This is an old piece/series of fragments, written over the years between 2015-2018. It was going to be a part of my MFA portfolio, before I realised it didn’t fit in anywhere.
The woman without fingers lives in a house full of doorknobs demanding to be turned. This is a demand she cannot live up to, so she sits in an armchair behind a closed door, waiting for a gust of air to come. The woman without fingers spends most of her time waiting for her condition – being fingerless – to pass.
The woman without fingers hides her lack of fingers from others for as long as she possibly can – some people have known her for years and have yet to notice.
The woman without fingers wasn’t always fingerless, though she cannot be sure of this. The woman without fingers assumes that her recollections of a childhood of full of grabbing, of holding, of creating, are accurate, but she doesn’t know how to be certain.
The woman without fingers cannot plug her ears to keep the world from coming in through the vulnerable holes.
The woman without fingers cannot scratch.
The woman without fingers cannot twirl her hair while flirting.
The woman without fingers cannot make a fist.
The woman without fingers feels divided in so many ways she doesn’t know how to contend with the idea of wholeness. She looks at an orange on her kitchen counter and thinks only of the segments under the skin, and the cells composing each segment, containing its juice.
If she can help it, the woman without fingers avoids eating in public. The woman without fingers drinks with both palms flat against her glass, taking tiny rodent sips.
The woman without fingers doesn’t think she understands her body, the way it functions, the effect it has on others.
When she is scared, the woman without fingers cannot squeeze your hand. The woman without fingers cannot retrace the path of a tear along your cheek.
The woman without fingers cannot not pluck sad songs from guitar strings.
When the woman without fingers sits too long with too little to do, she begins to take herself apart. This only reduces her body further and must be avoided at all cost.
The woman without fingers lies about her age.
The woman without fingers cannot hold a cigarette. When standing next to a bus stop, she takes sharp breaths, sucking other people’s smoke straight from the air.
The woman without fingers cannot hold a pen or press madly into a keyboard.
The woman without fingers cannot play an instrument, and she doesn’t like her singing voice. The woman without fingers relies on her mind, nothing but her mind, to keep alive the thoughts that matter.
The woman without fingers cannot masturbate. This is fine. The woman without fingers has a body without needs.
The woman without fingers is capable of feeing jealous of anything at all: a potted plant, a tambourine, a person on the bus, the colour pink, the sound of clinking glass.
The woman without fingers sees other women paint their nails, open packs of gum, and it makes her eyelids twitch.
The woman without fingers comes from crafty, dexterous stock. Her grandfather, whom she barely knew, was a surgeon.
Sometimes, the woman without fingers forgets that she is fingerless. The world looks very different then.
The woman without fingers was once complimented on the firmness of her handshake. The woman without fingers has never broken a bone.
The woman without fingers knows where her weakness lies: in the fear of what will happen if she fails to please, to read the code of expectation.
The woman without fingers cannot trace your path on a timeline or a map and point to the place or time that holds you away from her. The woman without fingers is often distraught, in a wordless sort of way.
The woman without fingers finds herself falling for writers and paintbrush wielders, saxophone players and those who can rewire a car, for crafty types, for cooks, for those with confidence in their steady hands.
The woman without fingers cannot tie her shoes. She likes to be barefoot in the summer.
When knocking on doors, the woman without fingers is all knuckles. The woman without fingers cannot conceive of a world without violence.
The woman without fingers has dreams in which a version of herself is endowed with fingers: sometimes only one or two, sometimes all ten, and sometimes with fingers sprouting from all parts of her body. A whole body ceaselessly touching, fumbling, groping, feeling, wanting.
The woman without fingers wakes from those dreams in a good mood but with heavy eyelids and a strong taste for coffee.
The woman without fingers cannot wear fake nails and pretend to be a ditz. The woman without fingers cannot deal with switches. The woman without fingers cannot swipe a credit card.
The woman without fingers has friends who think she’s well-adjusted because, unlike her friends, she is never seen picking at her skin or body hair.
The woman without fingers has never popped a pimple.
The woman without fingers never draws her curtains.
The woman without fingers likes clothing to be easy, without detail beyond the necessary.
The woman without fingers prefers to be alone, away from the expectations other people carry, and this tendency feels dangerous, like self-inflicted doom.
The woman without fingers cannot cling to your ankles in the doorway and beg you not to leave.
The woman without fingers has never stroked the needles in a sewing kit to the point of drawing blood from underneath the skin.
The woman without fingers cannot dial her parents’ number to tell them she’s okay.
The woman without fingers never rings the doorbell. The woman without fingers doesn’t wear anything with buttons. The woman without fingers talks to herself out loud.
The woman without fingers has no fingerprints and cannot say she feels unique. The woman without fingers has never been accused of shoplifting.
The woman without fingers has let herself be held by people who promised to love her and never did. The woman without fingers knows it’s easier to imagine something’s absence than to face the fact that it has fallen short.
