Skip to main content

The One-Armed Lady

...a Life



Today is June 18, 2020. It's 7:15 pm, Eastern Standard Time. I'm in Central Florida, the U.S. The sun won't set for an hour or so.

My guilt gets me today.

I'm driving by the big house on the longish lake now. I do it twice a day, at least five days a week. I went to an estate sale here recently. Bought a grab-box full of books and photo albums and other sundries.

The house has low ceilings and I can still see them--in my head. The rooms haunt me. Why?

It was more for the experience, I think. The I'm-sick-and-buy-dead-people's-things experience. What level of hell will I achieve for my efforts? Or...will I find some valuable item, sell it on Ebay and make a buck?

Okay, I feel better now. The dead have a purpose after all. Their valuables can be used to help the living. Help me. That's a good thing, right?

Excuses. Damned excuses. I want to know stuff. Profits are not my motivation.

A Walking Man

I see a man walking in the yard of the big house now, searching the grass. His head is down. His hair is long but not too long. It sticks out at odd angles from his tight baseball cap. Streaks of gray paste his thick short beard. He's a chunky man. His tight dark t-shirt holds in the fat but he's not burdened by it. He moves easily in long jeans. Easily, if not pained. Or is that my projection upon him? I mean, can we see pain? Is he in pain?

Floridians don't wear long pants in this heat. The pain might be discomfort.

I figure he's a relative. He's looking at the grass? Why? Did he loose something? Spare change? A set of keys? Or is it more than that. Head down...

This is mom's yard, he might be thinking. I'm walking where she walked. I miss her. That's why his head sags. Why he stands there, hands in pockets, confused? What does it all mean?

I drive by. The old house sits in my mind. Broods there. I bought the secrets of someone's life. I skulked the remains of someone's cherished days. I still feel sick about it. It seems wrong, somehow. Yet, not.

Drive by

I'm past the house now. I drive over the speed-tables. They wake me. Jar my thoughts. I should turn around, I think. I should tell them what I did. If they are who I think they are--good people--I mean. Who else would they be? I should tell them. Ease my own confusion. I'm sorry, I should say. It was an accident. Stupidity.

What kind of fool I was. That's what I should tell them. In words they will understand. In my expressions. In my shrugs and posture. Something words can't say. Expose myself and my guilt and un-stain my soul--if that is possible now.

But I keep driving. I hit the next speed-table and the next. My street comes. I'm almost free. Then it hits. The damned guilt again. You need to go back, it says.

Where can I turn around? I pull into my street. Should I? There's no way to turn around, except...there is. You know it's not difficult.

I back my truck into the street--into the "T" of it. If an idiot comes barrelling around the curves, going over 25 miles-per-hour, I'm had. But it's late. Most people are going home, driving toward the island. I'm safe.

I head back now. I'm going to the house. Should I? No. Go home. No. I'm committed. I'm not going home, now. Don't be a wuss.

I run the baseball capped man through my mind, involuntarily. Thick framed eyeglasses. A beard, but not a full one. A car leaving too. Who was he or she--in that car? Why was the car leaving? What is he--the man in the baseball cap--looking for in the grass?


Guilt. Guilt, that's it. Has to be. Or maybe shame. That's what I feel now. The filthy little thing in my mind that pushes me into the past. Into history. But what right do I have to dig in someone's past?

Sure, it's abandoned property. It's mine now too. The photos and letters are mine. But are they really? Aren't they too fresh? Too raw? Doesn't history need to soak, first? Lay somewhere safe to distill?

This makes no sense.

The vulture in me leers. It's sharp-picking beak that pecks on every damned thing, waits. Damn the viscera, eat! Even someone's private life is my food? The investigator me--I have been one for decades--is sucking me in. Pull the string!

Not yet. For now I've only looked. I've not attempted to tie the strings together. I've only tasted her life. The one-armed lady's life.

Is it my fixation? My disorder? Probably. Certainly, it is.

Forgive yourself, I say. So, I do. But that's a lie. I have not forgiven myself. I've only ignored myself, for now. I've given into the vampire, for now. The one who sinks his teeth in slowly. The one who tastes, who savors memories.

Is this a sickness?

But if I didn't buy them--the memories--where would they be now? Not under my desk in that box. No, they might be in the trash. Maybe at the local dump, under rotting food and mildewed paper. Under the sun and rain. Gazed upon by roaches and rats. Until they wink out of existence.

So, I did good.

Yes, nods the vampire.

Who was she?

He is a relative. That's what is going on. The baseball cap man is a relative. A son? Maybe more are in the house. More victims for my pleasure.

They are doing what? Grieving. Talking about the past. Looking for stuff. Feeling empty? Did the estate sellers go too far? Did they sell too much. Have you seen the photo albums? Is that what they are wondering?

Now I'm going to barge in? Why? To suck out some life?

That's what I am thinking. The albums. The photos. The life. The one-armed woman who traveled a lot. The photos and letters, and postcards. It's such a treasure, I think. A treasure not meant for me. Or was it?

Is it really my food? Are memories calories?

I need to know. Who was the one-armed woman? Dammit man.

Am I really attempting to return the memories? I ask myself that. Am I sane, after all? No.

