On a springlike end-of-winter morning I awoke to a furious itching deep under my skin, as if my upper ribs were chafing one against the other. I prayed it wasn’t a rash or a spider bite or any other mundane nothing. I mumbled silent vows. Tithing my allowance at church? I’d do it. Treating Dirty Joe to a dollar menu burger? As soon as he drew near. I’d even try and be gracious with my older brother, Pete.
Hours later, I fidgeted in the back row of Geometry class. The pain in my side flared with such searing intensity that I nearly fell from my seat. For two merciful inhales the agony faded. It swelled again. Pinprick needles chased a disconcerting crackle that I knew to be bone. I wiped away tears before anyone took notice and felt the inside of my shirt with the stubs of new fingers.
Approaching Mr. Henderson’s desk with casual swagger wasn’t easy. The titters of the class threw off my stride, and the singing in my head made my feet feel as if they weren’t my own.
“Johnathan?” Mr. Henderson turned away from his whiteboard proof.
My voice came close to breaking. I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t risk the class hearing such a quaver at such a time. It was all too cliché.
Mr. Henderson didn’t miss a beat. “Do you need to see the nurses?”
The classroom stilled. They sensed the importance of this moment. Even the rudest among them found it too boorish to intrude.
“Your right, is it?” Mr. Henderson asked, but that’s not where his eyes were. He knew. He was giving this to me.
I cleared my throat. “Left.”
The class buzzed and whispered incredulously.
“Let’s see.” Mr. Henderson capped his marker and helped me with my shirt’s lateral zipper. It didn’t lower easily. Bad luck befalls eager fingers, as the saying goes—I’d never dared touch it.
My third hand slipped free. Everyone saw and everyone knew. My new arm was growing fingers first, fully sized and already straining out beyond the second knuckle. No infantile growth. No months of exercise to match my new limb to its peers. Not only was I a lucky lefty, I’d jumped over years of development.
The rarest of rare beginnings. And everyone saw.
Every other high school student already had a second right, though precious few limbs were yet the equal of the originals. Corey, in back, was respected for his three rights, and though Nathan, the star basketball player, had two rights and two lefts, both were slight compared to his natal pair. He folded them, smooth and feminine, across his desk. They’d look right at place on his sister—still, he took due pride.
Today though, belonged to me. I’d caught up. At the rate my arm was progressing, I’d be passing some of my classmates by the weekend.
Mr. Henderson slid open the bottom drawer of his desk, retrieved a double wrap, and secured my new fingers. I’d bled no little amount, but didn’t mind at all. I wished eleven through fifteen could feel the open air. I wanted to watch them wiggle.
“Get down there pronto,” Mr. Henderson said. “It starts to really bite in when the adrenaline fades—always just in time for the wrist too. Trust me.” He waved a dozen times at the class and they chuckled at his humor. Very few adults ever reached ten. That made Mr. Henderson the coolest teacher in the building.
“For the rest of the week I’ll pipe the lesson down to Miss Oshi’s offices. Channel—” Mr. Henderson punched at his computer keyboard while signing out a hall pass and gathering up the day’s assignment as he cleaned his glasses. “—twenty-three. There are so many mending this week. Something in the air?”
The class chuckled. It may have been at my expense.
“Hurry down. And call your parents too. They’ll be proud.”
“I know. I will.” I thought of all the early morning promises I’d made and didn’t regret a single one.