We are thrilled to introduce you to Nick Almeida, the winner of our inaugural Chapbook Contest, with his titular story “Masterplans,” included in his forthcoming chapbook Masterplans, out later this fall. Immediately evident in this story is what Steve Almond says he’s looking for in writing: “the danger of self-revelation, of what Freud called Das Unheimliche (“the uncanny”), those moments in which the familiar becomes strange and versa vice.” We cannot wait for you to read his magnificent chapbook, but for the moment, we hope this story will suffice.
Plans. Plans have always been his curse. In grade school art, he was a disaster. He never found pleasure in movies—how do people sit when there’s so much to do? It was Charlotte’s position that his ability to repair things was an art form, though usually it felt like a malfunction in his brain. Honestly, it was easier to think about ways to repair inconsequential things: the molding around the kitchen ceiling, the Eagles, ways to improve their run game.
Sheena sits beside Sid on the waterbed and dictates an essay on the panoptical impulse behind deer blinds. It occurred to her last week, during a phone call with her brother Frank about his most recent population-control hunting trip: How ethically-inclined hunters consider themselves the wardens of the natural world (some even use the word warden), and how those ridiculous tree houses for grown men are structurally akin to watchtowers in prisons. Because Sheena has only one flesh-and-blood arm—the other: a transradial prosthetic that attaches below the elbow and features a stainless steel hook—Sid thuds out her words on their shared laptop. This is their nightly ritual. Finger by finger, Sid uses the hunt-and-kill method of typing, locating each key before pressing it, while nibbling a cinnamon-sugar Pop-Tart.
A few crumbs spill from his mouth when he asks her to define calamitous.
“Ah,” he says, bolus of Pop-Tart showing, “as in, your professor’s party was calamitous.”
It really was. Before all else, Sheena is learning in her new role as a literary studies doctoral candidate and aspiring ecocritic, she must always make clear that it’s okay to shake left hands, or to skip handshakes altogether. She’s not wild for hugs. She’d prefer you don’t find a way to enlist her in the dinner prep, because, no, there isn’t a task that’s particularly breezy with a hook. She cannot dice the onion, and, no, that’s not a decision she’d like to negotiate—she’s accepted the finality of cannot. She cannot shave the fennel. She’d rather cross her legs and smalltalk while you grapple with the recipe. She can pour herself a second glass of wine, no problem.
Why the hook? Are there not robotic hands, here in the future? There are, yes, and she’s looked into them, but when she can hardly aﬀord a dental cleaning on her grad school insurance plan, how do you propose she pay for a bionic arm that’ll let her drum the bongos? So, it’s the trusty hook, which she’s been using almost all of her life and can rely on.
In her old circles, Sheena never had to lay out ground rules. Old school friends held barbecues and marijuana-intensive potlucks in rented cabins. They used her hook as a blunt-pinching device, had her remove the prosthesis, peel oﬀ the sweaty sleeve, and they passed her artificial arm around like a forceps, the silver hook pinching the blunt trailed by its thin slip of smoke. Not her new colleagues. These people required drag-out transparency, every interpersonal hangup expressed, then accommodated, until an evening of rustic grain salad and lambswool sweaters felt more like pirouetting through one of those only-in-the-movies laser beam security systems—Do not trip the alarm. They wanted to know the rules, the framework of how to be around someone with a hook, but out of spite or laziness or any number of less obvious indecencies, Sheena wouldn’t address it, hasn’t. It might do them some good, she’d thought sitting with her wine, to have a little rub against the unknown.