I had one arm. Lost the other to a bacterial infection. Don’t swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Ellie was pregnant as hell. I asked her what in the world I was supposed to do for us with just one arm. So she said here, take this broom and stick it in your arm hole and use the straws as a sort of hand for grabbing things. Which wouldn’t work, I knew, because broom straws were flimsy. I’d tried grabbing the cat with it before, when Ellie wasn’t looking. And the cat had gotten behind the television set and wouldn’t come out for like four hours.
But still, I was surprised at the stuff I could do with a broom for an arm. For one, you can scrape bugs and other small objects out of the sink easily; you get the handful of straws together in one hand, stuff them into the drain, and twirl yourself slightly, and gravity and the broom straws and whatever other physical force helps push the stuff up out of the drain. Then you just rinse the broom off in the shower, and you’re done. Another thing you can do is scare small children; this one I’m not proud of, but one time when our neighbors’ kid rode by on a bike, she looked at my broom handle arm and gawked, then ran over a curb and fell off her bike. Then I ran over there and helped her up, carried her home, and she must have felt awful for gawking at me.
I also get that Ellie is more attracted to me now; she looks at me from the bathroom door, props herself up on one foot, and tells me if I had just one more broom arm, she would think I looked like a snow man, that is, if a snow man was incredibly sexy, and had a cute little mole on his left jaw with a hair on it.
Then she sees a doctor, and we learn that we may be having a girl. I ask why it’s only a maybe for now? Aren’t they supposed to just know right off what it’s going to be? And Ellie says a bunch of the entrails are still in the way, and they can’t make heads or tails of the baby’s crotch area.
Then we start getting all these gender-neutral gifts in the mail from family and long-distance friends: gray body suits, gray and white quilts, bath baskets, animal rattlers. Because Ellie posted on Facebook that our kid won’t have a gender when it comes out. A hundred likes. Pats on the back all around. Also, we don’t know what we’ll call it; I brush her hair back with my broom straws from across the laundry room. She takes the stick in her hand and shoves it away.
“I feel like a bloated goat,” she says.
I know this whole baby thing is sort of overwhelming, so I tell her I’ll give her space, and she says just for a little while, if you don’t mind; go walk around the neighborhood for a little while, that’d be the right thing to do.
I take the broom off at the door. I don’t want young people looking at me. I also wear a solid, boring t-shirt so no old people will stop me and ask what my shirt says. There are a bunch of kids with backpacks sitting outside Jodie’s pastry and they look at me like they’re hungry. I think about giving them money for food. I think about putting a light in their little eyes. They have dirty, open knees. The pastry shop closed an hour ago. The kids look at me with their tongues hanging out. They don’t look at my stump; they look into me. I go home. I close the door behind me. I go into the kitchen and sit there and look at Ellie for a while stirring at something in a steaming pot. I think about how I can be a good father, how I can support Ellie without getting in the way. She’d been there for me when I was in the hospital, my stump moving involuntarily, my stump adjusting itself to not having an arm attached. I think about going to her now, putting my arm around her, and yet I know she needs some space, that she’ll say just a moment longer, please, just let me stand here and think. I walk back out to the yard, broomstick shoved up my stump, and wait for the school bus to come through so I can amble after the kids like an uncanny lunatic. Their faces, red and wet with fear, remind me of myself when I was their age. I see myself three years from now with our crying daughter, how me and Ellie will fight over how I never get to hold our kid; how eventually our girl will get used to me and realize how absolutely hilarious it is to have a Dad with a kitchen appliance shoved into the nub of his missing arm, the handle of a spatula or the butt of a potato masher, and how furious this will make Ellie. How strange I must look as I brush the leaves off the porch, dust and bugs swirling, my body arched over my work like a skinny tree weighed down by a disproportionate limb.