I found it last week. At first I mistook it for a glove. But it was a hand—a prosthetic hand—just lying there on the sidewalk. When I bent over to get a better look at it, I heard a woman say, "Watch out. That man is going to be sick."
"No," I said, my voice coming out angrier than I intended. "I'm not going to be sick."
The woman—a big woman in a purple coat—eyed me suspiciously, ruefully. She looked a little like Robert DeNiro. By that I mean she had a tough sad face no man would ever want to kiss. As she moved away from me she clutched her purse tighter to her chest.
This is my effect on people, on women in particular.
I returned my attention to the hand. Soon a small crowd gathered as if the hand were some sort of sax-playing street performer. They squinted their eyes and made low sounds of wonder. I picked it up, feeling protective. I had, after all, found it. If it belonged to anyone it belonged to me.
It was a left hand, a man hand, and it was heavier than I imagined, apparently molded from some dense rubber. I held it up to the sun as if that might tell me something about it.
An important-looking man in a business suit shouldered his way into the crowd and said, "Hey, what's going on? What's that?" and I said, "It's nothing," and he said, "Is that some kind of hand?" and I said, "No," and tucked it into my jacket and hurried away.
Someone had stepped on the hand, leaving behind the tan imprint of a waffle sole. And there was some chewing gum and a cigarette butt stuck to it. I splashed some soap in the sink and filled it with water and washed the hand along with a few cereal bowls glazed with old milk.
Once clean, the hand looked terrific. It looked like a real life hand, with tiny hairs woven into it and bloodless veins bulging beneath its skin, its fingernails like porcelain, finer than any china. Perfect. A work of art.
I set it in the dish-rack to dry, upright so it appeared to be gesturing hi or stop!
There is a line runs down the middle of my bed. I do not cross it very often and neither does my wife, Emily.
Sometime around midnight—the night I found the hand—she rolled over and said, "Are you awake?" I didn't feel like talking, so I didn't answer. Then she poked me in the ribs and said, "I can tell you're awake by your breathing."
"Please don't bother me," I said. "I'm thinking." And I was. I was thinking about the hand. In particular I was wondering if the owner—whoever he was—had a drawer full of different hands at home. Tan hands for summer. Everyday hands for dusting, dishwashing. Manicured hands for cocktail parties and business luncheons. Maybe a trowel- or a spade-shaped hand for garden activities.
If such a variety of hands did not exist, they really ought to. It seemed to me there was money to be made. Tomorrow I would do some research on Google.
I keep a pen and a pad of paper on the nightstand. This is where I normally jot down interesting dreams or snappy comebacks or things I need to do. That night in big block letters I simply wrote: HAND.
When I held it, I felt as if I were holding the hand of a stranger, someone I wanted to get to know better.
If I squinted my eyes, I could almost see him, a phantom ghosting out of the stump. I imagined him as an important man—rich, handsome, clever—and I wondered how he lost his hand, his real hand—maybe mashed by a piece of heavy machinery or obliterated by a land mine or chewed off by a shark?—just as I wondered how he lost the fake one. Did some rubber band or screw come loose? Or did he grow tired of it and throw it aside as you would a troublesome umbrella.
If lost, you would think he would have noticed the displacement of weight, the sudden vanishing at his sleeve. You would think, having worn it for so long, the hand would be like an extension of him, like a blind man's cane, his nerves fused into its rubbery core so that he could run it under cold water or caress a breast and feel.
I went to the mall and studied the crowds for handless men. You would be surprised how many of them there are, if you just look. Of course I didn't approach them all. The black guy, for instance. But one man in particular caught my eye. He wore an expensive leather jacket and had a hook for a hand.
"Sir," I said. "Excuse me, sir!"
"What?" He had the severe haircut and boxy jaw of a former Marine. Already he appeared very irritated with me. For comfort, for reassurance, I gripped the hand in my pocket when I asked, "Have you lost anything lately?"
"Is this one of those jokes?"
"No. This is serious."
"Well, I haven't lost anything."
I said, "Not even," and here I softened my voice to a whisper, "your hand."
His face tightened and he raised his hook as if he were going to strike me with it. Then a shadow crossed his face, maybe the memory of some past violence, and he let the hook fall to his side. With his good hand he reached up into his sleeve and made some adjustment and the hook came sliding off. He shoved the stump into my face. It looked like it had once been on fire, bubbly and darkened. "Buddy," he said. "Let me tell you. I hope you're proud of yourself." Then he turned his back to me and walked away.
"Wait!" I said, but he did not stop.
I began to carry the hand with me everywhere. At first in my pocket—its weight comforting to me there, like a pistol—and then at my sleeve. I bought an extra-large shirt from The Gap to accommodate my now extra long arm. When Emily saw me she said, "I don't recognize that shirt," and I said, "That's because it's new," and she said, "So you just went out and bought a new shirt without telling me?" and I said, "Yes. I needed it."
I cringed, expecting another fight, but she only said, "Well, it looks nice on you. Maybe a little big, but nice."
This was the first time in a long time she had complimented me. I do not know if the hand had anything to do with this—with the way she showed her teeth in a smile—but I will not rule it out as a possibility.
I don't normally do this sort of thing, but yesterday I touched a woman. Specifically her rear end. I am not proud of this, and I don't really know how to explain it except that I felt compelled to touch her, as if I didn't have a choice. As if the hand wanted it to happen.
I watched my arm rise—I watched the hand float away from me, unbidden. I almost told it no, as you would a bad dog, but the hand was already there, feeling her.
Here is the weird thing. Here is the thing I can't get out of my head. She looked up, surprised, bewildered, and then smiled shyly, as if I had complimented her hairdo. This was an extraordinary moment for me. Normally women seem furious even when I look at them, whereas she seemed . . . empowered, somehow.
That woman, that hand, must have pushed a button in my head because for the rest of the day I walked around touching everything and everyone. I was pretty happy.
I still have not told Emily about the hand. I think she will think it is weird. And maybe it is. Tonight I take it with me to bed and keep it under my pillow.
Sometime during the night I wake up to find the hand has crept from beneath its hiding place. It hovers above Emily, trembling, like some vulture riding an updraft. Then it descends. She wakes—I can hear the hitch in her breathing—as the hand traces her neck, the curve of her spine, down to the small of her back, pausing there. At first she goes stiff, uncertain, but when the hand climbs up her waist, sliding up and down the dip of her hip, she kind of giggles and sighs and scoots her butt back until it touches me. The hand, encouraged, continues to explore her body, stroking her cheek, petting her hair. She breathes heavily. And though at first I don't know whether to feel jealous or horrified or elated, I decide to feel good. I decide to let the hand take me where it wants to go.