It was a few minutes after one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon in November when K. noticed (and how could he not?) that his left arm had fallen off.
The purpose of this day's visit to the mall had been to do some early Christmas shopping. It was K.'s practice to buy generic, practical presents -- pens, calendars, refrigerator magnets, oven mitts -- just before the "peak" holiday shopping season and store them in his closet until just before Christmas, at which time he would wrap them and assign them to random people on his gift list. This tradition had served him well in the past, and he had no intention of deviating from it this year.
K. had not yet begun his shopping at the time the incident occurred. Unburdened by packages and yet unaccountably weary, he was walking aimlessly and distractedly through the massive, clogged corridors of the shopping center when he stopped in front of a Spencer Gifts -- not to window shop (K. never did this) but rather because his body was telling him to pause. Finding no nearby bench, K. simply stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the hallway. That was when his left arm -- of its own accord -- became detached from his body and fell with a thud to the cool, shiny floor, taking K.'s shirtsleeve and wristwatch with it.
You are probably imagining bloodshed, gore, the breaking of bone and tearing of sinew. But, no, this was a curiously bloodless, soundless secession. The limb simply slipped off, as if the only thing holding it to the body in the first place had been static cling. It was the (relative) lack of drama in the event which caused K.'s reaction to be one of subdued bemusement rather than horror or panic. K. furrowed his brow and squinted through thick glasses at the prodigal limb but made no attempt even to pick it up with his other arm.
The right arm soon joined its brother on the floor of the shopping center -- perhaps only a minute or so after the left had fallen. K. had not moved during all this time. He just watched his arms falling off and tried to make sense of it, showing no outward signs of worry or distress. Since he had felt nothing -- and still felt nothing -- he can be excused for his initial failure to react. The whole thing had been like watching a prank being played on someone else for a hidden-camera TV show.
Gradually (and who can say how many minutes, for it is difficult to judge the passage of time in malls, which like casinos lack windows and clocks), the gravity of the situation dawned upon K. Certain words and phrases darted into and out of his mind: armless, amputee, Def Leppard drummer. But, still, he showed only the slightest symptoms of concern. Perhaps his face became a bit flush. It was at this point he made his first utterance.
"Uh... e-excuse... excuse me?"
No reaction from the other shoppers, who had merely been walking around K. and occasionally stepping over his discarded limbs. K. wondered if he had not been speaking loud enough or if he had not been speaking aloud at all or merely to himself. He tried again.
"Excuse me? Hello? Uh... help?"
No one looked. No one stopped.
Curiouser and curiouser, thought K. But surely this cannot be real. Cannot really be happening to me. It is a dream. That's all. Just a dream. I will wake up. I will now will myself to wake up. Wake up, K. Wake up.
Nothing happened. In front of the Spencer Gifts K. remained, severed limbs at his feet. He briefly considered pinching himself, but soon realized the obvious folly of this plan.
K. was devising further strategies when his legs detached themselves -- the right, then the left in quick succession, like trees felled by a lumberjack. Ka-thud. Ka-thud. Pantlegs and shoes went with them. But (and perhaps this is the most curious part of the fantastic tale) the rest of K. did not fall to the floor. What remained of him -- the head, neck, and torso -- stayed suspended in midair at their usual elevation, as if nothing had happened.
At the cost of his four limbs, K. had, in a sense, achieved flight -- or transcended gravity, at least. A fair trade-off, possibly. But it soon became apparent to K. that he was now completely immobile. His armless, legless body merely hung in the air like pieces of fruit suspended in gelatin. The panic now began to rise -- starting at the base of his spine and traveling swiftly upward. How will I ever get home? He again tried to get the attention of his fellow shoppers.
"PLEASE! HELP! SOMEBODY! PLEASE!"
Nothing. No reaction. Did they even see him? They walked right by as if he were invisible. The chatter of the passing shoppers blurred together into one sound -- a low, ominous rumbling --- humble-umble-umble-umble. The stores, in reality only a few feet from K., now seemed miles away, hopelessly unreachable. K.'s breathing became labored -- first through his nose, then his mouth -- and his chin trembled uncontrollably.
Hours might have passed in this agonizing fashion. K. felt no pain from the loss of his limbs, but this pitiful state of being invisible and immobile was more than he could bear, and K. was by nature a fragile, defensive man completely unequipped for emergency.
