The girl who loved a hand loved the hand very much. She would hold the hand at arm’s length and admire its long, bony fingers and delicate wrist and short, nut-shaped nails. Children have dimples where adults have knuckles but this was an adult hand, a ladylike hand, a strong hand, a fist. She would cradle the hand in her lap when she drove and rest it on her cheek while she slept.
Because she had the hand she didn’t want or need a girlfriend, although sometimes she wished the hand was hers, instead of her own hands, she loved the hand but also she wanted to be the hand, she wanted it to be hers because it was the opposite of her. It was complicated.
She didn’t tell anyone about the hand and she lived alone so there was no one to see the hand or ask about it. She kept it in her underwear drawer when it wasn’t with her.
Janice the receptionist at the office where the girl worked often asked the girl if she was lonely. Janice wanted very badly to get married and would show the girl pictures of men that she’d met the night before, on Okcupid.
Janice was the sort of woman the girl thought of as a real adult. Janice wore stockings and pumps and foundation and ate cottage cheese and smoked Virginia Slims. The men Janice met were divorced businessmen or else they were still young or pretending to be, they thought it was still 1999, maybe they listened to Shaggy or Cisqo; they were always white and sometimes had cornrows or dreadlocks or the deep tans of very fair people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
The first kind of man’s profile said he liked fine wine and mature women, and for these dates janice wore one of her two black dresses and crimson lipstick.
The second kind of man’s profile said must be 420 friendly, like to party, DTF, and Janice would wear a pair of jeans from high school that still fit her, and a tank top with glitter on it, and do a smoky eye.
The girl had to ask Janice what DTF meant. Janice was older than the girl but she also made the girl feel very old. Down to…you know! She giggled and the girl smiled politely looking over Janice’s shoulder. The girl thought of the hand, at home nestled among her black briefs and gray socks, which had nothing to do with fucking.
She loved the hand like a lover, like a baby, like a pet. She sucked the hand’s thumb while she was falling asleep. She nibbled the pad of its index finger when she jerked off. She rubbed clockwise circles around the middle finger’s nail when she was nervous. She kissed its bony slender knuckle and tracked the blue veins on the fingers’ back.
Janice was older than the girl but not by much. (Maybe Janice was 30.) This morning janice was talking about a man named Butch who seemed mature (which Janice pronounced ma-tour) but he asked Janice if he could put in in her other hole. The girl felt embarrassed to be having this conversation, but she had the distinct sensation that if she didn’t’t listen to Janice then Janice couldn’’t talk about Butch or the other men to anyone. This made the girl feel both important and tired, extremely tired. Did you? she asked wearily. Janice giggled. No, but I might next time.
Janice, as previously mentioned, had two black dresses. One was the Salvation Army Thrift Store and the other was from TJMaxx. The first dress had originally belonged to the wife of an insurance salesman. He was being given an award for salesman of the year, so they had to go out of town and stay in a hotel. All the children of the honored insurance salesmen were babysat together, in a smaller, less glorious ballroom than the one where the awards were being given. The salesman’s wife, the first owner of Janice’s secondhand date dress, didn’t like the looks of the hotel babysitter, she didn’t trust her, she had druggy eyes. She told her husband so, and he became angry. He was already tense, he threw back Ketel 1 with a quickness she knew well. Then the great indignity: they’d printed his name on the wrong trophy, the one with the insurance saleswoman, in a pleated skirt and lady blazer. His wife left for the third time to check on the children, and that was the last straw. He slapped her, hard, in the face, in the hall. No one saw or heard. Her children were fine. Her marriage was not. She took the dress to the thrift store the following Monday and refused to accompany him on future business trips.
The dress was a little matronly and didn’t fit Janice quite right; the effect was as if she were playing dress-up and unsure whether she was an adult woman or a child.
The other dress, the one with no previous owner, was assembled in a factory in Bangledesh.
The girl and the hand were about to go to bed when the phone rang. It was Janice. Butch had stood her up. She was at the bar. The bar was actually quite near to the girl’s house, although Janice didn’t know that, because she didn’t know where the girl lived, only that she sometimes rode her bike and sometimes drove her car to the office where they both worked. She had been tired but the phone ringing woke her bright awake. She didn’t remember giving Janice her phone number but she must have because Janice is calling her.
