Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lives in Texas with her two literarily-named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, and Daily Science Fiction. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program and reviews short fiction at her blog, Short Story Review -- www.shortstoryview.blogspot.com. You can visit her through her website: www.bonniejostufflebeam.com or on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lives in Texas with her two literarily-named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, and Daily Science Fiction. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program and reviews short fiction at her blog, Short Story Review -- www.shortstoryview.blogspot.com. You can visit her through her website: www.bonniejostufflebeam.com or on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle.

Old Boys

I came back from the war without hands. First thing I did was call up my boy. To do so I had to use the fancy voice phone, hands free, the army gave me as a parting gift. Guess they felt bad cause I couldn’t use my old one no more. I asked my buddy Kyle if he wanted to have coffee. Two years was all I’d been away, only twenty when they shipped me off. Kyle and I were going to be married. At least that’s what I told myself, it might’ve been pretend. He gave me his photo before I left, a high school picture with a blue ocean-looking backdrop, his graduation gown draped over his narrow shoulders. I couldn’t see no part of his body but his feet, at the bottom of the picture, showed from the legs of his tight blue jeans. And his hands I could see, folded into fists at his sides like he was angry at being photographed. Two green beads for eyes and his mouth pursed sour-like. In fact Kyle did hate having his picture taken. I took pride in knowing that little fact, like all the tidbits of his I picked up along the way. Part of why he always liked me was I no longer felt the high schooler’s need to capture everything on camera like all his track friends did. I’d been out of school a little while.

He agreed to meet me, and so I had Ma help me put on a flower-print dress, blue roses. In the mirror, if I hid my arms behind my back, I nearly looked innocent, but the fact of my hair, which had to be clipped down to the scalp and still hadn’t grown back, and the scar across my shoulder, one huge chunk of charred red skin like dry black lava, all of that kind of ruined the effect of the dress. My scars were still healing, so they couldn’t fit me with the temporary prosthetic, and all that was left of my arms were two stumps at my sides. Looking into that mirror, I realized I couldn’t have coffee with Kyle. Not only would he not know me anymore, I also couldn’t hold a teacup. Asking him to feed me through a straw would be too much for him. This was one of those facts I knew.

I had Ma cancel. I heaved my wilting body onto my childhood bed and didn’t cry. The army doesn’t cry. My hands were a gift to my country. No take backs.