By Joy Lanzendorfer
The volar of her hand was small and tender, as soft as a piece of sponge cake. I watched it make an appearance as she handed me the change, the leafy green bills covering the delicate lines etched there.
It was strange that her hands affected me so much. Her castellated fingers jutted from the slender branch of her wrist, and I couldn’t move my eyes away. Later, when I came back for a second coffee, I watched her write something on a clipboard, her wrist jerking with the effort, her fingers swooning around the pen. I noticed the veins, blue against her flesh, and imagined them surrounding her, drawing blood up to the tied knot of her head.
My days were consumed with visions of her hands stroking and caressing and touching, and it became intolerable for me to think of them like that, naked for the world to see. Not only that, but she flaunted them, decorating her limpid nails with florid designs, tarting them up so that your eyes glommed onto the graceful trailing of her fingers and your baser emotions were inflamed.
She knew what she was doing, I thought. She did it on purpose.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps she was innocent of the effect her hands had on people. She could be a virtuous woman who was also naive.
It was possible.
Either way, something must be done. If I asked this woman out, how could I stand to watch her lift a glass or open a door, knowing that the sight of her hands was not for my eyes alone? That any man in the vicinity could—and surely would—look upon the same sight? No. I needed to cover her to protect her from herself. For her own good.
In the department store, I looked at gloves: valentine-red leather, fuchsia polyester with gilt edging, brown hide made for horseback riding. The pair I picked was a fine black crepe that reminded me of Victorian mourning gowns. The clerk wrapped them in a thin rectangular box, and I put them in my briefcase.
When I went to the coffee shop, she was moving her hands in virulent rebellion, brewing espresso, scalding milk, shutting the plastic lids of cups with only the pressure of her fingertips. Her nails were indecent in pornographic pink. When I ordered a coffee, her fingers touched me ever so slightly as they handed me my change, and I was angry that she was so wanton, and I was aroused.
I had to give her the gloves, but this I could not easily do. We had never spoken past the confines of the cashier/customer relationship. I sat at one of the round tables and watched a man describe a complicated coffee order to her. As he spoke, her hands hung below the counter, out of sight. Without them, she was almost ordinary, her pale hair pulled under a visor, her upper arms heavy and dark with a trucker’s tan.
But as the man talked, her hand came up, a lily popping open to the light. She crossed one arm around her body and rested her elbow upon it so that her other arm ran up to the column of her neck. The long fingers cupped the bottom of her chin. And then, oh, then, one lone index finger rested upon her warm mouth.
I could not abide by such flirting. She might as well have put her finger on his mouth. When the man was done talking, she made him the special coffee, moving her hands in an undulating manner like a perfumed strumpet beckoning to an opium den. I sat in heated rage, watching her. What could a man do with such a hussy? To put a gold ring on that hand was like decorating a sow’s ear.
When the suitor left, manipulated as if he were clay to drop a tip into the jar, I took the gloves from my briefcase. The coffee shop was empty now. She was alone behind the counter, flipping through the money in the till, her fingers caressing the bills with speed and efficiency. A fitting occupation, I thought.
I tore the elastic bow off the box and jerked it open so that the black gloves lay exposed in their modest enclave. Gathering them so that the empty fingers dangled from my grip, I strode to the counter and threw them down so hard, they skidded to the edge. The girl stopped counting, her hands frozen in the air as she looked at me.
I pointed to the gloves.
“Cover yourself up,” I said, before turning and walking out onto the street.