Another farm fired me, the third one in ten years. They all hired me for the experience I had working summers on my aunt and uncle’s farm in my adolescence. After high school, I worked on a chicken farm first, upgraded to pigs, and then back to chickens. I did my job right, I did it fast, I had finesse, and the blood didn’t bother me. I think that’s why they fired me. My last boss told me I should be more clinical, said he didn’t like the dreamy look in my eyes with my hands wrapped around a chicken’s neck.
I stood on Dana’s front lawn. We were going for a walk tonight. Her idea; she was attempting to make contact with me. I wondered if it bothered her, my distance. I thought about my uncle. I missed him, I missed his farm, and I missed his hands. He had my favorite pair of hands. My uncle handcrafted southwestern jewelry and had a booth at the weekend flea market where he sat and made necklaces and earrings in front of people. He said his jewelry was more likely to sell if they thought he was Cherokee or Apache, so he tied his hair in a long braid and sat out in the sun to encourage a tan. He wore a lot of fringe. I should have been ashamed of him, but he did so well for himself, gathering crowds while silver and turquoise bent to the will of his fingers. I was captivated by the way he moved his hands. They were large and rough, yet they handled the tiny and delicate jewelry with care. His skin was calloused, sometimes marred by small pinpricks of blood where he poked himself with wire or his tools. My uncle could have a complete conversation with someone while he worked with his hands. They knew what they were doing; they did their own thinking. His eyes were dreamy too, but I thought his hands were his best feature.
Dana locked her front door and waved as she made her way toward me. Her hair swung as she walked, brushing the belt loops in her tight jeans. She grinned at me, her green eyes as bright as her smile, and I tried to mimic her expression. I unclenched the scarf I was wringing in my hands like a chicken’s neck and tossed it back on.
“It’s so cold!” She said, gripping my hands. “My knuckles are starting to crack.” I traced the crosshatched red marks in her dry skin. I wished the blood hadn’t dried. It had been a while since I’d touched human blood.
“I have lotion in my bag,” I said, reaching for my tote, wanting to rub it into her palms, break the cracks, but Dana shook her head.
“Let’s walk, best to get our blood flowing,” she said. I could only agree. She looped her arm through mine and we started the walk downtown, the cobblestone streets bathed in the light of golden hour. She led the conversation, telling me about the phone call she had with her mother and the plumber who stopped by on Tuesday. I supplied head nods and the occasional two-word commentary.
“What’s bothering you?” Dana asked, as we turned onto the row of art galleries. It wasn’t my silence that tipped her off; that was nothing new. She just had a sense when something was wrong. I wished I had that intuition.
“I got fired,” I said. No point in holding back.
“Again?” Dana wasn’t surprised. She’d known me since middle school, she’d known my spacy and disconnected ways. She knew I wasn’t the best with people. She pursed her lips, holding a thought in her mouth. “I think I could get you a job,” she eventually said. We slowed our walking. “They told me the team has money for an assistant. You’d get to work with me. I’d teach you.”
Dana was a personal trainer for the city’s minor league hockey team. She invited me to watch the games with her, but I couldn’t imagine myself in an environment with so many emotional people. I thought it would just make me feel more isolated; I wouldn’t be able to connect.
“That would be very gracious of you,” I said. I could work with the players, though. Bandage some knuckles, soak up a bloody nose. I felt a smile work on my face. This could be a good change from the farms.
“When could I start?” I said. We wandered into the first gallery, a collection of blown glass in primary colors.
“I’ll mention it to my supervisor tomorrow, and I’ll let you know.” Dana looked at each piece as if she was going to buy it, but I knew she wouldn’t. She launched into detail about all the players and which one I might be interested in and which one she had a date with on Friday. I checked out, unable to follow the names, getting lost in the rush of her words. I tuned her out and explored the gallery.
“Laura?” Dana was hovering over my shoulder, watching as I ran my fingers over the rim of a bowl. I didn’t remember walking over to it.
“I think I need to go home.” I moved away from the bowl, my limbs heavy. Loneliness was building in me, and Dana’s company couldn’t solve it. I wanted to tell her things I’d never told anyone, but she was in a good mood. She didn’t have a void yawning inside her. She wasn’t tempted by impulses.
Dana opened her mouth to convince me to stay with her, but my expression changed her mind. She wrapped me in a hug and rubbed her hands on my back. “See you soon, yeah?” she said.
“Soon,” I said. I walked out of the gallery, and kept walking until I was far away enough from her to let out a scream.
