A chain link fence runs along the back of the
terraced houses and the posts have been pulled across the path. Taking giant
steps, the boy walks on the
green plastic mesh. Avoiding garden
refuse and a rusty bicycle frame, he reaches the gap between the garages on his
right. He leaps clear of the web and stumbles onto the ground. Flies rise in
his face but he stays down and,
collecting himself, he crawls forward on all fours.
Keeping to the centre of the narrow cut, he
pushes an old Coke can in front of him.
A little of the drink spills onto the dirt. Flies buzz around the sweet
droplets and he notices now the swarm, a little to his left, close to the
wall. He stands and peers down, but it
is impossible to see through the flies.
He unzips and urinates, clearing them with his stream. It is a finger. He steps back, splashing onto his
trainers. A severed finger.
He sees how it was done.
Where the hand was held against the wall and
where the blade has scarred the bricks.
He notices too the gouged area, where the flies are concentrated, and
that the congealed blood tapers until it is just a stain on the wall where it
He knows that he really should leave, get
away. It seems like the sensible thing
to do, the only thing to do. But he
doesn’t move. He stays put. He
is rooted to the spot. He looks down but the ground under his feet
tells nothing of what has happened here.
There are no footprints, no scuff marks and no trampled grass.
The flies are working on the blood, it won’t
last long. It will soon be just a stain
and then not even that. He glances again
at the finger. It seems to him like
something you could buy in a joke shop, like something he would buy.
Head down, he scans the rubbish gathered at
the edges on either side of the cut, but he doesn’t find what he is looking
for. He needs a cigarette packet, an
empty packet, a discarded packet and it seems to him unfeasible that there
He reaches the end but isn’t ready to step out
into the open, not yet. And so, he
starts back, slowly now, kicking through the cans and the sweet wrappers. He
must use something from here or try
He grasps a red and green shiny paper sheath
and the stick from an ice lolly. He uses
this to coax the finger into the bag, folds to seal and carefully tucks the
package into his pocket.
He hasn’t looked at it yet, hasn’t even so
much as taken a peek. It is still
wrapped in the waxy paper and stowed in his pocket. Resisting the urge to run,
he walks away from
the cut and once clear wanders aimlessly.
For hours he meanders back and forth, eventually making his way home
where he slips unseen into the garage and then buries the package in the chest
freezer under the pizzas and the pies.
He still hasn’t found the ideal container for
the severed finger which is slightly shorter than a cigarette and certainly
shorter than the brand his mum smokes and he scans the ground for empty king
size packets, any of which will do. He
will pull out the silver foil and it will easily slot into place, he is sure of
When he removed the finger from the freezer it
had been almost perfect. He had been
able to feel it through its tiny sheath, tracing with his own fingers, from the
nail to the knuckle and a little lower where the knife had hacked its way
through flesh and bone. Now he can feel
it melting, the wet patch spreading and he can feel it pressing against his
thigh. He doesn’t have much time—he
needs to find a box, a container, something, and make the transfer.
There is a bus stop ahead and he can see quite
clearly that the bin beside the shelter is overstuffed. Reaching it he begins
to rifle through it,
the litter spilling over the sides. A
woman who is waiting at the stop is about to say something but the boy glares
at her and she changes her mind. Shaking
her head, she turns away. At last he has
it, a king size packet and it is his mum’s brand. Chuckling, he kicks
at the trash, spreading
it all over the pavement. Head down he
walks past the others standing in the shelter.
He can hear them grumbling but he doesn’t look back. Thrusting
his hand into his pocket he pokes
at the finger and it feels weirdly soft and almost spongy. He now needs to find
a place where,
unhindered, he can peel away the paper and take a proper look at it.
Dragging his hand along the brick wall he
studies the pavement but, at regular intervals, he jerks his head upward and
glares at the sky. He sees some kids
from his school up ahead and he hops up and over the wall on his right and
slides down the bank. He runs on the
level grass in front of the boarded windows to the ground floor flats and he
wonders if the block is empty, uninhabited.
He pulls at the entrance door, but it doesn’t give. He tries the
trade button but still no
luck. Pressing his face against the
wired glass he peers in - it is dark, a murky little scene. Someone has scrawled
on the walls with a
black marker, but he can’t read it, not from where he is standing in the
Stepping back, he hears the kids from school
again on the road above. He ducks down
at the side of the communal waste bin and sitting he leans back against the hot
metal. He could do it here, but the boy
can’t help but crave for the cool of the foyer where he could huddle under the
stairs and take his time. At last he
hears the main door open and as he leaps up, an old woman appears. She pushes
the door and, taking hold of it,
he waits for her. She stands on the
threshold, uncertain and seemingly unaware that he is there. He could step around
her but doesn’t. He leans back against the heavy aluminum door
and at last she slowly makes her way up the steps, toward the road.
He fishes the finger from his pocket, peels
away the soggy paper, dropping the cigarette packet, and there it is, in the
palm of his hand. Like a metal cylinder,
it is corroding. Already, it is much the
worse for wear.
old woman is stalled again, at the
pavement’s edge. He watches her as she
manages not to topple and closes his hand, holding decay in the hollow of his
Mark Renney lives in the
UK. He has had work published in The
Interpreter's House, Spelk, 365tomorrows
and Unbroken Journal.