Redmond in One Piece

We all started crawling, the corporal too, picking up the pearls. “Just one of the strands broke,” I said. I started to cry and couldn’t see.

Fiction by Mame Ekblom Cudd, Spring/Summer 2014


We had just stepped through the airport doors. All of us ready to pick up my older brother, Redmond—and there was Corporal Abraham Tunks, skinny and bouncy, a toe walker. The top button of his uniform rested tightly just below his Adam’s apple.

He greeted us: patted Aunt Bayson on her back, shook Dad’s hand—and mine. Then rested his palm a while on my little bother’s head.

Tunks was lucky; he had all his fingers and small flat nails filed into even half moons. I grabbed his wrist and his gray eyes seemed to pop.  But, how long do you keep your hand on someone’s head anyway?

Looking scared, he touched his neck. I touched mine. I felt like I was choking. I wore my mother’s pearls, a double strand and she’d been tiny and pretty, and there I stood, everyone staring at me, a big tough girl in a tank top with a stud in her eyebrow.

At home earlier, Dad had pleaded, knocking on my door, opening it, not waiting for me to say anything, his face round like Redmond’s. “Wear the pearls, Linny. It’s like your mother will be with us to welcome him home.”

Redmond had been injured in Afghanistan. You can pay attention and ask all the questions. I meant to. How much of each hand was involved? Dad had to have known. It was an explosion, but where exactly, in a field, near where he was stationed? Or far away maybe, back in the city? I’d dream of puffs of smoke that weren’t dangerous, yet all the cars along the dusty road lay upside down. Sometimes they spun on their roofs while the people walking past, met and talked—but not to me.

“He’s in one piece. Redmond said he’s in one piece.” Dad had yelled that crazy day after he got the off phone. He walked into the kitchen, shaking and smiling, big and doughy, and after hugging Aunt Bayson, he grabbed for me. But I headed for the door and crashed into my little brother, Grafton, a Redmond clone, meaty and reddish, round headed, just eight years old—and perfect.

Dad shouted the news again. “Hey, everyone, his hands are injured, but he’ll be fine.”

The words sounded too happy for all that strangeness and Grafton pressed his hands to his ears and dropped to the floor.

I lay next to him, pleading, “Redmond’s in one piece—he’s not dead.” I pulled at his little fingers. They were damp. I wanted to breathe them in; kissing the palms too, he let me.

“Don’t talk like that, Linny,” Dad said, sounding like he might cry. “Don’t mention that. He’s in one piece, for Christ’s sake.”

I couldn’t look at him.

And then for weeks it was Grafton’s sentence—and not just a statement, the question of every moment, “Redmond’s in one piece, right? He’s in one piece, so he’s okay, right?”—a million times a day.

Dad went to Virginia to see him. The rest of us talked to Redmond from home. We’d Skype and laugh, we did. But I’d back away from the screen. I didn’t really look. I wouldn’t read any official letters explaining anything either.

My crazy habit started around then: As we chatted to Redmond one day, and as Aunt Bayson and I traded places at the computer, I almost pulled the chair out from under her. I made the physical movement, grabbing and jerking it as she sat. But I stopped; I didn’t go too far, not all the way. But part of the way felt so damn good. She hardly noticed, just looked at me for a second. That was it though: making a few physical movements toward doing something wrong, like I was in control of something big, maybe—almost.

And Redmond laughed, too, about his injuries, sort of. Just his large freckled face on the screen—not his hands, “I’m okay,” he’d say, but sound upset. “You know I’m okay.”

But again, what part of each hand? I should know, right? Nobody said exactly. Redmond would have them in the air for a second, but they were bandaged. I’d squint and look away.

Dad wanted to be so goddamn happy; he was trying. He finally had Aunt Bayson—and his oldest son was in one piece. If she wanted to paint every wall in our house white, let her. My best friend Sophia suggested we draw on them with Sharpie pens.

Aunt Bayson, my mother’s sister, slight and dark, one year older—never had any kids. My mother died giving birth to Grafton. Uncle Trey, Aunt Bayson’s husband, soft and slow talking, died last fall and she went right to Dad and that was it. Grafton and I weren’t to ask about it. I did hug her. She even felt like my mother. She left Grafton alone, left him to me, which was right, I guess.

Just last Tuesday Dad and Aunt Bayson sat on the new family room couch, trying it out, some puffy red, way too big a thing. They held hands and Dad whispered again how lucky he was that he found someone exactly like my mother.

