The Hands

March 28, 2020


The night before her fifteen birthday, Amy Seagreen dreamt of trees, tall trees, beautiful trees, roots buried in fertile soil and branches reaching toward the sun. When she woke up, her hair was gone and there were hands growing out of her head. Six of them to be exact. Each one perfect. Six perfect wrists. Twenty-four perfect fingers, six perfect thumbs. Thirty perfect fingernails. The hands were not like Amy’s old hands. Two had black skin, one had brown, another was pale with red freckles, and each one had its own unique set of fingerprints. Amy marveled at them in the mirror, reaching up and touching each one, feeling the sensation in both her old fingertips and new.


When she went downstairs for breakfast, her mother groaned.


Oh, Amy. What have you done to yourself?”


Her mother was always saying things like that, as though Amy had nothing better to do than think of ways to annoy her. Every decision she made was a tragedy designed to destroy her mother’s life.


“I didn’t do anything,” said Amy. “I woke up like this. It’s not my fault.”


“That’s the problem with your whole generation,” her mother said, waving her spatula at Amy like a scepter. “You don’t take responsibility for anything. Global warming, college loans–I suppose you’re going to blame this on me too.”


“I’m not blaming anyone. It just happened. What do you want me to do? Stick my head under a lawnmower and chop them off?”


“Don’t be so dramatic,” she said dramatically. “Why should you pay attention to your mother? It’s only your entire future I’m concerned about. What will people say when they see you like that?”


“That my mother is an open-minded person who loves her daughter despite her physical appearance?”


“That you’re a freak! That’s what they’ll say. And who will they blame? Not you. No, of course not. You’re just an innocent child. Your mother, that’s who they’ll blame. The woman who gave you life. The woman who raised you. Are you taking drugs?”




“Don’t ‘Mom’ me. I remember when you came home from that party last year with red eyes. You didn’t stop giggling for a week.”


“Yeah, Mom, smoking weed one time at a party causes hands to grow out of your head.”


“Don’t you back-sass me, young lady. Steve!”


Amy’s father was sitting at the table two feet away.


Steve! Do you see what your daughter looks like? Don’t you have anything to say?”


Her father cleared his throat and lowered the sports section of the newspaper. He raised an eyebrow when he saw the hands but then shrugged.


“A teenage girl’s body goes through changes,” he said. “You know, hormones. It’s just a phase. She’ll grow out of it. Do they hurt?”


Amy shook her head. Her dad shrugged and went back to his newspaper.


“Well, I think it’s disgusting,” her mother continued. “I just don’t understand why you can’t do normal things. All you kids these days, you’re all trying to become Youtube stars. ‘Look at me, I’ve got a ring through my nose!’ ‘Look at me, I have multi-racial hands growing out of my head!'”


Amy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I wasn’t getting enough attention, so I decided to grow half a dozen appendages from my cranium.”


“Well, you can’t go to school like that,” her mother said, placing a plate of waffles in the middle of the table. “We’ll have to figure something out. Maybe I can make you a scarf or something.”


Amy grabbed two of the warm waffles and headed for the door.


“Sorry, no more sick days. Have to go to school. Great idea on the scarf. I like black.”


She slammed the front door.


Her mother’s muffled voice followed her outside. “At least wear a hat!”

* * *

Walden Academy was one of those artsy charter schools where they didn’t believe in homework and students called teachers by their first names. Amy liked it there, but she didn’t quite fit in. It wasn’t that the other students were mean to her exactly–they just didn’t seem to know she existed. At her old school, she’d worn black clothes and played drums in an all-girl punk band, and everyone thought she was a freak. She had an identity. At Walden, black was not freaky, it was boring, or worse (the greatest insult of all) unimaginative, and you couldn’t swing a leather jacket without hitting a punk band. Amy didn’t stand out.


But that all changed when she walked into class on her fifteenth birthday with six hands growing out of her bald head. The students crowded around her, asking questions, touching her scalp, shaking the hands, giving them high-fives.


Walden was the type of institution that prided itself on cultural sensitivity, and the teacher–a nervous young man who taught indigenous history and watercolors–didn’t want to offend anyone or risk being uncool. Therefore, when he saw Amy, he crossed his arms nonchalantly and simply said, “Amy, is there anything I can do to accommodate your…um… Do you need anything?”