As I moved back home, I had to pass the boutiques and art galleries again. The city had two art districts, and I purposely situated my home close to this one. On weekends, the sidewalks were crowded with artists selling their wares, reminding me of the weekends spent with my uncle.
Night had fallen, and the street was deliciously empty. Free of judging eyes and crowded sidewalks, I prowled through it like it was my own. I passed my favorite gallery, the one with animal heads nailed to the wall that Dana found distasteful, and I continued down the street, sometimes stopping to peer in at the art, or merely peering at my own reflection. My blonde hair was tucked into my coat, my eyes dark in the glass, but I could see that there was pinkness in my cheeks. I tried on Dana’s smile from earlier, but grimaced when I saw it on my own face.
There was a gallery still open, despite it being past business hours, and I didn’t remember ever seeing the gallery before. It was as if my mind had created it, in an attempt to quench some unspoken desire to not go home yet. I stepped inside, looking at the canvas closest to the door. It looked like a crime scene photograph, with staged bodies wearing masks and holding strange props. Random body parts were worked into the artistic background. I peered at the canvas next to it and took in a similar scene: two women in masks, their skin deathly pale, sitting in chairs, their arms held up by fishing line, reaching for each other. Teddy bears sat on their laps. Their legs looked like they were stitched on. I checked to see if a gallery assistant was in the room, but I was alone with the daring and macabre pictures. I stepped out and continued with my walk home, my heart trying to turn me back around, telling me to spend the night there.
I stopped again when I heard music playing, slicing through the icy night. I turned on the street behind the galleries, where a few garage door storage rooms were rolled open. Passing by a man and woman sorting through large picture frames and arguing passionately, I wandered through the back alley before I located the space with the music. The beats were loud and cutting, causing my heart rate to kick up in an effort to keep rhythm with the erotic melody. The garage door was all the way up, the room converted into a workspace. Inside the studio, harsh lights shone from the ceiling and mannequins were stacked in a corner. Plastic tarp covered most of the walls and floor, red paint splattered or pooling on them. A man wearing a paint-covered apron and science-goggles bobbed his head along to the music as he assembled an art piece on a large steel table in front of him. I couldn’t make out what he was working on. He had a few blue buckets stacked on the table. The man was tall, with wild, curly blonde hair sticking out in a halo around the goggles’ strap. He wore latex gloves too, and his shoes were wrapped up in protection from the paint. It looked like he took his work seriously.
“Hey there!” he said, shouting over the music. He gave me a wave and went back to his work. I hesitated on the threshold of his space.
“You’re an artist?” I asked. I didn’t want to leave yet. I wanted to stay with the music and the paint for a moment. I felt a little less lonely here; there was something familiar about the space. The wind picked up, blowing a harsh gust down the alley. I instinctively took a step inside the studio to avoid the cold. It was surprisingly warm inside. Maybe it was the lights.
The man snapped his head up from his work again to evaluate me. “You know you’re trespassing, right?” he said, a frown forming on his face. He set down the tool he had in his hand. I realized it was a knife. I stood my ground.
“It’s getting cold out,” I blurted. The man snapped the gloves off his hands. He set them on the table and came around, crossing the room to meet me.
“Can I help you with anything? My gallery is the next street over. This stuff isn’t for sale yet.”
He looked to be maybe thirty, thirty-five. The stubble on his jaw gave his face a golden glow. I couldn’t look at his eyes; the reflection in the goggles was off. I casted my eyes down to his hands, now bare. They were lovely. Tan and scarred, with paint layered under the fingernails. His veins arced seductively at the knuckles, just like my uncle’s had. I wonder if this man only ever used them to create. I flashed my eyes back up to his.
“Just looking,” I said. The man held my gaze for an intense moment. His eyes flicked down to his hands and he tucked them behind his back.
“Would you like to see what I’m working on?” He started walking back toward his table. The music was still so loud. I nodded my head and followed, stepping deeper into the studio, inhaling the sharp scent of the sawdust and paint I was now standing on. It smelled like someone had just turned on a sprinkler in the morning, sulfuric and unpleasant.
“Oh yeah, watch your boots, it’s a little messy over here.” He guided me over to his worktable and gestured in a ta-da fashion at the mess before us. He had a mannequin leg on the table, paint cans filled with crimson paint, brushes, and knives scattered over the tabletop. The buckets were filled with other legs and arms, and maybe some other parts I didn’t want to see.
