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A Very Bad Day

There is something about the idea of finding a leg that intrigues me – why else would I keep coming back to this opening line?

When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a very bad day. It was in a clear plastic bag labelled as first class hand luggage and I was supposed to stash it somewhere in the cabin.
“Why can’t it go in the hold?” I asked, “or at least be put in a box or covered up somewhere?”
“Regulations,” was the answer – it always is.
So I took the leg onto the plane before the cleaning staff had even finished clearing up from the previous flight and I put it at the back of the hanging closet – the one where we usually put the suit carriers – and I moved the first aid kit in front of it to hide it.
“So, why is somebody transporting a leg on a plane, anyway?” I asked the Chief Purser as we got ready for the flight.
“It belongs to one of the passengers in first class. It’s his uncle’s leg and he’s bringing it back home for burial.”
“Oh. Is he leaving the rest of the body behind or is that following on another flight?” asked Felicity, another attendant, her eyes wide with shock.
I had visions of the dead uncle being repatriated limb by limb and I hoped I would not have to see any more of him.
“No, apparently the leg was all that was left of him after an accident and the nephew wants to take it back to the family.”
I wondered whether the customs people at the point of arrival had been forewarned, but that was not my problem, so I set about getting the aircraft ready for boarding. I could hear the noise building up in the departure lounge as passengers were parted from their oversized hand luggage. It happened every time on the journeys to West Africa; people tried to bring sacks of potatoes and even live chickens onto the plane. It is a wonder we ever get off the ground in time.
“Welcome aboard. Good morning. Down this way on your right. Please put that in the overhead bin.”
I fixed my smile on my face and tried to hurry the people along as they boarded the plane dragging enormous cases and clutching overflowing bags, with small children bent over under backpacks almost as big as themselves. I hoped we would be able to stash everything away securely. Felicity had told me once a family tried to bring a goat onto the plane with them; that must have been quite a spectacle.
I glanced back at the Executive cabin where Felicity was serving the first round of drinks and I wondered who the owner of the leg was, and how we were going to get it off the plane at the other end without the other passengers noticing. I hoped the nephew had brought a large empty suitcase with him, or even a coat to cover it up.
“Excuse me, is there somewhere I can hang this?”
A man who clearly had expected to be upgraded stood in front of me clutching a large garment bag that would definitely not fit in the overhead bins.
“Certainly,” I said, trying to maintain my smile, “let me take it for you.”
I waved him on to his seat, not wanting him to watch me putting his suit away in case he went to retrieve it at the end of the flight and found the leg instead. Perhaps the nephew would be the last to get off the plane, that way nobody would see him with the leg, except that he would walk into the crowded terminal and be seen by everybody. No, that would not do. He would have to get off first, but then, how would we get the leg off the plane unseen?
I sighed and continued to welcome all the passengers, checking their seat belts, moving their enormously heavy suitcases and trying to get people to switch seats so as to reunite families. I was exhausted and we had not even got off the ground.
Once we were airborne and we started serving the food I had to watch that none of the other flight attendants stashed a trolley in the hanging closet – sometimes they do that if they want to move one trolley in front of another. All went well until a small child cut himself on one of the food tray lids and needed a bandage.
“I’ll just get the first aid kit,” I heard one of the flight attendants say, moving towards the closet, trailed by a wailing child and his anxious mother who was clutching a baby in her other arm. “I think I saw it in here somewhere.”
“Let me get that,” I said, thrusting a coffee pot into my colleague’s hand. “You go and calm the child and get the family reseated.”
I wanted to get everyone away from the closet so I grabbed the first aid kit and followed the sniffling child back to his seat then waited while he decided between a Batman and a ninja bandage. As I was putting the kit back together I looked up the aisle and saw the owner of the suit carrier looking into the closet.
Forgetting the first aid kit I rushed back up the plane towards the closet and its gruesome cargo, only to be stopped by the food trolley coming out of the galley.
“I must get by,” I hissed at the other flight attendant and pushed the trolley back into the galley, causing one of the orange juice cartons to topple over.
“Sorry,” I mouthed, then reached my arm across the entrance of the closet.
“Excuse me sir, but we don’t allow passengers to access this closet during the flight.”
“But my suit is in there and I need something from the pocket.”
“I’m sorry, you will have to wait until we arrive at our destination,” I began, but then realised that if he really wanted his suit he would draw attention to the closet with his arguing, which was the last thing I wanted.
“Er, perhaps I can get the garment carrier for you?”
I leaned in and unhooked the bag, making sure that the leg was still safely stowed away at the very back.
“Here you are sir, now we do ask that you move away from this area as it is an emergency exit.”
Holding his elbow firmly I escorted the man back to his seat where the garment bag flopped over onto the person next to him, and I made a hasty retreat back to guard the closet. Only another hour, I thought, and then we’d be safely there. I glanced at the movie and saw the closing credits rolling down the screen and soon people began to struggle up out of their seats to visit the washroom. It happens every time; they should really stagger the movie showings by row to prevent this mad rush as sometimes the line-up stretches into Executive Class.
Just then the plane dipped and the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign came on followed by the ping of the safety announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing some turbulence so could you please all return to your seats and ensure your seat belts are securely fastened.”
As usual the people at the front of the washroom line stayed where they were, and those farther back began to return to their seats. There must have been around twelve people standing up when the plane lurched again and dipped to one side, causing the passengers to lean against the seats and coffee cups to roll around the floor. I looked up in horror to see the leg come sliding out of the closet and come to rest in front of a young woman who opened her mouth and screamed the most blood curdling sound.
I was right; it was, indeed, a very bad day.

