“Waiting for an Amputation” by Matthew Dexter

It all started that one afternoon after school when our daughter’s principal sent a note home and ever since my husband has become an insomniac. We were baking brownies. The message was smothered in grape jelly. Handwritten, that half piece of printer paper stuck to her fingers as she pulled it from her Glee backpack. It was cut perfect; probably from one of those machines that slice off little children’s fingers. Wish I could cut her Skippy peanut butter and Smuckers sandwiches with such precision. The green device performs swifter amputations than a highly-skilled surgeon. Sometimes in my mind I picture Jasmine pressing her fingers down on the handle. I can almost hear it grinding; that horrific grating of the classroom guillotine.

He followed her down the hall into the bathroom to make sure she washed her hands well. There was chicken thawing in our kitchen sink. Sometimes she doesn’t wash them so good–her hands I mean. Do a good job and use a lot of soap, not the bar but the liquid bottle, he said. I could hear the water running. Those soap animals are expensive and too good for family use. We save them for cocktail parties to impress the guests; I sit in the kitchen making hors d’oeuvres, listening to the toilet flush, praying they don’t rub too hard.

Sometimes the headdress of the Indian chief gets desecrated or the point of his nose smudges. Our friends are good people, but those decorative soaps are almost ten dollars each. The details are amazing, absolutely beautiful. They’re scented. The real deal. Anyway, we stopped using the Indian chief because the details of the duck seemed to bare the grunt of our dinner parties much better. We only pull an Indian out every now and then on the most important occasions when we really want to impress someone, usually in-laws or pretentious parents of Jasmine’s friends who show up in their fancy foreign automobiles.

Make sure you don’t smudge the turtles, I said. My husband left the note on the granite island of our kitchen. And don’t splash them, I added as an afterthought, or the turquoise won’t match the wallpaper. I could barely read the handwriting, but it was cursive, written in blue ink. They returned and my husband took the message over to the sink and held it above the chicken as if he was making some sort of ancient sacrifice. He shook his head and went all atavistic, shattered the bowl of brownie mix into a hundred and seven little pieces. Hell yes, I counted them. He turned into the devil, asked Jasmine, What the hell is criss-cross-applesauce?

Don’t talk like that to her, I said, don’t you dare talk to her like that. He looked at me like he might strike me. It says here that Jasmine has been asking children to sit Indian style, thereby encouraging discrimination, although not willfully. Not willfully, he said. What the hell does that even mean? Don’t use those words in front of her, I said. I’m warning you. The kitchen was warming. I walked over to the dinner table and put the imaginary earmuffs on Jasmine’s ears in case my husband decided to swear some more; a right he exercised for a good half minute. I smothered her earlobes harder as he cursed at the chicken, waving his hands at the Butterball. Jasmine colored as my husband went nuts.

He opened the refrigerator and pulled out the purple Smuckers jelly, smashed the glass bottle against the floor. Thankfully, the next morning it was a wonderful coagulant, easy to clean, only broke into thirteen pieces. I released the earmuffs and he placed the chicken in the freezer and we went out to Applebee’s.

He was fine at dinner. He swallowed his Sizzling Asian Shrimp like a champion. His hunger was healthy. Again he asked Jasmine about the content of the note. Can you tell me about this criss-cross-applesauce nonsense baby? They say you can’t use Indian style anymore because it’s not appropriate? What does appropriate mean Daddy? He ordered another beer as he explained the gist of the note. I swallowed another steaming bite of Sizzling Chicken with Spicy Queso Blanco.

I watched the waitress as she carried some extra napkins and a Sam Adams over to our table. The bartender looked at us from behind the bar. We’re not racists, not discriminating on anyone. We must look like the perfect American family, out to dinner at the neighborhood bar and grill. What the hell? I decided to order a Skinny Bee Margarita.

Anyway, that’s when the insomnia began. That night he rolled around like a trout till four in the morning. He was exhausted at work and all week it became a pattern. That’s when I decided to go talk to Jasmine’s teacher, see if I could get her to loosen up the restrictions. I delivered some homemade marmalade and a banana muffin. The classroom door was half open, covered with red cutout hearts. Valentine’s Day was around the corner. I peeked inside, and a beautiful young woman lifted her head with elegance.

You must be Jasmine’s mother, she said. Her auburn hair was long and braided like an exotic maiden. She offered me a seat. I feared I might break one of the tiny chairs, or get my stomach stuck in the desks. I had flashbacks of my days as a schoolgirl as she pulled a folding chair from the closet and unfolded it in front of her teacher’s desk. I stared at this metallic chair, the heart-shaped pendant hanging from her neck, the Indian jewelry around her wrist, her breasts beneath the sweater, scissors with the orange handle sitting on the table, the demented paper cutter machine in the corner waiting for an amputation.

For some strange reason I didn’t sit in the chair. Instead, I pulled the note from out my bra. It was still sticky and I could feel the jelly on my breasts. I unfolded it and placed the letter on the center of the twelve inch classroom guillotine. I reached over and grabbed the handle and that demonic grating ensued. I picked up the pieces and did it again, over and over, until the pieces became too tiny and I feared the amputation of my index finger. Then I sat Indian style. After awhile, I picked up the pieces and swallowed them as the speechless teacher observed. Then I returned to the middle of the rug and sat Indian style once more. Some things will never change. They never should.


Matthew Dexter lives and writes in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He survives on fish tacos, cold cervezas, and warm sunshine.

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