I’m pretty sure this was written shortly after reading a collection of Kafka’s stories. It couldn’t find a home anywhere else, so I’m putting it here.
By Ronald Cypress
Elmer’s car gradually came to a stop behind another vehicle. The traffic was normal that day. Nothing seemed odd and going home felt the same as it usually did. Elmer was a bit agitated over a few issues that had arisen at work, and he was looking forward to arriving at his home and getting ready for the next day. It was a Thursday; just one more day of work left for the week. Everything was aligned and common that day.
The bus that was stopped on his left had barely caught Elmer’s attention. He had been looking down at his phone as he waited for the light to turn green. When he finally did look up, Elmer first stared at front of the bus that was a little bit beyond where he sat. He usually would have just turned back to his phone, but a strange curiosity came over him and urged him to slowly look up at the bus window that was slightly above his own. There was a young woman by the window. Elmer saw her face clearly. She was looking right at him.
Elmer knew that he should turn his head back to face the traffic that was in front of him, but he kept his eyes on her. Her face was casual with a look that Elmer saw as a blank expression. They stared at each for a time that would seem much longer in Elmer’s mind after the incident was over. Without warning, the young woman’s face suddenly changed and her hand came up. Elmer saw the finger right away, and he knew what had happened. The finger stayed up, directly hitting its target and causing the effect that the young woman must have intended. Elmer could feel his mouth open a little bit as he stared at the finger. There was the finger and there was the disdainful look that was on the young woman’s face.
Then there was a honking sound that came a few cars ahead of where Elmer was stopped. The bus began to move and so did he. Elmer wanted to keep up with the bus, but it made a left turn at the next light and Elmer kept going straight. The incident was over and Elmer was free to go about his life, but he couldn’t get over what the young woman had done to him. He couldn’t get over the finger.
Elmer remained upset and mildly shocked over the finger as he continued the rest of his drive home. As he pulled into his driveway, Elmer thought about how he would talk to Olive, his wife, about the finger and how appalled he was by the act. He got out of his vehicle and slammed the car door. He was so upset and befuddled that before reaching his front door he had to make a few trips back to his car to retrieve items that he had accidentally left inside his vehicle.
Inside the house, Elmer found his wife in the middle of making dinner. They gave each other a normal greeting. Elmer felt like his face showed annoyance, but his wife didn’t comment on it.
“Man,” Elmer said. He set his stuff down where he usually did. “Today has been a really weird day. Just really weird.”
Elmer stood by the kitchen door and watched his wife.
“Oh, yeah.” Olive was too busy going through the refrigerator to look at him. “What was so weird about it?”
Elmer took a good look at her. He ruminated over what to say as he thought more about the finger. That finger had really upset him. He realized that the finger had left him uncomfortably perturbed. Elmer was suddenly cognizant of just how much the finger had affected him. He didn’t like it. The young woman and her finger had too much control over him.
“Nothing really.” Elmer finally responded to his wife who had closed the refrigerator door and given him a few glances. “There was just this one guy who wouldn’t accept the explanation I gave him about why he would be completely in debt if he didn’t sell some of his property. It was just weird how much he insisted on not facing the truth. It was a really long meeting for something that has a fairly simple solution. He has to sell some of his stuff.”
“Oh.” Olive gave him another glance as she stirred what was on the stove.
“Maybe it wasn’t that weird.”
Elmer began to make his way back to their bedroom. Talk about his job rarely interested Olive, and talk about her job as a bank teller rarely interested him. But if he had told her about the finger, that would have been something that his wife would have been very interested in hearing. Elmer knew that she would have a strong opinion on the matter. She would probably have plenty of questions. Olive would want to know what he had done to make the young woman aim that finger at him. His wife wouldn’t be able to understand that it had been unprovoked. There would have to be a reason.
Olive would want a reason because Elmer wanted a reason. Elmer sat on his bed and tried to think about what he could have possibly done to make the young woman stick that finger up at him. He carefully went over the events in his mind. He thought about the bus. Before coming to the line of vehicles at the red light, he had passed the bus. There were no issues there. The two vehicles had respectfully stayed in their adjacent lanes. Elmer had arrived at the line that was waiting for the light ahead before the bus had pulled up beside him. He had been looking at his phone.
