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More Stories by Paige Chomet:
© 2002 Paige Chomet
the touch frightens. making it harder to believe its hers. i never thought i could be frightened by her. never.
yet, there, at the end of my arm, with fingers small and slender, skin smooth and delicate, the right hand of my lover dances across the keys, typing a message on the screen. then the hand moves absently to the corner of my eye, brushing something away, and its cool precision startles me.
the screen confounds and i hit a wrong key, sending the email i'd been composing into oblivion. no mind - just a pretty lie to my agent about how well i'm doing, how i'm using my new found solitude to complete all sorts of projects previously left wanting. just words... suddenly extraneous and foreign. i watch her hand wave in the air, a fluid gesture i'd seen a thousand times. "Let it rest," i remember her saying, brushing off the loss.
i watch the new hand perch next to its no longer symmetrical mate, right and left, now more than a mirror image. i stare at the incongruous balance of a body i call me. i think, maybe this is some new disease, some sympathetic gene malfunction. i think, maybe this is what replaces denial. but on the other hand, i think, in a voice like a cheap magician, unable even to believe in himself. then i think, no, believe what you see. i view the evidence: her hand grown seamlessly from my wrist. but this is impossible. "Always the doubting Thomas," she would needle, "needing tactile proof." i'm too busy matching my new finely boned forelimb with old reawakened memories to listen.
i had inspected both her hands just before the viewing. her skin had been painted a little too dark, too orangy, but she'd always complained about not being able to tan, and i thought maybe she would like this new color. then i saw the fingernails, the cold blue of some lifeless stranger's body forcing its way into my consciousness like unwanted tears streaming beneath tightly closed lids. overlooked by the undertaker. i mentioned, quietly, that the nails needed to be fixed before the people arrived. i imagined swollen-eyed men in dark suits across several time zones listlessly selecting nail color for the dead hands they used to hold.
this new hand is not dead, this right hand on the end of my right arm. this typing, face-brushing hand. the hand i used to hold, and taste, and feel and be felt by. the hand i'd last seen painted orange and folded across the body that i used to sleep next to. the hand that seemed to know me better than my own. can i hold it again, this hand? after i'd finally yielded, "Never again"?
or would i be holding...my own hand?
which 'my own hand'?
panicking, i pick up the telephone with my left hand (the only my own hand i could be certain of). but as this new right reaches to dial for help, it stops. what sort of emergency do i actually have on my hands (hand?), and how am i going to explain it to anyone?
i realize this might not be the sort of thing i should share.
at the grocery store, i keep my right hand tucked discreetly in my pocket; until i get a handle on this, i don't want to be asked any questions. i fumble trying to lift items from the shelves, using only my one clumsy male hand. i choose smaller packages than usual. i think, if it were really her hand, she would be busying herself in my pocket, campaigning to make my first public outing even more difficult to navigate. i wait for movement, a mischievous tickle, a life-affirming pinch, something from my right hand that would tell me that she's in there somewhere. but the new hand displays no personality. only me nervously jiggling the apartment keys.
the hand is moist with sweat when i get home, needing an airing. i rinse it in the kitchen sink, admiringly. gratefully. her hand, unquestionably, right in our kitchen. i don't notice the echo against the empty walls as i place the single-pack items on the counter, as i close the cupboards. i don't hear the whirring of the electric fan overhead. there is only this beautiful new hand. only these graceful new fingers.
as i put the soups away, my shirt sleeve slides up my arm, further than normal. exposed: her entire arm, stretching assuredly from my shoulder as it places a can on the shelf, a shelf she could never reach without standing on the stepping stool.
her arm. connected to her hand. connected. to me.
i slip into the chair, the world going bright and faint.
the next morning shes still there. this time, i'm unsurprised. last night, before coaxing myself into dreams, i decided being unsurprised would be best. within the context of our bed, it all seemed quite natural, actually: sleeping with her arm draped over my pillow, as if i was merely discovering parts of myself that, somehow, i always knew were there. and if sometimes things seemed a bit awkward, well, that was just as familiar and unsurprising.
i stretch my arm, i stretch her arm, and pad my own two feet across the floor to start this unsurprising and no more miraculous than normal day. "Same old same old."
i never cleaned her belongings out of our bathroom. sure, i emptied the closet in the bedroom, purged dresser drawers and even packed away a few of her books that i didn't want to face. but the bathroom i'd left alone. all her bottles and tubes and little tools who's names i never learned still share shelves with my collection of necessaries. she'd left behind face lotion in a pink bottle and eye lotion in a little blue jar, body lotion in a big clear bottle with a pump on top and yellow night lotion in a square glass bottle, hand lotion in a green tube and cuticle lotion in a tiny purple tube. all ten or more of her shampoos and conditioners still sit on our shower ledge, half empty. her basket of lipsticks still owns space in the cupboard. and a pair of sweetly small silver earrings rests in an ever present pool of water on the lip of the sink, just behind the faucet. finally throwing them away, i notice tiny rust rings left behind on the porcelain. the stain doesn't quite scrub off. i don't mind.
