The Sunday Morning

William Morris

     
   

A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house. He was smoking a cigarette. His partner, the man with hands and a camera and a briefcase full of documents citing reasons one should purchase a photograph of one’s house, stood with his shoulders squared behind the salesman.

            “I am here to sell you a photograph of your house,” the man without hands said. The way he spoke, the cigarette bobbed in a corner of his mouth and the words came out in muffled drones.

            “Honey,” I said and she came around the corner holding the carafe of orange juice and looking concerned or maybe annoyed that someone would bother us before we’d even brushed our teeth this lovely Sunday morning.

            “What is it,” she said.

            “I am here to sell you a photograph of your house,” he said again. This time the man with arms gesticulated in time with the handless man’s words. He was sweating visibly in a full suit and bowler hat, and the sausagefingers of each hand writhed when he wiped his brow.

            The man without hands also lacked arms, so his shirtsleeves hung limp at either side of his body.

            “Why would I want to buy a photograph of my own house,” I said, scratching fresh dandruff onto my shoulders and sighing in a way that was supposed to show him that he was inconveniencing me without my having to say it outright.

            “Do you have homeowner’s insurance,” he said.

            “Of course.”

            “Why?”

            “Why?”

            “Why.”

            “In case, God forbid, we ever need it.”

            “God forbid,” my wife said. The words sounded alien from her lips. We hadn’t ever discussed getting insurance—it just seemed natural. And I didn’t want to be discussing it now.

            “It would bring your home back from disaster?”

            “Yes,” my wife said, sweat sliding down the carafe and moistening her palms.

            “Well,” I said, looking at her. “No. It wouldn’t bring our home back. It would help us buy a new house.”

            “But you can never get your home back,” he said. The other man’s arms moved in sync with the salesman’s voice, and from this angle it looked like he was an extension of the salesman. And then he took the cigarette from his partner’s mouth and tapped the ashes onto the doormat. I watched them fall and glow orange with remnants of fire on the mat, which read WELCOME but faced the door so I could read it and they couldn’t without twisting their heads. “Once it’s gone.”

            “I would like it if you left,” my wife said.

            “So you could forget about me.”

            “That’s right.”

            “Like you would forget your home if it burned and you had no photograph.”

            “Alright,” I said.

            “I used to be a librarian,” the salesman said. “When I had arms. Hands.”

            “Um,” I said. And he was starting to look familiar. Like I’d checked out books from him a decade or so ago, and maybe the memory was wearing thin but still barely there.

            “And sure,” he said. His partner’s hands were shaking, trembling with emotion. “I could have gotten new arms. Mechanical things like in the old movies. But I would never be the same. I would rather live without them and appreciate the fine times I had with those beautiful arms. My family had professional photos taken several years running, before the accident. There I am: a young, healthy boy with arms to throw the winning touchdown, reach the highest books, open the stubbornest pickle jar.”

            “It’s very sad about your arms,” my wife said. I watched her lips form the letters—they drew thin and stretched out the vowels, went plump and pursed through the consonants. The sun hung over the houses across the street and glittered in our eyes and against our cars, parked in perfect symmetry in the drive.

            “Wait,” I said, and put my hand against her hip so I felt the gently padded skin under her loose nightshirt. “How much,” I said to the man without hands.

            We stood in the doorway, my arm around her waist, her arms crossed against her chest, and the one man directed the other exactly where to stand, to what exposure to set the camera.

            She did not speak to me over breakfast, and my spoon clanked loudly against the bowl of oatmeal as I chewed and studied the photograph.

     
   
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William Morrisis an MFA candidate at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His work has been published or is forthcoming online at Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Oblong Magazine, and 5x5. He is the recipient of the 2015 Besse Patterson Gephardt Award for Fiction. William lives in St. Louis, where he devotes his time to cats, coffee, and creative writing.