Amy shrugged. “I guess I could use some more paintbrushes.”


And that was that. He gave Amy six extra brushes and they proceeded with the lesson:  South American colonialism in pastels.


By lunch, everyone had heard about Amy, and she was the center of attention in the cafeteria. She was like the sun and the other students orbited around her gravitational pull. She was so busy answering questions that she didn’t get a chance to finish her vegan sloppy joe. Everyone wanted to meet her and touch her. Boys she had been fantasizing about for years looked directly into her eyes for the first time and said her name. It was the best day of her life.


That weekend, despite the constant calls and texts, Amy chose to stay in and learn about her new appendages. They were curious hands, and they learned quickly. If Amy waved at herself in the mirror, the hands would wave back. If she gave herself the middle finger, there were eight ‘fuck yous’ staring back at her.


She discovered quickly that the hands were all very unique. For instance, the hand directly above her forehead was quick, nimble, and extremely athletic. It could catch any ball thrown in its vicinity and fling it back with a force that surprised Amy every time. The hand to the far right above her ear was artistic, and once Amy showed it how to use the materials, it drew a sketch of a dragon that took her breath away. The hands directly to the left of that one were musically inclined and those in the back had an affinity for sculpture. It was like discovering superpowers.


That afternoon, the band Amy was in, Just Die Already, had a weekly gig at a coffee shop where the lead singer worked. She’d explained the hands to her bandmates and said she thought they should cancel, but they’d told her to stop being such a loser and show up. So that’s what she did. Normally the audiences at these performances included whatever boyfriend the lead singer was dating at the time and a few homeless guys who had nothing better to do, but when Amy arrived with her drum kit, the shop was packed. It was standing room only all the way out the door.


“Did you do this?” asked the bass player when she saw Amy.


Amy shrugged. “I guess.”


“Who the hell cares?” said the lead singer. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. Get set up.”


So they played their entire catalog, which took about eighteen minutes, and then they did some Sleater-Kinney covers and finished off with Patti Smith. On the final song, Amy gave the drumsticks to her musical hands, and they pounded out an epic solo. The crowd went nuts.

* * *

The rest of the school year went by in a blur. One of Amy’s new hands painted a picture that won a state-wide competition, and her other hands created a sculpture that literally made her teacher cry because it was so beautiful. Just Die Already started booking mid-sized venues around town and developed an online cult following overnight.


Her mother was mortified by all the attention and made Amy promise not to talk to the media or go online. Of course, fans posted videos of the band, and despite Walden’s strict no-phones-in-school policy, several students uploaded photos of her on Instagram, but most people thought it was special effects. When Amy didn’t respond to questions, the internet lost interest.


Her dating life didn’t really improve. She received attention from a lot of cute boys, but mostly they were interested in the hands. They wanted to play catch or arm wrestle. When she did go out and things started getting heavy, at some point the hands would get excited and pull the boy’s hair or stick a finger in his nose, and that was a real mood killer. And the constant hand-job jokes were getting super annoying.


It had been an exciting year, but she was relieved when summer vacation came around. She spent the whole first week locked in her room, sleeping and reading and watching online videos. The hands were antsy and tried to get her to play, but she ignored them. To be honest, she was starting to get a little sick of them. They’d been fun at first, but now that the newness had worn off, they were starting to feel like competitive siblings who were always trying to outshine her. Sure, she’d never been the best artist or musician, but those talents had been her own. Now nothing she did seemed good enough unless it was accomplished by one of the new hands.


The more time she spent by herself, the more resentful she became. She hated to admit it, but her mom was right. How was she going to have a normal life? Everywhere she went, people would stare at her. Strangers would stop to take her picture without asking. Little kids would point and laugh, or even worse, start crying. That had happened with Tommy Evans, the boy she used to babysit down the street. He took one look at her and began bawling. According to his parents, he still had nightmares. She hadn’t even lost her virginity yet, and now she probably never would. Was it worth it?


After a week in isolation, Amy finally came downstairs in her pajamas and told her parents she wanted to have the hands removed. “I’m sick of them,” she said. “The sooner the better.”


Of course, her mother was overjoyed. “I knew you would come around. I just knew it. You’re a nice, normal girl, and you should have a nice, normal life. Didn’t I tell you, Steve. I told you she’d come around.”


