“Oh, it’s Cadaver Arm!”
It’s my wife talking. We’re laying in bed, our bedside lamps still on. The arm she’s referring to is my left one, which she nicknamed Cadaver Arm because of my habit of draping it over her like it’s a hunk of dead weight that happens to be hinged to my shoulder. It’s my own personal take on cuddling. Lazy, passive, a pain in the ass and loving all at the same time. It's the kind of pet name I can support. Kind of weird, not particularly cute. Even a bit morbid.
My two year old’s crying woke me up one night, as happens from time to time. I got out of bed, turned down the baby monitor so my wife could sleep, and made my way toward his room. I was shuffling through the living room when I kicked something and nearly tripped over. I’m usually really good about clearing the path before I go to bed because I know there’s a decent chance I’ll be walking it in the dark in a half-asleep state in just a few hours. It’s a habit I developed after stepping on way too many toy trains and stubbing my toe on the goddamn ottoman more times than can possibly be good for one’s sanity. I slid my foot around the floor trying to locate the offending obstacle and kick it out of the way. But before I could find it, I noticed something: my arm was missing.
That was the first time Cadaver Arm set out on his own.
I had made myself a bit of a nuisance to the Dream Boss a while back. Maybe he was having some fun with me. Plus, the fact that I have his sister tattooed to that shoulder struck me as being a bit more than coincidence.
But it turned out to not be a dream. Or if it is, I’m still dreaming it, and me sitting here writing is all part of it, and any moment now I’ll wake up in a puddle of my own drool and all this imagery will spill out of my memory, leaving me with nothing more than a few vague notions about this dream that I think I might have had, maybe.
Standing there in the dark living room, I bent down and picked Cadaver Arm up with my right. I was surprised -- oddly pleased, actually -- how heavy he was. I was holding him at the shoulder end, so I expected the forearm to hang limp at the elbow, but it didn’t. He held himself upright, as if there were eyes in his hand that he was using to look at me. I had no idea what to do with him, but lucky for me, he took the initiative and jumped into his proper place on the left side of my trunk. I could feel everything reattaching, the bones, sinews, blood vessels, nerve endings, skin, all the way up to my head and all the way down to my toes. It took maybe all of three seconds. Dude, shudder.
His name is obviously a misnomer, seeing as how Cadaver Arm is very much alive. He’s attached to me. He, er, it is mine. Actually, I’m not sure how to address Cadaver Arm pronoun-wise. “It” throws a kind of Addams Family vibe upon its/his being, but I’m not sure if gender applies to body parts when they’re running around all disembodied like.
The next time it happened, I woke up laying on my left side. I could tell right away that Cadaver Arm was missing because my head was sunk deeper into the pillow than usual. I was so tired, I thought about just going back to sleep and not worrying about it until morning. But not knowing the whereabouts of one's arm makes sleep a bit hard to accomplish. I climbed out of bed and grabbed my phone to use as a flashlight. It took me all of two seconds to locate him. He was curled up with our dog, Elliott. Elli had one paw draped over Cadaver Arm, who in turn had his hand over Elli’s other paw. They were both sound asleep. It was such a cute picture, I left them there and went back to bed, where I laid down on my right side and fell back to sleep. BIG MISTAKE. When I woke up the next morning, Cadaver Arm was laying next to me in the bed, waiting for me to roll off of my left side so he could reattach. He reeked of dog. But even worse, as soon as he rejoined my body, I felt an instant sensation of gross. Cadaver Arm was covered in dog slobber! He’d even gotten it all over the sheets. I was pissed at him and the dog all morning, and believe me when I tell you, it’s an odd feeling being pissed off at a part of your body as if it’s a separate entity.
After this started happening, I got worried that Cadaver Arm might try functioning independently while he was attached to me. It’s bad enough that he takes off on his own while I’m asleep. It would be quite another issue to have him, I don’t know, reach up and punch somebody without my directive. Or grope somebody. Oh dear god. So far, that hasn’t happened. Apologies in advance if you get punched or groped. If it was my left, it was Cadaver Arm. After all, I am not left handed.
There have been a few more episodes since then. On separate occasions, I’ve found Cadaver Arm cuddled up in bed with my kids, a sight which is both creepy and sweet, but ultimately hard to argue with since he seems to be able to help them stay asleep. I guess he’s good with the wee folk. Several times, I've found him doing pull-ups on the shower curtain rod. I once found him building a train track on the train table in my four-year old’s room. His progress was a bit slow since he only has one hand, but he seemed to manage. It got to where I didn’t even worry about it anymore. Sometimes I would wake up and he’d be attached, other times he wasn’t and I would just slip right back to sleep.
One night, I was awakened by a series of three sharp piercing beeps. I thought it was a smoke alarm at first. Cadaver Arm was missing. I walked out of our bedroom and heard the three beeps again. I realized what it was and headed towards the kitchen. See, we have one of those fancy refrigerators that beeps at you if you leave the door open for too long. Sometimes it’s helpful, but most of the time it’s an annoyance. “Okay! Okay! Give me a minute!” I find myself shrieking at the fridge damn near every time I have to put away groceries.
I walked into the kitchen to find the refrigerator doors wide open and most of its contents spread out on the counter. Well not all of its contents, exactly. Just certain things. Jars. Cans. Tupperware. Twist-tops. Flip-tops. Bottles. Containers. And nearly all of them were open. When I had gone to bed, I had left three perfectly good, perfectly unopened bottles of Sierra Nevada Torpedo sitting serenely in the fridge. But here they were on the counter, two of them with their tops pried off, and Cadaver Arm working on the third. I grabbed the bottle opener out of his, er, my hand.
“What the hell are you doing?” I shout-whispered. He felt around for the bottle opener for a moment, as if he had dropped it. Then he turned his hand toward me. He seemed to consider for a moment, then laid down on the counter. I swear he sighed. He looked as sheepish as a disembodied appendage possibly can.
“Dude, seriously, what the fuck?” I wonder how many times that phrase has been uttered, how many questions it has been used to ask.
Cadaver Arm picked up the top to a jar of jelly and screwed it back on. Then the same for the mayonnaise, then the salsa. He flipped closed the lid on the syrup, twisted the mustard shut, snapped the lids back onto several pieces of tupperware.
“Dude, were you....” It seemed a ridiculous thing to ask, but it was the only thing that made sense. “...bored?” He tensed a bit, the tension of one who's been found out and is embarrassed about it. I sensed that even if he could talk, he probably wouldn’t. He just wanted to clean up the mess he had made and be done with it. I started putting the closed containers back in the fridge to help him out. Pretty soon, everything was back in its right place except for the open beers. Well shit, I thought. Now I have to stay up and drink these.
I put the two open bottles into the six-pack carton. They were still cold and would stay that way long enough for me to down them. Cadaver Arm and I made our way through the dark house to the front room, which serves as a combination library and playroom. I took a seat in the easy chair while Cadaver Arm went about stacking up the brightly colored toy bricks that spend most of their time scattered across the floor. I didn’t bother turning on the lamp.
“Now you have to be quiet” I told him. “And as soon as I finish these, we’re going back to bed. Both of us.”
The next day was a Saturday. I awoke to the sounds of wide-awake children barely able to contain their excitement at the prospect of a whole new day of life. I draped my arm over her. “Oh good morning Cadaver Arm” she mumbled.
“Yeah,” I said through a mouthful of morning breath. “About that name...”