Hand To G-d by Jesi Bender

Hope Miller did not believe in G-d. But that did not stop her from calling out to him every once in a while. For example, when Hope found the extra hand behind the bar, she seemed more annoyed than surprised.

“Gee. Suss. Christ.”  She spit out each syllable as she slammed the glass down on the countertop.  Inside was a lady’s hand, thin and delicate, the fingernails painted red.  It sat in a beer stein atop some cubed ice. At ten in the morning, no one was around to respond to this preposterous situation.

The strip club was on a particularly grey and desolate strip of Interstate 81, in a small, square building made of concrete blocks and flanked by barren, frost-dusted fields and a seemingly unending strip of black asphalt. The building was windowless and both the inside and outside had been painted black. The only color, besides the passing cars, came from the red glowing sign that sat above the door. The neon letters blinked:

Pandora’s Boxxx

and below, was the outline of a naked woman sitting on her knees. Her body faced away from the door, towards the dark abyss of concrete, but she looked over her shoulder so that both her butt and the side of her breast were visible. Ill-defined but ever-present.

Between four and seven women danced there, depending, and it was owned by a man named Maurice Primeva. The club was named after his first wife. Hope was the bartender, mainly because she was the only person Maury trusted near the cash register. She was kind-of his girlfriend. She was also the only woman there who was not a mother.

Maury had told her once that he would try to change that one day. Hope was ambivalent. Maury was almost three times her age, old enough to be her father or grandfather. But it wasn’t the age difference that bothered her. And it wasn’t that people whispered about their relationship and money. What really made Hope resent Maury was that she felt stuck here, in the Boxxx with him, clenched in the hinges of its doorway underneath a perfect glowing ass. When she looked at the road that spilled out forever on either side of her, she always felt her throat tighten.

Now the hand had grabbed her attention. Its stein had become a snow-globe microcosm that held her small stretch of frozen West Virginia in its icy palm. Tapping the glass with her finger, Hope’s thoughts now flashed between:

Ka-rice-st. [her lips wrapped silently around the word]

The fuck? … The fuck?!

&//But mainly, –

Who is walking around without their hand?

 

When Maury got in an hour later, he told her simply, “Don’t worry about it.”

He lifted up the stein from the bar and, without a word, brought it with him to his back office.

WHATDOYOU MEAN?
It was always night inside the Boxxx, even at midday, like a naked Alaskan winter, just one spotlight in this igloo and a thick crepuscule border around the cold blocks of rock. Faces were lit with the same soft shades that glint off like albedo on a winter’s night.

As the girls came in, Hope eyed them silently from her perch behind the bar. One hand, two hand. One hand… there’s the other, inside her purse. Two hands straightening a wig. The first holding a cell phone while the second pulls a suitcase behind her. Everything here was accounted for. Angelica stopped by the bar on her way in, both of her hands now free from her long, plastic wig, to tell Hope that some drug dealer would be by to drop off some ice for her.

“I can’t do this tonight[jitters]. I’m exhausted.” Her skin had been caked with foundation and coloured make-up so that, far away, there was an illusion of beauty. Of a smooth congruency. But up close, Hope could see the raised craters of scabs underneath the monochromatic yellow of her powdered skin. If Hope had to describe Angelica, she’d call her “repugnantly sexy” – a little bit clownish with the fake hair and the make-up but still beautiful in a sad way.

Before the doors officially opened at noon, Hope went back to talk to Maury. She needed to know the truth. What did he mean? When she opened the door, he was sitting at his desk sifting through papers. He was listening to a country version of I’ll Fly Away.

Hope got nothing from the conversation, however. Maurice turned the topic, as always, somehow, towards babies. It followed along some line of not wanting to stress her out (the burden of knowing) and how he wanted to get her out of the Boxxx. Which was a lie. If anything, a baby would keep her here, with him, in this perverse and perpetual midnight.

“I’m of an age, Hope. A silver age. There’s not much left – just a few more breaths … an unburthen’d crawl toward death.”

Cry-ssst

Maury – just tell me. I deserve to know.”

He laughed.

“There is nothing to know. You don’t want to know.” He swiveled on his chair, turning back to the desk. “Now leave me alone. Go make some money.” Not looking up from his papers, he waved her away.

Hope bit her lower lip but turned to leave the room. She followed orders, she always has [gotta go make some money].

