One morning in her waking moments Sandra had a vision of a dress. As an aspiring designer, she and a friend were toying with starting their own boutique. She awoke, sat up in bed and wanted to get a pad and pencil to sketch the dress, but Victor was holding on to her. Let go, I need to get some paper, she said. Victor hummed briefly in his own waking moments. He was a technical writer and wrote how-to manuals for a company in Baltimore.
Sandra pulled but her hand didn't break free from his. Vic, please, she said. What are you doing? Victor said in a sleepy mumble. Let go, he said. You let me go, Sandra said. She looked and yelled. Victor awoke. Their hands were fused at the knuckles. Their fingers were enmeshed as if they were holding hands, only they made one clump of skin and bone. What happened? Victor said. What did you do? Sandra said. What did I do? Victor said.
They both sat up and examined their hands. The skin was smooth and seamless. It did not look as though there were two hands, and that somehow overnight these hands had come together into one troubling end of two separate limbs. They both felt pressure in the hands. Their fingers were squeezed, not painfully, but tightly as a constant and antagonizing reminder. We have to go to the doctor, Sandra said. What are we going to say? How are we going to drive there? Like this? Victor said. We're going to call 911, Victor, she said.
Calm down, Victor said and looked closely at the hands. Hold still.
He grabbed her wrist. What are you doing? she said. Victor yanked his hand away from hers, but they didn't separate. They both winced in pain and Sandra cried out. We're calling right now, she said and started to cry. I'm sorry, baby, Victor said and leaned his head against hers.
They were cleared for emergency surgery and the hospital even accepted the full financial burden. It was performed as a teaching procedure. The veteran doctors who operated seemed blasé, but were actually in awe of this impossible deformity. The hands and fingers were separated intact. Five digits on each. They had been locked together and grown over, but were still healthy while nested among the veins and vessels. There was some significant scarring but doctors assured Sandra and Victor that it would fade. Medical papers were written analyzing and hypothesizing the possibilities of what happened. Nothing was concluded. Sandra and Victor were both given an assortment of tests but eventually enough of the results were uninteresting that they were both released and asked not to come back.
At first, they began spending nights apart. They didn't want whatever it was that happened to happen again. They slipped one drunken night and awoke in a panic to wholly separated bodies. They laughed and went to brunch. Victor moved in six months later. A year after that Sandra was offered an internship on a team of designers in Paris. They celebrated but realized nothing had changed. She went without him and he promised to follow.
Years later Sandra was back in the States, living in San Francisco. She hadn't talked to Victor since they had broken up. He was still in Baltimore. She was having a small fashion show at a friend's laundromat. I really thought I was going to die, Sandra said. I know you can live without a hand, but I thought it was the end of my life. She put one hand in the other and squeezed her knuckles. They got sore sometimes and swelled. She rubbed them through the entire show, though that was more from her nerves. Towards the end of the night her friend Molly turned to her with a big smile. Are you freaking out? Molly asked, but Sandra didn't hear. If I were you I'd be totally freaking out, she said. Sandra shook her head and looked at the runway made of industrial driers and counter tops. The last model made his way around.
Everything looked great, her friend Molly said but Sandra suspected Molly was just saying that.
When she got home she sat down at the kitchen table with her sketchbook. Eventually her wrist ached from drawing. She put her pencil down and interlocked her fingers. She wondered how it could have happened. Maybe she would call the doctors for an update. Maybe she would do some research on it. There had to be more to know. Somewhere else to go. It struck her that she had always felt this way even before the hands. That with all the people, animals, microbes, falling trees, exploding volcanoes, printed books, space stations, shifting countries, nothing happens just once.
Brian Mihok's work has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, 1913, Hobart, American Short Fiction online and elsewhere. His novel The Quantum Manual of Style was released in 2013 from Aqueous Books. He is an associate editor at sunnyoutside press. He also edits matchbook, a journal of indeterminate prose.