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Time and a Button

by Aridol 

Posted: 10 December 2004
Word Count: 1674
Summary: An excercise in writing about nothing. Or nothing much at least. I've had a few ideas about a few plot lines that are impacted by what the MC does, but I think it stands on its own just as well.

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Rainer’s middle finger reaches for the button.

The long middle finger. The strong, long middle finger. Not the ineffective one on its right, not the smallest one after it, and most certainly not the forefinger. The thumb, as he well knows, is not a finger and so it is discounted. He reaches for it with his middle finger, even though he has two middle fingers. It is, though he chooses not to think about it – because there’s no time - one of life’s conundrums; that while everyone has two middle fingers, everyone, almost without exception, designates the label of middle finger, to the longer of the two. After all, as has already been noted, the other one is almost entirely ineffectual.

No, that isn’t quite true. It does have a purpose. It used to have a purpose.

And yet the vast majority, when confronted with a button to press, would opt for the forefinger. Not Rainer. With him, it isn’t a matter of consideration. It is a prolonged habit, a refined habit, a habit born of necessity.

When he was seventeen, seventeen to the day, for the incident had occurred on his birthday, Rainer had trapped his forefinger between the chain and sprocket of the motorcycle his father bought for him. It had hurt of course, and there had been blood, of course, and he’d gone to hospital. Of course. But for his forefinger the accident was not mortal. For a time it had gone from the world, encased in expansive dressings that might only give the suggestion of its existence, until, after three weeks of implication only, it had emerged once more. Shrivelled, scarred, for a time as ineffective as his ineffective third finger, it nevertheless survived its ordeal, and might have retained its functional purpose, it might even have been used to press buttons, but in those three weeks, Rainer had chosen to teach his middle finger all the skills once performed by that forefinger, and after that time, many of the skills that might have been learned by that forefinger had instead been designated to his middle finger. The long middle finger, not the ineffective one.

He’d often thought of it since. Not the middle finger, but the accident. He’d parcelled it up numerous times into its constituent parts: the prelude, a naïve fascination with the way the sprocket teeth meshed with the chain; the final boundary of that fascination as his forefinger approached the junction; the painless, yes painless, sensation of flesh being crushed and mangled, and how, purely by chance, the bone beneath had seemed to slip from the grasp of link and tooth; the tiny splatter of blood that hit his cheek in the timeless instant before his battered, severed nerve ends sent their electrical current into his brain; and the eternity of numbing pain that followed, pain that went on and on, even when his forefinger ceased to exist for those three weeks.

“Take an aspirin,” the doctor had said.

Or was it the nurse. Who exactly was beyond him at the time, just the words themselves and their wholesome naïvety.

An aspirin.

A fucking aspirin.

He wanted morphine, he wanted heroin, he wanted obliteration from that numbing, lingering pain in his finger. He’d have chopped it off completely, but for the realisation that such an act might hurt a whole lot more. The pain just went on and on, it hurt and it hurt with no let up.

“Does it hurt?” His brother had asked him.

“Course it fuckin urts,” he’d screamed back.

Days of hurt. Weeks of hurt. Intense and unending, it followed him. There was no let up, no sense of letting off.

He remembered that pain. Through the years that followed, he never forgot it. And yet what he couldn’t remember was how and when it ended. First there was pain, and then there was none. It was there and later it was gone. Did it recede, or did it just stop? Rainer could never quite resolve that issue.

But there was another lack to contend with, a deadening, a loss of feeling that he could never quite come to terms with. And in some ways that was worse. Indeed, in many ways, particularly in these last years, that had ruptured him far more than the pain that preceded it. First pain. Then no feeling at all. First severed nerves. Then none at all.

Physical. Mental. They were much the same.

“You’re not touching me with that!”

Mary’s words came back to haunt him. Often.

The that in question was his forefinger naturally, and if she’d had the patience to listen to his answer she would have realised that he had no intention whatsoever of using that particular digit. After all, this was a year after the accident, exactly a year – her birthday present on his eighteenth was her – by which time he had become used to employing his long middle finger for whatever task was at hand. Whether it was something he’d done before, like pressing a button, or whether it was something he hadn’t done before, like pressing a wholly different kind of button – not that he’d got to that yet – it was his long middle finger that he employed.

“I said, you’re not touching me with that!”

He had hardly needed telling again, but equally, he had never contemplated doing such a thing. Tucking away the mutant finger – a year isn’t a long time in the healing of flesh – he had presented his long middle finger.

“Mmm,” she had murmured. “I suppose…”

Twenty minutes later…

…but first consider Mary. A prim girl, a proper girl, the type of girl whom you might expect not to indulge herself in such a flagrant, ill-conceived birthday enterprise and as such, just the girl whom an eighteen year-old boy would most like to…well, you get the idea. She was also pretty, which helped, with a youthful, buoyant figure perfect for the clutching imaginations of her male admirers. And Rainer himself, what would he have been like to warrant such a gift? Rich? Indeed not. Good looking? Passable. Physically endowed? Ah, well there he showed some promise, although as far as Mary would have been concerned, the truth could only have been forthcoming in the event itself.