He’d let his hair grow out, and I went around to the back of the couch and laughed about braiding their hair together. How funny that would be. I pulled at his gray hair and her smooth black strands. “I’m braiding,” I said, “hold still.” I looked for a hair on each of their heads and gave it a little yank. “Sorry, it got caught in my ring.”

They winced. I wanted to smash their heads together—both of my hands on their heads for a second. I was going to, those actions, the going to, almost a relief, but not a complete relief.

My new habit showed up at school with Jessica Sterner, giving her a little shove downhill during cross-country practice. I wanted to send her flying, the know-it-all bitch, but I held her arm. I laughed. She kind of laughed.

Now, while standing in the airport, I wanted to bite the tip of one of Corporal Abraham Tunks’s fingers—and grind at the bone. He pointed down a hallway. We were to follow him to a special waiting room for service family members. We live outside of Palmers, Oregon, and the regional airport is small, and so was the room. Filled with furniture and tiny Kleenex boxes you get in a hospital and one little window.

Grafton ran over to a giant poster of an eagle flying over water. “I’ll draw that,” he said, grabbing at some crayons and paper they had for little kids. He drew, standing, bent over the coffee table, sucking in his lower lip.

“Perfect,” I said loudly.

Everyone turned. I ran over to the Corporal and took his hand, shaking it but then quickly wrapping my fist around his finger. Pulling it to my mouth, I sucked at the fleshy tip. He yanked, I held; I was larger. We spun and flopped on the couch. Dad grabbed my shoulders. But I didn’t bite; I didn’t go all the way because it tasted like my finger, like Grafton’s. Like dirt and clean at the same time. I felt calm until Aunt Bayson fell on top of us just as the corporal caught his hand on my pearls. They sprayed everywhere, sounding like sleet hitting our driveway back home.

Tunks whispered, “Holy shit.” He held Aunt Bayson on his lap like a child.

And Grafton, his mouth a little fleshy circle, said, “What the fuck?”

“Shit, don’t swear, Grafton,” Dad hissed.

We all started crawling, the corporal too, picking up the pearls. “Just one of the strands broke,” I said. I started to cry and couldn’t see.

“Jesus Christ, stop crying, Linny,” Dad shouted. “What the hell were you thinking? You’ll get everybody upset. Did you know the corporal?”

Quietly, from across the room, Tunks said, “Listen, I’m okay. I’m fine.”

“Why can’t Linny cry?” Grafton, the wonder boy asked.

“I’m going to cry. So everybody shut up.” I had my hand so far under the big couch, I lay flat on the floor; the dusty linoleum smelled like sticks. And poor Tunks, what would I say to him?

Aunt Bayson joined in, “Don’t say shut up…to each other.” Her voice cracked.

And Redmond appeared. Tall, his round head on a thin neck, in his fatigues, standing next to Tunks, who I guess had left to get him. I saw a jagged scar under his chin. Grafton ran over to Redmond and hugged him.

“Corporal Tunks said there were pearls all over.” Redmond’s voice was soft. He rubbed Grafton’s head. “I see some, under the coffee table, near the leg, there.” He pointed.

Under the bright lights his right hand looked like a claw. He had most of his index finger and thumb, but the rest of his fingers were stumps, hardly there at all. His left hand was still bandaged. “Hey,” he said. “I can get them.” He knelt.

I couldn’t move. I clutched at the couch. Grafton slid to his knees. We watched Redmond place his only two good fingers—all swollen and red, on either side of a single pearl. I didn’t squint—my punishment to stay and look.  But the damn pearl kept sliding around. I held my breath until I couldn’t stand it, and when it rolled near me, I grabbed it.

“How are you, Linny?” Redmond whispered, standing. “We’ll get all the pearls picked up, okay?”

I shouldn’t have helped him; or maybe it was good. I felt crazy, like my head would blow off from not knowing.

Grafton patted Redmond’s arm, “Hey, Redmond; hey, listen,” he kept saying. But everyone was talking at once, hugging and kissing.

Yet Grafton kept at it and when we all were quiet for a second, he finally said, “Hey, Redmond, you’re in one piece; only your little pieces are gone.”


After receiving a BA in economics from Wells College and an MSSW from Columbia University’s School of Social Work, Mame worked for many years as a marriage counselor/family therapist. After retiring from practice to raise a family, she turned to her first love, a writing career. When not writing or learning about the craft of writing she spends her time doing seven million other activities that remind her of the human dilemma, the frailties and joys—and why she needs to get back to writing. She attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Conference (2009 and 2011) and the Arizona State Writers Conference (2006 and 2007). Her work has appeared in Crack the Spine, Fiction Fix, Fiction Magazine, Broad River Review, The Puritan, and SNReview.

Image: Source



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