To qualify for the work we used to do, you couldn’t be squeamish about hurrying to a death site, taking the deceased’s hand in your own, and guiding their thumb to their cell phone’s home-button in order to activate One-Touch ID so the people on their contacts list could be notified. We were famous for our steadiness in even the most grisly of circumstances, and everyone honored us, since all would eventually require our services, as it’s a felony for any mere civilian to engage in even indirect contact with someone else’s phone, their external soul.
But ours is now a vanished vocation, for almost every citizen carries on their person a pocket-size glass screw-top jar containing a wax replica of their own thumb. Heart attack, suicide, car wreck? No matter the cause of death, this little look-alike is ready, the swirl at the fleshy tip pre-engraved by accu-laser to duplicate that of the owner.
In fact, it’s typical to become so emotionally attached to the proxy thumb that it remains with its owner’s body in the final state of rest. Some people stipulate that it be placed in their pocket, others in their hand, still others right against the heart. And since most of them want funeral garb designed for their digits, specialty miniature tailor shops have sprung up everywhere, their neon thumb-signs flashing. Often, the attire reveals how the owner envisions their deepest self—the most stolid of civil servants may array her thumb in a matador’s cape, for instance, while a champion wrestler may outfit his thumb in a postal worker’s uniform.
Of course, we can’t speculate about whether the dead miss the human touch, our hands tenderly uniting them with their phones for the final impression, but we know the nostalgia we suffer for the thrill of the dispatcher’s message, the rush to the location, the moment when our grasp became a temporary tabernacle for that small, nearly weightless emblem of singularity.
—From the author’s forthcoming collection, Wonders of the Invisible World
is the author of Wonders of the Invisible World (forthcoming from 42 Miles Press) and eight other poetry collections, including most recently, Scape (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2016) and Locals: A Collection of Prose Poems (Serving House Books, 2012). She has been awarded fellowships from the NEA and the Tennessee Arts Commission, and has received the New Millennium Writing Award (twice) and two Pushcart Prizes. She has taught at the Greenville Fine Arts Center, Clemson University, and various conferences, including Bread Loaf and the Bloch Island Poetry Festival.
Author’s blog: Claire Bateman New Art and Writing
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