…actually it was more than twenty minutes later, forty maybe, the intervening time having been taken up by the innocent, mutual fumbling encroachments, forty five minutes even, by which time, fully in accordance with her instructions, Rainer’s middle finger had found exactly the right button to press and those fingers on either side of it had found a function of their own. (Whether by this time Mary had in fact forgotten about her forceful request, or perhaps even succumbed to her sexual senses sufficiently to ignore the lewd use of that scarred digit, Rainer couldn’t have said. Certainly she didn’t intervene.) Rainer himself had the perfect view of her parted lips, mirroring, of course, the more vehement parting elsewhere, and thus he was also able to hear the soft explosions of breath as prim Mary approached a point she had only reached herself some few weeks before.


Rainer found himself mesmerised by the way her intonation rose in pitch with each vocal exhortation.

“Aaah! Aaah!”

A more fervent pressing of this newly discovered button created its own subtle variation.

“Ooah! Ooah! Ooooh!”

Only then for it to slide away and for Mary’s own hand to intervene when Rainer thought to prolong the experience. It was, Rainer considered, one of those unforgettable moments as that last explosion of breath emerged and her hips bucked. Not even a moment, he later considered, but a series of them, each a heartbeat of experience. And yet they passed just as quickly into the depths of memory, later to be dredged up, presenting a mere trifle of joy when set against the instant itself.

And later? Well, suffice to say that whatever happened next was unimportant, because by then Rainer had begun to work out the intricate horror that would beset his life from that instant on. By the time his own hips bucked and his own vocal chords played out for Mary’s ears the male crisis of their encounter, Rainer’s mind had worked out the true nature of that intricacy.

Actually, it was very simple. The point, he realised, was that time passes. Each second, each tick of the clock, each sweep of the watch hand, represents the passing of time between a thing anticipated, a thing happening and the thing’s inevitable passage into memory. Not every thing gets by of course; things can be unanticipated, things might not be experienced and things can be forgotten. But time cares not. For time, there are no things, there is no anticipation, no experience and no memory. Time passes, it trundles on, forever forward and under its inevitability, there is no return, each second is a lost second once the next second comes to replace it.

Rainer lived with it. For the next forty years he counted the seconds; always aware of time’s resolute passage. Vainly he had tried to elude it – narrowing down the possibilities to the enforced examination of inanimate objects; prolonging his sensory intake of an unmoving vista. Pictures were good. So were mountains on a clear windless day. Providing nobody strayed into his line of sight, he could imagine time had been stilled. He once spent an entire afternoon staring into the Kalahari Desert, and for a time, for a time, he thought he might have succeeded.

If not for the beating of his heart.

The solution came about not through pained introspection or even as a flash of inspiration. It was harboured long and refined often. The most difficult task had been obtaining the explosive.

Rainer’s middle finger reaches for the button.

The button is large, red.

Its surface is concave, inviting.

It does not move.

Rainer changes his mind.

He uses his forefinger instead.

And doesn’t feel a thing.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 07:49 on 11 December 2004  Report this post
Hi Aridol, and welcome to writeWords. This is a beautifully written and crafted piece of work, the progression of events subtly and skillfully described. I was drawn on in fascination, and the end arrived almost before I was aware of it. I love the circularity, the things we learn in that brief instant before he presses the button. Your use of language is impressive, but there were just a couple of places where I had to reread - see below.

But for his forefinger the accident was not mortal. Mortal can mean 'causing or about to cause death', in other words 'fatal', but I'm not sure if that's widely known. See what others think.

“Course it fuckin urts,” he’d screamed back. (hurts or 'urts?)

There was no let up, no sense of letting off. This just seemed slightly odd.

I thought her cries of ecstasy went on a little too long - IMO you could lose the final 'Ooah'

You've found exactly the right tone to describe their lovemaking - not an easy thing to do - and the points I've mentioned are small and picky things. A brilliant short story.


Aridol at 11:33 on 12 December 2004  Report this post
Hi Nell,

Many thanks for your comments and praise. As an unpublished writer, I found it most encouraging.

Taking your picky things in order.

I too had some concerns about using 'mortal'. Alternatives included terminal which on hindsight sounds better. (Should I correct it?)

Problems with placing an apostrophe facing the right way (I think word wanted to match it with the subsequent speech marks) made me leave it out. It should be 'urts.

Yes, it does sound repetitive to have the added 'no letting off'. A ban against farting perhaps...

As for Mary's moans, I'll beg to differ. I liked the build from one to two and three. In my word version, it includes italics to emphasize the rising tones that Rainer found so enthralling, but since I wasn't sure about using hidden text formatting, I left this out of this version.

Picky these things might be, but when there's only sixteen hundred words to consider it seems to me there's little excuse not to get everything right.

Once again many thanks.



PS I notice you're a 'South Downer' . Fortunately, they are exapnsive enough to share the inspiration.

Nell at 08:15 on 13 December 2004  Report this post
Hi Simon,

The points I mentioned are very small things, but they did make me stop reading for a second to consider. Personally I like 'mortal' used in that context, but it's almost invariably coupled with 'wound' when used in that sense. You could use 'fatal', but it might be helpful to have other opinions. Why not post a link in the 'Introduce your Work' forum? The archived work slips out of sight so quickly these days that it's helpful to have a pointer elsewhere. Re. the 'Ooahs', it's your story and you must be the final judge - my comments are from a reader's perspective above any other, and it's only a personal opinion. I think italicising her cries is a good idea, just enclose an i in square brackets before the word or section to be in italics and /i in square brackets afterwards. I don't think you can edit until you become a full member though.

Re. the South Downs - solitary walks make for wonderful inspiration!


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