Reality and Its Alternatives   /   Summer 2019   /    Thematic: Reality and Its Alternatives

Trajectory of a Dream

Why do dreams, aside from those that prove uncannily prophetic, not befit our biography—whereas intentions, ambitions, even madness, do?

S.D. Chrostowska

Landscape from a Dream, 1936–38, by Paul Nash (1889–1946); Asar Studios/Alamy Stock Photo.

I recently lost both of my hands. I had neither the experience nor memory of the actual amputation. I simply found myself without hands, already fitted with two rubber prostheses, several shades darker than my own skin and hanging limply from my arms, mitigating somewhat my despair, for which there was every reason.

Resigned to my new handicap, aboard a half-empty night bus, I noticed a forgotten plastic bag wedged between two seats. In it, I discovered what I had lost—intact, both of them.

The next thing I knew, I was walking into the waiting room of a small hospital with hopes of getting my hands reattached. It had, after all, been only a day since they were severed. The female doctor on duty was ready for me, having no other patients to attend to. Besides, I could hardly imagine a greater emergency than mine.

The treatment room was spotless and calm as in a field hospital during a cease-fire. The serenity of the attending nurse comforted me as I watched her prepare to cut away my prostheses, in which I had already begun to experience sensation, whose fingers I was already able to move slightly—as if regaining my grip was a matter of time innervating whatever hugged the hideous stumps about to appear beneath the surgical saw. For a brief moment I grew faint-hearted, and even considered keeping my bionic substitutes. But the nurse encouraged me, and her optimism about reviving my real hands was enough to convince me to go through with it. “You will probably want to look away now,” she said, as she positioned her instrument. I did as she suggested.

The pain of the faux amputation was negligible; I bore it sans anaesthetic. In the harsh light, my artificial hands again became foreign objects. The first one done, the second (the right) came off almost by itself. It remained to clean and prime the stumps and remove any scabs that had formed on them, to maximize bonding. To my surprise, my old hands had, miraculously, not decomposed at all. The folds of skin on their wrists were snug as a pair of gloves around my truncated limbs, joined so seamlessly that afterward I could scarcely tell the exact site of the trauma. There was no need for stitches, and no sign that an intervention had taken place. The only trace of my injury was a difference in skin tone, my forearms now being appreciably lighter.

No sooner was the operation completed than I could move my own fingers with ease. I was thrilled and relieved. The nurse and doctor wanted to know how I had fallen victim to my misfortune. I explained that I had been attacked by a drug dealer on the way back from an all-night grocery, yet this story, far from establishing my innocence, only raised eyebrows. I was now suspected of buying drugs, of voluntarily straying into an unsafe part of town and courting calamity. Everything I said to clarify what business I had there at that late hour merely deepened the shadow of suspicion. I left the hospital resolved to act as if nothing had happened, so that things might return to normal.

Some time later, I found myself on the terrace of a seaside hotel where, among dozens of strangers, my European friends were slowly gathering. Spotting a familiar face, I made my way over to boast of my recent ordeal. I narrated the story as we walked arm in arm above the beach. “And all for a sack of potatoes,” I concluded, recalling what I took to be the motive for maiming me, and proudly pulled up my sleeves to show where I had been struck. But by then my skin had quite healed, the only reminder of my fleeting dismemberment being a nuance in tone, as though the rest of me had simply gotten no sun. These hands I held up against the sky: removed in shady circumstances, now fully restored to me with the mark of sunlight on them, as proof of my…emancipation!

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