He thought about what he had seen before the girl put up her finger. Elmer found that he had to force himself to remember her face. The face slowly came together, and Elmer could see that the young woman had been smiling before looking at him. That was right. She had been smiling, and then her eyes went to him and her face completely changed. A hateful look came over it, and without warning she had given him the finger. Isn’t that how it had happened?
Elmer stood up from the bed, knowing that he didn’t have the events right. She hadn’t been smiling. The young woman and her finger had been doing something else before his eyes met hers and the finger came up for him. He would have to work harder at remembering. There would have to be a good amount of time dedicated to piecing together what had happened. That time would have to come later since Olive was calling him for dinner. He went to eat at the dinner table where his wife sat across from him and the finger hovered directly above him.
The day after getting the finger, Elmer worked meticulously at mimicking his movements from the previous day. His usual Friday at work went by, but when the opportunity to leave work several minutes early came, Elmer declined. He had to be as precise as possible when it came to doing what he had done the day before. Elmer hoped that his plan to mimic the prior day would lead to being in the same position he was when he was given the finger. He wanted to find the bus that the girl had been on, be beside it, and hopefully find the young woman who had symbolically assaulted him.
The plan didn’t work. Elmer found himself at the same light, but there was no bus around; he hadn’t even driven past a bus. Frustrated over the failure for the day, Elmer knew that the next step would be to get the bus schedule for that area and figure out the specific route of the bus that had transported the young woman and her finger. It was something that he would work on during the weekend. While he was waiting for another chance at finding the bus and the young woman, Elmer continued to be obsessed by the finger. He couldn’t get over the inexplicable nature of the finger being leveled at him, and Elmer couldn’t comprehend why the young woman had chosen him.
He considered the possibility that he wasn’t the only victim of the young woman’s finger. Perhaps there were a few to dozens of other victims. The young woman and her finger could have been on a rampage that day. Elmer knew that there could be other victims, but he still felt like he would have to be the one who got to the bottom of the young woman and her finger. He was the desperate one. It was Elmer who had been the most offended and injured by the finger.
It just wouldn’t go away. Feelings of doubt began to buildup as he waited to execute his next plan. On Saturday night, his wife didn’t seem to warm to some of his sexual advances and Elmer thought of the finger. Maybe the young woman could see something appalling about of him right away. That finger meant something more than the usual connotation, but Elmer couldn’t figure it out. His wife left him feeling refuted that night, and Elmer became even more obsessed with the finger.
Why had the young woman shown it to him?
Elmer envisioned her face. It wasn’t really her face, but another face that had to be superimposed on the real one because Elmer’s memory had failed him. The only thing he could truly remember vividly was the finger. It had been long and completely straight, leaving no doubt about its business and who it was sent to deal with at that moment. Elmer tried to see the young woman’s face that Saturday night, but he was unable to recall the actual physical traits or facial expressions. Sometimes the young woman would be smiling throughout the whole incident. A few times the smile went to a seething expression as the finger was held up. Sometimes she was laughing as the finger gently bounced up and down. Elmer could also see her with tears and a sorrowful expression as she held up the finger for him. Occasionally her face was completely expressionless, the finger being enough to communicate what she wanted.
All of the visions were wrong, but something came to Elmer on Sunday evening. He was suddenly able to see the young woman’s face a little bit better, and he knew that it was more accurate than what he saw before. Elmer thought about it, and he came to the conclusion that the young woman was between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five. Everyone has a few weird talents, and one of Elmer’s was that he was very adept at guessing a person’s age. If he had been able to get past some self-conscious issues, Elmer was certain that he could have made some type of living off of the talent. There was little doubt in his mind; the young woman was in her early twenties.
Knowing her age didn’t really explain much about why she had given him the finger. Her age range was one thing Elmer was certain of, as was the fact that he had done nothing to deserve what the young woman had done to him. Self-pity came over him briefly, but then Elmer remembered that he was going to find the young woman. He was determined to get an explanation from her.
The weekend came to an end and it was back to work. Elmer anticipated his next move as the working hours passed. When the job finally let him go, Elmer headed straight for the nearest bus stop. He parked on the side of the street and waited for the bus to arrive. He had done his research over the weekend, and he knew the bus’ schedule and route. The bus arrived, picked several people up, and continued on its route. Elmer followed the bus, and when the opportunity came he got beside it. He stuck with the bus until its route was complete. Elmer was able to get a good look inside the bus, and by the time the designated course ended he was sure that the young woman was not on the bus.
