Phantom Pain

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“My leg itches,” Thomas said, making a face.

Marcus didn’t look up from his game of solitaire. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those kinds.” Red eight on black nine.

“What do you mean, ‘one of those kinds’?”

Black six on red seven. “The kind that keeps on complaining. Your leg don’t itch. You ain’t got a leg to itch.”

“Real tactful.” He didn’t try to keep the bitterness from his voice. “I know it doesn’t really itch, but it feels like it does.”

Marcus flipped over three cards and immediately slid the Ace of Hearts to the foundation. “That’s my point, son. If your arm only itches ’cause you’re thinking about it, then just stop thinking about it. You’re a soldier. Ain’t you supposed to be all mentally disciplined?”

“You’re not much of a guide, are you?”

Red jack on black queen. “I didn’t ask for this job, anymore than I wanted to play this game for near on two hundred years now. That’s just the way things go.”

“We play the hand we’re dealt?” Thomas said. That got a laugh out of Marcus.

“See, boy? It ain’t so bad as long as you don’t dwell on things.”

“I guess, it just doesn’t seem very fair.”

“It ain’t fair. No ‘seeming’ involved. If you got any ideas on how to fix it, I’m all ears.”

“So what do I do, then?”

“Haven’t you been paying attention? You do whatever it was you were thinking about when it happened. Why do you think I’m still playing this?”

Thomas looked around the hospital room. “What if I don’t remember what that was?”

Marcus chuckled. “Oh, you’ll remember. It’ll come back to you soon as you stop thinking about itching your leg. That’s the problem, see? It’s stuck in your head now, real deep in. If you ain’t thinking about something in particular, you’ll be thinking of that. Don’t try to fight it, either. It’ll drive you mad.” He flipped quickly through the deck one more time, before collecting all the cards and shuffling them again.

“Is that why you started being a guide? So you’d stop thinking about playing solitaire?”

“If that were the case, it’s doing a piss-poor job of it. Someone from upstairs told me to do it, so I did it. They tell you to do something, you be a good little soldier and do it.”

“Red three on black four.”

“Don’t help me, boy. Soon as I’m done with this game, I’ll just deal out another. No point in rushing it.”

The two of them fell silent. The only sound was the occasional fwish as Marcus drew the next card.

Thomas tried not to think about the leg he lost on duty. It was like being told not to think about pink elephants, though. The more he tried not to, the more he thought about it, and the more it itched. A sudden, frightful thought occurred to him.

“What if I died thinking about how my leg itched?”

For the first time, Marcus looked up from the cards. “If that’s the case, you’re in for one lousy afterlife.”


Prompt: Phantom Limb

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This week’s prompt is to write about a phantom limb; somebody feels something in a limb they no longer have.

Good luck and good writing!