“Halloween sales are the best,” he said.
The leg looked real. I stepped back, almost slipping in the paint. I knocked into a bucket on the floor, this one filled with plastic ears, their stumps red.
“Try to stand in the sawdust, it soaks it all up.” The man laid his hands on the leg before him and glided over the skin, drumming his fingers absentmindedly. “I told you I wasn’t finished,” he said.
I fought to keep my expression neutral, and nodded my head. “I should go.” I started for the alleyway. “Nice meeting you!” I said, tossing the words over my shoulder with my scarf as I tightened it around my neck.
“My name is Travis,” he said.
I turned around and he smiled devilishly. He lifted his hands and slipped his gloves back on. He smacked the latex and winked at me. “Come back anytime.”
I almost bumped into a trashcan as I hurried down the alley, the streetlights in it flickering off one by one.
I let the gusting wind carry me home.
That night my dreams were filled with paint covered fingers trailing marks up and down my skin. But when they gripped my ears and tugged, I snapped awake. I thrusted my hand under my pillow and gripped the cool steel of my knife, stroking it until my breathing quieted.
In the morning, I woke to bloodstained sheets. I hovered in the bathroom with my underwear around my ankles, my monthly visitor staining the blue cotton rust. I shoved a hand into myself, buried it up to my wrist, and then pulled the hand out. I held it up in front of the mirror, the pale flesh turned red, and a clump of uterine lining stuck to a finger pad. Painted red and glowing under the florescent light, I could see the scars on the back of my hand from the nails of chickens that scratched, shining through clean and white. I could see how small my hand looked; how, really, it looked like it couldn’t do anything at all. I brought my fingertips to my nose and inhaled. It smelled of iron and summers with my aunt in the barn.
My aunt had divine hands, too. But where my uncle had hands that created beauty, my aunt had hands that brought death. They were brutal, with sharp knuckles and nubby nail beds. She taught me how to kill, pluck, and cook chickens in the summers of my teenage years. I think she knew that I liked the power of holding necks between my hands and feeling their pulse flow and stop under my fingers. I think she saw something of herself in me. I envied her violence. I envied how she fit with my uncle, so soft and creative. They were ferocity and gentleness coming together. I craved that fitting.
One night, when I was watching a movie with my uncle on the couch, I kept glancing to his hands as they twisted a ring around his fingers. The silver was glinting in the light of the soy market candles burning on the mantle. He caught my distraction and put the ring on the coffee table. I reached over and put his hand on my upper thigh, my skin prickling with the thrill from the weight of it. I rubbed circles on the back of his hand, calming the muscles that had tensed. I guided his hand in deeper.
“No.” My uncle stood up, stood over me, casting a shadow of shame on my face, on the heat that burned in my core. I hoped he would hit me. Curl his fingers into a fist, bust my lip. What a beautiful mess we could make. But he left the room. My aunt never invited me back to the farm after that.
In the evening, I found myself scrolling through radio stations, trying to find something similar to what Travis was playing. Dana had met me for lunch; I could start with the team on a trial basis. I spent my day prepping for my new job by researching the rules of hockey while his song played on repeat in the back of my mind. After my finger was sore from hitting the seek button so much, I gave up, and left my stereo to go for a walk. I sought Travis out, followed the familiar route to the storage room alley, but hesitated once I passed the galleries. I knew something about him wasn’t right. Something about him seemed dangerous and powerful, but also searching. Like he was lonely in the dark too. It was that feeling that continued to power my footsteps to his studio.
I knew he saw me staring at him, watching from the alleyway, the sun setting behind me, accusations about to leak from my lips. I wanted to question him. My imagination came up with all sorts of explanations and fantasies for the blood in his studio and the body parts he kept in buckets. But when I arrived that night, looking for answers, he was brushing the hair of a head on his table.
It’s just a mannequin, it’s just a mannequin, it’s just a mannequin.
Pushing my intrusive thoughts away, I became absorbed in the beauty of his hands as they executed each stroke of the brush through the hair. He handled each tangle delicately, only tensing slightly at the wrists. After he set the brush on the table, he braided the hair, the auburn locks twisting in his delicate fingers. When he finished the braid, he rubbed the tip of his finger against the bristled end.
I let my eyes wander up to his face, his eyes meeting my own. He picked up the head and moved it to the end of the table, the braid dangling over the edge.
The next night I arrived without any expectations. If I wanted answers, I would simply continue to observe. And he let me.
