Manny kept rubbing his hands together. They were itching worse than normal, and it was starting to drive him mad. And to make matters worse, he noticed a wart developing on the side of his right hand. It was a small one by the look of it, but they always started out small. Like problems and lies; start small and get to be the size of monsters. So Manny kept rubbing, hoping that the itch would stop, but knowing with great certainty that it would not.
“Mr. Trinsic?” The woman behind the desk said.
Manny stood up. “That’s me,” he said, walking up to the desk and noticing the pretty receptionist for the first time. When he came in nearly an hour ago, she had not been behind the desk. He simply signed in on the clipboard and sat down. But now, standing over her on the other side of the desk, he noticed how great her tits looked in the little shirt she wore. He brought his gaze back up to her face and saw a look that suggested she might have caught him looking. The pretty girl coughed to clear the air and gestured towards a door to her right.
“Dr. Eckhart will see you now,” she said.
Manny smiled and nodded. He said thank you and made his way to the door, feeling that maybe he should have grabbed one more peek at those tits.
Dr. Eckhart was standing on the other side of the door holding a file. She held out a hand to Manny as he came through. He started to extend his hand and then pulled it back.
“No offense,” he said, “but it is why I’m here.”
“Right,” said Dr. Eckhart, turning away and moving down the hall. Manny followed her.
When they got into the room, Dr. Eckhart motioned for Manny to sit down. He slid onto the paper-covered table and held out his hands.
“So, is this the same problem you had?” Dr. Eckhart asked.
“It is, but now it seems a little worse. The skin is more sensitive. My hands crack almost all the time now.”
“Have you been using the cream I gave you?” she asked.
“Of course. But I stopped after two weeks, as you said.”
Eckhart flipped his hands over on her own, checking the surface for any other irregularities. She slid her free hand over his, noticing the small bump on the side.
“Is this new?” she asked.
“Just noticed it this morning.”
She looked closer, putting slight pressure on the bump.
“It looks like a wart, but there is something different about it.”
“Different?” Manny asked.
“Yes, like there’s something inside of it. Generally, a wart will be hard and dry. This feels lumpy, for lack of a better word.”
Manny didn’t like the sound of that. He could deal with dry, cracked, ripped, even torn, but lumpy suggested something sinister in his mind. He associated it with cancer and death and long treatments in hospitals. So when Dr. Eckhart called the new bump on his hand lumpy, he was less than receptive. He was downright nervous.
“So what do we do?” he asked.
“Well,” she started, “I’m going to try and put some pressure on it. Let’s see if it gives.”
And before Manny could object, she was squeezing the bump on the side of his hand. Something warm squirted out and splashed his leg. Dr. Eckhart moved back, startled.
“Well, something was definitely in there. But I’m not sure what. Looks like a little bit of puss and blood,” she said, giving the bump another squeeze. This time only a small amount of fluid leaked out.
Manny watched her as she played with his hand. He wanted to pull it away and smack her with it. Why did she think that he wanted her squeezing his bumps? It didn’t seem at all like a professional thing to do. And then it was over. The good doctor was standing up and writing on her prescription pad. She ripped off the top sheet and handed it to him.
“This is another prescription for that cream. Use it like last time; two weeks twice a day and then stop. I want to see you again in a month. Any questions?” she asked.
Manny was stunned. She had just squirted him with his own juices from a bump on his hand that he had no idea what it was. And now, as if nothing happened, she was rattling off prescription details like she was giving him vitamins.
“Are you kidding?” Manny said. “Any questions? Yes, I have some. Like what did you just do to my hand? And what the fuck came squirting out of it?”
“Mr. Trinsic, there is no reason for you to talk like that. The bump on your hand was nothing more than a blister. Occasionally we get them for any number of reasons: friction, heat, anything. I simply drained it. It might fill up again, but I would just leave it alone and let it heal naturally. Okay?”
Manny shoved the prescription in his pocket and stormed out of the room. He looked back as he made his way down the hall and saw Dr. Eckhart standing just outside the door. He smiled at her.
“Your receptionist has great tits!” he said.
Sleep was hard to come by that night. He kept tossing and turning, falling into a deep sleep only to be woken by a horrible nightmare vision of blood. In his dreams, there were rivers of it, flowing out over large mountains of decay and waste. And in the rivers of blood, he could see his parents drowning. They held out their hands to him, but he couldn’t move. He could only watch them drown. And then he would wake up, covered in sweat and cursing his empty bedroom. He ventured a glance at his clock, knowing that whatever the time, it was too early to be awake. But he had no desire to go back to sleep. Those dreams were too vivid to consider venturing back into them. So he yanked the blankets off and got up. He started pacing, kicking whatever was on the floor.