For the next two days, Elmer trailed the bus again. The young woman and her finger never showed up on the bus. Elmer concluded that she probably wasn’t a regular rider, and if she was she didn’t have a set pattern when it came to utilizing the public transportation. Other ideas came to his mind. There was the possibility that the young woman was dead. Her finger had been shown to the wrong person and it got her murdered. Maybe the young woman was in jail. Heathens like that young woman were ideal candidates for incarceration. They just didn’t belong with the rest of the fairly civil world.
Elmer was disappointed once he realized that the young woman wouldn’t be easy to track down. It was an enormous city when you needed to find someone, and he wasn’t even sure if she lived in the city. The young woman and her finger could be just about anywhere on the planet. Elmer stopped worrying about following the bus as a way to track down the young woman. He would have to come up with another plan if he were ever going to find the person who had offended him.
The finger continued to haunt him, though Elmer felt like the initial affect had alleviated some since the incident. Elmer told himself over and over again that life would go on. Other things would happen, and soon something else that offended and dismayed him would replace the finger. There were bigger problems in the world. He repeated that fact over and over again in his head, attempting to diminish what the finger had done to him. Over and over again he failed to get the finger out of his mind.
That forceful finger.
Elmer discovered that there were certain times and situations that made him fixate more on the finger. It often popped up whenever he encountered a person at work who was giving him a hard time. There was always someone who just didn’t seem to get finances, and even though they went to him for help some people were completely hesitant to do as he advised. One evening he sat across from a man who insisted that he wasn’t in the right situation to claim bankruptcy. The man had the type of financial woes that Elmer had seen hundreds of times, and it was Elmer’s opinion that the man was definitely ready to file. But the man wanted to argue with him. Since seeing the young woman and getting her finger, it seemed like anytime someone argued with him Elmer saw the finger and it left him feeling like the attack was still going on.
The finger came up whenever Olive started an argument with him. One night she picked a fight with him over how much dinner he had eaten. Elmer hadn’t had much of an appetite, still feeling shaken after the drive home from work that day. He had thought that he had seen the young woman and her finger. The female was standing in front of a clothing store that Elmer drove past on his way home; it wasn’t far from where the finger incident had taken place. Elmer almost jumped out of his car when he saw the female standing on the sidewalk. The face looked familiar, but after taking a good look at the female Elmer realized that it wasn’t her. He drove on, but just the thought of seeing the young woman again had left him feeling anxious. He didn’t feel like eating dinner that evening, but his wife didn’t understand his lack of hunger. It wasn’t her fault; he still hadn’t told her about the finger.
So she picked on him about how much he ate.
“I’m just not hungry,” Elmer said after his wife had berated him for a few minutes.
“Oh. Okay. Fine.”
Elmer looked up and saw the disgust on his wife’s face. She was looking down at her plate as she continued to eat. Elmer stared down at her plate, and then he looked at her fingers. He had been studying people’s fingers more and more. None of Olive’s fingers were as long as the young woman’s finger. Elmer wondered about his wife and if she had ever shown someone that finger. He was certain that she had never randomly shown it to a blameless stranger.
People just didn’t do stuff like that out in public.
The young woman had done it to him, and Elmer was disappointed that he was having such a hard time getting over it. He was also disappointed that the people around him didn’t seem to notice the stress that was building up inside of him. At work, his employer had actually praised him and mentioned that there was a good chance he would be receiving an award in the near future.
“You’ve really been working hard on these cases,” his boss said. “I can’t remember the last time we had someone as productive as you been. You’ve been doing a terrific job around here.”
Elmer couldn’t remember making any improvements to what he normally did at work. All of it felt the same to him. The only thing that had changed was how distracted he usually was when conducting business. He considered that there was a possibility that he was subconsciously working harder. Perhaps he was trying to get back at someone or something. He felt stressed but maybe it didn’t show.
At home Elmer assumed that things felt normal for his wife. She didn’t make any comments about any changes that may have occurred. Elmer felt like his stress was very evident, but if no one was going to say anything then he wasn’t going to bring it to their attention. He would keep it to himself as he continued to silently search for the young woman and her finger.