I watched him maneuver in his meat shop. I watched when he chose to use gloves and when he chose to forgo them, when a human specimen was spread out on his table, and when he used his bare hands to better stretch the skin before cleaving it with a blade. It was still fresh. Blood sprayed up and hit the walls, flowed to the floor, and flecked his face. Nothing like the chickens. A drop hung from his bottom lip. He licked it away.
I stopped standing in the alley when I watched him. No one ever passed through, but if someone did it would look strange to see me standing in its center, enchanted by a wicked force in a garage. So I stood with a hip pressed against his table, sensible shoes on my feet, and a desire to wear sunglasses at night to mask the thirst I was sure my pupils held. But I resisted. I felt like I didn’t have to hide.
I determined that his mannequins and props were for show. I didn’t know where he got his bodies. Travis began to smoke a cigar in my company, growing more comfortable with the eyes that traced his figure and counted each drop that hit the floor. I wondered what he thought of me, if my silence weighed on him, but I was still working out what to think of him.
On the third day of my presence in his studio, two men rolled up with a cart. A tarp covered it, but I could smell what the cart contained, even with the cigar smoke snaking up my nostrils. They knocked against the garage door, catching Travis’s attention. Travis waved an arm and the men pushed the cart into the studio. One of the men flicked his eyes over to me and raised an eyebrow to Travis. He shrugged. The men removed the tarp and placed a dead woman’s body on one of the steel tables. Travis handed them a bloodstained envelope and the men pushed the cart out of the studio and down the alley. I looked over to Travis as he ran a single finger along the curve of the woman’s calf. If Travis didn’t think I was a threat, I decided he wasn’t one either.
But the following evening when I arrived at the studio, the garage door was rolled down with a padlock chained to it. I thought about pounding on it, screaming Travis’ name in tempo to the beats of the music that I couldn’t get out my head. I would not let this be taken away from me so soon. I contemplated kicking at the lock until it snapped. I shoved a fingernail into its crevice, attempting to pick it open. My nail broke off and I hissed with pain, bringing the break to my mouth, sucking the blood that bloomed on my nail bed. A breeze coasted through the alley, teasing the hair out of my braid, pulling at a strand tucked behind my ear. With it, the wind brought Travis’ song. I followed the music, moving like a ghost called to the void, a magnet tugging me in a dark direction.
The music was playing from his gallery a street over. The gallery that seemed to appear overnight, that always had its door open, the gallery with the lurid photographs of dead people. I stepped inside, my internal magnet sending a buzz of pleasure through me when I saw Travis standing in front of one of the canvases, the goggles gone, instead a pen pinned behind an ear, and his hands tucked behind his back. His fingernails had dried blood layered underneath them.
“What is your name?” he said. He didn’t turn to look at me. He lifted a hand and stroked a shadow on the flesh of the canvas.
“My name is Laura.” I walked to stand next to him.
“What do you think, Laura?” He gestured at his photograph. In it, a woman with braided auburn hair was suspended upside down from the ceiling, her arms tied with rope against her chest. Chains stretched between her head and neck, connecting them. Her braid brushed the floor. She was naked, but she wore a masquerade mask, and piles of dresses littered the ground below her, chains wrapping the dresses together, and hands crawling out of spaces in the gowns.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. It was. I wanted it hanging in my foyer, greeting the few guests that visited me. I could invite my aunt and uncle, show them I’ve changed. See, I would say, this is what I’ve been drawn to all along.
Travis lifted a hand and gripped the end of my own braid. “I thought you would like it,” he said. I wished I had nerve endings in my hair so I could feel his touch. I turned my body closer to him, wanting to join our bodies and push and pull them together with each beat of his maddening music.
“Where do your specimens come from?” I asked. I found myself choosing my words carefully. I didn’t want to offend; I didn’t want him to think I couldn’t handle this. His hands were tucked behind his back again and I wished I could see them. I wanted to hear his answer as I gazed at the blood under his fingernails. I didn’t care if he moved his hands to wrap them around my throat.
“Some people want to be beautiful even in death,” he said.
“Do you ever kill them?” The words left my lips before my mind gave permission to the tongue. He placed a fist under his chin and tucked an arm under the elbow. Considered me. His hands were chapped. I could see the place where his stubble brushed the rough edges of his knuckles and I wondered if it itched. Would he let me scratch it? I gnawed on the inside of my lip until I drew blood, the taste occupying me in his silence.
“I’m an artist, Laura,” he said at last.
