Phantom Limb by Miranda Ray

phantom limb

The best bartender in the world has never been featured on the cover of any magazine, nor has he been the subject of a half hour special on the Travel Channel; in fact, outside of his small town, hardly anyone is aware of his existence.

But he is the greatest, uncelebrated and unsung, and he works with a distinct advantage over all other bartenders: he has a third arm. Not a third arm that anyone, not even he, can see—but it is felt in everything he does, in every drink he mixes and every flourish he finesses.

Night falls, and he opens his establishment in a third of the time. For the arthritic pianist he pours a White Russian and gives a phantom hand massage, until the pianist, who had complained this would be his last turn around the keys, thinks he can play just one night more.

The bar flies file in. For the writer, a top shelf scotch, even though they both know he can’t afford it, while the phantom hand trades out his pen for one with more ink. For the minor trying to pass as his older brother, the bartender mixes a soda water and lime, and peels the label off a beer for the boy to show his friends, even as his third hand slyly confiscates the ID.

For the lone woman on the end, the one with the bad prognosis, the one no one’s laughter extends to, the bartender extends a hug; and for once he has no hands to spare.

Last call, and he watches as his patrons depart into the rum and Coke evening. He closes in a third of the time, and in the early morning he walks home with three hands buried in his pockets, the stars tinkling overhead like ice rising from the bottom of a glass. If he casts an odd shadow, there are no magazines, no half hour specials, to report on it.

Miranda Ray was raised on a small island in the Pacific Northwest. Visit her online at

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