Out on a Limb

By Kristina Moriconi

On his morning walk around the neighborhood, he saw an arm in the middle of the sidewalk, a small molded plastic arm from an action figure. The man picked it up, not knowing why. But he could not leave it sitting there. He turned it over and over inside the creases of his palm, thinking perhaps he would begin collecting plastic arms. Maybe it would be more interesting than collecting beach glass or small Buddhas. But his mind could not escape the images of one-armed action figures that would end up collateral damage, piled like crushed cars, left to sit in toy boxes or storage totes beneath beds.

The man closed his fist around the limb, feeling its sharp edges, and he wondered where the superhero was who had lost his arm to a child's imaginary play, the careless plot of a daredevil stunt or a random rescue maneuver. He slid the arm into the pocket of his leather jacket. He decided that he would keep it there because he could not think of a better option. Throwing it back down onto the sidewalk seemed clumsy and childish, leaving it there to be stepped on or kicked, eventually covered by leaves and snow.

He went to work and forgot about the arm. It stayed in his jacket pocket dangling from the back of his office chair. At Happy Hour he felt it there, reaching his hand into the silky lining of the pocket for a mint. He was talking to a woman he'd just met.

"You can't beat the dollar drafts here," he said.

"I'm not really much of a beer drinker." She raised her martini glass toward his face. The plastic sword piercing through two olives rolled around the rim of the glass.

He removed the mints from his pocket, realizing the tiny arm had wedged itself between two of his fingers. And for some reason, this made him think of a joke. So he told it.

"How do you get a one-armed stupid person out of a tree?"

The woman's eyes widened, focusing on the arm he now held up, pinched between his thumb and forefinger. She shrugged her shoulders.

"Just wave to him." He laughed.

The woman stared at him for a second then laughed as well. "I get it," she said.

The man let the arm slide into his palm, holding it out toward her. "I found this plastic arm on the sidewalk this morning." He studied her face, waiting for her reaction.

He slipped the arm back into his pocket. "I'm thinking of collecting them."

Suddenly he felt the weight of his own limbs, the fierce current of blood pulsing in his hands.

"Arms?" she asked, sipping her drink.

He thought about saying, No. Who collects arms? He thought maybe he'd tell her it was action figures he was planning to collect. That was odd enough for a man his age, but arms could end this for him in an instant.

"Sounds interesting," she said.

He watched as she used her teeth to slide a single olive from the plastic sword.

The woman reached over toward the bar and set her empty glass down.

"Can I buy you another?" he asked.

"Vodka martini," she said. "Grey Goose. Straight up. Two olives."

"A woman who knows what she likes." The man raised his arm, wiggling his fingers to get the bartender's attention.

The woman stabbed her empty plastic sword into a maraschino cherry, lifting it from a plastic container on the edge of the bar. She extended it toward the man. "Condiment?"

"No, thanks." He slapped a twenty-dollar bill down onto the bar. "So, you don't think the idea of collecting plastic arms is strange?"

"I collect human hair," she said, plucking the stem from the cherry with her teeth.

"Like for a wig?" he asked.

"No. I collect locks of hair from people I know. I keep it in small apothecary jars on my mantel. And recently I started collecting hair from famous people, too."

"How do you get that?"

"Just bought a lock of Marilyn Monroe's hair on eBay, actually. It's authentic. Came from her hairdresser."

He handed the overfilled martini glass to the woman and picked up the beer he'd gotten for himself. He raised his bottle and clinked it against her glass, spilling vodka over the rim onto the floor. "Here's to collecting," he said. They both sipped their drinks and surveyed the bar. The man felt unruffled for the first time in many months. He was pleased with the companionship he'd found.

"I also collect headknockers," the woman said. "You know, bobbleheads. I have over three hundred now."

The woman took two long gulps of her drink, then slid both olives off the sword at once with her teeth. "I live a block away. Do you want to walk to my apartment with me? Maybe you'd like to see my collections?"

"I'd like that," he said, guzzling the rest of his own drink, a foamy tributary of beer forming on his chin.

They left the bar together, walking the block's distance quietly. The man wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of collecting real human hair. Maybe it would've been less unsettling if she'd told him she collected wigs. Or toupees. Or rabbit feet. Or deer pelts. But the idea of disembodied human hair in jars left him a bit on edge.

She unlocked the bright green door to her first-floor apartment and the man followed her inside. She switched on the light, turning on the ceiling fan at the same time. On shelves on the wall opposite them, an incredible rhythmic movement began. Three hundred small heads bobbled at once. And as the speed of the fan increased, the acquiescence of the crowd intensified. The man scanned the wall, finding a strange sense of comfort in some of the more familiar faces. The Cat in the Hat. Gilligan and Skipper. Spiderman. Anna Nicole.

His own head began to move, feeling awkward and heavy, more like an object separate from him than his own flesh and bone.

The woman stood in front of the fireplace, gazing at the collection of glass jars lining the mantel. The man walked over and stood beside her, reading the labels on each of the jars.

"Maybe I could get a lock of your hair before you leave," she said.

He raked his fingers over the top of his head. "I don't know. It's pretty short right now." He picked up a jar with long locks of blond hair curled inside it. And for some reason the hair made him think of another joke. But he decided not to tell it.

Instead, the man asked the woman where her bathroom was. She told him to follow her; they walked past the collection of bobbling heads and down a dimly lit hallway. He closed the bathroom door and leaned up against the sink. Taking deep breaths, he looked around the narrow room. The wall behind him surrounding the sink and vanity was covered with oddly shaped mirrors, the silvering turned black along the edges of some.

The man looked at himself in the mirrors, his reflection dissected by the spaces in between each of them.

A few minutes later, he walked down the hallway, slipping his hands into his jacket pockets. The woman sat cross-legged on the couch. "Your bathroom is amazing," he said. "Especially the mirrors." He kept his hands in his pockets, holding onto the tiny arm, waiting for her reply.