by Stuart Plotkin
"There's no way I can let you do that!" shouted Aaron.
Aaron and Bart took every opportunity to argue, even about the most trivial detail. It was lucky that Aaron lived in New York and his brother Bart lived in San Diego. That put 2432 miles between them...not far enough, but sufficient to keep obligatory visits and phone calls to a minimum.
Unfortunately, this time there was a serious issue and both brothers were in New York. Their positions on this latest point of contention were diametrically opposed with no room for compromise.
The responsibility for their third brother Cal had fallen on their shoulders. Cal had developed meningitis as a young child and had been left mentally handicapped. He was a voracious reader and he loved taking public transportation into Manhattan to check out old record stores, but he couldn't make change of a dollar or change a light bulb.
Aaron wanted Cal to go into a group home in the neighborhood he had grown up in.
Bart wanted him in California.
Aaron said he wouldn't be able to get around in San Diego. Here he could go to the library or into the city by bus or train. In San Diego he would be stuck in the house.
Bart wanted him to be in a place he could control.
In the back of both their minds was the significant inheritance placed in their names for Cal's care. Their parents had provided well for Cal, better than they had for his elder brothers.
Cal shouldn't have been part of the argument but was drawn in by the shouting.
Seeing an opportunity, Aaron turned to Cal and asked "So what is your choice? What do you want to do?"
Cal was overwhelmed by such a direct question. He defaulted to his standard line, "Gee, I don't really know, this is kinda sudden."
Bart was a psychologist who recognized the behavior.
"It's not fair to surprise him with such a question. You know he can't answer. It's up to us," said Bart.
Aaron disagreed with this too.
After countless hours the two brothers were still at each other's throats. Each was immovable and inflexible.
Bart had just raised the stakes by stating flatly, "I guess we'll just have to get a lawyer or arbitrator to take care of this situation."
Aaron was furious "You dare use the 'L' word here. You know what I think of lawyers, those bottom-feeding scum suckers." Aaron threw open the glass doors that led to the deck and blasted through. The deck overlooked his back yard where he had a proper suburban quarter acre of his own.
Bart followed Aaron out, but neither spoke.
Bart was startled by something. "What the hell is that? It looks like a pair of legs."
"Yeah, so?" Aaron fired back, still filled with anger.
"Well, they are just walking around."
"Isn't that what legs are supposed to do?"
"Aaron, you don't understand, it's just a pair of legs, no body, just legs."
Aaron finally separated himself from his anger and focused on the two legs. They seemed to be walking aimlessly, or maybe not. After watching them for a while he was able to see that the legs were making long circles around the yard, stopping at the gate for a moment and then moving on. Their gait seemed uncertain, unpracticed, unsteady.
Both brothers descended the steps to examine the legs. The legs met them at the bottom of the stairs. From above Aaron could see the head of the femur -- the thighbone -- as well as the muscle belly of the Quadriceps and Hamstrings. Aaron was a surgeon. He knew the anatomy of the legs quite well. He also knew the two muscles were supposed to be attached to the pelvis in order to walk. There was no pelvis. The legs were dressed in clean but well worn work pants with worn leather shoes. One pant leg was neatly patched. The belt seemed to be holding the two legs together.
The two legs "looked" at the brothers expectantly, one foot tapping impatiently. They pivoted, took a few steps, then returned when the brothers made no move to follow. After the legs repeated this pattern a few times, the brothers exchanged looks of consternation, then did something they had not done in decades: they agreed on what they should do next.
The next time the legs turned and began to walk away, the brothers fell into step behind them.
When the legs reached the gate, Aaron reached over them -- through the space where the upper body should have been -- and opened it. The three -- or two and a half -- of them walked out.
The legs moved with purpose. They seemed to understand the concepts of roads, automobiles and buildings, or at least learned quickly. The pain of slamming a shin into the bumper of a car is an excellent teacher.
Bart said, "Where the hell would a pair of legs want to go? This is a bit freaky -- we'd better keep them between the two of us."
The brothers walked in silence.
After three hours and at least six miles, the legs were still walking strong. That could not be said for the brothers. For the first time in a while they had a single purpose, follow the legs. Curiosity outmaneuvered anger.
Bart said "As far as we can tell, these legs may be walking to California."
Aaron answered "I don't think so. They appeared here in New York so they must be going somewhere near here."