A Morning Surprise

When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a very bad day. It was trapped under the bulkhead at the swimming pool, and if I had not told anybody it would probably still be there, but I was in a hurry to get to my weekly coffee morning, so I opened my big mouth.
The day had already started out badly when I got up late and missed my normal swim time at the pool and instead found myself stuck behind some slowpokes while being deafened by loud music for the old ladies in their exercise class who wiggled their hips and waved their dumbbells like palm trees swaying in the wind. Half of them don’t even move; I think they just come here for the gossiping. You would think they could gossip in a coffee shop, like normal people, instead of spending hours taking long showers in the pool changing room.
By the time I had finished my thirty laps the pool was becoming quite crowded, so rather than fight my way past the waddling ladies to get to the steps I ducked under the dividing section between the lanes and the deep end. You are not supposed to go under this – it says “no swimming” and “lifeguards only” in big letters on the side, but if they only provide one ladder to get out of the pool what do they expect? It’s not as if I were swimming, anyway, I just dived under and surfaced on the other side, right in the middle of a group of youngsters having a lesson, but in that brief moment I caught sight of something above me, trapped under the bulkhead.
I should have just ignored it and gone on my way but it was such an unusual sight that I repositioned my goggles and ducked under again to have another look. It was a complete human leg, severed at the top of the thigh.
As I surfaced, a lifeguard caught sight of me and came walking along the bridge towards me.
“There’s no swimming under the bulkhead.”
“I’m just trying to get out,” I said in my most polite voice, “but did you know there’s a leg stuck underneath there?”
“Yes, that’s right, you could get your leg stuck, so please stay away,” she said.
I suppose that’s what had happened to a careless swimmer, but you would think the pool staff would clear away the leg – it must be very unhygienic.
Two of the youngsters nearby were watching me and as soon as the lifeguard turned her back they dived down under the bulkhead. A moment later they resurfaced, shouting and waving their arms, gulping great mouthfuls of pool water.
“A leg! Help! There’s a leg under here!”
Lifeguards are trained to react to words like ‘help’ so in an instant the young lady jumped into the pool with her red, floaty people-saver and began hauling the kids out of the water while they continued to thrash and shout.
“It’s all red and gross!”
“It’s a leg, a real leg; somebody’s stuck under there!”
Well that wasn’t true; there’s no way you could get a whole person under the bridge, but some of the other pool staff jumped in to have a look and the person on the top of the lifeguard chair began to blow on a whistle and make semaphore signals to the office. Of course everybody stopped swimming and waddling and gossiping and looked over to the section of pool near me, so I swam over to the ladder and climbed out, thinking that I had better get to the showers before everybody made a rush for them.
“Excuse me, but you need to remain on the pool deck until we establish what the danger is,” said a youth with a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘staff’ and a tattoo of a snake on his arm.
“Oh, there’s no danger,” I replied, “the leg’s not attached to anything, and it’s not mine. But I do have an appointment to get to so I need to get dressed.”
I tried to get past him but he stretched out his arm with the snake and guided me over to a corner of the pool where the young children were being gathered and inspected, to make sure they each had two legs, I suppose. Since I plainly did have two legs I did not see why I should have to wait and I said so out loud, only to be scolded by the swimming instructor.
By now the exercising ladies were being helped out of the pool, but it was slow going with only the one staircase and most of them not understanding what was going on.
“Why is the class ending early?” asked one, “we haven’t even done the stretches yet.”
“They found a leg in the pool,” said another.
“It must be Mabel; she always used to ask for a leg up out of the pool.”
“No, it’s a leg on its own, not attached to a body.”
