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Body Bound


Susan Wolfenbarger's hand had recently begun behaving badly. Of its own volition, it jumped and danced, especially at critical moments—while making decisions, making soup, and making love.

Her husband Scott pushed her hand away one evening after it squeezed too harshly and wrapped it in his.

"Let's get this looked at," he said.

The doctors couldn't explain it. It was like nothing they'd seen before. They determined a hundred things it was not—not neurodegenerative, not muscular, not psychosomatic—but no one had any ideas about what it was.

"It'll probably go away on its own," the primary physician announced after three days of tests and observation. "Don't worry too much about it. Call if anything changes." She wrote three prescriptions Susan could try, and sent her on her way.

As Susan left the office, her hand jerked out of her pocket and flapped into the air. She looked up at her fingers, dancing above her head, and her gaze snagged on a telephone pole. A row of birds, black statues against the pink sunset sky, sat on the wires.

Over the next few weeks, Susan's condition worsened. It spread up her arm, across her shoulder, and down her back. The doctors hummed and shrugged and continued ruling out causes while offering no meaningful solutions. She was let go from work. She'd never liked the drudgery of spreadsheets, and it was rather refreshing to have a bit of time off while she "recuperated." Finding a new job shouldn't be difficult—the HR woman had even said they'd love to have her back when she recovered, but Scott urged her to apply to more positions, perhaps a career in puppetry where her misbehaving hand could jerk the strings. While he wasn't trying to make light of the situation, he did most of the housework and most of the cooking and grumbled about every bit of it. She loafed about their apartment all day, too embarrassed by her body to even go outside.

She watched, though. The trees on the edge of the apartment complex arrested her attention—something about their tops, where the branches frayed into opaque canopy. The full summer leaves masked the comings and goings of birds and squirrels, shrouding abandoned nests. Bound in her body, she especially envied the sparrows. They chattered angrily at each other, waking her each morning, inviting her to watch them. As Scott dressed for work, the sparrows dodged and darted over the yard of green, dancing together through the air. They hopped along the ground three stories below her window, searching for worms or seeds, she wasn't sure. It struck her as the funniest motion she'd ever seen. She hopped from the window to the refrigerator to grab a carton of orange juice, and kept hopping. Every hop sent a dash of orange juice into her mouth, and another splash onto the floor. When Scott got home he guided her to the couch, pushing her off her feet.

"What happened?" He pressed his hand to her forehead as though she were small, checking for a fever.

"I wanted to see what hopping felt like," she explained.

"What does it feel like?"

She shrugged. Tiring, she didn't say. And fantastic. Her shoulders lifted of their own accord and bumped Scott's hands away.

"Can you clean up this juice?" he asked. It had dried sticky and hard on the floor, and pulled at Scott's socks as he stepped.

Her eyes rolled. "Sure."

One afternoon as the tips of the leaves darkened to orange and red, she tossed stale breadcrumbs out of the window, trying to feed the speckled sparrows below. Her body was particularly difficult, and every part of herself quivered periodically, lifting her off her feet and shooting breadcrumbs across the floor. Scott would not be pleased. Three stories below, the smallest sparrow twisted its head from the breadcrumbed grass and focused its beady eyes on Susan's. In a flutter of wingbeats, it perched on the sill beside her.

The bird chirped at her, then chirped again. It ruffled its wings and gave an experimental hop across the sill, then turned to stare at her. It blinked, twisted its head, then hopped again. When Susan's back arched and her arms flung wide, the bird squawked, fluttered, and jumped. It tilted its head and chirped inquiringly. Susan made no response. A moment later, the bird flew off, calling to its flock. The birds whirled into the air in a choreographed dance, wheeling over the apartments and toward the southern horizon.

"Wait!" Susan shouted out the window as her arms flung wide again. She pulled herself onto the narrow sill and sat, her legs hanging into the air. The birds whirled, circling back, racing toward her. Scott would wonder where she went. He'd shake with nervousness, then redden in anger. He wouldn't have anyone to grumble about, or to. Perhaps it was cruel, but she wasn't sure she cared. She pushed herself off the ledge.

Her back lifted, her arms beat.