I released my lip and the fist on my heart loosened. “What do people think of your art?” I asked, my hands twitching at my sides in anticipation of the answer.
“They wonder where I get such limber and amenable models.” He gave me a wide grin, breaking through all the knots and tangles that kept me at arm’s length. He reached for me, and brushed a hand along my jaw, sparking pleasure against my skin. “Would you like another look at my studio?”
I could only nod my head.
I knew I was supposed to wear gloves, but there is beauty in washing blood off my hands. The way the warm water melts stains off my skin and swirls them down the drain, goopy and pink. It’s hardest to get the blood out of my cuticles. This I had forgotten. Blood seems to cling in the seams, burying itself in the tiny crevices by my nails and sometimes, even after minutes of scrubbing, the blood will remain, a crimson ring in my nail beds. I started painting my fingernails red. If I couldn’t scrub all the blood out, at least it looked like a bad paint job, not a crime scene. They didn’t have to be beautiful.
Travis wore gloves. I liked to watch him snap his gloves on before he began his work. His gloves were powder blue and so tight; I could see the bulges of his veins through the latex. Sometimes later, after, when he wanted to touch me, he would leave them on and the blood-slick gloves would glide over my body but wouldn’t leave a single print; messy red streaks of desire painting me new. But mostly I wish he didn’t wear any gloves at all. I liked watching his fingernails pierce and tear flesh; I liked watching the roll of his fingers when he stretched the skin, when his hands would tighten their vise grip before blade cut through bone.
I liked my new job. I would arrive early to watch the practices, hovering in front of the glass, watching skates lacerate the ice, bodies crash into each other, and tasting the violence hanging thick in the air.
Dana taught me how to properly wrap knuckles, but it pained me to do it. To hold hands capable of such art and force, and cover them up, cover up their blood and scars. Their mess told stories, and I painted over them in white. Some of the players attempted to befriend me, but I watched the way they looked at Dana, and it wasn’t the way they looked at me. I was nothing but a dim reflection of her, and I minded my business. This I had learned. My aunt told me to learn my place, and even once I did, to never come back. But Travis had welcomed me into his space. I was his assistant, but not a muse. I would not be a muse. A muse inspires others to create art. I was in the game to make art of my own. Maybe I would make Travis my muse. Maybe he wouldn’t resist like my uncle had.
After high school, I had rented a space in a barn of the first farm that hired me, my first summer on my own. The farm was a mile from the flea market that operated in a field every weekend. The field was right alongside a major road, and visitors stopped to buy wares or stretch their legs. I went to the market every Saturday. I woke at dawn, killed my chickens, and then walked alongside the edge of the road until I reached the flea. I knew where his booth was. I had the route memorized; I worked through the maze until I reached him, past the leather belts and phone screen repair, next to the hand-woven rugs and frozen lemonade stand.
I kept my distance, but I was close enough to see him. To see his eyes, to see his hands. My aunt stood over his shoulder, like a predator guarding her prey. She reported me. Said a girl with bloody hands was prowling through the stalls.
Not long after that, the farm fired me and I found pigs to be better company. Pigs were a lot like humans. They knew when it was their death day, and I appreciated the challenge. I almost told Travis about my pigs but I didn’t.
“I showed Dana your work. She called it gruesome,” I said to Travis, handing him a bone saw. She doesn’t see it the way I do.
“I’d say that’s accurate.” Travis brushed his fingers over mine and then gestured for me to step back.
“Don’t you ever worry though? That you’ll be questioned?” I watched his shoulders tense. I still wasn’t sure how he pulled this all off. How this didn’t weigh on him. Where the men with the cart came from and went.
“We’re having this conversation again?” he asked me. He stepped away from his work and wrapped his arms around me.
“I know what I’m doing. You have nothing to worry about.” He ran his hands down my arms, then up and over my hair. He brushed his knuckles against my cheek, smearing blood in their wake. He grazed his lips over my forehead, down my nose, and over to my ear. He bit my lobe, hard enough to draw blood, but I didn’t make a sound. His lips touched my neck, he pressed his teeth to my carotid, and I fought back a moan. He hooked his arms under my legs and lifted me up, bringing me to the steel table. He placed me down on it gently, so gently, and I felt the blood that was still on it start to seep into the back of my shirt. I leaned further into it.
“The messier it is in here, the better,” he grumbled, his face buried in my neck again. “We artists aren’t clean.”
