A Man Gives Birth to a Human Hand in the Night
A man wakes up early in the morning having had a terrible nightmare. He can’t remember the details of the dream now, but there remains a twinge of fear, accompanied by an abstract memory of having been in severe physical pain. The images are hazy, but he remembers the feeling of having something – an object of some kind – pulled out of him by force.
Although it’s early and he has no need to rise, the man gets out of bed leaving his girlfriend sleeping soundly beside him. He goes into the kitchen and eats a banana. He’s still hungry. There’s one banana left in the fruit bowl, so he takes the remaining banana into the living room and eats it while watching the news.
The man is naked apart from his boxers. As he sits on the couch, he shifts from left to right, unable to get comfortable. As he wakes fully the man realises there’s something inside his boxers other than the items he usually keeps in there. The distant sensations of fear from his terrible nightmare rise to the surface once again.
It’s the fear that prevents the man from putting his hand down the front of his boxers. His eyes are closed. He tries to close his legs fully, but something is preventing him from doing so.
Eyes still closed, the man gets to his feet and slowly removes his boxers.
Somehow he knows exactly what’s happened before he looks. There’s a human hand gently gripping his inner thigh. The only explanation he can offer himself is that he’s given birth to the hand whilst sleeping. That would explain the pain and the terrible dream.
The man reaches down, carefully removing the hand from his inner thigh, digit by digit. He lays out a piece of tissue paper on the coffee table and places the hand on top.
It’s a man’s hand. He can tell straight away from the shape of the nails and the thickness of the fingers. It looks nothing like his own. The knuckles are more prominent. You can see the white bone even though the fist isn’t clenched. It’s decorated with scattered black hairs.
The hand is clearly alive, but appears to be sleeping. As the man observes his creation it twitches irritably, lies down on its side and curls up in a ball. It appears to be vibrating, the skin contracting in and out, as though it’s breathing.
The man drinks a cup of coffee. He goes through to the room in his flat which he jokingly calls “the library,” but is actually a storage cupboard filled with books. He sits on the floor, flicking through each relevant volume.
There must be some precedent for this incident, he tells himself. This must’ve happened before to someone, if not in real life then somewhere in fiction – some ancient fable or gothic horror.
Finding nothing in his collection of books, the man phones his friend Franklin, a writer.
“Can you think of any stories about a man giving birth to a human hand?” he says.
“Sounds kind of Poe-ish,” says Franklin.
“Yeah, Poe was the first thing I checked.”
“How about Lovecraft?”
“I checked Lovecraft second.”
“Why do you need to know, anyway?” says Franklin.
“No reason. I just had this dream. Thanks anyway.”
The end of the phone call coincides with his girlfriend’s alarm clock going off in the next room. A couple of minutes later, she gets out of bed and heads towards the bathroom. She stops when she finds him sitting on the floor outside the library.
“Your books are all over the floor,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m not sure how to tell you this…”
“Are you OK?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I can’t tell you in words. Just to warn you, it’s not the sort of thing that happens every day.”
“OK,” she says. She follows him into the living room. “OK,” she says again. “OK. OK.”
She glances at the hand, not like it’s a disembodied human hand with a life force of its own but as though it’s a coaster or a stray pizza menu.
“How did this happen?” she asks, almost casually.
“I think I must’ve given birth to it. I was asleep at the time, so I’m not quite sure...”
“It’s OK,” she says. “It’s OK. Has this happened before?”
“It’s never happened to me,” he says, “but – I don’t know – I think maybe it’s happened to other people.”
“So, if this is something that’s never happened before, that would be something really special, wouldn’t it? Something unique.”
“I’m not sure I want to be unique,” says the man.
“Look, this is a good thing. You don’t need to look so unhappy about it.”
“I can’t help it. There’s a lot of things to consider. It’s sleeping now. What are we going to do when it wakes up? Are we keeping it as a pet or releasing it into the wild? Do we need to feed it? What will it eat? Do we need to keep it in a cage?”
“We can work all that out as we go along. Don’t worry about it now. I’m just going to have a coffee. Do you want one?”
“I’ve had one already,” he says, “but I’ll have another one.”
She goes into the kitchen, and returns with a pair of steaming mugs.
“I’ve got this friend,” she says. “I think I told you about her – Maxine. I thought you might be interested in meeting her.”
“Maxine,” he says, looking around the room, his eyes focusing on everything apart from the coffee table. “Which one’s Maxine again?”
“The contortionist. She lives in a B&B on the seafront. You should go down and meet her.”
“Why do I need to meet her?”
“Because she’s unique.”
“Unique,” he says thoughtfully. “So you’re saying us unique people should stick together? Like a club?”
“Don’t be like that. I’m trying to help you. I think if you go and see Maxine it’ll help you make sense of what’s happened.”
In the afternoon, the man walks down to the B&B. There’s a café downstairs, with a few people sipping cups of tea.
“Does Maxine live here?” he says to the woman at the counter.
