“Lake” by Mathias Svalina


I had cut my hand off on the bandsaw. It was sitting there on the workbench. I almost fainted, but when I didn’t I wrapped a rag around my hand, my stump, & called 911. I picked up my hand & exited the garage. Since I still could faint, I wanted to be where the ambulance would see me.

I sat on the curb. I held my severed hand in my unsevered hand. It looked like a joke.

A woman walked up to me with a baby in her arms. I expected her to ask me if I needed help so I told her that I’d called 911 already. The blood had turned my jeans black & heavy.

The woman handed the baby to me. It was all so abrupt that I dropped my severed hand so I could take the baby. She turned & walked to a blue Dodge Comet & got in & drove away. My rag had loosened on my arm, my stump, & the blood was really coming out again. It got all over the baby.

Sirens approached through the neighborhood. The baby began crying.

When the ambulance turned the corner I was starting to lose it. The day seemed like it was coming to me through a thick shield of translucent glass. The EMT came up to me & I handed him the baby. The baby was covered in blood. Things looked bad.

“What’s wrong with the baby?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not my baby.”

“Whose baby is it?” the EMT asked.

“Some lady,” I said. “She drove away.”

The EMT took the baby back to the ambulance. I waited for my turn. It seemed rude to cut in front of a baby.

Then the ambulance engine started. And the ambulance drove down my cul-de-sac to turn around & head back toward the hospital. As it passed me the driver gave me a thumbs up. I held up my bleeding stump in a kind of salute to him.

I called 911 again, since the baby stole my ambulance. My hand was in the dirt on the street. I picked it up & tried to get the dirt off the blood-parts by rubbing it against my jeans.

The blue Dodge Comet drove up & stopped in front of me, idling. The woman leaned over & rolled down the window. It had one of those old turny window cranks & her body moved rhythmically as she turned it.

“Where’s the baby?” the woman asked me through the window.

“The ambulance came & took it,” I said.

“I cut my hand off,” I added.

“Well,” the woman said, “I need that baby back. I never should have given it to you.” She was smoking a cigarette & she flicked the butt out the window. When it hit the asphalt it rolled to me & I stamped it out with my shoe.

I fainted then. When I came to the woman was sitting next to me. The car was in front of us still, still idling. She was holding my hand in one hand & shaking me with the other.

“I’m going to take this,” the woman said.

“No!” I said. “It’s mine. I need that hand to put back on my arm.”

“I gave you the baby. It’s an even trade,” she said.

“But the ambulance guys took the baby,” I said.

“Well, that’s on you,” she said.

Then I fainted again & woke up in an ambulance. The EMT guys were different guys, which seemed weird to me at the time. One of them was even a woman.

“Where’s my hand,” I asked the woman EMT.

“It got cut off,” she said.

“Yes, but the woman took it,” I said. “Where is the woman?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Now lie back down. You’re losing a lot of blood.”

I laid back on the gurney. I couldn’t feel my hand. But beyond that I couldn’t feel anything. Later I would understand that they’d given me some drugs, but right then I assumed I was dying.

“I’m dying,” I told the woman EMT. She had a package of gauze in her mouth & she grunted something that was not a word in response.


Mathias Svalina is the author of five books, most recently The Wine-Dark Sea from Sidebrow Books. He is an editor for Octopus Books & runs a Dream Delivery Service.