Phantom Pain
by
Marilyn Kalish

 
 

Phantom Pain

My Father lost his leg in Normandy during World War II. No one in our family ever talked about his missing limb, though I grew up surrounded by heavy wooden prostheses. Well before the present-day prosthesis (He insisted on keeping the old ones for some reason.) Massive wooden legs stood behind every door in our house, and they were always falling down unexpectedly. We would be eating dinner, perhaps, and one would crash like a giant redwood.

He was awarded the three most prestigious medals, which were kept in the bottom of a drawer. He did not feel a hero – He returned from France, a silent man.

I didn't like crossing the street with my father. He would hold on to me for balance and limp across, never fast enough for my taste. I would watch in a panic as the cars came toward us. We are going to die, I'd think. From the safety of the far curb, my mother would chide him: “Leo, come on. You can walk faster than that.” He married the perfect companion.

My father was a salesman at a men's clothing store and stood all day long at his job. Occasionally, I would glimpse him getting dressed for work, hopping across the bedroom to grab one of the legs leaning against the wall. He would start by putting a special sock over his stump, to make the leg fit better. Those thick, funnel-shaped socks were always drying in the bathroom, hanging in a neat row over the shower rod. I would see them every day as I got ready for school: a row of hand-washed socks with faded brown stains. I saw them so often I barely noticed them.

Years after my father died, I remembered those socks and the red/brown stains. How could I have been so oblivious? The stains were blood, so much that even my mother's constant hand washing could never fully remove it.

For my father.

Marilyn Kalish