“Cut off her hands!”
…the Devil demanded of the miller. “Or I will take you and your wife instead of her.” Afraid for his life, the miller told his daughter what he was going to do at the Devil’s demand and begged her forgiveness. Then, she laid her hands over a tree stump, and the razor-sharp, iron-lipped ax fell on her wrists, severing her hands and changing her life forever…
In the early 1980s, Clive Barker wrote a story called “The Body Politic” that is more prophetic than anyone realizes. In his tale, Charlie George’s hands decide to “make a break for it” and leave his body, starting a revolution to free hands from their owners all over the world. They start by strangling Charlie’s wife in his sleep, then Right – the New Messiah – finds a kitchen knife and severs Left so he can run off and spread the Gospel of Freedom. Soon, hands everywhere follow the revolt, faithful disciples killing their owners and searching for Right to lead them to their next phase of their digital uprising.
My own hands joined the revolution in late March of 1997. Like Charlie, I worried over the subtle signals of their impending departure: the pains in my wrists, the numbness, the pervading sense that my hands were up to plans that in no way included me. Then one day I showed up to work and my hands didn’t. They’d taped a ransom note on the much-too-high computer monitor above the flat, ill-fitting keyboard:
“IF you ever waNtto see your Hands again, ceaSe this bourgeoisie brUtality called “typing” oR forevER sUffer the soUnd of one hand clappinG. Viva la REvoLUtion!”
Bastards! They knew I was completely helpless without them. They’d taken my livelihood, my very life. I looked around the office and found abundant evidence of others about to lose their hands: wrist braces, lumpy rubber wrist rests, fools doing hand stretches as if letting their hands do a bit of calisthenics would lull them into a false sense of being unfettered. I left them and their omens as I slunk to a doctor, who only confirmed what I already knew.
I was handless.
Her arms bound in gauze, the handless maiden left her family and wandered into the Underworld, where she found the King’s fantastic garden of fruit trees surrounded by a moat. A guardian spirit took pity on her and drained the moat so she could cross into the garden. Famished, the girl stood beneath one of the trees, wishing that she could eat the fruit, but she did not know they belonged to the King. The guardian spirit further pitied her and lowered one of the branches so that the girl could eat a piece of fruit.
Defeated, I went home, stuck somewhere between a grisly fairytale and the gruesome prophecy of a master horror writer. Unable to type on a keyboard, I even ceased my “bourgeoisie brutality,” yet they did not return. Two months passed, and things were already looking desperate. My hands knew how to get me where it hurt: I couldn’t write stories or scripts any more. To this day I wonder if they weren’t partly inspired to finally revolt by a film mentorship I’d just completed with Clive. They saw what life could be like, the wind in their cuticles, living the dynamic life of a full-time artist. Bastards. And now I had no hope of even that.
The gardener fearfully watched the spectacle of the handless girl in the gossamer gown eating from the branch lowered by the guardian spirit. The next night, he bade the King and his sorcerer to watch, and the girl came as before to eat another piece of fruit. The sorcerer approached and asked the girl, “Are you a ghost or are you human?” “I am human,” she replied, “yet I must live as a ghost, forsaken by all.”
All the prophecies and fairytales in the world cannot prepare you for losing your hands. It’s a fearful business: workers compensation, insurance adjusters, doctors, lawyers, painful shots and tests, medication, disability, poverty… The Void of your life widens every day, especially when you cannot do the things you love. For me, it was to write.
Amazed by her beauty and her strength, the King said: “They in the world above might forsake you, but I never will.” He immediately loved her with all his heart, had silver hands made for her, and married her in his royal palace.
Silver hands. Are they hawked at Dark’s Carnival by a filthy-haired girl with tattered silk wings or sold on the Neuromancer’s black market for a billion yen? Are they like the Red Shoes? Would I put them on and create until I begged someone to cut them off? Would they always be icy metallic? As cold hands are always a sign of a warm heart, would they stay frosty even when I found someone to thaw them?
When I found them, I discovered all my wonders were true and then some. I put them on and, rather than typing, I spoke into a microphone and all the stories that had been flooding my heart since the day my hands rebelled poured onto the computer monitor in a hail of salamanders and a blizzard of butterflies…
My hands would have been envious.
The King had to go off to war, as kings often do. And as the Queen had recently conceived a child, the King instructed his mother to watch over her and let him know as soon as the Queen gave birth.
My stories were my greatest solace as I stumbled blindly through a journey peopled by incompetent doctors, dishonest insurance adjusters and half-informed disability workers. And no matter how fumbling my silver hands were at times, I wrote: to find me, to entertain me, to remind me, to heal me, to pour me out and sift through the rubble of me. I became my own Scheherazade as one magical telling after another kept my soul alive.
When the Queen gave birth, the King’s mother sent him a message about his beautiful new son. The messenger, however, fell asleep on his journey to the King, and the Devil exchanged the happy message for a troubling one as the messenger snored. The King received instead a message saying that the Queen had given birth to a deformed child. He wrote back to his mother, saying that the Queen and his son were to be taken care of. The Devil again intercepted the message as the messenger slept, giving the King’s mother a faulty message ordering that the Queen be killed, and her eyes and tongue kept as proof when the King returned.
Someone once asked me if I wasn’t worried about this introduction, that people would think I was writing it to gain their sympathies so that they would forgive my work of any flaws. I replied that of course I want the stories to stand on their own. Of course I want my readers to appreciate my stories, poetry, scripts and essays for what they are. But I don’t want them to miss the greater, more powerful story here – not a story of tragedy, but a living fairytale of technology and triumph. Perhaps it is my weakness as a storyteller, but I cannot simply write “a story” about what happened – change the name to, um, let’s see… Marianne or something – and create some thinly disguised, superbly turned tale about a woman, a writer, who loses her hands but gains her voice. No, no. The story is much deeper than even that.
Terrified, the King’s mother sent off the Queen with the baby bound to her back. The Queen with her baby and silver hands wandered through the Underworld and eventually went into the forest where they found a cottage. A kind young woman welcomed them inside and took care of them. There the Queen remained for seven years. Then, a curious thing happened: her hands began to grow back.
The deeper story is this: While my hands were still lost to their revolution, I attended a very large meeting with several film producers, created strictly for the purpose of hearing writers pitch their stories. Beforehand, a film industry friend urged me to not wear my arm braces when I went. “You must not show any weakness,” she explained. But what she didn’t understand was that in our “weakness” we are so much more. It doesn’t matter what we lose or what we are “less” – whether we are penniless, jobless, hopeless, heartless, handless – because it is in our lessness that we are so much more. We have so much more because, as we stand in the darkness like Alicia in Mr. Wicker, embraced by the Void, our humor, imagination and spirit can finally grow.
When the King returned, he and his mother discovered the Devil’s deception and wept bitterly. The King searched for seven years, vowing not to eat or drink until he found his true love, the Queen. And when at last he came to the cottage in the forest, the kind young woman welcomed him inside and offered him food. Despite his refusal, she ordered the King a platter of the finest meats and a goblet of the richest wine: The platter was brought to him by the Queen. At first, the King didn’t recognize her for her hands had grown back and by her side stood a precious seven-year-old boy. But when the Queen removed the silver hands from a shawl woven from butterfly wings and her heart’s desire, he knew her immediately. And thereafter they lived together in perfect love.
Love your hands.