Her father looked up from the sports page.


“Whatever you want, peaches,” he said.


They made an appointment with a specialist. She was a short, plump woman with long white hair and a birthmark in the shape of a moth that covered the entire right side of her face. When the doctor saw Amy for the first time, her eyes lit up. She asked Amy to sit down, and she did a thorough examination. She took every hands’ pulse and tested their blood pressure. She gently poked them with a tongue dispenser and laughed when they took it away from her. She taught the hands paddy-cake and allowed them to touch her hair.


When it was over, she sat in front of Amy and became very serious.


“I can remove the hands,” she said.


“Wonderful!” Amy’s mother exclaimed. “When can we do it? The sooner the better.”


The doctor asked her mother to leave the room, and then she sat down again.


“I can remove the hands without hurting you, but they will be gone forever. I won’t be able to put them back.”


“I don’t want them anymore,” said Amy. “They’re ruining my life.”


The doctor nodded. “I can see how they could get annoying. But they’re also very unique. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot. I can’t tell you what to do, but I will say that I think these hands are part of you. People look at them differently because they’re unusual, but they’re still yours.”


“Then why can they do things my old hands can’t?”


“Maybe they’re connected to a different part of the brain. Maybe they have never been told they can’t do something, so they just go ahead and do it. I really don’t know, Amy. All I know is that if I remove them, they will be gone forever.”


“Then do it,” Amy said. “Because I just want things to be normal again.”


So the doctor set an appointment and a week later she removed all six hands from Amy’s head. There were no complications with the surgery, and after a few days in the hospital, Amy was allowed to go home.


Her head was wrapped in white gauze, and her mother changed the bandages every day. The doctor was very good at her job, and there was minimal scarring. When she went in for follow-up appointments, the doctor said there was no indication that the hands would grow back. The surgery was a success.


Amy’s hair did start growing back, however. It came in thick and chestnut brown, and it covered up the scarring. In a month, the stubble had become a soft, downy layer, and by the end of summer, she was able to style it into a pixie cut that looked surprisingly good.


Her head was lighter and she liked that. There was definitely a burden that had been lifted from her. Her life was her own again. But there was something else gone she couldn’t quite put her finger on. When she picked up a paintbrush, her hand felt sluggish and uninspired. She no longer wanted to draw or make sculptures. It was as though the sun had gone behind a cloud and now the entire world was a little less colorful than it had been before, a little more drab. She knew this feeling would fade over time, and it did. Eventually, she lost the memory of the more colorful world, and her gray existence became normal once again.


The kids at school were disappointed, and her bandmates immediately kicked her out. That was fine with Amy. She had decided she was done being a punk. In fact, she was done with Walden altogether, and soon enrolled in a nearby public school where teachers assigned homework and made you call them Mr. and Mrs. Some of the students at her new school had heard about her, but they figured it was probably a myth, and when they saw her normal head and her normal hair, they dismissed the rumors. She was the new girl, and she received enough attention from that.


Amy finished high school with good marks and enrolled at a nearby state college. By now, no one even remembered the girl with the hands growing out of her head, and Amy was completely anonymous. She majored in English, particularly enjoying the poems of e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams. In her junior year, she met a business major, and they married six months after graduation. They found jobs and bought a nice house in the suburbs. Amy became pregnant one year after their wedding and gave birth to a beautiful daughter with the same chestnut-brown hair and worried blue eyes. Her daughter grew up healthy and loved, and on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, Amy crept into her room and sat on the side of her bed. She reached out and stroked her daughter’s hair until she woke up.


“Mom, what time is it?” her daughter said, stretching her arms.


“It’s early. Happy birthday, sweetheart.”


Her daughter gave her a dopey half-awake smile. “Do we have cake?”


“Yes, we have cake.”


“And will there be presents?”


“Yes, there will be presents.”

Her daughter rubbed her eyes and sat up. “Are you okay? You’re acting weird.”


“I’m fine, honey. I just can’t believe it’s been fifteen years. How do you feel? Is anything different? It’s okay if something has changed. You can tell me. I’ll always love you.”


“No, I feel completely normal. Everything is the same. Mom, why are you crying? Mom, everything is normal. Don’t cry.”

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