How to Properly Eulogize a Left-Behind Body Part
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
“The Ghost of the Leg” by Billy Fatzinger
We were eating hoagies at Pap’s, which is a place I like. Teddie had been screwing up her courage all afternoon to say something. At long last, as we were finishing the chips and pickles and wadded shreds of iceberg lettuce, she sighed a little self-effacing sigh and asked me if I believed in ghosts.
“Well,” I said, “I used to be into what they call ‘ghost spots’ or ‘ghost encounters.’ Places where you can see the headlights of a ghost car running you off the road or hear the sounds of Civil War soldiers shrieking from across the ages and what have you.”
I went on to tell Teddie about this restaurant on High Street in downtown Braynard — great food, real reasonable — it’s called Daddy’s Place. Back in the 1800s, Daddy’s Place was a bordello called the Kit and Caboodle where a prostitute named Sissy Friedenstahl hanged herself in the closet under the stairs. Supposedly, the construction crew renovating Daddy’s Place experienced all kinds of off-the-wall ghost activity. They found their tools dumped out and arranged in strange occult patterns. They found, in the middle of summer, in the center of the floor, a freshly packed snowball. One worker felt the wet jet of some ghostly presence gleeking on his neck.
As a youngster, I was really into this story. So, late one night, I broke into Daddy’s Place in hopes of encountering the ghost of Sissy Friedenstahl. I set off a silent alarm and, long story short and I’m not proud of this, but I’ve got a restraining order against me from Daddy’s Place. It was in the local paper and they made fun of me on the morning zoo radio show.
Teddie and I polished off our food and returned to Teddie’s house, where she pulled a string on a hatch in the ceiling and we both climbed into the attic. She kept saying she wanted to show me something but wouldn’t tell me what. Then she handed me something heavy wrapped in a beach towel. It turned out to be a prosthetic wooden leg.
“That is the leg,” she said.
“Well, yeah,” I said, bending the knee-joint back and forth like a herky-jerky marionette.
“It moves at night,” she said. “I can hear it up here trying to walk.”
Everyone knew about the previous owner of Teddie’s house. Fred Ossemer was his name and he did, kind of famously, have one leg. This leg, I thought, must be his. Something the estate sale people couldn’t sell and they probably felt weird just throwing it away. So, they wrapped it in a beach towel and stowed it in the attic. At least that was the theory I developed on the fly, standing there holding the creepy thing.
How Fred Ossemer died was, he got strangled by a mechanized contraption of ropes and pulleys he’d designed to get himself in and out of bed. He was not a real popular guy, so nobody noticed him dead for quite a while. He was eventually discovered by a burglar. The burglar was so freaked out at the sight of the corpse in the contraption that, without thinking, he called the police. So that guy got arrested for being a burglar.
In the burglar’s defense, it was a pretty horrific sight. Ossemer’s poodle, Mickey, had partially eaten the corpse, which is something a dog will do.
“It only happens at night,” said Teddie, “I can hear the leg, you know, hob-nobbing around up here.”
I asked what she expected me to do about it. We agreed I’d help her bury the leg.
We brought the leg to the baseball diamond behind the old bank and I dug a hole. It was by then very dark outside with a weird fog rolling in. Teddie suggested I shoot the leg for good measure. I told her I didn’t carry a gun.
“What!” she said, “You kiddin’ me? A guy like you!”
Teddie, as it turned out, had a snub nose .38 strapped to her ankle all this time.
“You do the honors,” she said.
I really didn’t want to, but she was very persuasive, pressing the gun into my hand and nodding vigorously and saying, “Yup, you got this, it’s all you, blast that ghost to kingdom come.”
I probably fired five or six rounds into the leg — however many bullets come in a gun. Then we decided to say a few words.
“You go first,” said Teddie, who was, by then, again holding the gun.
I stared at the leg in the hole. I thought about the life of the leg. How to properly eulogize it. An immense pointlessness washed over me. To this leg, we were strangers. And this is what galls me at a funeral: Strangers trying to be nice. When my stepdad Buzzy was killed, the pastor they got didn’t know a thing about him. He read aloud from a book called Bible Quotes for Funerals and talked about what a sweet guy he bet Buzzy was. Later, he pursed his face into a sympathy smile, shook my hand, and said simply, “No problem.” I was too wobbly to say anything.
“Listen,” I said to Teddie, “I don’t go to a lot of funerals. It’s not that I don’t know dead people. My people drop like flies — ”
“Be free, leg!” said Teddie, “I hope you find what you’re looking for out there in space.”
I pictured in fast-forward the leg sitting in the hole until eventually they turned the baseball diamond into some stores. Teddie saw the look on my face. She touched my hand. I followed her eyes to the sky over centerfield where a little bat flitted and dove, hunting some prey in the grass.
About the Author
William Fatzinger Jr. grew up in Pennsylvania. He now lives in Austin, TX. Twitter: @billyfatzinger.
“The Ghost of the Leg” is published here by permission of the author, William Fatzinger Jr. Copyright © William Fatzinger Jr. 2018. All rights reserved.