“Bitch got me anxiety,” he said.
He went to the bathroom and turned on the light. Manny leaned on the sink and looked at his rugged face in the mirror. He marveled at how old he was getting. Small patches of grey hair were starting to form in his beard and his sideburns. He noticed the crow’s feet forming around his eyes.
“Fuck you!” Manny said, sitting down on the closed toilet and holding his head in his hands.
He fumbled a cigarette from a pack on the edge of the tub and lit it. He inhaled deeply, feeling the smoke swirl through his lungs and give him the first bit of comfort he felt all day. The past month had been merciless in its cruelty. He lost his girlfriend, had his car stolen from his own parking spot outside his apartment, watched his computer crap out on him in the middle of a video conference that could have decided his future, and then his hands got the squeeze at the dermatologist by some doctor who enjoyed rattling off prescriptions instead of advice. It was not a good month. But the cigarette was fantastic!
“Fuck you,” he said again, quieter and calmer. He brought his hand up to his face and turned it over. He noticed the dry skin and the cracks. Pink flesh underneath older brown skin. And then the bump, freshly filled with whatever was inside of it. He rubbed his finger over it, marveling at how smooth and warm it felt. It felt infected, like a large ant bite. He pushed on it, gently at first, and then more forcefully. Nothing. It moved under his fingers like a small marble. It feels lumpy.
“Fuck her,” Manny said, thinking back on his visit to Dr. Eckhart’s and her wildly accurate claim that the new bump on his hand felt lumpy.
He finished his cigarette, opened the toilet, and flicked the butt into it.
Minutes later, he was back in bed, falling asleep and heading back to the river. This time his parents weren’t screaming for help, though. They couldn’t; they had no mouths. And, Manny noticed, his father was without hands. Just long arms that seemed too thin—arms that seemed to be reaching towards Manny like tentacles.
The next morning brought sunshine and a phone call. Manny answered in his half-asleep voice.
“Yes?” he said.
“Manny, it’s Josh. Can you pull up those Kelly Frank reports from home today? We’ve got some issues with Finance, and we need someone to crunch some numbers. Don’t worry about coming to the office. Just get that done and fax it to me when you get finished.”
“Sounds fun,” Manny said. “Do I get to work in my underwear?”
“Whatever you want, idiot. Just get the job done.”
The line went dead, and Manny hung up. He smiled, thinking about how great it was to stay at home. He went to get out of bed using his hand as leverage when he heard something pop and felt warmth on his hand. He looked down and saw the bump had grown nearly three times as large. But now it was oozing yellow and red puss that seemed too thick. He remained sitting on the bed but pulled his hand up to his face. The bump was open, leaking. So much fluid still remained inside. He pushed, and watched a fresh bubble of puss ooze out.
“What the fuck!” he said, twisting his face into a grotesque mask. He had always hated stuff like this. Horror movies he could watch, but when it came to the real thing, he was a real wimp. And now, with the sight of his own fluid leaking out of his hand, he wanted to faint. But he didn’t. Instead, he stood up and went to the bathroom.
He gave the bump another good squeeze, hoping that draining it would make it better. Another squirt of puss, red and yellow, oozed out and splashed into the sink. Manny turned on the faucet and washed the liquid down. He squeezed harder, watching the bump go down as the fluid came free. He did this until he was sure that most of it was out. Then he rinsed his hands, washing them with soap and taking one last glance at the bump. It looked flat and empty, but still pink, like an infection. He wrapped a small towel around it and tied it tight, hoping that the pressure would keep it from filling again. After all, he did have work to do.
The morning went well. He managed to get all the Kelly Frank reports pulled and filed. He found more than thirty discrepancies in their reports, suggesting that maybe his boss was right to look into their case. They were quite possibly stealing large amounts of money and would probably go to jail. But that was okay. Manny had met them on more than one occasion, and they were nothing more than pretentious assholes. Serves them right, he thought.
Manny finished his work and went to the kitchen to make lunch. He pulled the cutting board from the cabinet and noticed his wrapped hand. He pulled the towel off. The swelling had returned, and the bump looked full again.