Her Hands


Part 1

The woman of the house, I guess if you were to observe her, moves about with intent when she moves, or else she folds like a rag doll in her malaise. Sometimes she curls a lock of golden hair between her index and thumb. She imagines that when she looks busy she seems impressive, she imagines others seeing her work and acknowledging how productive she is. Her pale smooth hands are an extension of her heart. Everything she really feels can be read in how she moves her hands and how she touches the outer world.

And there are those other hands. Submerged by moonlight they look pale.

And so it was that these hands in the glass cabinet had come into her possession—well not exactly her ownership, but she was married, and he had inherited this macabre, albeit expensive and rare, curio from his family. A tableau vivant, these foreign hands, dark skinned and lying in a red velvet-lined glass cabinet. At first she thought the curio was disgusting and told her husband she wanted it out of the house. “They’re like something out of a Poe novel—or something from a Vegas freak shop—you’re family are just so fucked up”. She laughs, her big blue eyes wide in disbelief, waiting for him to agree, but he just moves the cabinet into his office and places a square of fabric over the top.

“There, now they’re out of the way,” and he seems to think that this is enough for her.

And the more she looked at them—for of course she would go into his study and peek at them, the more she saw just how beautiful they were. They horrified her, but she couldn’t look away.

The hands under the glass cabinet are poised in movement with the stain of dark red henna on the fingers and labyrinthine script coursing up to the wrists. The foreign hands are a warm caramel colour, yet the skin is almost translucent—the metacarpus seems to glow from within. The synovial, cartilaginous and fibrous joints are almost visible under the muscle-tendons. The ulnar fingers are long and the skin almost completely tattooed, whilst the radial fingers have a simple fern shaped tattoo snaking up towards the nail. Articulated fingers even in death. Dense nerve endings-sources of tactile feedback in limbo. The dermal papillae has distinct lines, some of which are dark brown. There are two nasty scars near the base of the carpal bones—these have been neatly covered up by elegant silver braces over the stumps.

She peers closely at the hands. She wants to will some extrinsic muscle group to move—a tiny gesture of life from the pinky. Perhaps the extensors have not been damaged—maybe that area just deepening below the thumb, the anatomical snuffbox might twitch for me?

She presses very softly with her fingers on her eyelids, a tension headache like a storm in the distance is looming. But the birds outside are singing. Distant sounds of a car alarm, a car door slamming, waves of staccato traffic. It is barely 11am and she is tired. Even the yellow walls of the kitchen look tired, the chairs, the wooden floors, the pictures on the wall.

But the hands are alive—I mean they look more alive than anything in this house—I want to open that glass case—but if I smashed it and the glass pierced the skin would her hands bleed?

She kneels down in front of the cabinet. The kneeling is preparatory, just in case something happens. The kneeling feels humbling, her hands on top of the glass cabinet, the warmth of her palms condensing like mist. Her knees take her weight, her back straightens. Her eyes unfocused, entertaining wild thoughts. I married to get to this moment. All my lethargy, my uncertainty, all the cracks in my life have led me to you. But I think of you contained in these ancient hands—whoever, fuck this is nuts I don’t know why I must be bored sad lonely stuck I’ve been stuck and lost like a seed pod trapped in cement, but seed pods grow in cement don’t they?

She twists a bobby pin into the front lock of the cabinet. She wriggles it around hoping to unhinge it. She doesn’t know what she is doing but she knows what she wants. She knows now more than anything that she wants to open the cabinet. She leans her face against the glass, her eyes only centimetres away from the hands, the hands cognizant of her presence. They still creep her out but she is aroused by the singular thought of touching these auriferous hands.

She goes to the cupboard where the tools, paints, and vacuum cleaner is kept. She finds the hammer.

She considers quickly what she will say to her husband. She will say she broke the cabinet because the hands seemed alive and she had to free them. He will probably be pissed off and re-consider her sanity. She holds the hammer and kneels in front of the cabinet. Her thoughts whirl chaotically, erotically, demonically, Women seem to live on the edge of sanity in the eyes of others. Women’s madness comes from being locked up, behind walls, behind cabinets, behind the eyes of others, pungent and bleeding, I’ve read enough literature to know the fate of mad women.

“Touch me…touch me… touch me” a muted voice, the sound of a woman from outside or inside the house. She places her head against the top of the glass cabinet, her ear pressed with her neck at a painful angle against the edge. But she listens, her blood pumping loudly in her ears. ‘Free me, I have stories to tell, Free me!’ The light is muted through the windows in this room, and she feels like she is underwater, her hair slowly waving in front of her face, her dress billowing up from her thighs, exposing her plain black briefs and the bruise on her leg. But under the pressure of this ocean, a calm soon takes over her body. There is the glint of harsh daylight above and the dream of lighter atmospheres, but still she moves quickly and easily, her lungs have collapsed just as gills have sprouted on the sides of her neck. Her hands have grown and the fingers, oh they’re like jelly- melting into each other, and now a sharp silver fin forms along her spine, and the walls of this house have opened onto a seabed and there is a current coursing underneath her belly and she can hear the sound of whales—a terrifying song to a small seahorse like herself.

There is damp on the floorboards, her hair cadaverous against her forehead. She looks down to see the hammer lying on the floor next to her. The hands under the glass cabinet lie there, serene and patient. She sobs, drawing a jagged breath and absent mindedly fiddles with the bobby pin in the lock of the cabinet. The bobby pin is bent and twisted and remains in the lock as the feverish woman returns the hammer to the hallway cupboard.

Author: Misbah Wolf

Misbah is many incarnations all existing consecutively. Her previous work with Peril Magazine was a response to land, identity and imagination, commissioned by Peril Magazine and Queensland Poetry Festival. You can check it out here, peril.com.au/current-edition/dreamscapes/. Her work has been highly commended quite a few times now in the Shapcott Poetry Prize and published in numerous anthologies including Australian Poetry Journal, Contemporary Asian Australian Poets, Peril Magazine, Cordite, Mascara Literary Review and recently featured on ABC's Poetica. She is currently working on a novel, and building a gypsy caravan to travel, perform and create with others.

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