Elmer started to go to places that he didn’t usually go. He began to check out more buses that went around the city. Instinctively, he knew that the young woman was still in the city somewhere. Elmer felt certain that he was going to see her again someday. The relationship couldn’t end with their last encounter. Something had to be done in order to fill in the blanks. He deserved answers, didn’t he?
“Yes.” Elmer answered his wife after waking up one night. She had heard him talking in his sleep and asked if he were having a bad dream. He had been having a horrible dream. It was a dream about the young woman and the finger. Somehow, he had gotten on the bus that he knew she was on, but he was unable to get to her because the other passengers on the bus refused to let him by. They took her side and blocked his way to her until they eventually got fed up with him and forced him off the bus.
Elmer saw the young woman and the finger in his dreams, and he saw them in real life. It became normal for him to have a solid stare at a female on the street, trying to figure out if she was the one. They were never the right person, and a few times the females who were in his sights caught him staring. None of them seemed to be pleased after catching him, and a few of them even looked as if they were getting ready to put that special finger up for him. None of them did that. It wasn’t a normal thing to do to a complete stranger who had done nothing to you. If you are the type of person who does such things, then you should feel ashamed.
Elmer wondered if the young woman felt bad about what she had done to him. Did she think about him the way he thought about her? Were there more men out there feeling the way he did? Elmer knew that he would never get answers to the questions he had until he found the young woman.
His boss finally gave him that award at work. The award was for his excellent performance at the workplace. What else would it be for? There was a plaque and a small cake for Elmer. All of his coworkers seemed to be happy for him and he could appreciate their well wishes, but he was unable to genuinely enjoy the accolades. He stared at the piece of cake that was cut for him and he saw it. He saw the long finger covering the entire cake. That finger told him that he didn’t deserve the cake or the plaque.
All he deserved was to be tormented by the digit. Elmer was becoming convinced that he must have done something to warrant the affront from that finger. He tried to pinpoint an exact offense, but nothing ever fit what he thought he wanted for a reason. The finger couldn’t just be a random thing that came into his life. There was a specific motive behind it.
Time went on and Elmer kept thinking about the finger. The torment he had felt when it first happened had dwindled, but the finger was still on his mind. The young woman’s face had almost completely disappeared from the image in his head. Elmer barely thought about her, and it wasn’t until he happened to be out shopping that the young woman’s face came back to him.
He had been finishing up at the store and was pushing his cart towards the checkout lanes when he saw the young woman, or he thought it was her. Elmer instantly recognized the face, and he was about ninety percent certain that the young woman was the one who had given him the finger months ago. She was standing past the checkout lanes, close to the exit door, and it appeared as if she were waiting for someone.
Elmer stopped pushing his cart and moved to the side, standing in a spot that he believed left him somewhat concealed from the young woman’s view. He stared at her face. It really seemed like a match to him. He tried to get a good look at her hands, but she was standing too far away. Elmer thought that the finger would have stood out from any viewpoint, but the young woman’s fingers seemed ordinary from where he stood. Elmer kept watching her, trying to force his mind to decide whether it was the girl or not.
“Excuse me,” a woman said as she tried to push her cart around Elmer. Elmer gave her an agitated look as he moved his body and his cart. “Thank you.”
The woman went by him.
Elmer watched the young woman who seemed to fit the person that he remembered. He was only ninety percent sure, and for Elmer that wasn’t enough. He kept watching, knowing that if he observed her behavior long enough he would be able to figure it out. The young woman wasn’t doing much. She was just standing and looking around the store. Elmer’s eyes stayed on her. Even if other people had started to notice the way he was watching, he wouldn’t be able to quit staring. Getting it right at that very moment was too important to him.
The young woman appeared to be getting very restless when another young woman approached her. Both of the young women smiled as they began to talk to each other. Elmer continued to study the young woman’s face and demeanor. The two young women left the store, and Elmer’s body finally relaxed. He felt like he had finally figured out whether or not he had just seen the young woman who had caused so much distress inside of him.
Elmer turned his cart around and began to head back to a section of the store he had passed through earlier. His mind was much clearer, and he had suddenly remembered that there was one item he had forgotten to retrieve. Elmer moved lightly on his feet as he went to locate the item. He thought about how disturbed he had been in the past. Things weren’t that bad, were they?
He still had a good life and felt like at least one problematic issue had been put behind him. It was time to move on from the finger. There really was no answer. No explanation would suffice.
And that was it.