“Punishment is a sort of medicine.”
—Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Dunston was chopping onions for dinner when “Mustang Sally” came up in his shuffle. He started thinking about his ex again, and the knife slipped. The blade bit into his skin. Bright blood dribbled down his finger, down the grooves of his palm, and seeped into the cutting block. He held his hand under the light and inspected the wound.
Later that night, he completed some chores around the house. He washed and dried dishes, vacuumed his hardwood floor, and cleared the stack of partially read books from his bed. Then he threw on his winter coat and headed outside.
In the garage he pulled the cord on his new snowblower and let it run for a while. After a quiet moment of reflection, he lowered his left hand into the spinning blades. Three fingers were sheared clean off. He laughed. Blood spattered his shoes.
“Take that, Sally,” he said.
Ten minutes later, he came to on the living room floor. He felt more than heard the ringing doorbell. But after some doing, he staggered to his feet. The front door seemed jammed. He gave it a tremendous yank and greeted his visitor with a full display of clenched teeth.
“Hey, Mister D, I’m selling candy to raise money for our team uniforms,” said a neighborhood kid that Dunston had always liked. “You like peanut M&Ms or the regular kind?”
Dunston, woozy from blood loss, fumbled with his wallet and managed to extricate a ten-dollar bill with his good hand. “Take it, take it,” he said.
The kid stared at the expanding patch of moisture on Dunston’s gray sweatpants pocket, where his injury was concealed.
“It’s all right,” Dunston said. “It’s only V8 juice.”
The kid backed away slowly before he turned and ran.
Dunston shut the door.
The emergency room was unavoidable. It occurred to him that Sally might hear about his injury, which would cause her to worry, so he called four of her closest girlfriends from the hospital waiting room and made them all promise not to tell her. Somehow, in all the excitement, he let slip the hospital’s address, the attending physician’s name, and the best free parking locations in the neighborhood. Sally, much to his relief, did not burst through the door that night, crying, in her peach sweater with the pale blue polka dots. That would have only caused a scene.
Dunston liked to write his to-do lists at night, just before bedtime, but surgery and post-op care interrupted this routine. When he got home from the hospital, he poured himself a glass of milk and wrote: “Buy milk. Pay bills. Sever arm. Water fern.”
Around noon the next day, humming quietly to himself, Dunston found his hacksaw in the garage. He rolled up his sleeve and laid his arm across a sawhorse.
“I’m sorry to do this to you, Sally, but you’ve forced my hand.”
His severed limb fell to the garage floor with a thud.
“Your loss,” he whispered.
That was one man’s arm that Sally Greene would never feel holding her again.
Dunston emerged from another blackout on his living room floor, his open wound geysering blood on the couch and walls. He lost approximately six quarts of blood. Nobody called or stopped by. Clearly Sally’s girlfriends had kept mum on the issue, as he had requested. He checked his voicemail just to be sure, wiping blood from his eyes and peering at his blurred phone.
At three o’clock, he died.
“That’ll teach her,” he thought as they zipped the bag around his corpse, and he imagined hammering a railroad spike through his groin, but he was already dead and could only fantasize.