Their Hands by John F.D. Taff
TODAY’S BREW: Hazelnut. Not that exciting. I can’t always be exciting!
John’s fantastic, so are his more than 65 short stories in print. Follow him on Twitter @johnfdtaff to see pics of him in superhero masks. Visit him at http://johnfdtaff.com. Seriously, do it.
By John F.D. Taff
It was just their hands. In the end.
No matter what was said after, on the news, on the internet, by the pundits and bloggers, psychics and psychologists, police. Always trying to make everything more complicated than it actually was.
It was simple.
He’d seen them at the campground, at the pool.
He’d seen them in their Old Navy bikinis and their Dollar Store flip flops. With their jeweled cell phones and sparkling purses and tubes of lip gloss.
He’d seen them and then, almost, unseen them, as he’d unseen everyone else.
They were trailer park thin, with angular, boyish hips, long boyish legs. They were country pale with high cheekbones and dark, sunken eyes with too much blue eye shadow. They were cousins, maybe, sisters; too similar looking to be just friends. Maybe they were step sisters; perhaps the same father, perhaps the same mother. Stuff like that happened out here beyond the suburbs.
He’d stretched on his perch at the pool, a spot he’d scoped early that morning. A clean towel (he always brought a clean towel; his momma had warned him against germs) lay over the lounge chair, soaking up his sweat.
The towel smelled like bleach, acrid in his nostrils.
His sweat smelled like coconut suntan lotion and the sour dread of its anticipation.
When the girls came, he’d already dismissed everyone else. They were all talking too loud and pointing here and there and laughing. They throbbed in his head, like a hive of agitated bees. They made his head hurt, his eyes throb. He dismissed them all immediately.
So he sat in the sun, smelling his sweat and the towel, his eyes shaded by his sunglasses.
Then the girls came in. They entered the pool area quietly, glided across the hot concrete in a tight, cool envelope of silence.
He sat up in his chair, the towel momentarily sticking to his slick, bare shoulders, then peeling away like a layer of discarded skin, drifting back to the lounge.
His breathing quickened, and he fumbled with his sunglasses. They were the big, dark aviator kind that made him look cool in the little mirror of his little bathroom in the little, ramshackle RV he lived in, rode in from nameless place to nameless place.
They were slippery in his oiled hands, and they dropped to the lounge chair, clattered to the ground.
Silent as they were, their hands fluttered in the air before them like tethered birds, captured in their orbits. They soared and dipped, fingers circumscribing arcane shapes and symbols in the air.
He stared, not at them anymore, but at their darting hands, at the air in which they swooped. They left silver streaks, like the contrails of jets against a blue, blue sky. These incandescent arcs and spirals floated before them, between them, and faded, faded slowly into silver spangles that shone in the air, shone in his brain like faery dust before disappearing.
For a moment, it subsided within him, the demands, hypnotized into its own silence by their hands and the occult letters they spelled out onto the very slate of the air.
And then it was back, thrumming through him with a power that rippled the taut muscles of his stomach; that vibrated every cell in every blood vessel in his body.
For a moment, he sat there, his body trembling, his mouth agape, staring at them, at the air around them.
And then he was back, noticing them notice him.
Smiles, small and flirtatious, clung to their immobile lips.
Their hands danced subtly before them, sharing thoughts and feelings that he saw in silver flourishes.
Because of their silence, because of their hands, they were beautiful to him, shining, different.
Suddenly, his head felt better, the pressure decreased, and he felt washed in cool air, as if enveloped in the shell of the rarer atmosphere they seemed to inhabit.
He smiled back at them, smiled with the full force of his demand, and they hesitated, smiled back.
His smile broadened, then, broadened because, in looking at their hands, their right hands in particular, he saw his answer.
Each wore, on her wrist, a black silicone bracelet, popular these days and usually imprinted with a slogan, like “Live Free” or “Hope.” He didn’t care what the bracelets said, not really. He cared more for what they showed him.
For what they showed him was how they demarked those hands from the rest of their bodies, like a boundary drawn by a surgeon.
That thought made his smile grow even larger, and then the girls did start giggling, but silently, silently, with their eyes sparkling and their mouths drawn wide and their lungs hitching in air.
He thought, then, to remember that look on their faces.
But he knew he’d see it again, under much different circumstances.
“Hey, girls,” he said, careful to pronounce the words succinctly, moving his mouth in a large, open way. “Are you as hot as you look?”
Their smiles grew larger, but they remained motionless, smiling at him, appraising him.
“I’ve got AC and cold soda in the RV. I was heading there now. Wanna come?”
They giggled again, silently, and their hands, their beautiful, airy hands, leapt out before them and made incantations, more for each other than for him since they nodded in response to his question.
So, they walked back to his RV, arm in arm. The one’s right arm wrapped around the other; the other’s right arm wrapped around him. But his arm, thrown over both, never touched them.
* * * * * * * *
Later and far away, a trucker saw him haul two large, suspiciously shaped plastic trash bags off the side of the interstate and dump them in the weeds along the shoulder.
What was left…after.
There were police when he stopped, questions, searching…finding what he’d kept.
It was just their hands. In the end.