"You always think you're so smart. How the hell could you know that?" Bart barked.
Aaron's stare penetrated his brother's outer veneer. He knew Bart was nervous. "Let's just follow a little while longer."
Bart saw an old fashioned soda shop. "I'm thinking it's time for a break. I could sure go for a root beer float about now."
Aaron agreed, and the legs didn't seem to mind. All three of them sat down at the counter. They placed their orders and within a few minutes, a root beer float was placed in front of each brother.
Just then the waiter glanced down and noticed the legs. His eyes widened, then his mouth opened slowly as he tried to decide whether to scream, laugh hysterically, or pretend that nothing unusual was happening.
"Nothing for him, he's trying to cut down" Aaron snapped just before the waiter could speak. As the anger left, Aaron's sarcasm was starting to return.
"Very funny," the burly man shouted. "What, you got some inflatable legs or something?"
With that, the legs stood up looking quite indignant, which is a neat trick for just a pair of legs.
Mr. Soda jerk threw the three of them out but not before collecting his money for the drinks. To be fair, he did take the time to transfer the drinks into paper cups before herding the brothers and their guide toward the door.
Bart's shoulder hit first causing the door to fly open. His paper cup full of root beer float also went flying- right into the face of a full figured lady just entering the store.
She threw her hands up to protect her face from the flying dessert and knocked Aaron's arm up. He immediately let go of his liquid refreshment, also showering the lady.
Bart went down tangled in the extra pair of legs, taking the rotund lady with him, her extra flesh quivering as she landed face to face with Bart. His breath was forcibly squeezed out of him as the lady took a second bounce.
Aaron, still upright, saw the redness swelling in the corpulent lady's face. Just as she exploded with unprintable words, Aaron got Bart standing and they were down the street before the second expletive left her mouth.
The three of them continued walking, crossing into Brooklyn. Every so often a passerby noticed an abnormal amount of legs for two people. Surprisingly most did not notice the extra lower extremities. Those that did the counting crossed to the other side of the street.
After a few more blocks Bart asked, "Isn't this where all the cemeteries are located?"
"Yes," answered Aaron "and I am starting to get an idea where we are going." As they turned the next corner, he said, "I know where we are, we're on the road to the family gravesite."
They arrived at the gravesite where they were astonished to find a perfectly clean, simple casket sitting on the grass. It had a Jewish star and was made as per tradition, with no nails. The full moon rose over the gravestones. It was only after the addition of the Sun's brilliant reflection off the surface of the moon, that they were able to read the headstone.
Beloved husband, father and grandfather
The legs walked over to the casket and gave them a very loving touch. The brothers approached the coffin and apprehensively raised the cover. There was a skeleton in the coffin arranged neatly inside, skull resting on a clean pillow. No legs.
Now the pair of legs gave the brothers a kick- not a loving touch but more of a "just don't stand there, do something" type kick.
Bart said "these legs definitely want something from us."
The legs lay down in the grass expectantly. When the two brothers stood motionless, the legs arose and gave them another kick- with more insistence.
As the legs returned to their recumbent position Aaron said " I think we have to connect them, make the body whole."
"What the hell is going on? Why are we in a cemetery being directed by a bodiless pair of legs?" Bart stammered, starting to show some signs of unraveling.
Aaron continued, "I think we have found the body and I believe we'll find the answer when we unite them. It seems the legs are animated but the body is not. It's up to us to put them together."
Aaron drew on his knowledge of anatomy. Gingerly he removed the pelvis from the coffin and placed it above the expectant legs. Then he arranged the 24 vertebrae in correct order. He set the ribs next to the correct vertebrae, added the scapula, sternum, clavicle and sat down to assess his work. The legs were getting noticeably anxious for the process to be completed. With great expectations the legs started to tremble.
Aaron added the upper extremities, humerus , radius and ulna. The wrists were especially difficult each with eight carpal bones, five metacarpals and fingers. He was very uncertain about the order of the vertebrae. Each had a distinctive shape. He was certain that if he didn't get it right whatever was supposed to happen wouldn't. Finally he gently removed the skull and put it on top of the vertebral column. He initially forgot the Hyoid bone because it was the only bone in the body not connected to another bone. He placed it in the throat area and said he was done.
They sat back in anticipation and watched.
They saw nothing.
