When I say I fell madly for Mr. Red, I mean it literally, for the intensity of my love was a kind of psychosis. I relayed to countless friends, relatives, anyone who would listen, every detail of our dizzying first encounter: the precise square of sidewalk on which I stood; the arc, in minutes, of the wayward sun; the air temperature in Fahrenheit and Centigrade; the poses of the mannequins in the shop window outside of which I first glimpsed his burgundy overcoat, his pleated gray trousers, his polished Italian loafers, his derby; the percent humidity of his breath as he whispered in my ear; the synesthetic taste of honey his voice conjured in my mouth; his equine gait when he parted; the rate of my pulse. So vital was the memory that it felt physically engraved in my neural tissue.
Yet whenever I finished the story, which to me was the total picture of romance, my listeners would respond with the same infuriating questions: “What did he look like?” “What did he say?” I accused them of missing the point, or jealousy, or being simple. I refused to acknowledge, even to myself, that I couldn’t remember what he looked like. His face, surrounded by such vivid subtlety in my mind’s eye, was cast in shadow. Likewise I found it difficult to recall exactly what those honey-sweet words were that Mr. Red whispered to me. In fact, I could hardly remember how I came to know his name was “Mr. Red” at all. But these felt like shallow anomalies in light of the undeniable love that had blossomed inside me. Over the following weeks, Mr. Red called on me several times, and my love grew exponentially with each visit. During our time together he seemed completely whole — he seemed to make me whole — and yet upon departing there always remained those minor gaps of his facial features and the content of his speech.
Family grew distant. Friends stopped returning my calls. Everyone was tired of the incessant tales of my courtship with Mr. Red, tales that, to them, lacked the crucial elements that would make them worth telling. A few people tried to convince me to end the affair, but I lashed back at them so fiercely that soon I spent all my time alone, waiting patiently for the next visit from my beloved.
One evening he arrived and, as usual, removed his derby but kept his overcoat. We sat on the sofa across from the lit fireplace, and he took my hands in his. A renewed swell of love erupted from my very core, nearly paralyzing me, and it was all I could do to stop from screaming. Even now, I would not hesitate to call it the happiest moment of my life. Mr. Red released my right hand and, still delicately holding my left, reached into his overcoat pocket and removed a butcher’s knife. He raised my left hand to his hazy lips and kissed it, once, like a sting of venom, and the hand went numb. Then he whispered the only words that did not instantly evaporate, that I still remember to this day:
“A token… of your love?”
His voice had an alien cadence, like speech played backwards. I acquiesced, with a smile on my face, and at that moment I burned for him with a passion I did not know existed, something so fiery and tumultuous that I somehow broke through into a state of bliss. He brought the knife to my wrist and cleanly removed my hand.
I have not seen Mr. Red since he left that night. The prosthetic fits well, and I have resumed nearly all of my normal activities. My friends and family reabsorbed me without fuss or questioning, like welcoming back a revived coma patient, my lost appendage dismissed as unsurprising collateral damage. According to them the important thing is that I’ve moved on. And I have, more or less. I’ve even started seeing someone, a lovely young man with clear, angular features and a crisp speaking voice. He is very understanding. He knows I’m coming off a serious relationship, that a part of me is gone, although he says it’s barely noticeable. One time, over dinner, he asked if I missed my ex. “Not at all,” I replied. The truth is, yes, relentlessly.
Image credit: Detail of Self-Portrait in Hell by Edvard Munch, 1903.