thing isn’t hurting you, and then you decide to remove it.”

“I don’t have the kind of energy to defend myself from my third demon arm while cutting it off.” Ginette laid in bed, feet propped on the wall. “Only human.” It was an excuse.

#

In her room, Ginette peeled bandages from her shoulder and hopped in the shower. Hot water shocked her cold feet and restored proper circulation in her toes. Through pain, she cleaned the scarred stump. She scrubbed the raw root from her skin. Mud-colored water collected in the tub then drained into Chicago pipes.

————
A creative writing major with a journalism minor at Bradley University, Alice Pow is a trans woman who loves linguistics, ukuleles, and long talks about humanity’s place in existence with relation to God, the universe, and the greater cosmos as a whole.

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