The good material to make a shoulder from is copper. A zinc elbow and silver fingers complement a well-made arm. Doc polished his shoulder and tied it tight with fresh leather straps, though he did not favor the smell. Doc was no doctor, but he was saddled with the name by those entrusted to his care. Doc did have a doctors patience for the foibles of others, something he had honed since the loss of his own arm. Since he replaced it by himself, others had come for the same.

A good prosthetic feels like the original. It is about the same size, so that when the phantom limb the lies underneath itches, the phantom scratch must be in the right place. This simple relief alone was worth what doc would charge. A good fee was what money a patient could comfortably part with, plus a boot or glove that the customer obviously had no more use for. Doc had made several odd pairs from the spare and lonesome gloves handed to him by new metallic hands. “A good glove is the one you can find,” doc would say. One has to say something in these situations so one doesn’t think of the loss.

The injured men tend to start with the story of how it happened the moment they walk in to doc’s shop. A good story is a combination of what they were thinking at the time of the mishap, the good intentions they had, and a not-too-long explanation of how they were not an idiot. Many of them had been making something: a stove, an engine, a gun. A good gun is made up of smoothbore barrels, a rotating chamber, a sturdy grip.

Doc lost his gun and wife all-together at the same time when one took the other, and together, took his arm and stole away. A good wife is made out of spring water and liquid chocolate, hair that is usually wet and windows left open at night. A good husband is made from saltpeter and almonds, maple wood and the heels of shoes.

Doc wouldn’t let her leave and couldn’t help her make what she wanted, even though everyone already knows what little boys and girls are made from.

Some do not survive the application of the prosthesis. They often give the doc last words for their loved ones. They typically wait until the last second. The men leave words for their wives and find something good to say about them.The women, when they die, show no pain and give instructions. They are very thorough. Doc buries them; his copper arm is very strong, in graves dug into the soft hill behind his shop. A good graveyard is made of people who have not been discarded until all replaceable parts have had their chance at replacement. It is a bin for the incurably incomplete.

Metal is what Doc knows, if a poor medium for making people whole. Copper is good for shoulders and arms, gold for teeth and silver for fingers and toes. Alloys are in need for innards, except the heart, which due to the blood’s insatiable need, must be made from iron. This is, pitifully, the only organ which otherwise healthy individuals want replaced. Doc is not a doctor though, he cannot solve the inevitable problem of a rusted heart.

Doc is trying to improve. He is applying what he has learned. He will replace his own eyes. Good eyes are made from diamonds, but the only diamond he ever had he gave away. That diamond on a hand of flesh shot him, and ran away.

About the Author

Story by Gregory Johansson, who likes thinking about what people in 1880 thought 1940 would look like.