The prosthetic feels strange, like it hasn’t been installed properly. It doesn’t feel like part of me. It’s an foreign object, an odd attachment. I can’t walk without i, though I can just barely walk with it. The road is deserted this early in the morning. I am learning how to walk again, and I don’t want anyone watching as I shuffle awkwardly along. Half the time my lost leg seems present again. The other half I drag this metal and plastic contraption along with me like a reluctant mechanical dog. It’s a gentle torture, being reminded every time I move.
“I’m fine,” I tell him. Or I slur to him. He looks at me blankly. Tipsy as I am, I recognise that look. He knows I’m not fine. I know I’m not fine, but I’m going to drive anyhow, and he has no other way to get home. We’ve done this a hundred times before. It never ends badly. This time, of course, it end badly. There is a brick wall where no brick wall has ever before been. My car collapses into a square of compressed steel and broken plastic. I can smell coolant, oil, gasoline leaking out. I pray for a lack of sparks, a lack of fire. I begin to shiver though I am not cold, and my body, trapped as it is, begins to shudder against the steering wheel lodged in my chest. Sometime is wrong in there, something moving oddly, something rattling. Then I remember. He is there in the passenger seat. He is slumped forward, asleep. No, I tell myself, not asleep. Unconscious. Out cold. He’s leaking too. Blood is running down his face, blooming on his shirt. I smell smoke, acrid, stinging smoke. Something is burning, and soon discover that it is me. I am on fire. It seems a thousand terrible hours before I hear the sirens.
Everything distracts me. There is this beautifully coloured stone I must stop to inspect. It turns out to be a piece of broken concrete, but I am satisfied with my inspection. The sky seems about to break. The sun might appear. I’d very much like to witness this. I look up until my neck hurts, but nothing happens. A bird sings a wonderful warbling song. I must stop to listen. I must stand very still so as not to scare it away. I mustn’t move a muscle, or any of my bits of extra equipment. I mustn’t breathe. The rattle will frighten her away. I catch sight of something in a thick pine tree. The bird is yellow, the brightest yellow bird I’ve ever seen. It looks at me. It isn’t scared, it doesn’t fly away until I let go a heavy mechanical breath and the bird is gone. Then I see her. She’s sitting in a window seat, looking out at her yard. She is watching the yellow bird. I am certain she hears the grinding of gears as I breathe. I am certain she blames me for the yellow bird’s departure. I am about to limp away when she smiles at me. She waves. I manage a half-hearted wave back, but her smile carries me all the way home.
They put me in a hospital, they pump me full of painkillers, they help me breath, and they hack off my leg. By the time they’re done with me I’m more sculpture than flesh. I have a mechanical heart. I have lungs that inflate and deflate with pulleys and levers. There are tiny machines in my veins, constantly dying to keep my blood clean. They give me a new leg, a leg that a fresh-faced boy, a wunderkind, an inventor genius, excitedly tells me is better than my original. My brain doesn’t know how to use it yet, is all. Give it time. He is thrilled for my unexpected opportunity. He talks in jargon I barely understand. He seems overstuffed with facts.
The next day she’s at her window seat. When she sees me, she brightens. She waves. She smiles. My heart hums faster. I smile back. My lungs grind and thump. I wave. I move slowly on, swearing to myself that one day when I can walk, when I can run, I’ll go up to the door and knock. I’ll kiss her, or say hello or something. We’ll strike up a conversation and she’ll see past my plastic skin. She’ll see that I’m a real boy.
When the taxi drops me off at my apartment, he’s already been gone for a while. While my body is being retooled, he packs up and moves out. He doesn’t come to visit me at the hospital. Not an email, not a message, nothing. I can tell where his paintings hung on the walls. I remember what they look like. I remember the good days. I grow increasingly depressed as I survey the almost-empty apartment. He owned most of the stuff in here. His absence is obvious. I drag myself through the rooms, looking for something to drink, though my doctors have cautioned me not to drink, that it’ll do nothing for me. I can’t get drunk anymore, but I can at least feel the lovely burn. But he has taken all the alcohol too. My phone rings. The clinic is calling to find out how I’m settling in, if I need anything. “I’m fine,” I tell them and hang up. My stomach turns over. I feel like throwing up, like I am waking up the next day, but there’s nothing inside me to throw up. I’m empty. I plug myself in and cry for the rest of the night.
Some days she’s not there. Those are not the good days. She is the thing that keeps me steady, the constant in my ever-changing equation. I walk to see her, then I jog to see her. I imagine running to see her. I wonder what she thinks of me, jogging by on the hottest summer days, when the asphalt is soft enough to knead. I don’t, I can’t break a sweat. I don’t really feel the heat, as much as receive data about temperature. When she’s there, she still smiles and waves, no matter how mechanical I seem.
He has used the opportunity to leave me. It’s a pretense. He’s wanted to leave for years. He has slowly grown to hate me. I am not in any frame of mind to think about him, but my mind won’t leave. I obsess. I invent a story. I did it on purpose. I was trying to kill myself. I knew he wanted out and I gave him a way. I stitch an accident into a plot. I become the prime mover. I am lying to myself, and I know it. There is no reason. It just happened. But the lie is better than the truth, so I keep it. I use it to explain to my parents what happened, and they help fill out the plot. They could see the signs. They knew something was wrong. They just didn’t know how far down the rabbit hole I’d gone. I tell my friends and family that I have a new lease on life. That chapter is over. He’s gone. All is well. They don’t know how often I stand on the balcony, how often I look down and wonder.
Then she’s gone. For weeks on end. I run by daily but she is nowhere to be found. The house is deserted. The window is empty. For weeks, I run past and… nothing. I begin to despair. I think that she has moved away. I imagine with horror that she has died. I begin to suspect that I have invented her, that I am crazy, that the mechanism of my body is invading my mind. Then when I have finally stopped looking for her, I swear I hear it. I hear the yellow bird, or I don’t. But I see her. She has moved from the window to the porch. She smiles and waves. We perform our ritual, but something has changed. She stands up, unsteadily. For a moment I don’t understand what I am seeing. Where her legs should be, there is nothing but metal and plastic. She rumbles toward me. I recognise the gait. She is learning to walk. She is training her mind to accept her new muscles. Her mouth doesn’t move when she says, “How do I look?” I’m grinning like an idiot. “You’re perfect,” I tell her.