There was no great revelation, no movement, no nothing. After a minute the legs got up and gave Aaron a swift kick in the buttocks. Aaron said "I must be doing something wrong, or am forgetting something, but for the life of me I can't figure it out. Everything looks correct." The one leg standing moved towards the skull. Bart said "it seems to be pointing to the head. What is it trying to tell us?" The legs returned to their recumbent position.
"Wait a minute, it wasn't pointing to the skull, it was pointing to the ear. That's it." he exclaimed. "I got it." He looked inside the casket by the light of the full moon, reached inside and came out with something pinched between his fingers on both hands.
"I forgot the three tiny bones in each ear" and he placed them in their approximate place.
Immediately they knew something changed. They saw a ripple across the complete skeleton. Flesh started to fill in starting at the point that the legs ended. The leg muscles jumped to their pelvic attachment site. Organs appeared in the abdomen, kidneys, liver, intestines. Muscles filled in and were enveloped in skin. This wave continued proximal up the torso. Heart and lungs appeared. Just as the heart started to beat the rib muscles enclosed the chest. The arms fleshed out. The brothers watched in amazement as this phenomenon progressed. Bart said with a shiver, "It has almost reached the skull. We'll soon know what we have created."
Much more slowly now muscles carefully surrounded the eye sockets and mouth. Cartilage grew around the ear canals and nose. Facial nerves connected to their corresponding muscles. Attachments to the jaw formed as gums filled in around the teeth. Finally skin was created over the muscles and the face formed into a recognizable person.
"Grandpa!" they both yelled out as one. It was Grandpa Eddie, just as they remembered him; thin grey hair, strong muscled arms and a big broad smile. They shuddered as childhood memories flooded back ,making them feel like kids again.
Grandpa was dressed in his standard, baggy pants and wrinkled white shirt with starched collar and cuffs. Bart noticed that his handkerchief hung out of this pocket on one side, and his pocket watch chain out of the other. As children the two of them used to sneak his watch and handkerchief out of his pockets. As if he didn't know. He loved when they played with him.
Bart remembered visiting his grandpa in his Laundromat, washing other people's dirty laundry, 5 dryers blasting out heat in the middle of a steamy hot Bronx Summer. He carried 100lb bags of detergent on his shoulder and put out the occasional electrical fire caused by the ageing washing machines Now that was stress. It must have sucked the life right out of him as he had died in his 69th year.
Grandpa Eddie sat down on the coffin. He gave it a quick look, remembering that it was his final resting place. Except now was not a time to rest. Things had to be set right.
"Kids, grandma and I are very proud of who you have become, all grown up. But, I'm very disappointed. You two have been fighting for 50 years. Thankfully your adolescent fist fights and wrestling subsided, but you just switched to shouting matches. You seem to disagree just for spite."
Both brothers looked embarrassed with nothing to say in their defense. They knew gramps was right.
He continued, "Now you have a serious decision to make. Your own flesh and blood brother needs you, and you know what? You need him. You are, and always will be a threesome."
Aaron and Bart sat down next to gramps. "You know?" Aaron said, " Why can't Cal just stay in the house. He has lived there 50 years, he is comfortable there. We can get a caregiver to look in on him and he'll be happy and content."
Gramps' calm assertiveness allowed for some rational thinking by the brothers as they worked out the details.
"Boys, it's time to go. I have some more eternal resting to do and grandma is waiting for me. Help me in."
Grandpa assumed his resting position as Bart fluffed up the flattened pillow. Gramps sat up and gave his grandchildren a strong hug. "Just remember, we All love you."
He laid down to rest. His flesh and blood dried and turned to dust as he returned to his skeletal state.
All except for two items. Bart had his pocket watch, Aaron had his handkerchief.
Aaron put his arm around his younger brother and they returned home, by cab.
© 2010 Stuart Plotkin
Bio: Stuart Plotkin lives a boring life as a Podiatrist in New York hence all his pent up imagination has gone into the dark side. His wife Paula, college senior daughter Elyssa, and favorite dog Halley fill up the rest of his life. He does get out once a year digging for dinosaurs which coincidentally is the name of his most recent book, DIG The Search for Dinosaurs. He has also published articles in scientific journals, and is the author of the book The Hiking Engine. This is Stuart's third appearance in Aphelion; his most recent contribution was a story of ghosts and gold fever, Upstream, in the June 2009 edition.
E-mail: Stuart Plotkin
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.