“She’s upstairs,” says the woman. “Room 2A.”
He climbs the stairs and knocks on the door.
“Come in,” calls a voice.
He opens the door cautiously and pokes his head into the room.
The room is empty apart from a single bed, a small dressing table and a wooden chair over by the window. On the bed is a leather handbag, about the size of a magazine. A human hand is poking out of the handbag, waving to him. It’s a woman’s hand.
“Come on in,” says the voice again. “Take a seat.”
He sits down on the wooden chair, staring at the handbag.
“Could you help me please?” says the voice. The hand beckons him to come and take hold of it.
He touches the hand in an experimental way, unsure of whether it belongs to a person or a machine. The hand grips him tightly. The handbag wriggles on the bed. Gradually, a pale pink rectangle of flesh slips out onto the mattress. The flesh is wrapped unevenly in thin green fabric.
“Well?” says the voice. “You impressed?”
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be impressed by.”
“Ha!” says the voice. “That’s gratitude for you, eh?”
The hand reaches down to the pale pink rectangle, and opens it like a book. Inside is another hand, and a folded-up arm. The other hand reaches below it, and unfolds again. The woman’s head emerges from beneath.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’m only teasing. Your girlfriend called and told me you were coming.”
“Would you mind looking the other way for a moment?” she says. “I’m afraid something might pop out.”
He turns to the window. There’s a pigeon outside on the windowsill, watching him intently.
Behind him, the woman is jerking around on the bed, half giggling and half groaning. The mattress squeaks in a faintly suggestive way.
“You can turn around now,” she says.
He turns around to see the woman standing six feet tall, wearing a green dress.
“How did you do that?” he says.
“Practice,” she says.
“But how is it possible for someone of your size to crush yourself up so small?”
“No it isn’t. It’s a trick. You’ve probably got some mirrors stashed in that handbag or something.”
“I can do it again if you like,” she says. “You don’t need to turn your back this time.”
“No,” he says. “Please don’t do it again. I believe you. I’m just taken aback, I suppose.”
“It’s nothing to be afraid of,” she says.
“I’m not afraid,” he says.
Maxine raises an eyebrow in a way only a contortionist can.
“OK,” he says. “I’m afraid.”
“You just need to get used to it,” she says.
“It’s very impressive,” he says. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how does someone like you benefit society?”
Maxine’s eyebrow forms a jagged upturned-horseshoe. “I think it’s supposed to be entertaining, and surprising, and at its best it could be described as an art form.”
“What’s the point of that?” he says.
“I think you’d better leave,” says Maxine.
“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to cause offence. I’ll pay you for the trick.”
Maxine sits down on the bed, lifts her feet up behind the bed and then folds herself in half. Her head is no longer visible, but her hair pokes out from between her thin strips of flesh.
“If you like,” she says. “It’s OK. Your girlfriend told me you might be in shock. Maybe we could meet another time.”
“I’d like that,” he says.
He steps towards the door and reaches for his wallet, feeling slightly awkward about his hasty suggestion to pay her. It feels wrong not to, considering the lengths she’d gone to. He wonders how much is a reasonable amount. He’s never met anyone like Maxine before, so there’s no real frame of reference.
Fumbling with the notes in his wallet, he leaves five pounds on the dressing table. It’s more than he’d pay a busker, and less than he’d pay for a haircut. His meeting with Maxine clearly doesn’t fall anywhere between these two categories, but he doesn’t want to be seen to be taking too long over his token payment.
As he leaves the room, Maxine crawls back into the handbag, with one hand free, waving him goodbye.
When he gets back to the flat, his girlfriend has tidied up. She’s sitting on the sofa watching an antiques programme on the TV. The hand is crawling round in a circle on the carpet.
“Looks like he’s finding his feet,” she says.
The man doesn’t look at the hand. He sits down beside her.
“Did Maxine help?” she says.
“No, Maxine didn’t help,” he says. “I spoke to Franklin earlier. He couldn’t help me either. I don’t think anyone can help me.”
“I thought it might be useful to look at the human body in a different way,” she says.
“That’s the problem,” he says. “I don’t want to do that. I just want things to be regular. I like regular.”
“Life isn’t like that,” she says.
“I know,” he says. “I think it’s like Maxine says – I just need to get used to it.”
The hand continues crawling in circles. He stops every now and again to roll over onto his back, stretching his fingers out.
The man doesn’t say this out loud, but he wonders what a palm reader would make of his new arrival. Another day, he might take the hand down to the palmist on the seafront for a laugh, but not today. He hasn’t even thought of a name yet.
“We should get him a tattoo,” he says.
“I thought you didn’t like tattoos,” she says.
“I don’t, but it might be good to have a tattoo for the hand. Like those guys who get Love and Hate tattooed on their knuckles. We could just have the word “Love”. A positive with no negative. The good twin. What do you think?”
“That’d be great,” she says, and for the first time that day, she takes him by the hand, and holds onto it.