As usual, I had been trying to do too many things at once - fight with the phone company, balance the checkbook, keep my three year old occupied and change the baby's diaper. Not to mention cook dinner. I had left the ingredients spread out on the kitchen counter, and I'm sure the cat was having a nice feast.
"Listen," I snarled into the phone, while I reached for the wipes and tried to keep a squirming baby from falling to the floor. Behind me, I could hear my daughter, and it sounded as if she had pulled make-up off the bathroom counter and was playing with it. Again.
"I cannot believe you are charging 33 cents a minute for a long-distance call." The man on the other end patiently explained exactly why they could charge so much. The voice became muffled as the phone slid down to nestle against my neck, so I adjusted the receiver, wiped the baby's butt, held him down, sprinkled some powder, slid a diaper under him and then fastened it around his torso.
Then I looked down, dropped the phone and screamed.
"Honey, are you okay?" Tom asked when he came home a half-hour later in response to my hysterical phone call. He'd been pretty astonished when I had relayed what had happened, but now he didn't seem as concerned.
"I'm just fine," I said, a bit calmer than I had been earlier. "How do you think I am?"
"Well, it could be worse. You could have lost an arm."
I wanted to smack him. So I did. With all three hands.
"Well, you always said you could use another hand," he said, dodging me and skipping across the room.
"I didn't mean it literally!"
"You could have cleaned up the mess," he said, pointing toward the bathroom, where Molly had covered the floor with my face powder, and then drawn a picture in it with my favorite red lipstick.
Tom Junior chose that moment to cry, so I picked him up, sat in the rocking chair, and nursed him, while my two-armed husband cleaned the floor and tried to entertain his daughter.
That night, after we'd put the kids to bed and cleaned the kitchen, we tried to figure out what to do.
"You really ought to see Dr. Martin," Tom said.
"I doubt there's a cure for growing a third arm."
A bit grumpy, I took off my shirt, glad it had been one of my looser ones, and looked in the mirror. My new appendage had sprouted painlessly six inches below my right arm, and was almost identical to the original - except it didn't have a scar on the index finger or a mole near the wrist.
"I guess this means I need a new wardrobe." Tom just chuckled.
"You could join a circus," he said, ever the clown.
I made a doctor's appointment the very next day.
"This is most unusual," my doctor said, after giving me a thorough examination. Dr. Martin had a way with patients, not to mention a gift for understatement.
"Yeah, so what do we do about it?" I asked, uncomfortable in the paper robe, which of course had come with only two armholes. One of the nurses had been kind enough to cut an extra hole on the right side.
He stared at me a bit, then changed the subject.
"Have you been under any additional stress lately?"
"Additional stress? Well, no more than usual."
"Hmmm." He continued to study me. "I don't think there's anything to do. You're completely healthy, and the arm seems to be completely normal."
He squinted at an X-ray while I shifted some more, my three hands gripping the side of the table.
"I would have to consult a surgeon on this, but it may do more harm than good to remove the third arm." He paused, removed his glasses, then looked at me. "I recommend that you get used to it."
So I tried. I had some of my shirts altered, and bought more bracelets. I tried to disguise my extra arm in a baggy sweatshirt or coat when I went out in public.
Molly thought it was great fun that I could brush her hair while helping her put on clothes.
And it certainly made it easier to change the baby's diaper.
I gained some notoriety, not that I was looking for it. I would have preferred to hide my strange affliction from scrutiny, though it was pretty obvious something was weird just by looking at me. If I kept my arm tucked in a sweatshirt, it looked like I had one particularly large, saggy breast. If I kept it by my side, it looked like I had an abnormal growth, which in fact I did. If I just let it hang out like it was perfectly normal, people stared and hurried away.
I was in the grocery store, after deciding to let my arm hang out where everybody could see it. It was just too useful to tuck away. Tom Junior slept in his carrier, while Molly stood in the cart, groceries piled up around her. She was being pretty good, which was surprising.
"Can I have some?" she asked as we walked down the candy aisle.
I was formulating a retort when I noticed a woman sidling up beside me. Three kids trailed her, and she had a baby on her hip.
"You are the one," she almost whispered.
I just stared at her.
"Could you teach me how to..." her voice trailed off. "I mean, I could really use..."
At first I had no idea what she was talking about.
"I mean, that extra arm's gotta come in handy for all kinds of stuff," she finally blurted out.
I started laughing. I just couldn't help it.
"This old thing?"
She looked chagrined and started to move away. I stopped her with my extra hand, amazed that my brain had adjusted so easily to giving commands to a third arm.
"No, wait. I'm sorry. I wish I could help you, I really do, but I have no idea how this happened."
She shifted the baby to her other hip, wiped its nose, and hollered for her kids to quit playing with the M&Ms.
"You mean you can't tell me how to get one?"
"Nope. I was just doing too many things at once, and it just appeared." I shrugged apologetically. "You might try yelling at the phone company while changing the baby's diaper. That's what I was doing when it happened." She thanked me profusely, and I finished my shopping. I didn't notice all the candy 'till we got home.
Weeks later I was pretty used to my arm, and didn't know how I'd ever gotten along without it. Tom Junior gurgled in his high chair, while his sister played with blocks on the kitchen floor and I cooked dinner. I had the TV on, not really paying attention to the news, as I stirred spaghetti noodles and sauce with my spare right hand and rolled out biscuits with the usual pair. Occasionally I'd reach over and wipe spit off the baby's face.
"In other news, scientists say a quirk of evolution is creating a race of super moms," the male anchor said.
I was so startled I dropped a big gob of dough on the floor. The cat immediately came up and started licking it.
"That's right," continued his chirpy co-anchor, a blond in a tailored suit. "It's quite a story. Here to tell us more is Kendra Jackson."
"Thank you, Elise. Scientists say evolution is inevitable. But never have they seen it happen quite this fast."
A man in a white coat flashed on screen and said that women, mothers in particular, have been spontaneously growing extra arms.
"Although this may seem bizarre, it's actually quite beneficial. There appear to be no side effects, and the women I've examined report that they are able to do much more than ever before."
Kendra continued, "Clothing designers now have a new market - creating garments for the three-armed woman. Back to you Elise and Andrew."
"Thank you, Kendra," said Andrew. "In unrelated news, the phone company is reporting a high volume of complaint calls..."