by Bud Webster


Martin Palaver turned on his left side. In a last, desperate act he brought his fist down again and again against every part of his left side he could reach. “You bastard!” he cried, tears of frustration and fury wetting the pillow on which his head rested.

It had come to him, finally, as he lay on his deathbed. After a long, long struggle, the realization had come.

Over the years, his suspicions had grown: his childhood, full of bruises and scrapes; his adolescence, and the shoulder injuries he had sustained playing sandlot football; the astigmatism of his college years; the heart and lung diseases from which he now lay dying.

There were the incidents that should have warned him—his left hand jerking the steering wheel of his automobile, nearly sending him into a bridge abutment or telephone pole; his left middle finger, stiffly erect and pointing at a crowd of street-corner hiphoppers; the tendency of his left foot to fly out from under him on icy pavement.

All of this on his left side. Oh, his right side suffered its share of the inherent slings and arrows, but only that much and no more. From his earliest memories, his left side was scarred and scabbed beyond normality.

Eventually, those suspicions become certainties; the pains, cramps, shortness of breath and arrhythmia were all part of a plot against him, a plot hatched and implemented by one-half of his physical, mental, and emotional being.

More than once he had dismissed the thought of a bi-polar plot, telling himself that it was crazy to think that his left side could want to cause its own destruction, but the sheer breadth of this conspiracy was overwhelming. Since the day of his birth—possibly since his conception—one side of him had schemed and planned against the day it would, at last, kill the rest of him.

In its final betrayal, it had destroyed, bit by bit, his body’s ability to heal itself until, wracked with infections and rotting from within, he lay withered and panting at death’s door.

Well, the pain and injury he would repay as best he could in the few moments left to him, although in his current state there was little actual damage he could do; he hadn’t accepted the terrible reality until far too late, and now he was too frail. He could hear its sinister laughter as he struggled, helplessly and hopelessly, to hold his own.

In desperation, he grasped his left wrist and stuffed it into his mouth, biting down as hard as he could, tearing skin and sinew with incisor and grinding bone and gristle with molar in an insane attempt to ravage what had consumed him for these long years. Frantically swallowing over and over, almost choking on himself, he thought for a moment that he might win after all.

Then, with horror, he felt the slashed and bleeding fingers of his left hand close around those of his good right and drag them, inexorably, to the left side of his mouth where those traitorous teeth renewed their furious chewing until both wrists were jammed tightly into his gaping mouth. The left side of his throat worked and worked, trying to force up what he had forced down.

Suddenly, he felt one of his lacerated fingers—one of the left ones, he knew without a doubt—plunge down his throat.

It was too much. His strength gone, his life draining away, he knew it was over; he had lost. As consciousness slipped away for the last time, he threw up his hands in defeat.


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