They will see through me. These relatives--if that's what they are--will know. They will know that I purposely bought those memories and that I don't really want to give them back. I want to keep them in that box. It's my box.

It's a lie then. I'm a liar, coming to visit. Don't invite me in.

Is the one-armed lady that important?

Another Man

I'm already late. My wife has dinner ready. Work and traffic delayed me.

I'm close now. Not to my home but to the place of scrapbooks. I see the house and the yard and the lake behind. It has been five minutes but the baseball capped man is gone. I don't see a soul. It feels deserted.

There's one car in the long drive and a small camper. The camper looks new. So does the car. But they seem to have appeared. They weren't there before, but they were. I just didn't register them.

I honk my presence as I pull into the drive. Hope they--if they are here--are the receptive type.

A man appears. A different one. Not the big guy I saw moments before in the front yard, when I drove by. No baseball cap. This one's thin. In his 50's or 60's. All gray. Thick eyeglasses.

I give him the info. Tell him what I have. Maybe it's a mistake, I say. Maybe the estate people accidentally sold the scrapbooks and photo albums. Maybe I accidentally bought them.

Sure, the man thinks. It was an accident. Happens all the time. People buy things they shouldn't. At least, I hope he is thinking that.

He goes to the back. Opens the fence. There are several people here. Family, I am told. He isn't directly related. Maybe by marriage. Give me a second, he says. The one-armed women's daughter is here, he says. I figure that's good news. Now I'll know more.

He says something to the group of people sitting on the porch. I can see shadows behind the screens. One emerges, but holds back.

The Daughter

She stands. I see her. The connection to my pilfered albums is here. The person who can relieve me of my indiscretions.

It isn't to be.

She opens the door to the screened-in porch. I meet her. Tell her about the things I bought here recently. I feel better for a moment.

I lie then. The albums were in a box, I say. A box of books. They weren't. They were stacked on a shelf. I had looked through some of them.

I'm making headway. It's working? But...

Her reaction is dead. Devoid. Embarrassed. Dejected. Hands on hips. She does not face me. Blades herself. Her right shoulder points at me. (She has two arms.)

I've imposed. There's a pause now. I'm mute. Let her talk, I think. But she does not.

I offer the albums. Another pause.

I have copies she finally says.

I plead, inside. Take them off my soul, I think. I describe what I have. Original photos, vacation pamphlets, notes, letters, church info. Don't make me keep them. Accuse me. Want them.

Her head is down. She looks older than me. That puts her past 60. Loose fitting tank top. Not Floridian. Looks poor, ragged, broken. Maybe scared?

Tag, I'm it, I think. Some black thing removed itself from her. It transferred itself into me now. And, what's worse, I want it. I also don't want it. I'm angry now. I'm grateful. The question is: am I sane?

What have I done? What have I purchased? Why did you sell these?

She traveled a lot, the daughter says.

And? I think. And?

No answer.

She traveled? I would have said: my mother or my mom or my parents, traveled a lot.

Maybe it was because I was a stranger. But that was not it. It was that black thing she gave me. That thing she unloaded on me. That thing I voluntarily accepted.


Still, I offer. Do you want them? The albums. I live close, I say. I can go and get them.

No, she doesn't want them.

My gut twists. Something's wrong?

I'm more heartbroken than she is. You let a stranger--me--keep your mother's things?

I don't get it. I want too... I want to shake her awake. What the hell is wrong with you? What kind of daughter are you? This are originals. These are memories. These are...

Then the impression is gone. What ever feeling the daughter had, she tucks back inside. Not so easily. It takes some effort, I see.

I must go, I tell myself. This is all wrong.

All this plays in my skull...has been playing in my head for days...which is probably why I have not slept well in days...

Why? How can anyone do their own mother? I walk away as I think this.

Her head was down. I recall that. But why? Why was the daughter's head down? Emotion? Not so much. She didn't want what I had. She wanted me to go. She stepped back. Message understood.

I nod. Okay, I say. Well, if you need them, I'm down the road. (There's only one way into my neighborhood. If they want, they can find me, I figure.) I take my leave and stew. What a fool, I am.

I get back in my truck. Reverse on the long straight drive. Back on the road, over the speed-tables yet again. Down my street. Out of sight. Not out of mind. Out of my mind.

What an idiot I am. First, I buy the scrapbooks, like a weirdo, then I admit it. What the hell, I think. Now I'm irritated.

I feel the box of memories at my knee as I type these words. Photos of her. The way she stood, always to hide the missing arm. Our new kitten, Ozzy, plays on top. The postcards are in a tray on top of my printer.

I have more homework. That's what's next. I need to know why a daughter would allow a stranger (me) to have her mother's memories. Why must her mother be forgotten? Why did her mother have one arm?

Why don't I just toss them? Forget it? It's personal.

I wonder at that. I stew in that. I know why I won't throw them away.

I can't.

Downcast eyes

What can I share about this, in the coming days, without violating some cardinal human rule?

And, should I share? Should I not swallow my own ignorance? My own selfish know.

Families have secrets. Some need to stay buried. Right?

Damn me for looking.

Damn me more for what I might post next.

I have a love-hate relationship with mysteries. A love relationship with privacy. The spot I'm in now bothers me.

© 2020 Jack Shorebird

Related Articles