We realize later that the day everyone in the township lost both hands — no clean cut, just a rude awakening to two drying, painless stumps at the end of our arms — should have been declared a state, if not national, emergency. This shit doesn’t happen often! The least we could get is some recognition. Instead we got Dr. Selwyn accepting bids for an experimental treatment that’s supposed to regrow limbs like lizard tails, and those Veterans Association guys, Ray and Eddie, volunteering to lead workshops and support groups for our new lives without hands. Also a lot of screaming and anarchy and this-is-an-outrage stuff on TV in the first few days, but none of us had time for that. Panic is for morons who can afford to miss work, as Samira likes to say.
So here’s how the day goes: us girls get up individually, clear our cauterized stumps of the nastiest clots, and drag our sorry asses in with five minutes to spare. We’re forgiven, obviously, for skipping makeup and leaving our bedhead in place, though Manager David draws the line at ditching those neon-pink fifties uniforms. That alone sets us back about an hour. By the time we do manage to get the doors open, we have a line of pissed-off, balding weirdos who must be from out of town, since they’ve still got fists to shake at us. David greets them all with a yellowing say-cheese smile and leaves us four, all handless, to fend for ourselves.
It takes a few minutes in the kitchen for Haruhi, our high schooler, to ask how the hell we’re supposed to get these orders out. It’s lucky our pancakes only take one trip to the microwave and the cooler’s right there. But these plates have a long way to go. We’d leave them on the counter, but expecting customers to come up to the counter for their food? Unthinkable.
“Well, let’s test it out, Haru,” Samira says. She wiggles her stump at the steaming heap of brown on the table. “Group effort, ladies. Wrists out.” Except Haru’s tiny, and our first attempt to balance a plate on her twiggy wrists ends with the pancakes sliding off onto the floor.
So we improvise. Have her hold the plate in her teeth? No, too heavy. Hold it between her elbows? Haru’s too weak. Piper suggests having her juggle it with her knees like a soccer ball, and really, Samira’s blank stare is what she deserves.
Finally, Samira throws her stumps up and stomps off to get the whipped cream. Piper and I look at each other, then at Haru, who’s holding herself ramrod straight like she’s afraid to let herself move.
“Put it on her head!” Piper’s a genius.
It takes both of us crammed onto one step stool to get the platter to balance, but we manage it. We’re just lucky we picked Haru, whose head is surprisingly flat.
We hop off the stool as Samira returns with the whipped cream tucked into the pockets of her apron. She glares for a moment, holding the canister by her wrists, and then she yanks the cap off the cream with her teeth and pushes down the nozzle with her tongue. She didn’t shake it enough, though, so it comes out gloppy, an oozy lump that splats in a pool of liquid.
“That’s, like, three health code violations right there,” Piper says.
“What, the tongue thing?”
“No, dumbass, that whipped cream job,” I say. “Atrocious.”
Haruhi’s eyes fly to her hairline, and before we can stop her, she whips her head back to look, sending the platter facedown to the floor. I’d wipe it up, but I can’t hold a mop at the moment and one look at that rancid fluff has me convinced that it’ll give me blood poisoning. Instead I strike a movie pose — wrist flared against swooning forehead, backside against the counter. Woe is us.
The three of us start giggling, Piper and me doubled over and Haru like she can’t believe she’s allowed to breathe, but then Samira laughs. She’s laughing so hard that she can’t keep hold of the canister, and it lands with a splat in the middle of the mess. Which makes us go even more nuts.
Anyway, that’s what we’re doing when David comes back in with a tray of muffins in his translucent, veiny hands—because (and I forgot to mention) he’s also an out-of-towner and none of this is his problem. We only pause to laugh harder and cover our mouths with stumpy wrists when he shakes his crooked finger at us, saying, cut the shit.
Katherine Xiong is a freshman in college who’s doing her best. Her most recent work has appeared in One Teen Story and Body Without Organs.