He stared at it with mild bemusement, the sole emotion that was worth the mental effort. Only an inconvenience when you remembered it was there, and despite how often one used their hands, it was easily forgotten, even as it grew bigger on his palm, about an inch south of his right pinky, almost balancing perfectly on the top fault line.
It was a brittle zit. A particularly cantankerous blister.
That was the hope in the early goings, anyway.
And initially it was embedded enough into his skin that popping wouldn’t work. He had to wait to see what would happen which was a slow and easy loiter that went on for months. And by the time he could actually pinch it with his left index and right thumb it was too late to do exactly that. Too fused to the skin around it, couldn’t get underneath properly, and, well, not to sound like a wuss, but it really hurt when he tried to make it pop.
But although it wasn’t always out of sight and therefore never really out of mind, it felt like a meager and manageable acquisition – albeit an unwanted one – so he went about his business and pleasure without giving much thought to it for several weeks.
The breaking point was the busy rundown bar on Merchant Street Thursday night where he talked up some gal and it was dark and they agreed that the atmosphere was nice but they wanted to see each other’s faces and so snuck off their wilting stools and got a good look at each other in the florescent ridden light of the basement hallway near the bathrooms and somehow he had his right hand right there where she could give it a once offer and she spotted the white bump and asked and he tried to brush it off as a blister and he could tell that even though she didn’t question she didn’t exactly believe.
He’d be hard pressed to say it was the deal breaker, but you can’t argue with results, and the result was that he spent the waning moments of that night jerking off, the white bump on his right hand constantly rubbing up and down the smooth but shifting skin of his dick. Rather than an increased bit of pleasure, it was an uncomfortable and creepy reminder of the alien and unwelcome excrescence on his hand.
And so it came to pass that judgment day arrived and as much as he wanted it gone he wanted something from it first.
Even a passive plaguing was a transgression, a problem, an encroachment. He wanted something for his trouble, even if the trouble was mostly his fault for not doing anything sooner.
He wanted it to talk to him. To issue warnings and proclamations, to offer advice and counsel beyond his own feeble limitations. To make the blight worthwhile. To make the eventual removal of the abscess worth more than the superficial betterment of his hand’s appearance.
He wanted magic of the mundane variety. Something easily picked from the tattered remembrances of stories past, dusted off, himself stitched into the tale to patch up the holes.
Tell me how to get the girl, find the treasure, get that job I’ve been angling for, slip into the places where it’s worth being seen and be welcomed with open arms, predict the outcome of all Sunday’s games.
Make my life different.
But how to kick start the wonderful?
What kind of flicks and switches, prayers and incantations, fires and freezes, are required to get a peak behind the ordinary curtain of puss and dead skin?
Spray with liquid nitrogen in the throes of a psilocybin mushroom trip.
Heat up the tip of a pin and pop it like a balloon chanting hallelujah.
Have a palm reader apply the Compound W healing gel.
Double down and rub a toad on it.
At the very least, the wart will be gone.
But he chickens out and even as he stares at it intensely, watching the lines of his skin take a detour around the milky white centre, he knows that his spiritual guide will be the pharmacist, gesturing with a bored hand that the skin care aisle is just past the cards and shampoo.
And perhaps the best he could hope for in terms of revelations was just how much of a market there was for the medically accepted curing of warts. Gels, swabs, pens, band-aids, rubs, wraps. Freeze it off, burn it down, or bombard it with mystery medicine that shrinks it into oblivion.
He had no idea how any of these things actually worked, was always certain that such tasks could only be done by a certified medical professional. But apparently a working credit card or cold hard cash and penchant for following the instructions on the side of the box would suffice in the twenty-first century.
Of course, his bank account was a particularly vocal monkey on his back, screeching ever-shrinking balances, and helped guide his blighted hand to the cheaper band-aids. Part of its attraction was that it would cover up the wart twenty-four seven. He could tell friends and possible conquests that it was a cut or something. Nice and smooth.
At home he washed his hand let it dry and applied the run of the mill bandage with an odd off-white circle in the centre of the spongy gauze meant to constantly kiss the wart, letting it drink up whatever healing potions on its surface and inside.
It seemed too easy. And it was. Due to the location of the wart – right on a lifeline, according to a psychic – he would constantly flex and bend beneath the band-aid for every little gesture, from holding a fork to scratching his nose.
It took about five minutes to see the first signs of the bandage’s ends warping and curling up away from the busy skin.
“Damn”, he muttered to himself, suddenly realizing that he never gave much thought to how the constant and varied gesticulations of his hand was going to affect the healing process.
