Nicholas Went Looking for the Mayor’s Right Hand
by William Alexander
William Alexander forgot to tell you something important. It isn’t that he has a website (willalex.net). It isn’t that his stories have been published recently inInterfictions 2 and Paraspheres 2. He’ll remember what it is eventually.
Nicholas found his mother blocking the front door of his house. He didn’t know it was her. He pushed harder.
“The door’s stuck,” said Nicholas’s shoulder.
“I know it’s stuck,” said Nicholas. He tried again.
“How do doorknobs actually work?” Nicholas’s hand asked him. He ignored it. Both of his hands were constantly asking questions about watches and feathers and how every small thing did whatever it did. Everyone contained a chorus, but Nicholas in particular was a series of endless dialogues, inquiries, and contradictory sounds. His ankles liked to sing.
This was before he found his mother.
Nicholas gave up on the front door and went around the back. His ankles hummed a tune to the beat of his running.
* * *
The dead may finally take up their half of a very long conversation; aliens or deities may answer all those radio messages we send; the great apes may someday teach sign language to parrots and squid and everyone else, but today, in this place, the interesting conversations are between ourselves and pieces of us. Ask your stomach why it hurts. Ask your eyes what sunlight is like before optic nerves make interpretive decisions. Ask your friend about that bruise. Now ask the bruise.
* * *
Blood covered most of the living room floor, and continued to spread.
Nicholas’s feet had nothing to say when they backed away from the stain. His fingers said nothing when he dialed the phone and called for help. He sat on the floor and waited for help to come.
Only one part of him spoke. The voice was small and lodged somewhere in his chest, underneath a lung. It sounded like his father. Nicholas tried to ignore it. He tried asking it to stop. He tried beating his hand against the side of his ribcage. His hand did not complain. Neither did his skin. The voice continued.
* * *
They found Nicholas’s father, miles downstream and with blood still underneath his fingernails. They found him by the noise his fingernails made. “Wash us again. One more time. Just one more time. She’s still here.” They found him crouched down on the river bank, scrubbing his hands and digging underneath his nails with a twig.
He left some of his own blood under her nails, too, though her nails had nothing to say about this. Neither did any other part of her.
Nicholas wanted to talk to his hands, and he wanted his hands to talk to him. He wanted to hear reassurance that they would not ever be bloody. His hands were silent, his mother was silent, and his father was very far away, and the voice lodged somewhere in his chest still sounded like his father. Nicholas tried to drown out the sound of that whisper. He sang the tunes his ankles used to sing. He broke things, just to make more noise than that fragment of his chest.
The aunt and uncle he stayed with couldn’t help him. Their own voices were empathetic, comforting, and nice, but both her knees and his elbows made suspicious, skittish noises every time Nicholas moved, so Nicholas went looking for the mayor’s right hand.
The town stood on the side of a hill, and the mayor owned a bar on the downhill end of town. The slope brought everyone to the mayor’s bar eventually.
Nicholas pushed the door open and went in. Every surface of the bar was made out of wood—some polished, some not—and every part of it creaked when touched and creaked when left alone.
Nicholas left messages with the bartender, and he waited. He was only half as old as he needed to be to set foot in the bar, but no one asked him to leave. The bartender gave Nicholas free sodas while he waited. His mouth loved soda. His stomach hated it. Neither one said anything.
The voice in his gut spoke in an undertone, and not about the soda. Nicholas held the bottle and tried not to think about breaking it.
The mayor and the mayor’s right hand walked in. Cold air came in with him, and moved through the bar like a big dead dog licking faces. The mayor wore a duster and he wore a hat.
Everyone and everything stopped talking. The mayor stood beside the bar. The bar creaked under the weight of his elbow.
Nicholas watched the bartender lean in, mumble, and point. The bartender passed a short, clear drink to the mayor’s right hand, and the hand took it with him as the mayor came over to Nicholas’s table.
“May we join you?” asked the mayor’s right hand. The mayor said nothing.
Nicholas nodded, and the mayor sat down. He sipped his drink. The fingers of his right hand tapped the surface of the table as though each fingertip had something separate to say.
“What would you like to discuss?” asked the hand.
“My parents,” said Nicholas. “Do you know what happened?”
“I do,” said the hand, “and you have my sincere condolences.”
