The Hand by Brandon Mc Ivor
I knew a man, Mr. Marco Marsden, who lost his hand in a slaughterhouse. The story was different every time I heard it, but the version Mr. Marsden was most fond of was this: he was cutting up meat for market one day when he lost focus—he said that he was suddenly overcome with sympathy for the lamb he was about to cleave—and he chopped his left hand off along with the thing’s leg. Of course, he’s bleeding like crazy and the slaughterhouse was out on an estate—miles from the nearest hospital—so he grabbed some of the sheared fleece from the corner of the room and he used that to stop the blood. Even after he’d lost the hand, he said, he simply screwed on a hook and kept on hacking meat and clearing entrails.
But since I’d known him, the hook had been up on his mantelpiece gathering dust. Instead, he wore a delicate glass hand on that stump of his. If you were to ask him about it, his eyes would just twinkle and he would say that the hook had become too uncomfortable and scratchy to wear and that he was too old to be a butcher, in any case.
Sometimes, at the bar or when Julie had company over, I would bring up the topic of Mr. Marsden and his glass hand, and I would try to get information out of our friends— histories or rumors about how he had come upon the artifact or why he had chosen to wear it instead of the hook. But Mr. Marsden was far older than the rest of us. Everyone and their parents only knew what he had told them: stuff that amounted to smoke.
Although Mr. Marsden said that he had been a butcher in his youth, his right hand bore no callouses and, in fact, seemed to have been as delicate as my youngest daughter’s. And yet, he must have been quite the butcher, for as far as any of us could could tell, Mr. Marsden did not work and had not worked for some years.
But, he lived on.
On one of his birthdays, I’d stopped by to wish him well. He was sitting on his porch with a tumbler of whisky, as he did, using his glass hand as a coaster. When I gave him my greetings, he lifted the tumbler with his right hand and offered me the glass one. I hesitated at first. Then, I took the false hand into my own and shook; it was frosted over from the ice, and the sudden coldness surprised me. As the warmth from my hand drained, I could have sworn that I felt the prosthesis tighten into a genuine handshake about my own.
“You have a firm grip,” Mr. Marsden said.
“You can tell?”
“A phantom sensation, I suppose. But I’ve nothing else to go by.”
I loosened my grip on the hand, and Mr. Marsden swiveled his wrist so that it was flat again. He took a deep sip of the whisky and returned the tumbler to its place on the back of his glass hand. I sat down with him for a while, and we talked about small things until his tumbler was almost empty and I could see his eyelids fluttering for want of his bed.
I told him to get some rest, and I watched him hobble back into his house. He called out to me from within, giving stuttered thanks for having sat and spoken with him.
Later, I asked Julie how old she thought Mr. Marsden had turned that day. She was quiet for some time, and then, she asked me why had I had wanted to know. I told her that it was his birthday that day, and, as I said it, I realized that Mr. Marsden had never told me when his birthday was, and I could not remember how I had come upon the information in the first place.
One April gone, on a cool day with good weather, I was out on a walk with my daughter, who would become intolerably restless if she were forced to stay indoors. We were making our way back from the outskirts of the village, and had decided to take the pathway crossing Mr. Marsden’s house. The familiar sight of him sitting on his porch made me suddenly wistful, and I was compelled to introduce my daughter to him.
“Marcia, this is Mr. Marsden,” I said.
Mr. Marsden smiled, and he ran his right hand through her hair, “Your father has told you about me?”
Marcia looked down and twiddled her feet, shy as any four year old.
Mr. Marsden set his tumbler down on the banister and, to my surprise, unscrewed his glass hand.
“Look,” he said, “Glass.”
He offered it to Marcia for her to hold.
A stirring panic that she would drop it came over me. But before I could intervene, Marcia had taken the hand, turned it over, and had given it a gentle tap with her index finger before returning it to Mr. Marsden.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Marcia,” he said.
And then to me, “She’s lovely.”
And so it was. We spoke in short sentences when we met, dancing around the glass hand but never really discussing it. Many times, a kind of urgent curiosity would come over me and a question would form in my mind, but I would always bite my tongue. Now, I suspect Mr. Marsden must known and that he enjoyed it: having that mystique over me. So, we skirted, joked, ignored until one day, Mr. Marsden stopped me on my way home and called me onto his porch.
“I want to sell,” he told me.
He waited for me to respond, but I couldn’t find the words.
“The hand,” he said, “I can sell it to you, if you’d like.”
“Why?” I asked, though I’d already begun to form my suspicions.
“I’m getting old,” he said, “The other day, when I was getting up from the porch for bed, I fell over. Almost shattered the damned thing. Forty years I’ve had this hand and not a scratch. Then last week, I fall down and nearly turn it to dust, just like that.”
“You had too much whisky,” I said
“It wasn’t the whisky.”
“I’ve seen you taking extra glasses.”
“It’s not the whisky,” he repeated, “I’m getting old.”
I choked down a lump in my throat.