The only solution seemed to be obvious one. Don’t move your hand as much, which was easier said than done. Apparently you grasp for things quite a bit in the average day. So his motions took on a vaguely robotic quality, as he meted out the movements of muscles as miserly as possible. He inspected the multiplying creases in the band-aid after every turning of a doorknob or scribbling of pen, all done with a third of the force as before.
The box said to replace the band-aids every forty-eight hours (he couldn’t see them lasting a day), and if the wart wasn’t gone in five weeks one should consult their doctor.
Not much help.
He wondered how long he was going to have to act like a cripple.
A day later and it was high time to make the change. He had resorted to carrying around scotch tape and reapplying new strips every time the old the pieces became useless or sweat laden. Throughout the first full day sometimes the wart actually felt tight, present, more there than before. He assumed that meant the medicine in the mystery circle was working.
But having woken up later that usual – his hand wrapped twice in tape to keep the bandage in place as he tossed and turned – he found that his hand felt strangely heavy. Exhausted. Wrong.
He lugged it out from beneath the sheets and found nothing immediately amiss. It wasn’t that the location of the needles-and-pins like feeling was definitely behind the band aid. It felt like the sensations were orbiting his hand like the rings of Saturn, gingerly affecting the fingers, palm, and backside.
But certainly he believed that his treatment of the affliction was the reason behind this, and he was eager to see how well it was going.
Removing the tape was easy. It was barely hanging on most of the time but usually he quickly ran his left thumb back over it to keep it in place without getting a glimpse of the medicine at work and what it was working upon.
So now, with clear intent to properly assess the situation and make a key decision on how to proceed, he peels off the bandage finds the off-white circle almost glued to the wart, with a trail of some sort of pus or glue stretching between the two as the band aid was yanked from the skin, as if two lovers couldn’t resist keeping their lips and tongues entwined as the world tore them away from each other.
He registers his immediate disgust with a childlike, “eww…”
The refreshing moment of not having the band-aid on doesn’t last long. He knew he could move his hand freely, not having to worry about keeping the treatment in place, but the hard to describe feeling of slow nerve action persisted. And around the wart it looked like the amount of dead skin had increased dramatically, as if whatever the wart was made up had disbanded and is now headed for the hills.
But the centre of what remained of the wart had a hole in it – he could see just a glimpse of the healthy skin beneath it – the place where the salicylic acid focused its attack.
And the circular hole the heart of ever paling wart was not still, it’s new mouth not silent.
Breathing like a tiny tepid fish.
The wart was gasping for the poison.
At first he thinks it’s a trick of his still sleepy eyes or some sort of translucent pus slowly sliding over the wart to just make it appear like there’s something somehow resembling life.
Or hell, even the wind, the moving air in his bedroom. Something like that, something vaguely scientific to somehow support this seemingly impossible development.
But it continued, and when he moved his hand, trying to feebly cup it to prevent the air from swooping left and right and forcing this pseudo-mouth open, it just continued as before.
So he then reasoned that he was dreaming, and after a quick pinch he carefully assumed that this was it, what he was waiting for, some sort of communication from beyond typical human comprehension. His heart began to beat faster and despite the thin bed sheet covering him he began to break out into a heavy sweat.
I’m going to decide this is real, he thinks silently to himself, and accept what is said as central. Essential. Gospel.
“Say something”, he whispers aloud, startled at the dryness in his voice, as if the supposed-to-be-dying wart had been feasting on his body’s moisture as well.
But if it could hear his exhortation it does not comply, instead continuing to try and pucker for more medicine like an infant desperate for mother’s milk, somehow knowing innately that the breast was near. And it was, the bandage dangling, still stuck to the skin with one of the adhesive ends. He could give the abscess what it wanted it quite easily, but was genuinely afraid of losing this moment, shutting it up forever.
Breaking protocol though. He was supposed to wash the wart, let it dry, and then immediately place a new bandage atop it, interrupting the healing process for as briefly as possible.
He watched it, waited, willing for it to do more than gasp. He would be enthralled and terrified if a thin white appendage or tongue some snaked out of the hole, tentatively seeking the much-desired medicine drooping only an inch away.
But nothing changed and quite quickly this slightly but shocking motion became mundane.
He gets up and stumbles over to his desk feeling dizzy and slow and flops onto the chair that he openly believes is much more comfortable than his bed. He spends most of his time here. He wants to type something into computer that could give him advice or properly bulleted key information but his head and hand both seem to be cheating on him and the clarity of the sunny morning outside.
