“I lost a finger,” Dolph proclaimed in a manner of startling, distant normality to his father, who had just ghosted by him into the kitchen to find something. His father paused like a clogged clock and spun suddenly on a hinge to see and confirm, and Dolph held up his hand to reveal his organic matter’s metallic replacement. “It’s just the pinky one.”
His father sluggishly pulled up a chair and printed sentences and fragments streamed from the printing compartment on his patchwork-junk face which Dolph had labored so fiercely to build and jumpstart over three years ago. Dolph reached for the receipt paper as it started to curl over and still it came in waves of questions and random echoing thoughts from his father’s scattered processor. The processor was a work in progress still, and one which Dolph was hesitant to change, because unlike a brain it sometimes sputtered with the ability to withdraw background noise. The result was a mildly comprehensible stream, but because his father seemed shocked it resulted in about fifty-eight repetitions of “Rudolph” where it was less-than-called-for and one-hundred exclamation points and question marks combined breaking through straightforward speech. It was a code to each of them, something they both accepted as a component in their relationship, and Dolph had seen worse from his father on a discussion about the dumpsters—now that was a challenge to debug.
“Slow down,” Dolph ordered, ripping out the piece of paper just as another line of paper emerged. He speed-read the dialogue, which mostly reflected his father’s concerns for his health and questions and assumptions about what had happened. But Dolph saw no need for concern—after all, he’d already rebuilt the piece of him he lost somewhere in the junkyard. He wondered if the junk man was keeping it as a trophy mounted in miniature beside the heads of his hunting efforts, or if he kept it on a keychain, or if he just left it with the junk. Beside him, there was a crackle-rizzzz and Dolph’s head bobbed upward in response to the sound of a paper jam.
His father pounded the table with one of his fists—one of his flesh bound, pinkish fists—and slammed the other hand into the side of his head in hopes of relieving the jam. Dolph waved his hand away, removed the paper that had been printed, and clicked open the bottom compartment for his father’s paper.
“You’re out,” he murmured with a listless sigh, finding that the paper roll was empty save for the darkened glue on the cardboard. He shuffled toward the drawer to the left of the fridge, but his father clapped a hand on his shoulder and kept him seated. Simultaneously he shut the paper compartment and stared at his son through the camera lens perched and wired to the left corner of his reflective face. Some of the chrome, as Dolph noticed, was dingy here or there, rusty in other places…it all depended on where he’d gotten the scrap from to compose a head something like what his father once had. Regardless of its appearance, though, it was functional. His father was with him, no less of a companion to him now than he was, and Dolph had always had a way with looking through wires, clips, and bolts to see what he remembered—the basics, the roots of his thought process, the fringes of his memory. He had a mind filled entirely with billions and billions of gears, so it had been said when he was younger. Once that statement implied that he was a technological genius, now he stared hard with eyes crusted at the edges at his father and heard those words in a different emphasis, a different light, a quieter and truer volume.
His father reached for his hand and held it tenderly. The pinky finger was an exceptional creation of fluid chrome, an enormous improvement from his first project, fully functional but fresh, and the evidence of trauma rippled along the edges of the knuckle—flushed red in splotches and swollen like a puff pastry, like the lower eyelids of someone who had been sobbing.
“It’s just the pinky finger,” Dolph repeated. But his father kept Dolph’s hand there, flat over his frigid palm. His other hand seemed to struggle with its place—it twitched and neared Dolph’s finger…but backed away as though touching it were a cardinal sin or death sentence. And Dolph added flatly, “I’ll lose more than that in my lifetime.”
His father’s weighted head swayed back and forth with more effort than it should have taken him. “Your sockets must be rusty,” Dolph concluded. “Your head’s not swiveling like it should.”
His father’s shoulders fell and Dolph retracted his freshest work from his father’s hand. The paper was replaced and the sockets were oiled like clockwork, like a formula they followed on a calendar—every two weeks on average he needed paper, and every few months he needed a quick fix, an oil, a modification, a new lens... Now in fine form, his father refused to print anything for the rest of the night, which encouraged Dolph to wonder aloud, “Didn’t you have something else to say? Are you out of ink?”
But his father only sat slouched on a stool by the backyard slider and observed the failing evening star from the veil of his lens, which buzzed as it zoomed in and out and in and paused, and Dolph wondered what he was investigating, but never asked.
“Well, you shouldn’t slouch,” Dolph reminded him eventually. “It puts too much stress on your neck. The human head is about three pounds but yours is around six-point-five, and if you don’t keep straight the prop in your neck will come loose.”
And Dolph retreated to bed, or to his workbench, which was usually what bed meant for him. He stared at the reflective beauty of his pinky finger under the lamp and admired the masterful chrome work, the seamless welding, and the functional wonder that was his genius invention. For once he felt a part of his father’s world, the world of those who were unfortunate enough to have something lopped off for a price they couldn’t pay. Dolph applied antibacterial ointment to the puffy edge of his knuckle and praised himself for the way his finger moved with the others. And when he switched the lamp off and exposed himself to feeling the addition instead of looking at it, his eyes stung and seemed to him to be swelling out of the sockets, and he thought it could have been an effect of trauma, but not the trauma he experienced today. He hated the junk man, and he hated his work, and he wanted so badly to feel like he belonged to his father’s new world, but he never quite could.