Finally -- praisegodblessjesus! -- a janitor, a kindly-looking middle-aged man with close-cropped hair and a mustache, stopped and stood next to K., staring quizzically at him. The janitor's expression betrayed only benign interest.
"Oh, thank God. Thank you, sir! I need help. I... I..."
But the janitor seemed not to hear him or to react to these words. K. noticed that the name "Enrique" was stitched on the pocket of his green jumpsuit, and -- really panicking now -- he tried desperately to recall his high school Spanish.
"Por favor, senor... uh, necesito...."
HELP! What's the word for help? Oh, God, oh, God!.
"...Necesito... uh, HELP.. ahora... Medico! Pronto!"
But the janitor had stepped away, only to return with a broom and dustpan. As the flustered K. tried to recall what he'd learned in his ninth-grade introductory Spanish course, Enrique calmly swept each of the fallen limbs -- one at a time --into the dustpan and dumped them into a large plastic trash container with wheels. This job accomplished, the janitor blithely continued on toward the Sears which "anchored" this particular corridor of the shopping center.
As K. watched the janitor depart, he sank into a despair unlike any he'd known in his 31 years. It seemed as though his internal organs -- not just the heart, but the lungs, liver, and intestines -- were in free-fall and would never stop plummeting. Though the climate-controlled mall was actually preturnaturally comfortable, K. was cold all over and even imaged experiencing chills in his now-discarded limbs. He looked down despondently at the floor where his limbs had until recently been, feeling that now he might never see them again. K. seemed to be utterly out of options. He let out a deep, defeated sigh.
But then, miraculously, a second visitor appeared at our stricken hero's side, this time a child -- a boy no more than six years old, wearing a light-blue winter coat, blue jeans, and Thomas the Tank Engine sneakers. A dried-up river of greenish-gold snot connected the boy's nostril with his upper lip, but the child's expression seemed lucid and aware as he stared up at K.
"Kid! Kid, can you hear me?"
The child nodded, saying nothing. An overwhelming sense of relief now engulfed K., as if he'd been buried up to his waist in an avalanche and was now being approached by a St. Bernard with a keg of brandy around its neck.
"Okay, now listen very carefully. I need help. Go into that store," and here K. merely nodded his head in the direction Spencer Gifts for he had no arms with which to point, "and tell the people behind the counter that there's a man who's been in a bad accident and needs a doctor. Can you do that for me?"
The child nodded again and darted into the store. K. now began imagining his deliverance from this nightmare and even allowed himself to fantasize his recovery and return to four-limbed normalcy. Perhaps his arms and legs could be reattached. He'd heard of farm accident victims undergoing similar operations after losing extremities to combines and tractors. Of course, they'd have to track down that janitor. But that shouldn't be too hard.
After some minutes, the boy emerged from the store, bringing with him not a store employee but rather a pair of scissors and a large spool with silvery ribbon, the kind used for tying balloons together. K. was flummoxed. Was it the boy's intention to fashion some sort of tourniquet? K. watched in interested, though puzzled silence as the boy took one end of the ribbon and began wrapping it around K.'s midsection, just above the navel. Around and around the boy wrapped the ribbon, finally securing it with a careful knot like the one he'd used to tie his sneakers. This ribbon was, of course, still attached to the spool, so the boy unwound a few more feet and cut the ribbon with the scissors, leaving K. with a sort of long, thin tail. The boy took the "free" end of the ribbon tail and wrapped it around his hand.
K. could not, for the life of him, understand any of this. Was he being moored like a zeppelin? The proposition actually amused K., who laughed for the first time that entire, dreadful day.
Just then, a young woman -- elaborately coiffured and overdressed -- came marching angrily down the corridor towards K. and the boy, against the flow of mall traffic. She stopped maybe ten feet away from them. Her narrowed, mascara-ed eyes focused with grim intensity on the now-petulant and guilty-looking boy.
"Brandon!" she snapped. "Where have you been? I have been looking everywhere! You know better than to go running off. Now come on with me!"
"Yes, mom," replied the boy, sulkily.
The woman did an abrupt about-face and began taking long, swift strides toward the Sears on the horizon. Brandon ran after his mother, straining to catch up with her, and K. trailed passively, helplessly behind.