Janice found the girl to be curious. Intriguing, but not in a sexual way. Janice was a woman who liked men and wanted a husband. The girl was just someone Janice talked to at work, a quiet, boyish person Janice could shock with her dating adventures. Butch can’t come. Something about his ex-wife. Come have a drink with me? I’m already here
The girl considered Janice’s request. She didn’t have any pants on, but that was easily remedied. She looked at the hand lying on the pillow. She felt loyal to the hand. It was not usual to leave the hand and go out again after coming home in the evening. She thought of the hand the way working parents might think about their children, or a person with a dog waiting at home–I already spend so much time away…
Janice sounded sad, although her voice was also manic, and she didn’t know if she could see someone else’s feelings right now, especially Janice who was enthusiastic about everything. Surely janice’s sadness would be loud and knock the girl over and the girl would ask polite questions like she did at work only huger and prolonged, and feel like Janice was sticking in her pores, coming in through the seams in her clothes. (The girl had read once that medieval people didn’t bathe because they thought the body naturally filled its pores to protect itself, with dirt and wax, and bathing would render them vulnerable. It was disgusting but she understood, when confronted with the force of Janice.) Janice was a gas who filled all available space. The opposite of her. Janice was a glimpse of the kind of girl– woman– she could, impossibly, be or have been.
She patted the hand and put on her pants and walked to the bar to meet Janice.
Janice was having a margarita. Janice hugged the girl and tried to order her a margarita too. The girl said thanks no and asked for a gin and tonic. Since she’d walked to the bar she thought it was okay to have one drink.
She thought she ought to ask about Butch so she did, and Janice told a long story that was not interesting. The girl looked at Janice and tried to imagine being her, or being a girl like her. Janice had on clumpy mascara that made her eyes look like spiders. The girl became worried that Janice would cry and the mascara would run, creating a flood of feelings or inky sticky something that would be so enormous the girl would have to acknowledge it, or help wipe it up. Other people’s feelings made the girl feel unclear, which is why she worked in an office not a school or a hospital or as a counselor, and why she lived alone with a hand and not with other people who may or may not want to kiss her on the mouth.
Janice was wearing the TJMaxx dress, because she’d worn the thrift store dress on the first date. The girl couldn’t tell if Janice was pretty or not because she didn’t often look at other people. She sipped her drink that tasted like Christmas trees and looked at Janice in the face, Janice’s pores and the way her incisors overlapped her canines a little. Janice chewed a straw even though margaritas didn’t come with a straw. The girl wondered if Janice had asked for a straw specifically or if she was a regular here and they knew to bring her one, the way servers at a fancy restaurant know which important patrons want lime instead of lemon. The girl tried to imagine putting on a black dress and talking to someone she didn’t know in a bar. She couldn’t imagine feeling the air on her thighs or the potential of kissing a stranger.
Janice talked and talked. She had so many things to say! The girl couldn’t talk that much even if she tried very, very hard. The girl lost the thread of Janice and then Janice was talking about her childhood. Janice was born very far away, in England, because her father was in the military. Then she lived in Oklahoma. The girl decided to ask a question because the idea of Oklahoma was interesting to her, she’d never been there. What color is Oklahoma? she wanted to know.
Janice thought for no seconds. Red, very red, they loved Romney, big time, but I stay out of politics.
That wasn’t what the girl meant but it would be hard to explain what she meant, when you are driving and you cross a state line and the color scheme, imperceptibly, shifts. Ohio for instance is gold and yellow, except the cities which are gray. Tennessee is sun-filtered green and almost silver like a brand new faucet. You get a feeling when you drive into another state that if you lived there you would be different, under that sky you could be like a person in a book instead of a person with ugly and meaningless belongings and a twelve dollar haircut. Maybe if you lived in another place you would still have a twelve dollar haircut, but it would mean something.
Janice is the sort of person who mostly likes to talk but occasionally she would ask the girl a question. Did you grow up here? The girl said yes which was slightly true.
