Gunny does better with his legs removed. He stands them up in front of him, on the corner of 12th and Prospect, and against them props the cardboard sign that reads Please Help a Vet. With prostheses on, he’s a bum; with them detached, a tragic/heroic bum. He tells passersby of the three-way trade that sent his first legs to Al Qaida in return for one used explosive and a Marine Purple Heart. The change rattles as it’s tossed into the sockets where his stumps fit in. Usually, after three days, Gunny has enough to eat for a week. After six days, enough to visit Marisol.
Gunny thinks it ironic that Marisol, the failing prostitute, smokes too much, and when she does, the hand that holds the smoldering cigarette to her mouth meets the scar tissue that forms the furthest hemisphere of her face. Eduardo did that, back in San Juan. Jealous Eduardo, and some kerosene, and yet another cigarette, and Marisol had fled with her nostrils full of her own charred flesh, carrying nothing but seed that was not Eduardo’s.
Gunny places the cash on the shelf next to the plaster Guadalupe, and sits on the edge of the bed to undo the straps. Marisol finishes her cigarette. Her baby is still sleeping. They make love in the manner they’ve managed to cobble together, and their moans are gauze across the faces of his wounded comrades, and the bedsprings lull her flames quiet until both bind and seep into their own neglected corner of the world, bodiless and thus woundless, taking years with them, and for a time there is nothing left in their universe but the two ends, the bomb and the baby. No steps between, only bared mechanism, mathematical clarity. The bomb feeds the baby.