Sneak Preview of a Work in Progress
A year later Engales became a one handed man. There was an accident in the NYU printmaking studio, where he went to stretch his canvasses. It was a Saturday. The studio smelled like it always did: turpentine and cleaning fluid, a tinge of body odor that came, he imagined, from Arlene, a red-headed bohemian girl who didn’t shave under her arms and drank yerba mate out of a gourd. The smell of the mate always reminded him of home, and he was never sure if he was willing to welcome the nostalgia or to avoid it. Arlene was on a ladder that day, trying to reach the top of a twelve foot painting, her underarm hair spurting out in a shock of orange. When the thick blade of ‘the guillotine’ - an enormous paper cutter meant to cut entire volumes - came down on Engales’ wrist, Arlene heard the thud first, and leapt off the ladder to investigate. He saw her red hair flying toward him as someone else wrapped the stump of his wrist in a paint rag. The rag turned orange rapidly, the stain of blood blooming out into its edges.
Arlene knotted the hand itself into another rag and placed the bundle into a tin canister used for paintbrushes. At the sight of his own hand in the paint can, his desensitized fingertips resting in the blackened turpentine, Engales vomited into a stainless steel sink. Another someone hailed him a cab, and the cab driver responding to the raising and waving of that someone's hand seemed to Engales like some sort of cruel joke. The cab driver hauled him to a towering hospital where a doctor on the seventeenth floor sewed his stump into a nub. Arlene was the only one who waited in the emergency room.
After the accident, Engales let his beard grow out in protest of self-maintenance. He was twenty four, and it seemed to him that he had too many years left to live with this new handicap. Arlene, who had also been the one to ruin the chances of salvaging his real hand by putting it in the turpentine can, called him obsessively throughout the months after the accident. He deflected her calls and answered to no one. His beard transformed his face into a dark knot of woolish hairs, and he behaved badly – drugs, alcohol, a crude and disillusioned way of speaking to strangers - for most of the rest of his time in America. He stopped painting. His painting hand was in a paint can, after all, and his good hand was no good with the brush.