Story by Sherry Morris
Sherry Morris lives in the Scottish Highlands, watching which way the clouds blow and dreaming up frightful tales.
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 broke toys from him on purpose. Other times, while playing in her room, the hand would beckon to her with her favourite sweets. She’d follow the hand through the house and down to the basement, to its furthest, darkest corner. There, more sweets would be waiting. For after. But the sweets didn’t taste so nice after. That’s how it was with the hand. Sometimes it was a hand only she could see. Most of time it was more. Always it was bad. When it was very bad she would have to drift away, coming back only when she was alone again. When she started school, she hoped things would improve, that school would be a no-go-zone. But the hand appeared as a ‘Stop!’ in front of the girls’ loos. The man who had replaced her father 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 watchful eyes that peered through door cracks and key holes, that the hand would patiently wait for the right time to act. Her mother never would have believed her if she tried to explain. And since she had no words for what happened with the hand, 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 the idea 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 left her entirely. Eventually she moved out and the hand left her alone.
For a while.
But then she had a bad weekend and ended up in crisis care. They wanted her to talk about herself while lying on a sofa. At some point, maybe when she was talking about relationships, the hand came back. It rested 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. She tried to make a deal with the hand. She wouldn’t talk about it and the hand would leave her in peace. She still hadn’t learned — the hand didn’t make deals.
Illustration by Richard Nattoo
And the hand didn’t want to leave. In fact, it wanted to make up for lost time. While riding the bus, she watched it try to pinch schoolgirls’ bottoms. Sometimes it laid in wait on an empty seat, waiting for an unsuspecting woman to sit down.
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 act.
She has researched and carefully prepared her plan. She has chosen the ladies’ restroom of the public library. A notice there states knives 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 works quickly lest she be interrupted — either by a person or by 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 successful severing. The hand twitches in front of her. 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.