“I say, how very odd. I don’t recollect that ever happening before.”
Bassford’s wife, Carla, opened one eye. She pulled the blanket tighter around her, still half-asleep. “Don’t recollect what happening?” she asked.
“Look here!” Bassford lifted his pajama top. “I seem to have lost my bellybutton. How do you explain a thing like that?”
Carla sat up. She looked once, blinked, then looked again. “Alright, wiseguy,” she said. “What kind of a stunt are you trying to pull now?”
“This isn’t a stunt, Carla. I mean, I’m as surprised as you are. I woke up, felt something peculiar and what do I discover: my bellybutton has disappeared. You think I’m happy about that?”
“Bellybuttons do not just disappear.” Carla struck a pose of prim disapproval. “There isn’t a single recorded instance of such a thing happening. You must have done something to make it disappear. Think!”
Bassford considered the matter, searching for a logical explanation. “Well, I have been doing more sit-ups recently. Do you suppose that could have anything to do with it?”
Carla frowned, throwing aside the bedcovers. “Don’t be absurd! A bellybutton isn’t a matter of what exercises you do. Or, for that matter, what exercises you don’t do. It’s human anatomy 101. Everybody has a bellybutton — whether they want one or not. If you were born according to the traditional method . . .” Carla paused, considering. “You were born, weren’t you?”
“To the best of my recollection. Although, now that you mention it, my memory of the event is decidedly hazy. But my mother was there and she has a very vivid recall. If she says that it happened, I’m willing to take her word for it.”
“So, that leaves us with what? You misplaced it, then?”
Bassford had a habit of losing things: keys, cell phone, watch. But a bellybutton was rather of a different order than that. One did not lay it aside and then fail to remember having done so. Losing it would seem to be something one would have to set about purposefully.
“I’m surprised at you, Carla, thinking I might have done such a thing. I’m offended. Give me a little credit, would you! No, the explanation is staring us in the face.”
“It is?” Carla looked under the bedcovers. She looked around the room. Nothing was even peeking out from one of the corners, much less staring her in the face. “Alright, I’ll bite. Explain away.”
Bassford pointed at the ceiling, his expression solemn and serious. “I was abducted by aliens. They performed investigative surgery then, when it came time to stitch me back together, they forgot to replace my bellybutton. They’re unfamiliar with mammalian methods of birth and so, they look upon the bellybutton as nothing more than a blemish, an imperfection. They figured the omission would occasion neither notice nor comment.”
Carla stared at Bassford a long moment, wondering if she had heard him right. Then she broke out in peals of laughter, slapping her thighs and pawing at the air in front of her. “Oh, my, God! That’s the best one ever. I thought some of your other excuses were lame. But this tops them all. Aliens! Abduction! Let me guess — they neglected to replace your brain as well. They figured something that minuscule couldn’t serve any useful function and wouldn’t be missed. And who could argue with that? They only had to efface all traces of the surgery and no one would be the wiser. Boy, did they ever get that right!”
“Very funny, Carla,” Bassford sniffed. “Laugh, if you like. But I defy you to come up with a better explanation.”
“Oh, count on it.” Carla was still trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress her merriment. “I’ll solve the riddle before the day is out.” Carla flung aside the bedclothes and stalked across the room.
Bassford stared at her, aghast. In his shock, he forgot his own misfortune. Improbably, Carla’s knee joints had been reversed, bending backwards like a bird’s. The alteration lent her the aspect of a heron prowling through the shallows, hunting for fish. The aliens had bungled Carla’s surgery even more spectacularly than they’d bungled Bassford’s. It made Bassford suspect that the extraterrestrials must be avian in nature and approached the world, and everything in it, from that perspective.
Bassford scratched his midsection, missing the familiar dimple of his bellybutton. He glanced out the window, passionately hoping that he wouldn’t acquire a sudden yearning to go poking about the yard searching for worms.
Thomas Canfield’s phobias run to politicians, lawyers and TV pitchmen. He likes dogs and beer.