Julia Ridley Smith

Julia Ridley Smith’s stories and essays have appeared most recently in the Southern Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Electric Literature, the New England Review, and Southern Cultures. She teaches in the English Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is an associate editor at Bull City Press.


Indeed he seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a straight line—less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful he would ever reach it at all.
—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd


My father had been dead about ten months when, in fall 2012, I called his prosthetics company and explained that I wanted to donate his legs to an organization that could reuse them. The lady on the phone was flummoxed. Maybe I could try a church, or the Veteran’s Administration? The VA receptionist put me on hold. The song: “Another One Bites the Dust.” I was hoping the next one would be “She’s Got Legs” when the receptionist came back on and gave me a number for the donations department. I hung up and called the new number, but they couldn’t help either.

Had I not inherited from my mother a strain of doggedness that regards frustration as fuel and obstacles as things to be smashed, I might have chucked the legs in the trash. Instead, I searched online and found Physicians for Peace, a group that accepts donated prostheses—which cannot be reused in the litigious United States—and sends them to medical missions in third-world countries. I emailed their gifts-in-kind manager, who invited me to call him.

And then, just as I was on the cusp of success, my fervor to be rid of the legs died. The email settled to the bottom of my inbox, and I put off calling. The holidays were coming—my first Thanksgiving and Christmas without both my parents—and it seemed too hard to let go of anything that had been part of them.