Over the music, I could hear wheels rolling on asphalt. I turned my head and saw two men pushing a cart of frames down the alley. One lifted a hand and waved to Travis, winking at him.
“What have you learned about hiding in plain sight?” Travis asked me. He gave me his hands, letting me hold them and bring them to my mouth. They were two honed instruments of brutality and beauty. I wanted to swallow them whole, make them a part of me.
“Everything,” I said, whispering against his skin.
I moved to the city to put distance between myself and my past. On the long drives out to the farms, I had often contemplated how I could have changed the night I put my uncle’s hand on me. But the only thing I would change is his reaction.
My time spent with Travis seemed to exist in another world. We were in his studio, we were in the gallery, we were staging photographs in a warehouse, we were falling into my bed, or his, but usually mine; I never wanted him to tell me to leave.
But one day on the drive back from the warehouse, we stopped for groceries. He let me push the cart, and wandered at my side, sipping from a can of cola. He flicked off the pull-tab and gave it to me. I clenched it in my fist and steered the cart with my wrists. Travis wanted cherries, so we got cherries. He buried his fingers in the bag and ate a few. I didn’t see him spit out any pits.
I lingered in the meats, looking at the yellow packaging for chicken and pink for pork. I thought about telling Travis about the different cuts of meat, but I didn’t. I selected a few pounds of ground beef and moved on.
I decided I wanted pretzels to munch on for the drive home. We still had a ways to go back to the city. I turned my cart down an aisle and it collided with another cart around the bend.
“Oh! I am so—” my words trailed off. My uncle stood in front of me, gripping the handle of his shopping cart as hard as I was gripping mine. His knuckles were white. I wanted him to release the bar. I wanted his skin to turn back to pink and reveal how much they might have aged. He wore three turquoise rings on his right hand, and the wedding band on the left. I tensed, looking for my aunt but she wasn’t with him.
“Laura,” he said, my name coming out in a breathy gust.
“This is Travis,” I said. “My partner.” I lifted my chin to Travis. He quickly understood the situation, and swooped in, dropping his empty soda can into the cart. He shook hands with my uncle.
“Where is she?” I said.
My uncle’s face tensed. “She stayed in the car.”
I nodded. “Well, good to see you.” I stuck out my own hand for him to shake. I didn’t think he would hug me. He took my hand and then gasped, dropping my hand like it was on fire. The pull-tab that had imbedded itself into my palm as I gripped the cart, fell out of the indent of my hand and onto the tile.
A rush of blood bloomed on my uncle’s palm.
“I didn’t mean for that to happen. I had forgotten…”
My uncle took his cart and turned away. I watched him go.
When Travis and I moved through the parking lot, grocery bags in hand, I looped my arm through his, leant my head on his chest. I made a joke so he would smile. I laughed as prettily as I could.
I knew my aunt was in a car, somewhere, watching.
I watched Travis sleep that night, curled up in my bed, his hands tucked under the pillow like a child. He looked peaceful; I wondered if he slept sounder at my house, if somehow I managed to bring something to his life that he was craving.
I moved my face closer to his, so his hot sleepy breath caressed my cheeks. I checked the rhythm of his sleeping, determined that he had fallen deep. Reaching under the pillow, I carefully pulled his hands out, and laid them out on my chest for easy viewing. I inspected every inch of them, made sure the nicks and scars were still there, the lines etched into his palms were the same, and I inhaled their rich metallic scent that never seemed to go away. I thought about pulling out the knife that I kept under my own pillow, just in case, and cutting them off at the wrists right then and there. Limbs are much easier to manage once they’re apart from their body. This I now knew. I could do anything with the hands then. They would truly be mine. I could suck each finger until they pruned and bury them inside me whenever I wished. I would keep them in a glass case, just for looking, because I knew I would touch them so much they would fall apart. But I knew how to preserve them, too. Stick them in a vat of formaldehyde. I could have his hands forever. The first in my collection. I would come for my uncle’s next. I had already drawn his blood. I could have a gallery of my own.
I slid a hand under my pillow for the knife. I imagined his blood flowing over my hands like silky water. Once I cut them off, it would be hard for Travis to kill me without hands. But then again, the hands wouldn’t be moved by him anymore. Would severing the cord erase their beauty?
Travis stirred and turned onto his side, taking his hands with him. Their weight was lifted off my chest, but I only felt heavier.
Shanna Merceron is a Florida writer in the second year of her MFA at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She is at work on a short story collection thesis that explores the dark and strange. When not writing, she is an English language teacher and photographer.