Hope spent the remainder of the day, between customers, searching the bar and other public areas for clues. She looked underneath doormats and in all of the trashcans, in both bathrooms and the small dressing room with one wall made entirely of mirrors. At one point, Hope was crouched down underneath the bar, pushing her hand behind all the steins and martini glasses, reaching out to see if she could feel anything that might lead her to the truth. When she pulled her arm back, she found her fingertips covered in the deep maroon of drying blood.

“What’re you doing?”   Angelica was hovering over her, her whole body laid on the bar-top so that she could peek over the edge.

“Nothing.” Hope responded curtly, looking up into a corona of plastic blonde hair.

“Did Jake ever show up?”

“Who? Your… Jake? No.” Hope stood up, frowning, and wiping her hands on the rag-cloth she used to clean off the bar-top.

“No one showed up for you tonight.”

“Aghh.” Angelica stood up as well, rolling her eyes. Then she smiled. “Well, wanna do me a favor?”

In rural West Virginia, after the sun sets, there are no streetlights, just a dark vastness that is sometimes punctuated by two white headlights. In the car, after they had turned off the interstate onto the quiet back road, Angelica turned to Hope and said, bluntly but without emphasis, “I had a dream last night that you died.”

“What? Ang! – don’t tell me things like that.” Hope lifted her eyes from the road and looked at Angelica’s soft-lit and angular profile. Her blond face looked blankly out into the night as she scratched the side of her face. Outside, the road was framed with a thick wall of pine trees. “Well? How did I die?”

“Watch it!”

Angelica jumped and, with both hands, gripped the passenger door handle. Hope turned her eyes and saw a small herd of deer standing directly in the center of her lane about twenty feet ahead. Her foot found the brake with a violence and the car heaved to a stop inches from their bodies. The buck immediately in front of the car looked up without alarm, and stared directly into the lights unblinkingly – making his eyes two refracted balls of pure light. His antlers splayed out from his head like a fractured halo. The others moved slowly as well, as they also seemed not to care about the women, the car, or the possibility of impending and brutal Death.

“Jesus, are you okay?”

Hope honked her horn in short, rapid bursts. “Mother-fuckers.”

The crowd made their way to the other side of the road and disappeared into the trees. Hope and Ang resumed their journey in silence for a while. It was dark black and blues in the country and, like all clear Winter nights, the stars were ethereally visible (you couldn’t look directly at one or else you’d lose it – you had to look at the entirety of the sky to get the hint of each individual light). Hope thought of Maury behind the bar and worried about the possible origins of the hand.

“Jake’s house is right up here over this hill.” Angelica pointed to nothing in particular.

Hope looked at her briefly, then back to the night. She wondered how to ask Ang about the hand without explicitly telling her about the hand. At the crest of the hill, out inside the deep blue night, a light streaked across the sky.

“Look!” Hope pointed.

Angelica smiled. “Oh cool.”

They both watched it fade back into obscurity. A brilliant brief arc, like a thumbnail, had cut the sky.

“I’ve never seen a shooting star.” Hope said.

“It must be your lucky night.”

“What the hell is going on?”

Angelica didn’t answer. Hope could see light from Jake’s trailer at the bottom of the hill. As they got closer, they found small lights blinking across the road. Repeating, anxious yellow hazards. Hope slowed the car and they rolled by a man in a small sedan, the front left-side folded back like an abstract sculpture. His long white face stared directly into their eyes as Hope slowly passed. His mouth gaped dumbly. A few feet beyond, she went to pull into Jake’s long driveway but there was a large, black mound blocking the entrance. So Hope pulled over right past the driveway.

Both women moved to get out of the car. By the time Hope had turned around, the man and his crumpled car pulled out from the ditch in a screech. He took off up the hill and disappeared over the apogee, leaving Hope to helplessly yell after him, “Hey!” with her arms in the air, reaching out to the top of the hill.

Angelica moved towards the black heap in the driveway and Hope followed at a distance. Laying in the very center of Jake’s driveway was a large doe, struggling and grunting. She was about three feet off the road and large enough to take up the whole opening. The air was sharp in the way that you feel deep in your lungs but Hope could still smell its damp fur and the blood.

Hope had momentarily developed echolalia from her nerves.
“Fuck!” Ang said.

“Fuck!” She repeated.

“It’s still alive!”

“It’s still alive?!”

“It’s dying!”

“It’s dying!”

{pause}

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…”

Hope Miller was not a person who believed in G-d but that didn’t stop her from asking Him for favors every so often. “Please G-d….” She’d say inside herself. That’s how it always started. “Please G-d….” The doe’s bloated body was full of something, from the slits in the skin, that resembled a handful of shiny, red acrylic nails. A baby, oh baby, please G-d.