“What’s that? Who’s not attached to anybody? I can’t hear without my hearing aid. I have to take it out for swimming, and now I’m as deaf as a post.”
“They found a human leg in the pool!”
“Ooh, did they really?”
As the news spread the ladies became more agitated, some of them falling back into the pool from the steps, which upset the lifeguards who were trying to clear the water, others arguing over the pile of flip flops by the edge of the pool.
“Attention please,” boomed a voice over the p.a. system, distorted by the echoes in the large pool hall. “Due to an unforeseen incident we ask that everybody leave the pool area and retrieve their belongings.”
Unforeseen incident. Well of course it was. Nobody plans to leave their leg behind in the pool. I tried to sidle around the tattooed youth; I would be last in line for the showers now, I could see, but at least I could get my clothes and go on to my coffee meeting, but three firefighters strode down the pool deck towards us, looking very overdressed in their flameproof outfits. I hoped they were not going to spray water everywhere.
“Are these the witnesses?” one of them asked the tattooed youth. “I’m sorry, but the police will need to question them.”
“What about the kids? They’re freezing,” said the instructor pointing to the youngsters who were standing, knock kneed, teeth chattering, peering into the pool with rapt attention, no doubt hoping for a parade of other body parts.
“We’ll be as quick as we can,” said the firefighter and turned to talk to the kids, while the pool management staff gathered around.
Well, great, so here I was, the only person not allowed to leave the pool, and on the one morning I needed to get going. The only good part of the delay was that it allowed the police to arrive so that I would not have to answer questions twice. Two of them rushed down the pool deck, totally ignoring the signs about not wearing street shoes, and zeroed in on me like homing mosquitos.
“So, can you tell me how you found the leg?” asked one policeman, taking out a notebook.
“Well, I swam under the bulkhead,” I said, “and when I looked up, there was the leg above me, trapped against the underside.”
“You didn’t see anybody leave it there?”
This was getting ridiculous. Did he seriously think that somebody would leave their leg behind in the pool and just climb out, one legged, and hop off to the changing room?
I shook my head, trying to look serious.
“What were you doing under the bulkhead?” asked the second cop, who had just joined our small group. “It says here, clearly, ‘no swimming.’”
He turned and looked at the pool manager, who nodded in agreement, as if the very fact of a ‘no swimming’ notice should have prevented the leg from getting stuck under the bulkhead.
“I wanted to get out of the pool, as I have an important appointment to get to, and it is very hard to get out of the pool without a ladder.”
I glared at the manager, so that he would get the message about the lack of ladders, then I looked up at the clock in the hope that they would get the idea that I was in a hurry, and so I nearly missed what they said next.
“…contravening the rules of the facility; possible suspension of membership.”
What? Were they serious? After I did them a favour by reporting the leg?
After much talking back and forth between the cops, the management and the firefighter, who was now holding the leg as if it were a fire hose, they allowed me to return to the changing room to get dressed, and wouldn’t you know it but the showers were all taken by those gossiping women who couldn’t get enough of the leg.
“A man’s leg, all hairy it was.”
“I heard it was a woman’s.”
“Blood dripping from the end – it’s disgusting, us being in the same water. It will affect my allergies, it will.”
I gave up on my shower and dressed as quickly as possible. I was already an hour late but luckily I was able to sneak out of the building without being called aside for more questioning.
I jumped into my car and raced to my destination, fixing my hair as I drove. I worried that everyone would have given up waiting for me, but I was pleased to see they were all still seated at the table.
“A double frosted mocha frappucino with extra cream,” I said to the server, then I turned to my Thursday coffee morning friends and said, “you will never guess what happened at the pool this morning!”

When I Discovered the Leg I Knew I was in for a Really Bad Day

Sometimes I get inspired by an opening line, and jump into writing a scene, only to come up blank half way through it. I wish I knew what happened next!

