Stranded on a tropical island, Dr No-Name has no mobile phone, no wallet, no keys, no passport. No left hand, no shoes and no memory. What she does have is a blister pack of nicotine gums, two minibar-sized bottles of whisky (consumed), and what appears to be an endless supply of coconuts. She can’t possibly get into any worse trouble, can she?
I am drunk and about to chop my hand off. There is a correlation between these two states of being, or becoming; but it isn’t that I am crazed and delirious from the alcohol. On this short notice, it’s the only anaesthetic available to me—and the hand needs to go.
Despite my grogginess on first coming to, I recognised the symptoms of a necrotising infection: the tissue death eating away at my digits—the fifth and the second are already black, all but falling off on their own—the red and purple nebulae spreading over the back of my hand, my palm, inching up towards my wrist.
I need to amputate. I need to amputate right now, if there’s even the remotest possibility the bacteria haven’t reached any of my vital organs yet.
There will be time enough for questions later—with a little, or rather a freighter-shipload of luck. Because I do have questions. Like, where am I?
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
Checking that I have my penknife at the ready, I start tightening my primitively devised tourniquet: a stick and a belt. It’s like something out of a survivalist’s wet, apocalyptic nightmare.
Fortunately—incomprehensibly—there were two minibar-sized bottles of whisky in the sorry, debris-filled excuse of a handbag I had slung over my shoulder, caught at my hip, and wound across my chest in a way that restricted my breathing when I regained consciousness. I was alone, drenched and shivering like a stray, on this abandoned strip of beach in No Place.
Maybe I’m a recovering alcoholic. It would explain the blackout. But it seems unlikely, since the spirits performed their magic after just a gulp or two, offering a warm, tingly sensation that managed to put a cap on my agony, strengthening my resolve.
I am not going to get the tourniquet any tighter. My right hand is shaking as I reach for the puny knife, making sure I have the rags I have torn out of my shirt within easy access.
“This is going to hurt so bad.” I tell the knife conversationally—like the drunk I am, at present—and I am struck by a thought that makes me laugh grimly. “I sure hope I’m not a leftie.”
Screaming like a banshee to get my adrenaline pumping, I swing the blade down over my left wrist with as much force as I can muster.
So hot. So hot, yet so cold, yet so hot, all the same. Stars dance before my eyes, and it could have been delirium, but no: it’s the night sky. An endless, otherworldly expanse vaulting above my head like an exploded piñata, each star a soaring, scintillating scrap of space. I have never seen a night sky like this before; I’m quite certain, though who will take the word of an amnesiac, a fevered amnesiac, lying in the sand—the impossibly fine white sand, like snow (if only it were snow, I muse through the wool in my brain, to cool the flames within) beside her severed hand? How did I manage? How could I have cut through bone with nothing but a penknife, even if it is a high-quality, all-the-trimmings sort of blade? I have bled through my ad hoc bandages—have I? No, they’re good, if grimy.
“Water.” I want to tell the coyly twinkling stars overhead, but my cracked lips won’t cooperate. “Wa-eh,” I actually say, breathe; and tears of hurt—and gratitude, because yes, I am in fact still breathing—stream down my immobile face, pooling in the shells of my ears.
“Need.” I try next and snort because it comes out as “Nee” and this seems funny, somehow; I can’t explain.
I am waging a losing war against unconsciousness. I probably won’t wake again, I think morosely. And then, as the sky looks to be falling…falling on top of me, the very universe ready to claim me as fair game. Oh, but it’s been grand. I can’t remember the particulars, but I think I enjoyed the ride.
Often quirky, always queer, Elna Holst is an unapologetic genre-bender who writes anything from stories of sapphic lust and love to the odd existentialist horror piece, reads Tolstoy, and plays contract bridge. Find her on Instagram or Goodreads.