The Flat by Michael Alessi

I’m changing a tire with my father when his hands fall off. There’s no blood, though they wiggle in the heat, palm up, like two helpless crabs kicking on their backs. My father continues to twist at the lug wrench with his arm stumps. His face continues to sweat and groan because wrenching is hard work, even harder without hands. Good thing we prepared for this, he says, meaning, I think, the flat. While this is happening a hawk swoops in between us and snatches one of the hands off the ground. Do you want me to call someone? I ask. He grunts, meaning, I think, that I have a job already. It’s to pocket the lug nuts and not lose them. I lift my father’s remaining hand out of the dirt and dust it off as I might a worn leather glove. Maybe this is a hand’s true purpose: to grasp nothing. Maybe because the rest of him is sweating nearby, it’s easy to believe he still controls its grip, the way it seems to tirelessly wrestle mine for the surest hold, always slipping. Does it hurt? I ask. My father juts his chin as if to say yes, as if to say this is the only question that can link us; enough to let me know his answer, before he speaks it, will be no answer at all. This one’s starting to give, he says. He moves his arm stumps as if to choke up on the wrench. Overhead the hawk becomes a dot and then a hawk and then a dot again.


Michael Alessi received his MFA from Old Dominion University. His work has recently appeared in Mid-American Review, Passages North, The Pinch, the minnesota review, Paper Darts, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. A native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, he currently lives in Chicago.

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