Janice asked the girl if she went to college and what she studied. She tells Janice, and this is true and it surprises her, that she studied early childhood education. Right after college she was working at a daycare and sometimes the mothers would be late. They would have to stay until the mothers came, and all the other daycare workers would be resentful, because they wanted to get home to their own kids and to smoke cigarettes and take off their shoes and bras, which are small goals for the end of the day, the girl didn’t begrudge them wanting to go home. One time a mother didn’t come and six o’clock came, which was the time they were supposed to leave, then 6:30, and still the mother didn’t come, and Miss Betsy said she “had to do it”so she called child services, even though the girl said she would stay with the little girl who was left, until her mother came, so Miss Betsy could go home. Miss Betsy said something rude about the little girl’s mother, rude and racist, and implied that she was a sex worker, and that she shouldn’t have children if she was going to act “like that.” The girl disagreed with Miss Betsy but she didn’t say anything, because Miss Betsy frightened her, and child services came and took the little girl. They said they had a “nice family” she could stay with “until her mommy came back,” and the little girl was crying silently and the girl could see all her teeth like white buttons in the back of her mouth. The girl was sitting in quiet shock and horror, frozen at the tiny table that she always smashed her knees on.
Then the little girl was gone and Miss Betsy had to stay late to fill out a “Child Protective Services Incident Report” and the girl was putting away all the crayons and spraying the tables with dilute bleach that burned her nose, so they were still there, anyway, when the little girl’s mother came, out of breath and full of apologies she practiced on her way there. When she didn’t see her child and Miss Betsy told her what she’d done, the mother fell to her knees and moaned a terrible noise and looked at the girl, directly in the eye, and said Why did you let her do that like they were on the same team.
The next day the girl applied for 5 jobs, all at offices, and had been working in an office ever since. She had never told anyone that story, not even her Aunt Sandy who called her every Sunday afternoon to ask about her week as if anything had happened. She told her aunt the children gave her a headache and too many colds and she’d found a better paying job.
She didn’t mean to tell Janice the story and telling it made her feel, not exhausted, but like she was interesting to Janice. Janice says, Wow. The girl surprises herself again by saying, I mean it was pretty heartbreaking.
She never called to make sure the woman got her little girl back, which she could have, because she had privileges working in a daycare, she could get information from child services. She kept thinking she would call the next day, or the day after, because talking on the telephone terrified her, and then she couldn’t remember the little girl’s last name, or she told herself she would need to know the little girl’s birthdate, or a case number or something. She could have even called Miss Betsy to ask but she hated Miss Betsy and the thought of talking to her make her palms tremble.
Janice is looking at her like she’s never seen a person tell a secret before, a long, openfaced look. She slurps her margarita through the chewed straw and the girl wishes she would look away. The girl realizes Janice is drunk. Her knees are open and the girl can see delicate blue and purple veins on Janice’s thighs. She wonders if she is drunk too but doesn’t think she is. She thinks about going home to bed and then she says it, I would like to go home now, and Janice says she will walk her home and she tries to decline but Janice is insistent, she wants to stretch her legs and have a cigarette anyway, so they close their tabs and walk into the humid night.
Then Janice comes in the girl’s house and the girl offers Janice a glass of water and she realizes janice is Very Drunk and that if she were a normal girl having a Very Drunk friend in her living room would be normal. In the spirit of pretending to be normal and also in the spirit of avoiding catastrophe she tells Janice she should stay over instead of going back to the bar and getting in her car and driving back across town. Janice says no I’m fine, really I’m fine several times as if it’s a thing she’s used to saying.
The girl thinks about calling Janice a taxi but she wants to see what will happen, if she pretends to be a normal girl in her late twenties who went out for a drink with a friend and then the friend stayed over because she drank too much. Normal girls often drink too much, the girl knows, because some of the other girls in the office talk about their weekday hangovers, in the bathroom or over coffee or when they go out for Subway at noon. She gets her sleeping bag out for Janice and shows her where the bathroom is and says goodnight and goes to bed.
The hand is under her pillow and she slips her hand under there to lace her fingers in the hand’s fingers. Is she worried the hand feels jealous or neglected? No, not really, she doesn’t ascribe feelings to the hand like that. She wants to think about the night, about Janice, about telling Janice about the daycare. She feels disappointed in herself but also excited, she wonders if it will happen again and if she wants it to, telling Janice things. She feels wasted and empty, she feels post-organismic, used up and sticky, like she’d shown the soft belly and now it couldn’t be untold.
In a dream or maybe just her sleep she feels a weight on the bed, a thick ghost or another person. She moves a little closer to the weight and it moves closer to her and puts a heavy arm over her hip. It is not comfortable but there is something nice about it.
In the morning Janice is gone, and so is the hand.