Silly Fragile Bodies

by Tim Connors

Grandpa knows that bodies aren’t everything. That they are fragile casings hiding something profound.

In fact, that’s where he gets his humor. He’ll sometimes poke me between the ribs at a restaurant, dart his eyes to the side and say, “Watch this.” Then he removes his prosthetic right arm and whacks the biggest, bodybuilding, motorcycle-riding, beard-wearing tough guy in the ass with it. And, just as the muscled man turns and looms, Grandpa holds up his carbon fiber arm like a staff, his grin an incantation—and the poor tough guy melts into discomfort and shame, stumbles back, and genuflects as if begging for mercy.

Then Grandpa laughs endlessly, his open mouth stinking of asparagus. The servers never know what to do. Neither does management. I can see them itching to throw him out—but everyone’s laughing. Who would throw out a funny old man giggling like a seven-month-old?

He loves his practical jokes. At football games, I’ve seen him unhitch his arm and tap a stranger on the shoulder two rows down. At the senior center, he offers five dollars to the volunteer who can find it—usually glued to the ceiling or buried in the garden out front, fingers exposed.

Sometimes, he gets into my car, looks to the right, and screams at his empty sleeve, laughing when I flinch in surprise. I’ve also caught him using it to scratch his ass when he urinates. That isn’t a practical joke, but it’s still pretty funny. He’s never told me how he lost his arm. Not when I was little and not now. He always gives me different answers. During our car rides, I ask just to see what he comes up with:

“Shrapnel from the war.”

“Frostbite on Everest.”

“Flesh-eating bacteria.”

“Shark attack.”

“Keep your arms inside the bus at all times!”

I’ve been driving him around ever since Grandma died from kidney failure last year. She was the one with a license. She liked to bowl, knit, and collect arrowheads. She was the dependable one. Whereas Grandpa let his license expire because he “wanted to be off the grid.”

He misses her a lot. He insists she talks to him every night about all her new friends and that she bowled a 300 against Frankie Avalon. He also says she can do backflips and fly like a cloud. Bodies, he says, are overrated.

I’m not sure if he really believes that or if it’s just another joke. But either way, I hope he keeps joking. When I’m fed up with his antics, I remind myself of the time I called him from school sick, and begged for a ride home. I wasn’t sick, really. Just tired of kids saying my voice sounded like a squeak toy, or that I made out with the girl who picked her nose, or that I enjoyed eating dog food.

He showed up, arm attached, stolid, centered, and ushered me to his car. He took me to a museum full of hulking dinosaurs with needle teeth and bones like tree trunks. Then a war movie. Then he taught me how to throw a punch by squashing a fly with the ball of my foot, creating momentum, and launching my fist forward to dent a heavy bag. “Or you could hit them with this,” he said, offering up his arm. I didn’t take him up on that offer, but I concentrated intently on the lesson.

I used what he taught me to hit Matt Lemon in the nose so hard I broke my wrist. At the hospital, Grandpa looked at my arm in a cast, laughed, winked, and said, “You should have hit them with mine.” He was the first one to sign my plaster-covered arm.

I remember that and I hope he jokes forever. In the afterlife, I hope he drapes his unhitched arm across Grandma’s shoulder as he flies behind a tree, waiting for her to notice his absence. I hope he pokes it out from behind a gravestone and trips unsuspecting visitors. I hope he and Grandma wedge it between two trees and play limbo.

Or maybe they’ll cartwheel through the air and banter about how silly human bodies look with their flappy appendages and spheres lolling atop rectangles. Then they’ll disassemble, reassemble, shift their parts around, trade parts—all the while laughing at the silly, solid, fragile things wandering the earth.

Tim Connors is a writer, writing teacher, and MFA candidate at Georgia College. His stories have been published in Night Picnic Press and Mystery Tribune (forthcoming). Tim enjoys staying in random Airbnb rooms, drinking pints of coffee, and shopping for exotic pets.
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