★ ‘The Arm of Ernesto Stranguellini’ by Gregory Von Dare

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On a day filled with sunshine and promise there came an anguished cry: The great Stranguellini’s career is ended! In what was described as a tragic accident, a helicopter crashed like a shattering eggshell not one hundred meters from the renowned Stranguellini family’s estate. The disaster occurred near Lake Como, where northern Italy slopes upward toward the great Alps and the perfume of juniper and pine freshens the air. As a result of this monstrous impact, the left arm of young Ernesto Stranguellini, a champion downhill ski racer, was cleanly severed at the shoulder.

Surgeons in a Milan hospital struggled to sew the spasming appendage back onto the athlete’s body but the arm jerked so violently it actually punched one doctor in the nose, drawing blood. The surgeons, blameless to be sure, were spellbound by the ability of a detached arm to move with such force and cunning. Then, following a rude gesture, the unruly limb tipped over a tray of valuable surgical instruments. In the confusion that followed, the arm escaped.

Stranguellini did not know what to make of his predicament. He had never contemplated life with only one arm. When asked why he had ventured up in the helicopter, he remarked, “The freedom, the exhilaration. And I was think­ing of all the bald heads I could spit on.”

The arm had a perilous journey fleeing the Hospital of Our Lady in Milan. It inched its way along endless corridors. At an intersection of two hallways, the arm was nearly run down by a hysterical, white-bearded old partisan in a wheelchair who, in his extreme dotage, thought himself still pursued by Mussolini’s Fascists armed with bottles of castor oil, ready to purge him of his royalist sympathies.

Not used to travel on its own, the arm was at the mercy of a thousand mishaps. Its fingers were painfully trod on by a fat nurse with thick glasses and a coarse black mustache. She hummed an air by Donizetti as she walked and never heard the crackle of bone and cartilage under her heavy foot. A thin and nervous doctor who specialized in organ transplants went home in a chill sweat when he noticed the arm loitering in front of his office.

Once out of the hospital, the arm of Ernesto Stranguellini worked its way to the nearest strada. As traffic thundered by, the arm reached up and grabbed a canvass strap dangling from the back door of a delivery truck bound for Rome. Bravely ignoring the cloud of noxious diesel fumes that swirled around it, the arm was off to seek its destiny.

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