My mind, unlike my body, remains intact. I remember exactly how this all started, after a night of gaming. Mortal Kombat to be exact. It sounds cliché but Ma lives in the house overhead and lets me stay in the basement. Temporarily. The girlfriend kicked me out and I had no place to go and no money since I lost my job. Walmart—fired me a few months ago. The one by the new shopping center in town. Fired for being lazy. The girlfriend had a list of reasons for kicking me out. Lazy was not one of them. Ma said I could stay until I get back on my feet, but now I don’t have feet.
Ma made it clear that there were rules in her house when I showed up at her door. I’m sure she and Sally—the girlfriend, were scheming against me the whole time. Ma told me “You’re a grown-ass-34-year-old-man. For Pete’s sake, get a job!” Then she shuffled off to work the desk at Motel 6. The one off of I-9.
“And keep the basement clean! You remember what I told you about night nibblers!” she said.
“Yeah Ma, I know,” I said to myself.
The night nibbler fairy tale was used as a scare tactic when I was a kid so I’d keep my room clean.
“The night nibblers like mess and untidiness.” she used to say. “They hide in it, sneaking out at night to nibble on your fingers and toes.”
If only I knew if Ma made it all up. If only.
This takes me back to my story—I wanted to remind Ma to buy Diet Coke on her way home from work. I got up before she left for her day shift. The basement floor felt cold. I grabbed a couple of socks, but something felt strange when I slipped them over my feet. My little toes were missing! I ran my hand over the places where my toes had been the night before and felt smooth skin. No blood or pain. It was like they’d never been there. I hobbled quickly up the stairs to the kitchen.
“Ma! My little toes have gone missing!” I said.
She looked surprised as I took off my left sock. Not because my toe was gone, but that I would think it was supposed to be there in the first place.
“Ma,” I said, mouth open in shock. “Of course, I had little toes yesterday. I was born with five fingers and five toes, right?”
“Alex, if you put down the video game controller and went out and got a job, you might stop imagining things. There were eight toes on your feet yesterday, and eight today!”
“And clean your room!” she said. “Who knows what is living amongst those stale Cheeto bags and soda cans!”
Confused, I went downstairs to do as Ma said. At least that was my intention. I picked up at least one empty chip bag when I found the TV remote lying innocently on the floor and realized it was time for Judge Judy. Well, that’s binge TV at its best.
The next morning, things got worse. I woke and grabbed the blanket to inspect my feet, but the sheet kept slipping through my hands. That’s when I realized I have four fingers, but no thumbs!
It’s hard to open the basement door without thumbs. My hands slipped off the doorknob again and again. Finally, I used the fingers on both hands to get a good grip and pull.
“Maaaaa!” I yelled. “My thumbs are gone!”
Ma turned the corner into the kitchen as I came up the stairs, looking more concerned about being late for work than my missing digits.
“Alex! I don’t have time right now. You had eight fingers yesterday and you have eight fingers today. Please, try to find a job while I’m gone.”
That day was spent learning to use my thumb-less hands. I balanced a knife between my pointer and middle finger to spread mayonnaise while I made a sandwich. Feeding myself was hard, but relearning to play video games was even worse.
This became my morning routine. Waking to missing toes or fingers. Ma not noticing and me bumbling with the game controller as my hands slowly became useless. Then came the noises. They tiptoed into my head at night as I drifted to sleep. Squeaky, wet noises like the sound of cockroaches nibbling on cheese.
Yesterday, I did my morning body part check when I woke up. First, I moved my arms. Still there. Then my legs. Nothing. My hands shook as I pushed back the sheets to find an empty hole under my hips where my legs should be. I’m not one to cry, but I bawled like a baby. Ma appeared in the doorway which saved me the trouble of crawling up the stairs to find her.
“You’re awake,” she said and walked towards my bed. “I’m leaving for work. Here’s your meal for the day. Don’t eat too fast.”
Ma set a tray of sandwiches and Diet Coke on my bedside table. The vacant hole on the bed under my torso didn’t phase her. I lay speechless as she brushed my hair with her fingers, kissed me on the forehead then turned to leave. I might as well be stranded in outer space. My stomach heaved as she quietly shut the basement door,
Now to this morning—I yelled for Ma when I woke to find my arms missing. She didn’t come. I figure night nibblers must go after memories in some and parts in others.
Boy, I’d like to see her face when she sees the mess I left. She’ll come down to do the wash and she’ll see it. Maybe she’ll remember that fairy tale she told me. Maybe she’ll laugh. Maybe she’ll shudder. Maybe she’ll hear the nibbling sounds under the stairs. Then she’ll remember. I hope to God she remembers.