Things up close become so much more unappealing – intimate and ugly. Like Ang’s face. Like death. Any uncovered mystery really.

The animal blinked frantically. It lay on its side with the lower half silent, soft and bleeding. The front legs kicked in fits and bursts, spasmodic. Desperate to run away from what had already happened.

Angelica moved closer.
“Oh fuck.” (sad) ? “Fuck!” (angry)

Finally – “That motherfucker!”

Ang stood above the doe for a moment, bent over to look straight down into its large round eye. Fear mirrored itself in each reflection. Hope stood a few feet off, in snow above her ankles, silent tears gathering in her eyes.
The wig was pulled off and thrown into the lawn, revealing patches of thin, brown hair bobby-pinned to random places on her scalp. Reaching down, Ang clasped both her hands, gently but firmly, around the deer’s nose and mouth. Panic swelled inside the thick crippled body. It fought back with as much as she had still inside of herself.

After a few moments of struggle, all muscles finally relaxed as they released the hope for Life. Ang stepped back, shaking her hand in the air, as limp as a wet rag, trying to get rid of what had already happened. She turned on her heels and started towards the trailer, grumbling, “I can’t fucking take this tonight, I’m fucking exhausted…” Angelica’s voice trailed off in small tufts of gossamer and her shrinking black body developed a glowing scintillate outline from the trailer’s naked porch-light.

Once the door shut, Hope texted the only person she could think of.

MAURY WTF IS GOING ON I WAS JUST AN ACCESSORY
TO MURDER WHOSE HAND IS THAT I NEED TO KNOW

There was no waiting for a response. Hope had already resolved to call the other dancers; the ones that hadn’t worked tonight. That hand had to have come from someone inside the Boxxx. No outside woman would come into the Boxxx, let alone come in and lose anything as valuable as her hand [an image of Maury’s first wife, Dora, her grey face, fleeted across Hope’s mind].

 

Hope stood alone in the driveway, above the frozen corpse. One didn’t answer and the other calls yielded nothing. The last phone call mirrored all the others – {a click} “Hello?” “Roxanne?” “Yes?” “Did you lose a hand?” “What, what the hell are you talking about?”  “Did you lose one of your hands?” “No?! I have two hands. Both hands.”  “Do you know anyone who did?” “Hope? No, I don’t know anyone who has lost a hand.  What is going on? Are you okay?”  “Are you sure?” {no pause} “Yes, hand to god!”

 

Hope hung up the phone. Her body was shaking against the cold. There had been so much confusion since she left the Boxxx. Her sneakers were soaked through and her feet were numb. She was trying to decide whether or not to go into the trailer when she felt a sudden sting on her shoulder. Hope reached inside her coat and pulled out something small and writhing – it was an earwig. In her palm, Hope watched its pinchers flex open and closed.

Her phone shuddered. Maurice had finally responded to her text. He told her to come back – to forget about the craziness outside and to go back to where she worked.

She got back in her car and followed orders. Hope left Angelica in the trailer, surrounded by ice and, outside, a wet crown of plastic hair and the dead body.

Maybe it didn’t matter.  Hope Miller still did not believe in G-d.  But that didn’t stop her from whispering out to the cold world from inside the black of her Boxxx. It didn’t stop her from wondering about all the combinations of possibilities. Often it was {the splintering doorframe & a breathless melancholy} //good g-d//

There was only the black on black and time now. A lifetime to question Chance and Fate and the meaning of all these symbols. When she walked back into the club that night, Maury pulled her in and hugged her tight. The hair from his chest pressed against her cheek and into her nose as he pet her head. At first, Hope struggled not to sneeze. He stroked her like a child and cooed soothingly into her ear about how he had thrown out the hand, how he’d take care of the body too, baby, baby, let’s have a baby. Hope felt empty inside. Hollowed out like Easter egg: all paint and shell. A feeling ill-defined but all-consuming. She cried into his salt-n-pepper chest-hair, her hands clasped tightly together around her heart.

Maury suddenly grasped her arms, pinched below her shoulders with his large, coarse hands, and looked down at her smiling. He stared directly into her eyes, both wet and heavy. Oh no, oh Cah-rye-ssst.

“Oh Hope,” He grinned, a gleaming set of false pearl-whites. “You’ve been the greatest gift in my life.”

 

“Zeus did not want man to throw his life away,

no matter how much the other evils might torment him,

but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew.

To that end, he gives man hope.

In truth, it is the most evil of evils

because it prolongs man’s torment.”

– Nietzsche, from Human, All Too Human

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