American Consequences - September 2018

to a fleur-de-lis pattern in the wallpaper. Riggs placed a fingertip against Wells’s neck. “His pulse is tranquil,” he said. “The beats spread widely but with regularity.” Colton pushed his knuckles into his own brow with such force he left his skin mottled pink. “Is he awake? Is he asleep?” Though Wells’s eyes remained open, he appeared unaware, helpless. “Neither asleep nor awake, I think.” Colton waved his hands in front of Wells’s placid face. “Open your mouth!” he shouted. Wells opened his mouth. “He’s not deaf,” said Riggs, less reproach to Colton than a note to himself. He reached for the tooth key, crouched near Wells’s face. “Open wider,” he said. Wells did. In the next moment, Riggs found the tooth, secured the key. He felt his own pulse jump. “Shouldn’t someone hold his arms?” he asked. “Just pull,” said Colton. “Now.” Riggs tightened his fist on the handle, gasped as he yanked. Nothing else happened. Wells lay in his chair, his expression unchanged. “Not even a flinch,” said Riggs. The men stood a moment, watching for some other reaction. As if by reflex, Riggs wiped Wells’s blood and saliva from his fingers onto his apron. Then he presented the bloody molar to Colton. Riggs’s whole arm trembled, and the molar shook in the air like some strange moth in a light.

He clapped his hands once, then let them fall, benumbed birds alighting in his lap.

Riggs whispered near Wells’s ear. “What do you feel?” Wells’s lips moved like an infant’s in its sleep... It had begun, Horace would later remember, with a tingling. He had made a mental note. Tingling . Tips of fingers . Tips of toes . Then numbness overtook his limbs. He thought to tap his foot, to lift it at the ankle and tap his shoe sole against the floor. Strange, this part, because he sensed no subsequent movement. Given that his mind was a scientific mind, he did not assume that an absence of a sense of movement proved failure to move. Perhaps his foot had tapped but he hadn’t felt the sensations of tapping. Perhaps absence of pain required absence of all feeling. Perhaps. Perhaps his son Charley could learn to tap dance. He should ask Riggs. He thought to say, “Might Charley make a good tap dancer?” but again, he sensed no movement in his mouth. But he

32 September 2018

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