by Daniela Esposito
I was given a new pair of hands because mine were no good. They came in two colours, gold and space grey. I opted for space grey, somehow gold seemed to be setting myself up for failure. They were factory made and pretty decent although the delivery man dropped them on their way to the hospital and so there’s a tiny dent just beneath the pinkie finger. I don’t think anyone will notice anyhow; you think they will but they never do. They’re too busy focusing on their own imperfections.
The procedure was painless. A mask was lifted over my nose and mouth. The surgeon asked me to count back from ten, but when I reached zero I was still awake so he asked me to tell him a story. By the time I thought of one, I was out cold. He had probably expected that. Who can think up a story just like that, protracted on an operating table with anesthesia trickling into their veins? And then I woke up. When he removed his mask, his face looked different and it was hard to find his eyes enticing anymore. His features looked like they were arranged in a hurry. Perhaps they’ll start doing that too, whole face transplants for those who were born with the wrong face. Sometimes your face just isn’t right for you.
I met someone on the bus once who said in his head he looked like Timothée Chalamet only to look in the mirror and find himself faced with the mug of a bald geezer named Barry. It must have been hard for him, but I still couldn’t help laughing. He looked sad. The bus pulled into the bus stop. He stood up, collecting his bags for life, two in each hand and waddled off the bus, pulling up his khaki three-quarter-lengths with his spare fingers because his backside was catching the sun.
My problem was that my hands were never any good. Some people are left-handed or right-handed and the lucky ones are ambidextrous. In Catholicism, for generations the left-handed folk were denounced as servants of the devil, their arms tied behind their backs to train them to use their right. In Italian ‘left’ literally translates as ‘sinistro’ meaning sinister. But what did that make me, unable to use either with any dexterity whatsoever? Forever in limbo, not worthy even of the devil’s work?
As an adolescent my dream was to be a musician. I just wanted to be a musician, whatever that entailed. I started with the violin. Steadying myself against the chinrest, I took a deep breath as my music teacher, Mr. Woodcock watched expectantly over the sheet music. The viennabow poised in my right hand, my left fingers deftly positioned over the strings, slowly, I introduced the bow to the strings… the noise could have cut glass, could have stopped the hearts of a herd of sheep. Mr. Woodcock’s coffee plummeted to the floor, his fingers wedged deep inside his ears to mute the shrill cacophony of cack-handedness. My granny used to say a bird in hand is worth two in a bush– that it’s better to hold onto something you’ve got than to risk losing it for something better, but she didn’t have to live with ham-fists day in and day out.
In my mind’s eye, my hands are beautiful things that can tie shoelaces into pristine bows, that can slide across piano keys like Chopin reincarnated, they seal envelopes and write the names of the addressees with the kind of flourish that makes the subject feel special for being called a name as mundane as Barry because in my writing, it looks like royalty. They lift door knobs and handles with an effortless flick of the wrist, so that entering and leaving a room does not go hand-in-hand with an apology. Sometimes people offer you a life-boat; ‘tricky one, that’, ‘needs a wee push.’ Sure, I say, nibbling the bait in spite of myself.
In reality, my hands are clumsy good-for-nothing utensils. If they’d been bought in a store they’d have been returned within a day or two, even less. They’d be in storage somewhere, maybe in a museum for being the most useless pair of grasping organs known to all of mankind. The extent of my sabotage can be evinced by the invoice my mother received for the carpet to be professionally cleaned and for the life ban I received on ever serving in any orchestra as a violinist in the tristate area. It was a tough blow, but a necessary one. I took my hands home and held them beneath the freezing cold faucet until they turned blue. In the living room, in hushed voices, I listened as my parents had a crisis talk – just what are we going to do with her? My dad tenderly cupped his larger hand over my mother’s smaller hand as she smiled with deluded hope.
I also tried other instruments: the guitar, the didgeridoo, the Russian bassoon, the copper serpent. I convinced myself that playing an unusual instrument might do the trick, that we might magically bond in our status as eccentrics. I even attempted the Drunken Sailor on a dusty second-hand concertina, imagining the rapturous encore from my fellow seamen for more more more! But alas. My final hope resided in the glockenspiel. It was all going so well…At least I went out with a bang.
When I was sixteen, I gave my first hand job in the carpark of St Mary the Virgin, the local Catholic church. I only realized the irony afterwards, although at least we weren’t far from the confession booth. ‘What are you trying to do? The boy asked, rubbing his lap vigorously, ‘strangle it?’ then he accused me of being one of ‘those feminists’ who dreams of cutting a man’s piece off. I wanted to tell him I was too busy dreaming of cutting my own bleeding hands off to give a second thought to his anatomy. Anyway, I wasn’t too cut up about the incident. There’s a reason it’s called a job. And no one would work if they didn’t have to save up for an expensive pair of mechanical hands.
When I put my head to the pillow, I dreamt of the beautiful hands I had in my head. But don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have wild dreams, I wasn’t fantasizing of wielding the reins of a horse and galloping into the sunset (maybe once), or plagiarizing Monet only to find myself amidst the largest scandal of art plagiarism of all time or swimming the Atlantic as an award-winning triathlete. My aims were modest.
I dreamt of kneading bread, leaning my whole weight into the doughy flesh through my fingertips. Delivering the gleaming majestic milk loaves from the furnace with time-worn oven mitts and serving generous slices with butter and jam to friends and family who’d declare it the best bread they’d ever eaten. That’s the thing, these grasping organs are our conduit to the world and when yours are useless, you might just as well have potatoes for hands and expect them to navigate a control board on a sinking ship. Why do you have potatoes for hands! My fellow captain asks. Navigating the world with the wrong hands essentially amounts to responding to a ‘Good morning’ from your landlady with a ‘sure, milk, no sugar’. Indeed, my predicament leads to constant crossed wires, and not the kind that conjures funny ice-breakers – just good old discombobulation.
I dreamt of opening giant jars of sauerkraut, that satisfying ‘plop’ as the trapped air is released. I dreamt of shoehorning my feet from sweaty trainers after a long day out, of the heroic pride of helping a dog-tired mother lift her baby’s pram up the stairs of the train platform, and more delicate things too: fixing my broken casio with a magnifying eyepiece, plucking ingrown hairs from my big toe with a pair of steel tweezers, swiping a stinkin’ harmonica along my mouth and maybe catching vintage herpes, the dreams were endless. In that marrow of time between wakefulness and lucidity, I was my happiest. Sometimes I’d sleep on my hands on purpose, just to feel them go numb and floppy so they didn’t feel like they belonged to me anymore. If they were pets, I’d ditch them in one of those rescue centres for stray cats and dogs with missing limbs and PTSD.
‘Would you like to see?’ the surgeon asks. I nod and he pulls the sheet down as he introduces me to my new hands. I thought he meant the old ones, my hands. So I ask him, can I see them? He shakes his head, no can do buttercup, he mumbles. I ask him where they will go, the wrong hands? And then he points to a truck outside. The hand collection comes tomorrow morning. 6am sharp. And after that? To the mass graveyard he tells me, for abandoned hands. I feel a twinge in my body–between my wrist and the tips of my fingers. I picture them there, holding hands like a paper-chain family, happy at last.
Daniela Esposito was born in London. She is studying Screenwriting at The Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She has been published in Mono, Bandit Fiction and the Templeman Review.
Artist: Todd Heisler