by Sherry Morris
The hand had been with her as far back as she could remember. As a small child, it would poke out of the kitchen bin, shaking its forefinger in displeasure when she tried to throw away gifts she’d received from him. When she started school, it appeared as a ‘Stop!’ in front of the girls’ loos. He had convinced her mother that public restrooms were a haven of germs and perverts–that only the house bathroom was safe. But she knew there was no safety from the watchful eyes that peered at her through doors cracks, and the hands that patiently waited for the right time to act. She had no vocabulary to describe these activities to her mother, so she said nothing. As she got older, the hand would appear in the mirror in a thumbs-down gesture as she readied herself for school, reinforcing his idea that no one else would want her. When she hit puberty the hand would scratch at her budding breasts as she dried herself after bathing. Scratch and scratch and scratch at the warm, tender skin, leaving large, red welts that turned to small, white scars. As a teenager, when she imagined telling someone about the hand, it would leap to her throat, squeezing tight around her neck ‘til thoughts of speaking out left her entirely. Eventually she moved out and the hand left her alone. For a while. But then she had to go for crisis care. They wanted her to talk about herself while lying on a sofa. She did and discovered the hand resting lightly on her chest, just below her neck, tapping softly–a gentle reminder it was still there. That it was still important to keep quiet. They didn’t seem to notice it. She didn’t mention it and hoped it would leave her in peace. She hadn’t learned.
The hand decided to stick around and make up for lost time. While riding the bus, she watched it try to pinch schoolgirls’ bottoms. Sometimes it laid innocently on an empty seat, waiting for women to accidentally sit on it. Then it began tormenting her. Pulling her hair. Or rather, pulling out her hair. There were other things the hand did to her. To other parts of her. With objects. The day it poured boiling water on her genitals she knew she had to do something.
She has done her research and prepared carefully. She has chosen the ladies’ restroom of the public library. A notice states guns are not allowed in the library; this does not concern her, she intends to use an axe. She has spent weeks strengthening her left hand and learning to use it. Practicing on cuts of meat and bone bought from the butcher ‘til her aim is perfect and she can chop straight through with one stroke. She’s brought bandages for after and a flask of whisky for before. She needs to work quickly lest she be interrupted—either by a person or the hand. She takes a long swig from the flask, then looks at herself in the mirror and nods. It is time. She lays her right arm on the marble counter between two sinks. It is cold. She keeps the main part of her mind distracted while quietly focusing. She has learned how to dissociate. She picks up the axe in her left hand and brings it swiftly down on her right wrist. Through searing pain she feels joyous relief. Blood spatters on the mirror, her blouse and begins to pool in the sink. In spite of the pain she smiles. It is a clean chop. The hand twitches in front of her. Working quickly, she wraps the stump in bandages. Then throws the hand in the toilet and flushes. She doesn’t want it to be found. She walks out of the ladies and approaches the check-out desk, holding her bloody stump. The librarian begins to scream. ‘Shh, shh,’ she scolds. ‘This is a library.’ Then she faints. Afterwards, she refuses any type of prosthetic, insisting she will manage fine. The first six months are bliss. There is the occasional pain in her phantom hand, but she’s read that’s normal. Then one morning she wakes with her left hand gently resting around her neck. She thinks it’s a coincidence ‘til it happens three nights in a row. Then she notices it tracing the scars on her chest as she dries herself after bathing, the fingers flexing as if preparing to dig in. She will take no chances.
She begins strengthening her toes.