“Mr. Thompson, Dr. Wheeler will see you now.”
I follow the nurse into the narrow hallway and through the rigmarole of bodily metrics. In the examination room, she asks me to remove my shirt. I comply, blushing, directing my vision towards a rust-colored stain on the ceiling tiles above me, and she takes thorough measurements of my… condition.
As she fills out my chart, I attempt to read her expressions, body language, the rhythmic scratching of the pen, to decode some secret insight. Her boredom produces a commingling feeling of reassurance and frustration.
“The doctor will be in shortly,” she says on her way out.
Well aware the doctor will ask me to undress again, I slip back into my shirt, go to the window, and gaze out at the dun-colored landscape of Detroit, an immense circuit board of parking lots, strip malls, and apartment complexes. Standing there, I Zen out with my mantra of late: this is not happening this is not happening this is not happening.
“Good morning, Mr. Thompson.”
I greet the doctor as she enters, an attractive if gangly woman with a tight, business-efficient ponytail.
She goes through the standard protocol of orifice probing before turning to the matter at hand. Has me strip out of my shirt and lift my right arms, at which point she runs her fingers along the goose-pimpled flesh and unfurls the bony limb tucked in there. She counts the digits (four), bending them, cataloging the carpals, metacarpals, and phalanges, testing their integrity, pressing her flashlight into the palm to study the backlit venation, checking the reflexes, blood pressure. I feel none of this, of course. The limb has a different smell than the rest of me, probably not unpleasant by itself, like a newborn, but unsettling since it’s attached to me.
“How long has it been since the pseudopod emerged?”
“Not since the first burst, no.”
“Round the one-month mark, you can expect sensation; earlier, if you stimulate it regularly. Get it one of those sensorimotor baby development toys. Nothing fancy: your ’pod doesn’t have any olfactory or taste sensors. Voluntary motor control will come later, several months, very similar to the timeline of a newborn’s. The nerves aren’t fully myelinated and are only partially linked up with your motor cortex. In the weeks to come you can expect motor mimicry of your right arm as well as some parroting of others’ movements.”
I clear my throat, nodding. “What I’d really like is to have it removed.”
“I can do that if you wish, as soon as a couple of weeks from now, but I think you should reconsider.”
“Nothing to consider or reconsider. It’s decided. The sooner, the better. I didn’t ask for this thing to sprout out of me.”
“No one ever does. Well, more accurately, a small minority of patients I see desires an extra limb, religious types mostly, but that’s beside the point. I have amputated hundreds of ’pods, and something almost always has grown back. A study in The Lancet puts regrowth incidence around ninety-five percent, but long-term I suspect it’s even higher.”
“What do you mean by ‘something’?”
“As in some other thing, not the original pseudopod, but the limb from some other extinct species. And as you can imagine there are countless possibilities. The way I see it, you lucked out with yours. What we have here is mammalian, with an opposable thumb no less. Think of the alternatives: a tentacle, a flagellum, a wing.”
“A wing! That I wouldn’t mind.”
“Two wings, of course you wouldn’t, if you dream Icarus dreams, but one wing buys you nothing but a spiraling descent.”
My shoulders slump. “I don’t get it. I live in Grosse Pointe, I hit the gym every morning, I eat kale salads for lunch, I-I-I drive a Tesla, for fuck’s sake!”
“Despite what the talking heads say, socioeconomic status, race, BMI, none of that matters. Patient zero may have been an inner-city open-air evangelist, but spontaneous transgenesis affects all of us.”
“You don’t understand. This can’t happen to me. I’m going to lose everything. I haven’t been in to the office since the eruption — burning through personal days, too afraid to call it sick leave as if doing so would cement this into reality. I’ve just been driving aimlessly, napping in the parking lot of the abandoned zoo at Belle Isle. And my wife” — I shake my head — “I’ve been hiding it from her, sleeping in the guest bed, I… god. We used to mock them. When we saw them on the news. We’d mock them. And now… here it is.”
The doctor smiles sadly and squeezes my hand, one of the human ones.
“Cheer up, Mr. Thompson. It’s non-communicable, so there’s no fear of you transmitting this condition to your wife or anyone at work. The fact is, billions of extinct organisms are vying for genetic expression. Humanity is paying for its ruthless technological advances, and for some it is a horrific affair. You may be a pariah in the beginning, but over time, once reality snuffs out misinformation, others will come around. That Lancet study estimates within five years’ time, bibrachials will be in the minority.”
“Bibrachials. That’s a good word.”
She nods. “And a soon-to-be nostalgic one. In short, Mr. Thompson, it could have been worse, much worse.”
On the way out, I grab a lime lollipop from the children’s basket and study it.
These things, these ’pods, they pop out of children’s bodies while they run around at recess, while they bake cookies with their parents, while they genuflect in church. During first kisses, proms, first everythings.
They sprout in the womb.
Instead of sucking on the sweet, I pass it inside my jacket, and feel the tiny, delicate fingers pluck it out of my hand, hear the plastic crumple as it explores the object.
One night Tim Boiteau was reminding himself to make an appointment for his son to see the pediatrician, and in the pre-sleep thought train he started wondering about the etymology of “pediatrics,” which led to “podiatry,” then (more surprisingly) to “pseudopodiatry.” He noted the word down. When going through his notes later, he discovered to his dismay that more words had sprouted out of it.