What could the internet tell him? What could he find in seeking the advice of the world, all of which was at his fingertips? If his hand was talking, it was time to talk back with the wise words of the teeming masses. In a smooshing of keystrokes his inadvertently types ‘slow’ into his iTunes search function and seeing ‘Slow Country’ appear, he clicks on it and lets Gorillaz flood the room.
A soundtrack to the silent confusion and it hasn’t stopped gasping. He yanks the band aid off completely, wincing slightly as it picks up the odd tiny hair lining the side of his hand. He tosses it in the wastepaper basket under the desk. And stares at the wart – if that’s still the right word for whatever it was – waiting for a change.
Sensing that it’s typical and usually nearby meal has been removed for good, the gasping hole seems to stretch and widen, as if it was about to scream, yawn, give birth or none of the above but certainly do something that was just as unexpected as gasping in the first place.
It continued to widen and divide, first along the whiteness of the wart but then sneaking out and onto the lifeline crease of the hand. He felt nothing, the numbness of his hand keeping the pain nonexistent and therefore giving a huge dose of unreality to the moment, that this wasn’t his hand he’d feel something if it was he would act with more sense than simply watching and waiting with bated breath for the next shocking and wondrous moment.
“What are you…”, he begins trailing off as the tearing of his hand was being done without a hint of blood without any flesh or bone bursting out from the skin it was as if the inside of his hand was a dark hollow a bunch of empty space that was finally getting a healthy bit of air.
He feebly wiggled his fingers as a dizzying ethereal reminder that somehow this was still part of his body even as it split along the top natural divide on his hand perfectly.
Opened like it was cut into with a sharp as a diamond point letter opener. Eight centimeters long, nearly the entire palm. Like a crude mouth.
Only flits of words shot through his head as explanation and none were better than simply magic, god, or alien.
If he understood the bare bones of quantum physics perhaps he chalk it up to that concept of actually anything is scientifically possible but just highly unlikely.
As in, ‘it would be highly unlikely that his hand became its own hand puppet’ but it wasn’t impossible.
Out of his control, the upper quarter of his hand and the four terrified, now paralyzed fingers sitting atop it bent backwards slowly and carefully for a brief moment, before returning to sit awkwardly upon the fresh fault line.
Like a test run for something but somehow he knew it wasn’t that. It didn’t speak, it couldn’t speak, no matter what it was or what had happened it had not developed vocal chords or anything even if it tried to ape the movement of the mouth, the jaw unhinging in a particular way to communicate pressing and frivolous desires to the world at large.
It didn’t have to make a noise however for him to understand the demand of the message. It was just a grander gesture of what the now tiny, now lovely, now bit of nostalgia white wart mouth was asking for earlier.
But whatever was happening to his hand now would swallow band-aids whole. He imagined requiring an entire jug of salicylic acid to satiate it for the moment. The sight in front of him and the idea of its demands keep him in his seat his wonderful chair keeps him frozen in one spot and explode into a million others grasping feebly for a familiar idea or moment to categorize whatever this was.
“I…I…”, he asserted, as ever other inclination in his body seemed to escape through the sweat glands, asshole and urethra.
His eyes were still dry he’s forgotten how to blink and he watches as the same gesture repeats. This time his hand bent back further, as if the upper hand and fingers would somehow tip right over backwards and the skin would rip and fall to the floor.
He pictured it coming alive and scuttling over the floorboards like a leaner, further amputated Thing.
But no, it still returns to its upright position, coming back down upon the palm, completing the same simple message.
But he had nothing. Nothing to offer. Did not know how to explain or clarify this to whatever his hand now was.
No illumination forthcoming. Or it was here and it was beyond him.
Try to regress back to what you do know.
Like call 911.
But dread fascination and calm paranoia silences this rational approach. Suddenly he was the carrier of a scientific discovery, treated with barely a hint of dignity, a host that was simply collateral damage in their dissection of this mystery. He would be dead by the time the sun sets.
Besides it was his. He should deal with it.
Should feed it.
And that didn’t feel like his thought, felt like an echo from someplace else.
Or something else.
Was this the first step to something else? What else could he lose this morning? Or could it be a gain?
Don’t take the risk. Tape. Tape your hand shut. Or glue. Get rid of it while you can while the getting’s-
Take it easy. Breath. Keep it simple.
Who’s saying all-
And then more. Time for rest and then time for more.
He heard certainty in this new voice.
Howlin’ Wolf was playing.
Everything was going down slow.
|the worst assumption one can ever make: that nothing ever changes|