When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a really bad day. I had just stepped into the back pantry to fetch a sack of rice for Uncle Larry when I tripped over something on the floor. The pantry was dark and disorganised so I did not think anything of it at first, being more concerned with not dropping the rice, but when I went back to have a look and move the object I saw it was a leg.
A human leg. A woman’s left leg, to be precise, with a stocking but no shoe.
“Uncle Larry,” I whispered, when I was back in the kitchen, “there’s a leg in the pantry.”
“I know,” he whispered back, “I put it there this morning.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because the food inspector is coming today, and I can’t have a leg lying around in the middle of the restaurant.”
I could see the logic in this argument.
“Whose leg is it?” I asked, “And why do you have a leg in your restaurant?”
“It’s Joe Bolger’s. He left it here last night. He was so drunk he could hardly stand and was in no fit state to be taking his leg home.”
I forbore to inquire as to why Joe Bolger needed a leg when he had two perfectly good ones of his own and suggested to Uncle Larry that any decent food inspector would want to see in the pantry as well as the restaurant.
“Well then,” he said, “you’ll have to take the leg back to Joe.”
“Me? You want me to take a leg to Joe Bolger? I asked incredulously.
“Sure, that’s the best idea. Here, put it in this rice bag, then nobody will see it.”
Uncle Larry dumped the rice into a large, metal bowl, sending little white grains skittering around the floor. I wondered briefly if the food inspector would crunch the rice grains underfoot during his tour of the kitchen then Uncle Larry thrust the empty rice sack in my hand and pushed me out of the kitchen into the panty.
There it was, still, lying on the ground. At least it was not dripping blood, but it was a fairly unpleasant colour all the same. I pinched my nose as a precaution.
I slid the rice sack under the leg and jiggled the offending limb into the sack without touching it then slipped out the side door and headed towards my truck.
“Well hello, Sammy!”
A large hand clamped on my shoulder heralded the arrival of the Sherriff.
“Uh, Hi, Pete,” I said, shifting the sack slightly to keep it out of sight.
“What’ve you got there? A dead body?”
I could feel the sweat running down my back as I forced my face into a smile.
“Oh no, Pete, only a leg,” I replied in a hearty a voice as I could muster, although it sounded more like a squeak.
“Well, see you on Tuesday!”
Pete clapped me on the back again and turned into the restaurant. Sometimes it was good to have the Sheriff as your best friend but today was not one of them. I threw the sack into the back of the truck and roared out of the parking lot so fast I could smell the burning rubber from the tires and I swear there was a black mark on the road behind me. I slowed right down then because I did not want Pete coming after me. Friend or no, he would be obliged to pull me over if he caught me driving dangerously.
Joe’s place was not far; one of those busy complexes where you park out front and walk through miles of paths to get to the apartment, only I didn’t know which was his apartment so I figured I had better ask.
I pulled into the visitor parking and walked over to a group of women talking by a door. Some kids were playing tag in the courtyard and a couple of men were lounging against a wall, cigarettes dangling out of the sides of their mouths. I had just asked the women where Joe Bolger lived when there was a commotion behind me. A young boy came rushing round the corner, followed closely by gang of kids slightly bigger than him. He dodged behind the cars then clambered into my truck and seized the sack with the leg in it. As his pursuers advanced he twirled the sack over his head and walloped the closest assailants.
“Oi!” I shouted, “Put that down!”
The boy, momentarily distracted, looked my way and in that instant another of the pursuers grabbed the sack and took off with it.
At this point I should have just driven away and forgotten the whole thing but I felt responsible to Uncle Larry and poor old Joe, so I followed, chasing the boy with the sack. The place was like a warren, with paths and stairs all over the place and the youngsters had the advantage not only of being on familiar ground but of being much fitter than I so before long I had fallen behind them and was completely lost.
Now I was really worried. By chasing the boys I had identified myself publicly with that sack and its dreadful contents, so any minute now my old friend Pete would be turning up to arrest me. There was only one thing to do; find Joe Bolger, apologise and make sure he took on the responsibility for that severed limb.
It took three doors before somebody opened to my knock and grudgingly told me which apartment was Joe’s. I suppose by this time I must have looked a sight: panting, eyes wild from worry, shirt flapping loose. Following the directions I went two floors up and along to the end where I found a dark, grimy door with the name plate Bolger stuck on at an angle. I hurriedly adjusted my clothes then banged on the door of Joe’s apartment.
A thump and a shuffle announced the arrival of the occupant. Would he be angry, I wondered?
“I’m sorry, but your leg is gone,” I gabbled as soon as the door opened.
Standing in front of me was an old woman holding a cane. Beneath her flower print dress I could see her right leg in a thick brown stocking and slipper. The left leg was no more than a wooden peg.