Teddy always found interesting things in the trash. He'd found Christmas presents for his kids; they'd grown up and moved to other cities. He'd furnished much of the family home with the things he'd found. Just a little spit and polish and they were good as new. He'd even once found a diamond ring that he had resized and gifted to his wife. She was gone, too, and living with a new man in Florida.
Teddy was a collector. Of all the joys in his life, it was collecting that gave him the most pleasure. He built every day around it – finding things in the trash.
Teddy lived alone now, in a little apartment, but he still picked up wonderful treasures from the trash; they covered every wall and surface of his home. He was a fixture in town around the campus and had been for forty years, running his little garbage removal business, hauling off bulk items on contract. He was good at making extra money from the trash too, picking up gently used things, finding valuable things, and reselling it all.
It was a big oak bookcase he was wrangling into his truck, from behind a student housing complex, when he knocked over an overstuffed bag of household trash. It spilled everywhere. Beer cans, booze bottles, coat hangers, and the remains of what seemed to have been a substantial birthday cake burst out of the bag, spilling all over the alley. Resting in the middle of the spread of refuse was a human finger.
Teddy stopped tugging on the bookcase and looked down at the finger. It was long and thin, with a perfectly manicured nail, painted pink. It was a girl's finger. At first, Teddy thought it was some kind of prank finger or party favor. He stared at it for a long time before picking it up. He immediately dropped it again, realizing that it had, indeed, once been a part of a living person.
Teddy looked from side to side and up and down the alley; he quickly kicked open all the bags of trash searching for the rest of the body. All his life Teddy had heard about garbage men and junkers finding bodies in the trash but he'd never come across one. Nope. It was just the finger. How did it get there? Was the owner dead? Had they just lost the finger? Cut it off? Accident?
He started to breathe heavily and the alley around him began to spin.
Teddy took out his handkerchief and wrapped up the finger, slipping it into the front pocket of his overalls. He finished loading the bookcase and pulled his truck out of the alley, casually, so as not to draw attention to himself. He was planning to take the finger to the police, initially, but he didn't. He took it back to his apartment. He rummaged around in his kitchen cabinets and found a small Mason jar and, gently removing the finger from his pocket, slipped it into the container. He then took some white vinegar out of the cupboard and topped off the jar, allowing no space for air. He ground the lid on tightly and held the jar up to the light.
There was the finger, suspended in the jar, long and thin with its perfect pink nail. Teddy decided he would take it to the police tomorrow, but for tonight he would add it to his collection of treasures. He placed the lost digit on a little curio shelf, itself pulled from the trash many years ago, near his TV where he could see it from his armchair. He got a beer, sat back and looked up at the thing wondering who it had belonged to. He tried to imagine the girl in his mind.
He thought she might have red hair and green eyes and he wanted her to be named Susan. He tried to form the image of Susan in his mind, but it didn't come. Instead a singular image appeared in his mind's eye: tall and thin, pale skin, black hair, and deep blue eyes. She wore a yellow dress and she seemed to whisper a name toward him: Addie. Teddy didn't want Addie, he wanted his Susan back but the image wouldn't reform for him. The finger belonged to Addie and she was here to stay.
Teddy never did take that finger to the police.
It was on the third day after he found it that the dreams began; the dreams about Addie, with her pale skin, blue eyes, and that incongruous yellow dress. She whispered to him in a husky voice. Teddy. Teddy. Give it to me. Teddy. Teddy. I want it back.
On the tenth day after Teddy found the finger, he began seeing Addie while awake. He was driving along in his old truck when he saw a flash of yellow behind a big mailbox. Then the next day the back of a girl with a yellow dress and raven hair stepping into a bodega shop. Then on the day after that, he saw her staring out at him from under the awning of an old dormitory, her eyes locking with his. She didn't smile and he heard her voice in his head. Teddy. Teddy. Give it to me. Teddy. Teddy. I want it back.
He wasn't scared or panicked in any way. He just accepted that Addie had been real all along and somehow she had projected herself into his mind. He was seeing her every day, now, sometimes twice a day, all along his route. She even stopped in front of his truck while crossing the street, whispering again and again into his mind. Teddy. Teddy. Give it back.
On the twenty-fifth day after finding the finger, Teddy was sitting in his armchair, alone, drinking his fourth can of beer and watching a baseball game. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of yellow on the fire escape. He leapt up and ran over to shut the window. He slammed it and locked it closed. But it was too late. Addie was already inside. She was standing in front of the old curio cabinet looking up at the finger, smiling.
This time she spoke with her actual voice. Teddy. Teddy. Give it to me. It's mine.
"Take it! Take it!" Teddy screamed. "Just for god's sake leave me alone!"
Addie held out her hands and smiled at Teddy. She had all ten of her fingers; five on each hand, with short cut nails, painted yellow. The finger that Teddy had found did not come from Addie's hand. Addie laughed as confusion fell across Teddy's face. She grabbed the jar containing the finger from the curio and dashed out of Teddy's front door, slamming it behind her.
Teddy ran to the door and shot the old Yale lock and drew the chain. She was gone. Addie had taken the finger and left him alone. Teddy ran his own fingers through his hair and suddenly realized something was wrong. He looked down at his hands to reveal that he now had only nine fingers.
It turns out, Addie was a collector.