“Thanks,” said Nicholas. He meant it. The condolences did sound sincere, coming from the hand. “My father’s locked away, but there’s a piece of me that talks just like him. Nothing else talks. Just that piece. I think it’s somewhere over here.” He touched his side, and flinched where he had bruised himself. “Sometimes it moves around, and then I’m not sure where it is. I can’t talk to it, or pin it down, or get it to stop.”
The hand tapped a drumbeat on the table. “It is almost a sovereign thing, the piece of you which does not keep still. You have wandering wrath inside.”
“What can I do about it?” Nicholas asked. “How can I get rid of it?”
“Try to coax it into some extremity, like a toe or the tip of your nose. Try to keep it still. You might be able to reason with it, then.”
Nicholas scrunched up his forehead and stared at nothing. He frowned. He tried to focus. “I can’t find it,” he said.
The hand tapped Nicholas’s chest, hard. He rocked back in his chair, glaring and trying not to. The skin around his eyes tensed with the effort. He tried to breathe in a calm and normal rhythm. The hand poked him again. “It’s moving. It’s here now. Focus. Coax it.” The hand continued to jab, herding rage around inside his chest. Then the hand knocked Nicholas underneath his chin, and slapped him backhanded against his right cheek.
Nicholas took his empty soda bottle and swung it at the mayor’s right hand. The hand moved aside. The bottle broke against the table. The hand reached across and gently pinched Nicholas’s left earlobe.
“Got it,” said the hand.
“Ow,” said Nicholas. He could feel the whispering piece squirm in his earlobe. He tried to take a very deep breath. “Sorry about the bottle,” he said.
“Don’t worry about the bottle,” said the hand. “Just pinch your ear. I am going to stop, and you need to keep it trapped.”
Nicholas pinched his ear, hard. The hand withdrew.
“Do you have it?” asked the hand. Nicholas nodded. “Good. Now you have a choice. We can cut off your ear in the hopes that this will remove the wrath from your body entirely. It will hurt. It will disfigure your features, and I am not actually sure that it will work. I do not recommend this, but it is one of our options.”
Nicholas swallowed. “Have we got other options?”
“We do,” said the hand. “We can try fixing that fragment in place, where you might be able to deal with it, reason with it, and deny it access to the rest of you.”
“Let’s do that,” said Nicholas. His fingers were starting to hurt as much as his earlobe.
“Excuse us a moment, then,” said the hand. The mayor stood up, tipped his hat, and went back to the bar. He bought a glass of wine for a woman in a blue dress, and held his hand up to her ear. The hand asked questions, and her ear answered, but Nicholas couldn’t hear what they said to each other.
The two of them came back to the small table. Nicholas watched them approach. He didn’t understand how the woman moved according to such different rules than the ones his own feet knew.
“Hello,” said the woman with her own voice.
“Hi,” said Nicholas with his.
The woman sat down. The mayor continued to stand. She took out one of her many earrings, a silver ball welded to a very small spear. She dipped it in the mayor’s drink, sterilizing.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“I’m ready,” Nicholas said, though he didn’t really feel ready.
She reached over the broken glass on the table, stabbed the earring stud through Nicholas’s earlobe, and slipped the clasp over the back.
Nicholas shut his eyes, shut his mouth, and didn’t make a sound. His earlobe, however, screamed.
“There,” said the woman. She stood, leaned over and kissed Nicholas’s forehead. “That should help. Keep it clean until it heals.”
“Okay,” said Nicholas.
The mayor’s hand tipped the mayor’s hat in gentlemanly thanks. The woman took the mayor’s right hand in her own and gave it a courtly kiss. Then she went back to the bar.
“You can still try to cut your ear off if it refuses to parlay,” said the mayor’s right hand. “Come to me if you need a sharp knife for it. And do not ever take off that earring.”
“Okay,” said Nicholas. He noticed that the mayor wore an earring of his own. He wanted to ask about it, and his hands also wanted to ask, but everyone somehow restrained themselves. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome,” said the mayor’s right hand, and the mayor took his leave.
The bartender came and cleaned up the broken glass. Nicholas pinched his pierced ear, and winced.
“Ow,” said Nicholas.
“How does the clasp work?” asked his own hand.
“Do you think it’ll slip off when we’re sleeping or swimming or something?” asked the other one.
“I don’t know,” said Nicholas. “I hope not.”
His earlobe said nothing at all.