the bathroom smells like her. many times, in the past, i've flipped open a plastic top on a plastic tube and closed my eyes, believing i could smell any inch of her i'd wanted, all the while refusing to admit that these bottled fragrances weren't quite true, that they were lacking without her own body-made salts and sweets. now, with her skin wrapped around whole parts of me, whole parts tingling with expectation, i shiver, for i've been granted that one, utterly unpackagable, formerly missing ingredient.
i start reading labels. basic body lotion. a good place to start. and some sort of cornflower blue herbal knee & elbow healing cream... this particular concoction must be for special occasions, because it's an awfully small bottle and has a thirty dollar price sticker on it. i twist the cap back on, tightly, wondering, and not for the first time, how much this gallery of vain tonics must have cost.
the motion, like an unspoken curse, sharp and austere, reminds me: check my daily planner. recheck my computerized scheduler. i have a meeting with my agent this afternoon. one more person to tell me that i need to get back to work one of these days.
i look in the mirror. my soft-smelling, her-smelling arm traces an eloquent arc up to my face. her hand on my face. the two of us in the same frame. i stare, and wait for the rest of her to come into view, wait for the body attached to the arm to press itself against me. but there is only one of us here.
it occurs to me i need to shave before my meeting. i look with concern at her hand. i turn my razor over and over in it, unable to get a familiar grip on this now alien object, and set it back down. "Shave that before you kiss me," she would say, pretending to tease, "you've got no idea what goes into keeping my face looking this
young." no, i didn't know. my face continues to age. i leave several cuts behind, not helping matters. my agent will still think i'm not getting enough sleep.
my agent's office is strangely dingy, unkempt. i never noticed how cluttered the place is. i no longer keep my new hand pocketed. new fingertips linger on every surface, explore each new texture. i have a hard time concetrating on anything else.
my agent prattles on. something about an editor from a major publishing house liking the concept of my book, but wanting a change of narrative voice. the editor "distrusts" first person novels and refuses to publish without the change. i argue that changing the perspective changes everything, that "i" cannot become "he" without ruining the essence of the story. but my agent replies, "This sort of rewrite is just what you need to get back into things." i touch the fabric covering the cushion of my chair and lose the thread of conversation.
on the way out, my agent seems happy and assured. he talks as if ive already returned to my old self. he never notices my hand, my arm, nothing. i wonder if everyone is blind. i wonder how they can't help but notice. with every movement, it's as if i'm giving birth to new life. like a savior. a walking resurrection. yet the city goes on as though nothings changed.
turning into my apartment, i touch the small glass window, two delicate panes side by side on the front door. two eyes look back, one in each partition. one mine. one hers. but the fine lines of our smile match. i walk up the stairwell, letting the pounding of my heart fill my ears.
unable to contain myself, i drop my belongings with a happy thud onto the wood floor of my vestibule and run toward the mirror. to find what may be the only eyes capable of noticing. to witness this change the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge. i imagine what will be waiting there: my eye looking into hers, myself from her perspective.
"Hurrying means forgetting." one of her sayings i still repeat. and i want to remember this moment. i force myself to stop at the doorway of the bathroom. i make a ceremony out of it. leaving the lights off, i walk in, slowly. i close my eye, close her eye. i breathe, feeling the air slip over my dual lips. i smile, practicing, feeling the difference in my newly lateralized cheeks. i flick the light switch on.
early this morning, i had wanted to see her in the glass behind me, knowing all the while this could never be. but it is afternoon, and there we are.
together. as never before.
i lean in closer. i grab the edge of the sink to avoid collapse, and our mouth laughs and her eye cries and my faith ascends as i think just how much we cannot believe our eyes.
in the shower, i can no longer stand. perhaps the energy of transformation is exhausting me. water forms a cone, like a spotlight; i am the centered shadow, a fetus aborted on the floor, clogging up the drain. head tilted up, resting against the cool tile, i let the warmth of the synthetic rain define the new boundaries of my remade form.
i think of her lying in the street, still as death upon the pavement, half hidden beneath the steaming car. is this anything like she felt, i wonder, as rain poured over her, filling her opened mouth, unable to make her widened eyes blink? i try to remain unblinking, but my eyes begin to sting and tears join the pellets of rain, and i have to shut them for a moment.
she had gone across the street to get coffee. newspaper above her head, warding off the growing storm, two insulated cups held precariously in her free hand. "Just. don't. touch. me," were her last words, a hard-edged pronouncement of the limitations of recovery time, reminding me of the incurable distance that choked off those last days, filling the spaces we had once inhabited. then the racing car, trying to beat the red light, eyes blind to the world. and the two coffees, one an offering of peace never to find it's intended hand, crushed and dilute on the rain-cleansed ground.
i heard the sirens but shrugged off the curious chill they always bring. then a knock at the door, words i can't recall, a blur of steps, sprinting through an everlasting downpour, and then the pavement's edge.
her face was lying too deep in the asphalt, as if it were already trying to bury itself beneath the quiet earth. with one arm twisted beneath, her rib cage arched upward, she almost looked as if she was rising to meet a silent lover.
my back convolves toward the memory, the ache. i touch her new face, smooth and wet and whole, letting my hand slide down over my breast, tender as a new mother's. my eyes fall open and watch the rain spiral past me, creating an illusion of infinite space. it is dizzying, vaguely comforting. i linger there a moment, as the water washes away all sensations, feeling protected and safe.
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