“How much—” Mr Marsden started, “How much would you pay for it?”
“I can’t put a price on something like that—on a part of someone’s life.”
“How much would you pay if it wasn’t mine, then? If you saw it in an antique store?”
I thought carefully and answered.
“About sixty dollars.”
“Maybe eighty,” I said honestly, “if it were in good shape.”
“That’s plenty,” he said.
“I’ve always been fascinated with it. You know that.”
I didn’t have to say anything else. Mr. Marsden began to speak:
“I made it, you know. The truth is, my first love was never butchery. It was glassblowing. But I was the sort of man who needed inspiration every day to keep making things—and I had it, too, for a good, long while. But one day, something happened and I couldn’t find the inspiration anymore. So I put down my blowpipe for a cleaver and I never picked it up again, except to make this, after I’d gotten to old for the slaughterhouse.”
Mr. Marsden’s eyes shone as he rubbed his thumb over the glass hand.
“After so long and with just the one hand, it wasn’t so easy anymore. I tried for weeks, filling a basement full of glass hands—each a little off in its own way.
“This one here,” he flicked the glass hand with his right index, “was the first to come out all right.”
It looked immaculate to me.
Mr. Marsden began to unscrew the glass hand from his stump.
“It was nice,” he said, “To know that I had one last work of art in me. I haven’t worn the hook since the day I made this. But now, well, maybe a hook is better for breaking an old man’s fall.”
“Maybe,” I mouthed.
“So,” Mr Marsden said, “Would you be willing to trade this off for those sixty dollars?”
“I’ll give you eighty,” I said.
Mr Marsden’s eyes twinkled and I thought that he might have cried then, but he didn’t .
“Alright,” he said, “It’s yours.”
He finished unscrewing the hand and gave it over to me right then. There was some old newsprint folded up on the banister, which, with Mr. Marsden’s permission, I wrapped the hand in. I did not have the eighty dollars on me at the time, so I told him that I would return and drop the money off for him the next day, and he said that he trusted me.
As I promised, I brought the money over the next day in a big, bulging envelope. Mr. Marsden invited me in for some whisky, and I saw him put the money down on his mantelpiece.
Whenever I walked past Mr. Marsden’s place after, I would see the envelope through his cracked doorway, still bulging with the money I had given him.
Even after Mr. Marsden had become too weak to come out onto his porch for his evening whisky, I would stop in to say hello, and always, I saw the envelope sitting right there where I had left it, gathering dust.
Mr. Marsden never did fall again, so, perhaps there was no need to reattach the rusted, old hook. He died in his sleep some months later, and for a long while, it made me feel extremely empty inside. I still stopped outside Mr. Marsden’s house some nights, and although the front door had been nailed shut, I imagined the envelope sitting on his dresser, forgotten by everyone and still full with the one hundred dollars I had given him for his hand.
Some years later, when I was a bit older myself, Marcia, my daughter, announced that she was coming back from the city with a surprise for us: her boyfriend had become her fiancé, and they were to be married in the spring.
Julie and I had never gotten a chance to meet the boy, so we insisted that they stay with us at least a few days.
The night they came, after Marcia and Julie had turned in for the night, talking with one another in the same bed until they each drifted off—first Marcia and then her mother—I invited Travis to have a drink with me. Already, I found that I liked the boy very much, and I was glad that Marcia had chosen him.
A few glasses in, and it came out that Travis’ family had lived there in our village, once upon a time, a few generations before he had been born. When the talk came to Mr. Marsden, as I knew it would, I brought the glass hand out from where I kept it and I gave it over to Travis. He held onto it for some time, stewing in that gentle, pink drunkenness from the four or so glasses of whisky he had drunk, and he seemed to have fallen into very deep thought.
Eventually, he revealed that he had grown quiet because the craftsmanship looked so very familiar to him. He hadn’t been able to place it at first, but it had finally dawned on him: his mother had a set of little glass lambs that were made in a similar style. She had inherited them from her grandmother—the fiancé’s great grandmother—when she was younger.
Travis said that he loved to look at those little lambs as a child. In the morning, sunbeams would dance over the figurines on the living room cabinet, and the lambs’ big glass eyes would shimmer with such vivacity that Travis could have sworn that they were alive, inhabited by the lingering spirits of whichever creatures they had been modeled after. And—yes!—there was one last piece to the set: a maiden shepherdess. She was young, and painted with a beautiful smile, he said, but from a certain angle, she appeared sad, with one hand on her cane and the other pressed to her heart, as if she had lost something—a sheep from her flock, perhaps, or something else, forgotten in far away place, a long time ago
Brandon Mc Ivor is a Trinidadian author living in Ehime, Japan. With his sister, he is the co-founder of People’s Republic of Writing, and has had his fiction published in The Caribbean Writer, Existere, The Corner Club Press, Buffalo Almanack and elsewhere. In 2016, he was shortlisted for the Small Axe Short Fiction Literary Prize.