Deserter 29’s cubicle was freezing. He could never get feeling to stay in his hands. That numbness was part of why he left. Also the hunger. The army had only allowed crackers and half-rotten bananas into the war for several weeks. 29’s banana that morning had been all rotten. He spurned his crackers in protest. He gave them to 30 and sucked bitterly on thoughts of desertion instead.
All morning, he starved and shivered. 29 deserved better than this. Even if he didn’t, he would rather steal better and see if he was caught. Just before the noontime banana and crackers break, 29 set down his gun and raised his hand. The lieutenant came by, and 29 asked if he could use the bathroom. The lieutenant gave him the key. 29’s teeth chattered angrily as he walked out of the war forever.
He did actually need to use the restroom. It would not do to begin a new life with a bladder so full. Fuck the lieutenant, 29 thought. That drip would have to put in a request to the army for a new key and oversized fob.
29 conducted his business and washed up. He turned for a paper towel. There were no paper towels. He found instead a new-fangled hand dryer. The bathroom had been updated since the last time 29 peed. The dryer stared at 29 from the wall, mounted above the empty wastebin. The brand name SCIMITAR was scrawled across the upper lip of the dryer’s mouth-like vent.
As he jabbed his hands toward the Scimitar, 29 stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He watched his own face as the dryer roared to life. Pulses of air made the skin of his hands dance. The Scimitar bellowed pleasure in its work. 29’s frozen hands were returning to him. He smiled. He was having a handsome day.
29 stood before the Scimitar for hours. His hands went from cold to warm to uncomfortably hot. From wet to dry to desiccated. His skin began to harden and crack. The meat underneath began to roast. Feeling sharpened into pain, pain into desire.
Hands, particularly the hands of a petite man like 29, don’t hold much meat. What flesh there was was stringy and sour-tasting. There is some justice in my tasting this way, he thought while chewing.
The roar of the Scimitar deafened 29. When the guards found the deserter, his skeleton hands rattling in the synthetic wind, he couldn’t hear their commands to surrender. The guards took photos of his rare self-mutilation. Then they shot 29 and put him in the wastebasket, which was happy to have a job again.