When the hand arrived in a small box with his other mail on a Tuesday morning, Malcolm was still having trouble with reality. He'd been groggy when he awoke, and wondered how long it would take for the meds to wear off. The box seemed tangible enough. His name and address were written in block letters in heavy black ink. There was no return address.
The hand was dainty, a young woman's left hand, the nails manicured but unpolished, the golden skin soft and unblemished. It was severed at the wrist. Other than a slight pink tinge on the bandage, there was no trace of blood. Almost like a mannequin's hand, but he recognized it immediately as Gisella's.
Gisella! So quiet and sweet. So lovely with her long dark braid, her slender frame, her high breasts. He'd particularly admired her hands. When he sat beside her on the park bench outside his office building, they sometimes fluttered in her lap like tiny birds.
She had a heavy accent and communication had been difficult. He didn't mind sitting in silence with her. You couldn't call it stalking when he followed her home to see where she lived. They knew each other. It wasn't like the other time, when the cops showed up at his door.
Calling on her father to ask for permission to propose marriage was old-fashioned, he knew, but they were immigrants, and he felt he should observe traditions. Also, he'd always liked the custom of two men negotiating the fate of a virginal girl. At least he was fairly sure she was a virgin. How she'd trembled when he raised her hand to his lips! She was shy, modest, clearly obedient to her father. Her eyes were always cast down, and had never met his. He felt he needed her father's permission to court her.
Her father, however, had been distressed, or confused. His accent was even heavier than Gisella's, and Malcolm wasn't quite sure what the problem was, but it appeared that her father thought he was inquiring about a dowry. Malcolm tried to explain that he didn't expect a dowry, that he just wanted to marry Gisella, but her father shook his head, hands extended and open as if to show that they were empty. He was agitated when Malcolm mentioned immigration, how marriage would ensure that they couldn't be deported. (She was a cleaner, and Malcolm was fairly sure she was undocumented.) Her father became even more agitated when Malcolm pressed ten hundred-dollar bills on him for the wedding dress. Finally he communicated to Malcolm that he'd hear from them. At least that had been Malcolm's impression. Gisella's father had waved him out of the room, his head bowed, one hand over his eyes. She was his only child. Of course he'd be distraught about losing her, Malcolm thought. His little dove.
Two days later, the hand arrived. Or was he imagining it? Reality wasn't always quite clear to him, and it had become worse with meds. When he was taking the anti-psychotic, he felt like he was wrapped in cotton wool. When he stopped taking it, the universe seemed off-kilter, strangely bright.
Gisella had declined to give him her telephone number, or maybe she didn't have one. Malcolm pulled on a suit jacket and tie and rushed cross-town to the ancient apartment building where she lived with her family. After ringing and ringing with no response, he got another tenant to buzz him in and bounded up the stairs to the fourth floor, breathing heavily. The door to their apartment was ajar, and when he pushed it open, he saw that the dark ornate furniture, piles of oriental carpets, and heavy brocade drapes were no longer there. Sun streamed through the unwashed windows, showing dust balls in the corners, discarded boxes and packing materials. The rooms were empty. Where had they gone? Had they ever been there at all?
At home he studied the hand. He couldn't keep it in the box. He was sure it would begin to decay. The freezer maybe? Finally he decided to preserve it in a large glass container of formaldehyde, much more easily obtained than he expected. The container seemed to glow when he inserted the hand. At night he threw a silk scarf over it like a birdcage. Her silk scarf, black with red roses, which she'd left behind on what he still thought of as their bench once. He'd slipped it into his pocket and kept it, a souvenir.
Several weeks later, when he'd given up on reaching Gisella, he had the first dream. A dream of Gisella, or rather of her hand, which caressed his body, lingering in his erogenous zones. Not exactly the hand of a virgin: the hand knew exactly how to satisfy him. He awoke disturbed, with sticky sheets. The dream returned at irregular intervals, always just the hand. Sometimes he heard her voice whispering guttural syllables in his ear in a language he didn't know. He began to look forward to her nocturnal visitations, and became less embarrassed by his nocturnal emissions. After all, no one else knew. In some respects it was easier than a marriage would have been. He'd been anticipating some problems—difficulties communicating, cultural adjustments, reticence, inhibitions.
And so a year passed, and another. At night the hand glowed under the silk scarf, lighting up the red roses. He could hardly remember what Gisella looked like any more. He saw other girls on the street who looked like her—dark-haired, golden-skinned, foreign. They carried themselves differently, even the way they walked. He couldn't describe it. Maybe it was their apparent obedience. They looked biddable. They all began to blend together, indistinguishable from one another. He remembered her father with more precision, massive and swarthy, and how his eyes had darkened during their exchange. He remembered what he'd said to her father with chilling clarity, "I'm here to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
is the author of the award-winning flash chapbook "The Missing Girl" (Black Lawrence Press). She has published flash in Gone Lawn, Wigleaf, matchbook, Cotton Xenomorph Ghost Parachute
and elsewhere. Find her online at jacquelinedoyle.com
and on Twitter