The Fat Lady, who bangs the piano keys every night in some blue room of smoke & cut lips & cheap-brandy breaths, brings me her damaged hands. I inspect them, tell her that they are beyond repair. Too much squeezing, too much groping, too much coldness, too much neglect, too many strangers with kind faces who only wanted to use you for your hands, is what I tell her.
I imagine these one-night scavengers scribbling phone numbers onto her hands, leaving only runny lines of dried incomprehensible ink by morning.
I want to use the words virgins & tenors & virtuosos. But that would be too much, would leak out of context.
I ask her if she’s tried using vinegar solutions. She says she’s tried everything.
Please, she says, my hands no longer recognize me, they are as deformed as the ugly little men who pay me off the books with faded bills & some loose change. I live in an apartment that is a cardboard box that folds whenever I’m feeling flat & lonely . When it rains, the ceiling, the walls leak. The floors become soggy. They squeak as if trying to speak, as if trying to say Don’t you know what this apartment is made of? How long do you think it will take before every room collapses?
What it comes down to, she says—my hands can no longer hold water.
I agree to take her damaged hands for the last time. I promise to massage them, soak them in a jar of rose water & mixed sloes & some exotic herbs from nameless rain forests. She thanks me & leaves. For a moment, the world is once again her private lounge of smiling, invited guests.
She will play the piano tonight with porcelain-white hands, unblemished mute hands, hands with no history, no life lines, no hint of brittle bone, but as on other nights, everyone will be blind & tone deaf, acting as if they never ruined anyone’s hands. They will be too drunk to carry a tune. Driving home, they will not stop at red or orange signs. In the morning, they will confess to whomever lies next to them that they have driven all night, listening to The Fat Lady’s song. They have driven an entire lifetime in denial. They have driven an entire lifetime with ruined hands.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collections of poetry/prose are Future Wars (from Another New Calligraphy) and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.