by Mark White
I’m in a fight but no one else knows. I’m angry at my hands. Other hands can draw thin, perfect circles. Other hands can cut thick construction paper into long, straight strips and weave those strips into baskets. Other hands can flash out letters, numbers, and words; other hands can speak. My hands are mute, which makes them easy to hate.
I keep vigilant watch on my hands. They are clumsy and heavy, as if they’re waiting for something, have been waiting for a long time. I am suspicious that they are waiting to catch me at some unguarded moment and close over my mouth and nose. I start biting my nails to keep them short, dull, and tender. I attempt to sharpen my teeth, but they are still too soft, and their dust makes my eyes water.
Fear turns spiteful, and I start playing tricks on my hands. Just mischievous at first, I quickly turn cruel and stupid in my pranks. Oh, you were outside all last night? I thought you were staying at Andrew’s again. I’m sorry; I don’t even remember locking the door, and no, you know, it is strange I didn’t hear you knocking at all.
I have gotten rid of my hands. They are gone. Lost. Deserted. I think of them now as long dead pets or lovers. There are moments, usually in early morning, when, turning over in bed, I can still smell them faintly. The smell is different every time: sometimes bacon cooked over a woodfire, sometimes the mineral smell of cave water.
I want to learn to conduct music, but I am afraid to try. I think sadly that all disappointment stems from my own clumsy, absent hands. I invent a new way of conducting music by dilating my nostrils wide and open, then small and tight. After several weeks of diligent practice, I can competently conduct music in 2/4, ¾, and 4/4 time. Soon, however, I realize that I am the only person capable of understanding this method of music steersmanship, and so I abandon it to learn how to play piano.
My hands returned two years ago, but I didn’t notice. They are entirely unremarkable. I have trouble understanding their purposes and intentions, but this results more from my own lack of interest than any aura of mystery on their part.
What worries me is that the left side of my body smells differently than the right side. It’s the sweat, I think. The sweat under my left arm smells thick and sweet, like mouthfoam, but the sweat under my right arm is acidic and brittle, like venom. My body may be trying to grow into two different people.
But I am not wholly convinced. I stick my hands under my arms, and hold them there for hours, till they are moist and wrinkled in my sweat. I smell each hand carefully and without bias. They are different. I want to ask someone else to verify my findings, but I can’t. What would people do if they knew I was growing in two?
I try to fix the difference: I make sure to chew all my food evenly on both sides of my mouth; I carefully document the different layers of flavor in my sweat resulting from various stimuli (e.g., Humid heat-sweat from under my right arm tastes like wasps; sweat from exercise makes my left armpit taste like flat champagne). Eventually I give in and buy two different kinds of deodorant.
I am walking by myself but he won’t talk to me. Every time I try to start a conversation (Hey, look, is that a Robin?; Aren’t you glad its fall again?), I just nod and make a small noise in the back of my throat that sounds almost like a soft oh. I try to tell myself that I am not disinterested, that, really, I am just deep in thought, and don’t mean to be so distant. I reach across and grab my hand. I hold it lightly, for a few steps, but then let it drop casually away.
I am exhausted. It is so hard to keep myself entertained. Every time I start to tell a story, it turns out I already know the ending; Every time I tell a joke, I already know the punch line. I try to surprise myself with small gifts, but it ends up feeling empty, false, and contrived. I stay up most nights listening to myself pace the corridor from my small, clean kitchen to my bedroom.
I decide to sew myself back together. I practice first on small animals I catch in string traps in my yard. I slice them in two and then stitch them back whole with coarse string. My hands are uncertain at first, but they catch on quickly, threading together dirty, matted fur.
I try to trap myself in the garage. I think that if I jump out from behind my Jeep unexpectedly and grab hold of something tender, like my ears or nose, then I can keep myself still long enough to start sewing. But I am expecting it, every time, and I am always able to escape my needle and thread. I decide to try and split in two again. I focus my thoughts and I pull and I tug, but this time nothing happens. I remain whole. Or half. I can’t decide which.
Sometimes, on nights when I can’t see past myself, my hands leave their pockets and travel up and down my body giving warmth and comfort. They whisper gentle placations against my skin, and they turn up the corners of my mouth when it starts to slip and droop.
Mark White will be graduating with a BA from Naropa University in May 2010. He almost won the school spelling bee in 7th grade, but lost to his younger sister. As a teenager, he was the Youth Leader of his Mormon congregation until he was caught viewing homosexual pornography. After graduation, Mark plans on avoiding his loan repayments until December 21st, 2012.