Franklin asked his father why he decided to stop using his arms.
“Well,” he said, “after the plant closed I didn’t have anything else to do, really. I felt like a tennis racket at a hockey game.” He sipped some coffee through a straw. “It’s not so bad. At least now I have an excuse for not doing anything.”
“But it’s not a legitimate excuse,” Franklin said.
“Maybe not to you but I’m perfectly happy with it.”
He had seen a documentary on cable TV about a man who was paralyzed in a train derailment. The man couldn’t use his arms so he taught himself to paint by holding the brush with his toes.
Franklin’s mother didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t just let her husband starve, but she wasn’t interested in spoon- feeding him either. Sometimes the food wouldn’t make it to his mouth, and it disgusted her to see a grown man with clam chowder on his chin.
“Won’t you even feed yourself?” she asked. “All you do is sit around watching television. It’s shameful.”
“I’m going to learn to paint with my toes,” Franklin’s father said. “Beautiful paintings of household pets. I’d like to try for the style of John J. Audubon, the famous nineteenth century bird artist.”
He began painting watercolor portraits of all of his friends’ dogs and cats, holding the brush between his toes. His paintings looked more like a child’s drawings of pumpkins or softballs than animals.
Franklin’s mother finally had enough and went to stay with her sister in Cincinnati. She said it was creepy to see him walking from room to room with his arms dangling at his sides.
“He looks like one of those zombies,” she said.
One night Franklin was channel surfing and ran across a documentary about a paraplegic who traveled around the country giving inspirational talks to people with physical disabilities. It was during dinner, which Franklin’s father now ate by lowering his head to the plate like a dog.
“Maybe,” Franklin said, “you could travel around the country giving inspirational talks to healthy people who wish they were disabled.”
Franklin’s father considered it. Franklin pointed out that most people would think it was contemptible, and a few might even take a poke at him.
“I don’t know,” his father said. “The world’s changed. I bet there are lots of folks who’d at least think seriously about trying it.”
Franklin thought about it. Then his arms started to feel heavy. His fingers grew numb and clumsy.
“What do you know?” he said.
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