The woman without fingers knows that the wind in the curtain belongs to the curtain. The woman without fingers likes to sleep alone.
The woman without fingers cannot make herself throw up.
When the woman without fingers laughs, joy pours from her throat unstopped. Like everyone else, the woman without fingers sometimes feels the weight of loneliness.
The woman without fingers cannot mend what’s ripped or broken. The woman without fingers knows a person’s range of motion is significantly diminished by perfection.
The woman without fingers will never cease to learn.
The siren speaks to Odysseus:
It hasn’t occurred to you that the reason why you haven’t drowned or crashed into rocks isn’t because you are immune to my song, but because, like Kafka’s sirens, I have not been singing to you.
My mouth was open, but I watched you sail past in silence; not because I don’t, in the silent inlet of my ribcage, carry unspoken words that chain together to express an excess of affection towards you, but because reaching out to you in song would cause a crash neither of us wants for you.
Like Kafka’s sirens, it could be enough to watch you sail past in blissful illusion of your own shrewdness, the conviction that you are stronger than most, with better self-control, and to witness, as your chained-up body passes by, the candle-light of your eyes pierced by the arrows of the sun.
Yes, sometimes it is enough to know how beautiful you are, to know you were once close, and that, by its absence, my song let your ship sail away from the jagged edges I serve.
I love this retelling of Odysseus sailing past the sirens. Kafka seems to make it about our capacity for delusion, the hardest thing to resist being the idea of one’s own resilience when facing temptation. However, this doesn’t apply to Odysseus alone, but also in part to the sirens themselves, perhaps even the Gods. It is possible, says Kafka, that Odysseus didn’t realise the sirens were silent, or maybe he did know and simply went through the motions his myth required of him. The siren is deluded into thinking she isn’t singing, and Odysseus is deluded into believing he hears a song when in reality all he hears is the rush of the sea around him, and the excitement of resisting temptation flowing through his skull. The Gods are deluded simply by virtue of being Gods.
I am the builder, my hands flicker with the need to touch and shape and move, a magic that wants to make things in the world.
Give me two things and I will fuse them together, hammer them against each other; I will make you a house, a ship, a palace, a grave, I will plant each homeless root I find into willing, loving earth.
Siegfried loves me for this, needs me for this very part of me. Siegfried has aspirations, knows he is meant to be something better than what the present holds.
I don’t perceive time in such a way, I can’t, I am too many things at once for something like time to seem linear to me.
But I am willing to make, to give, to use the effervescence in my palms on things that Siegfried desires from life. I’ve made him many castles over time, each better than the last, and I keep doing so. Not all of my creations live up to what we both imagine, and so far none of them have kept him close to me for good.
The problem doesn’t lie with the castles; they are wonderful, I know they are, the things I make are rarely far from beautiful. The problem is what Siegfried uses them for: endless distractions, endless parties designed to get people to love him. After a while, I have to hide from the activity.
But when I hide, that’s when Siegfried sees me most clearly, sees that I carry too many selves inside me. “Can’t you just be a woman, Melusina,” he begs me, “Just be one thing and be it fully, that’s all I ask.”
Every seven years, like the snake who birthed her, Melusina goes into the waters and rubs and rubs her skin until it comes loose from her body and sheds itself, running off with the stream.
This is an ability given to many humans in many cultures, but in Melusina’s case this act turns her body translucent. In this state of transparency, she can assess the damage her body has taken in those seven years, that time during which she loved too much, and was loved badly in return.
She assesses the state of her muscular tissue cramped and cracked from holding on too tightly, her tired tendons and bones. Has anything become crooked or stale, are there burst capillaries or clumped veins, has anything been deformed or permanently blocked? How broken is her heart? Are her lungs spotted from the air she breathes? Has another untruth been dislodged from the basin where she keeps her fears and made its way half-way up her windpipe? Has her liver ceased to care for her? Is anything cracked and in need of mending? Are her nails so full of ridges that she cannot scratch them down a lover’s back without leaving their dust behind? Are the roots of her hair barely clinging to the surface anymore?
For the most part, Melusina’s fine, healthy still, but who knows, seven more years may reveal a very different body to the one she has now.
The Gorgon’s aim is to fasten pleasant or important things to the layer of timelessness that exists beyond the flowing streams of time. She is a kind of archivist of life, she records her conversations with her friends, keeps boxes and shelves full of tapes in her basement. She keeps a log of her emotions in a large red notebook on her coffee table.
What the Gorgon fears most of all is ageing, the passing of time. She enjoys the arts of petrification, which momentarily pour time into an immobile form, pinning it in place. This is an illusion she delights in. The Gorgon is an amateur photographer, sometimes a sculptor. Her favourite material is sandstone, for its warmth and permeability. She likes the idea of water and air flowing through even those things that seem immune to the passage of time.
