by Judy Darley
A dark artefact hangs from the ceiling of the Baroque church. It resembles a bit of branch, or a stick covered in rags. Our tour guide tells us it’s a mummified arm.
Afterwards Tim and I each remember the story differently. He’s convinced it’s the relic of a saint. I’m sure it’s the limb of a thief who tried to steal jewels from a statue of the Virgin Mary, and that she came to life and twisted his arm entirely off.
Perhaps it’s not an arm at all.
I can’t get it out of my head.
I think about it as I stand in the shower soaping my own limbs. The scar from the break just above my right elbow glows white in the morning sun.
As we walk in the street, I eye the shadow of my swinging arm and imagine it hanging, stinking, rotting, from the ceiling of a church.
In the evening, I order a plate of ribs, but find the meat glues to my teeth. It feels like I’m eating a corpse.
I suppose I actually am.
Tim tells me to stop being so stupid. He tells me to think of something else.
Like what? I ask.
Think about us, he says. Think about me.
I think about us, and wonder if he’s really the saint his mother claims he is for taking me back after I ran away.
I think about him, and wonder whether he’d steal jewels as a romantic gesture to demonstrate his love for me.
I wonder if the next time he decides I’ve done something wrong he’ll twist my arm entirely off.
That night I look at him lying in bed beside me, lit by the moon slipping into our hotel room, and I see how the hair on his slack arm spells out each of my mistakes.
I imagine his arm hanging from the narthex of the church, far out of reach, withered and pathetic.
Somewhere nearby a bell tolls the hour.
Judy Darley is a British fiction writer, poet and journalist whose work appears in magazines and anthologies and in her debut short story collection Remember Me to the Bees. Sky Light Rain, her second collection, will be published by Valley Press in autumn 2019. Judy has shared her stories on BBC radio, as well as in cafés, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church. Judy blogs at skylightrain.com and tweets @JudyDarley.