She’s Not Supposed to Ask What Happened to His Leg by Donna Huneke

It’s not Miriam’s job to take up for her brother. Even if he is ruined. He must grow up to be good at numbers now, learn to supervise others. Their mother is almost done altering the last of his pants. That’s more useful than crying. Miriam may have to marry later than anticipated. Sacrifices will be made all around. It is a concept they are comfortable with.

Her brother has two boney hips above two medium-sized thighs and a pair of scratched knees. Below that is asymmetry. He woke up screaming: his right calf, ankle, foot, and toes had vanished in the night. The blood on his sheets was dry. How could he remember nothing?

“Amish Lad” (image via Flickr user las – initially)

It is understood this changes things. She recently bought her first lottery ticket. She put it off for years, even this small freedom. Yet as soon as she took a small detour from the right path, her youngest brother, like magic, is minus a leg.

This has never happened before where they live, boys waking up with missing body parts. An amputation is not a minor procedure. She heard the doctor talking to her father behind a curtain. It was clear that whoever had amputated Samuel’s leg had taken precautions to properly control the bleeding before transecting the muscle and sawing through both the tibia and fibula. The doctor explained that the femur is one of the strongest bones in the body, and that’s probably why the amputation took place below the knee. Miriam imagined her father was as lost in the doctor’s jargon as she was.

“What’s that?” her father had asked. She couldn’t see what he was pointing to.

“A tourniquet. Must have been applied there before any incisions, to prevent blood loss before he could ligate the vessels. Looks like he used a gigli saw.”

“A what?” her father asked.

“It looks like a wire, with handles,” the doctor described. “It would have been quiet. I imagine Samuel was sedated enough so that he made no noise during the procedure, which is why no one woke up.”

Her father stayed silent.

“We started a course of antibiotics and pain medication. His blood pressure is stable and I have redressed the wound. As long as the tissue remains clear of infection, I will suture him up and close the flaps before he goes home,” the doctor said.

***

Miriam goes to the party because she is angry. There are junker cars by a shed and old tools to smash them up with. She goes to the party because she wants to wear jeans and a v-neck shirt before she is married. Her mother put her wedding dress aside while she fixes Samuel’s pants, cuts off the bottom halves off the right legs and sews up the opening, making a pocket for his stump to rest in.

Her parents don’t want her to go to things like this. Sings are safe and chaperoned; this is a different beast. She wonders where it all comes from, the cars and trucks, the blasting amplifiers. Where will it disappear to in the morning?

“Go for a drive?” a boy asks. She is relieved he’s not English, despite the clothes. What do English boys even want? This boy knows she’s Amish too. Some of the boys are hunting out English girls, girls who will lean in first for kissing, girls who know what kind of alcohol they like to drink best at parties: sweet, biting drinks inside plastic cups.

“I’m engaged,” Miriam answers, uninterested in courting. She doesn’t want to marry anyone other than Seth. He is quiet. When they sit alone outside she sometimes forgets he is even there. Miriam imagines it’s hard to find someone you can be alone with like that.

“Wasn’t proposing,” the boy answers, pissed off. “You don’t come out much, so I thought you’d have fun, going for a drive.” Yes, she does know the boy. He’s hard to recognize in the dark, face under a baseball cap. Their settlement in Lancaster is a large one.

“Maybe another time,” she offers. “I’m not staying long. I hate this music.” It’s the truth. She reaches up to massage her temples in small circles while the boy looks for someone else. Her brother’s leg is gone.

Though Samuel is the one with nightly terrors that cause him to thrash and sweat through his sheets, Miriam has not been sleeping at all. Her eyes remain open, focused on the shadows of her doorway, waiting for someone to stalk around the perimeter of the room where she can’t see his face. He will have a bag of tools. He will be deciding which piece of her body he wants to take as she sleeps.

When she asked her father who could have stolen Samuel’s leg, he told her it was a test from God. Next month she and Seth are expected to join the clergy in the council room at the beginning of service to start their instruction for baptism. She wonders what God will want from her.

Miriam has been raised to endure – sacrifice is holy. Holy. Holes. The open wound at the end of her brother’s leg when they found him screaming in bed. She used to think God wanted her to be more than she is, hadn’t considered he might instead desire to whittle her down to something smaller. How can she raise her hand during service and go upstairs with the others now? How can she not?

Donna Huneke is a writer just outside Philadelphia whose work has appeared in Boxcar Poetry Review and Weave Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @dmhuneke.