She takes pictures of everything around her, except herself, because she needs to think of herself as unbound to the laws of material existence. She knows that to be embodied means being subject to entropy; she, too, will one day have to disappear. This enrages the Gorgon to the point where she can’t sleep for days, lying fuming on her bed with only the snakes on her head for company.
The snakes themselves never sleep. They sense the Gorgon’s thoughts, while she cannot read theirs. She can’t communicate with the snakes beyond feeding them, and snapping her fingers angrily if one of them forgets itself and bites her hand. The Gorgon never forgets a bite, and she keeps tabs on each snake.
Sometimes it upsets her that those snakes are closer to her thoughts than anyone else will ever be, those creatures whose only mode of response consists of twisting, snarling and hissing.
When the Gorgon feels something strongly, or has intense thoughts, the snakes hiss and shake in time with the contents of her mind. The Gorgon feels exposed, not because she worries about other people decoding her thoughts via the snakes’ interpretative dance, but because she knows she carries her emotions on her crown, so visibly it makes people uncomfortable. In order to learn more about her own thoughts, the Gorgon mounts cameras to her ceilings, and spends hours rewatching the tapes of the snakes’ dance, trying to read it like a language, but the snakes form too many crossing lines and the Gorgon gets too tired to make sense of their gyrations.
In order to protect the people she likes, she wraps a band around the snakes and ties them together in a snapping bouquet behind her head. She carries an open rucksack full of mice so the snakes can feed themselves discreetly while the Gorgon socialises.
In general, it’s hard for her to meet new people, because right away she worries about their mortality. Getting close to anyone means needing to ask, “What if they disappear?” which is the way all things on earth must go. She is known to freeze any person she meets into a pillar of worries and first impressions.
She rarely ever relaxes, tells herself she doesn’t know how. But sometimes the light of day falls at an angle that feels absolute, the boiling inside her hushes, and her body feels covered in the thinnest layer of resin, keeping all of her contained where it belongs. In those moments the Gorgon, who in many ways is still so young, feels immortal, the way only those who have never experienced dying can.
I look for the green tinge in the black paint. When it isn’t there, I know my eyes have adjusted, finally. I feel my hind legs straighten almost all the way, which is supposed to be a sign of something. Then there is the fur that comes out in clumps whenever I touch the skin underneath. Could the energy of it rupture something as sibling as these quick moments woven into one another?
The bonds between cells which the plant material releases are wet paint, never had a chance to harden, crushed beneath a stride.
There is no healing. Not for anyone in this world. The work of healing is distraction, an occupation like any other, towards an empty eventual fall, a failing, there is no healing, not from anything. There is the moment of being passed through by life, and there is chemistry, and there is the no-longer.
I reach into your solar plexus all the way up to my elbow, and I hear the gushing, when my arm comes out it is coated with mud, and the touch of the world dries the mud so quickly it pinches my skin like tiny slaps before it crackles and flakes off, dusting my feet.
So little in the grain of the table is free from association with the things I own as a girl, these thighs, the striation in the skin goes both ways, up-down-left-right, and then some associative, diagonal nonsense.
My teapot is somewhat green, my cup is black. There are other colours and tints in all of this, like silver and white, but those don’t blend in with previously written words.
I think of the fact that I’ve never liked drinking from straws, or sucking at those water bottles that come with nubs. I’ve not been fed by breasts that way, I’ve been fed by rubber, and I’ve had enough, I think, of all this sucking.
I’m hungry, not for the difficult pull that constricts the throat and makes eyes bulge, but for the wide gulp of liquid tumbling in, the flow inward, unconstricted, a fall the size of an apple, into the mouth open as a well.
I don’t close my eyes during daylight hours. There is too much that could be missed, and I still haven’t earned my passport to life, after all I have spent years not really partaking, feeling so separate that I was convinced I would never die. Now every beam is something to be soaked up, something to be put aside for later use. As you can tell, I still postpone, but at least I consider the world something to be partaken in, in whatever way I can.
Money can be thrown at objects and it places them into your hand, it’s like magic. Food can be put into the mouth, then ferried into the stomach, and from there into the blood. It’s amazing. I can drink and speak and hear and see. I don’t know what to do with any of what I take on, but I’ll take it, who am I to say no?
I leave the day with armfuls of objects and words and pictures and thoughts, and I arrange them around my body every night in bed just in case I don’t wake up, and this is my way of saving my family and friends the effort to decide what to put in my grave.
We are Egyptian still, never got over that side of ourselves, and we still surround our dead with things, and I surround myself to pretend I live, just like the dead wear sheets and makeup, because it is spooky to look at them with their bones so slack in their faces, looking loose like the earth that calls them home to it.
Reminded of this piece by a friend who’s currently studying Beckett’s Words and Music for a seminar.
This is the Morton Feldman version of the radio play, his second collaboration with Beckett after 1977’s Neither.
[This particular gem of a recording features the brilliant ensemble recherche as ‘Music’]