What We Can’t Reach

Brooke Wonders

Brooke Wonders

Two hands meet at a bar. She orders a beer and flips him the bird when he tries to pay for it; he gets a whiskey sour, tracing a heart into the condensation that forms on its sides. She gets drunker and he rubs up against her; they’re like two sticks trying to make fire. They have no mouths to kiss or drink their liquor, so they just fumble at each other, searching for something to cling to—fingers, nails, the soft pad beneath their thumbs. They ignore the stares of patrons just drunk enough to disbelieve their own eyes.

At night, back at her apartment, she cuts a slit across his palm. It opens to a grin, revealing a row of pearly white teeth and a pink tongue. He takes the knife and she presses into it—and then she smiles back at him.

I love you is the first thing he says to her, and she says touch me to him, mimetic of the people from whom they’ve been severed. They have sex through the night, shoving fingers deep into the other’s mouth, crying out because now they can. They play a game called See Who Can Scream Loudest, until a neighbor bangs on their door yelling Damnfool kids.

Parts of kids, they holler back.

The next morning, with their new mouths they ask the important questions only chiromancy might divine: Why is your mouth so full of teeth? Are we living, dead, or somewhere in between? Are we mind or body or something more, and where do we keep our brains? Beneath the thin white lines of our cuticles? Beneath our lunulae?

After a few weeks they grow bored of sex. She gags when he tries to shove his whole fist inside her; during pillowtalk she whispers I want to see you. Neither of them understands sight; they feel their way through the world by touch alone. Let’s visit the morgue, he says. They steal a dead woman’s eyes, two intact hazels. Snickity snick goes his knife, cutting a socket right beneath her index finger, into which he pops an eyeball. Her eyelid flutters open, and the first thing she sees are his degraded cuticles. You need a manicure wicked bad, she says, blinking cycloptically at him.

Feelings hurt, he abandons her to the reek of dead bodies neither of them can smell, but in the morning relents and returns. He’s mangled himself surgically inserting the other eye into his palm. You don’t look so pretty yourself, he tells her. Streaks of dried blood thread along her life line, heart line, head line, traceries of how much she missed him in his absence. She’s never cried before. She doesn’t like it. Of course she takes him back, and they lick each others’ shiny new eyeballs, reveling in the iron-salt tang.

They settle into city living, make new couple-friends. For Halloween, a neighbor throws a costume party, and he goes as the Hamburger Helper; she’s the Thing. No one can guess who they’re trying to be.

One hand says to the other, will you marry me?

What’ll I wear? she demurs. He buys her a white calfskin glove. They stand together at the altar, declare their undying love, and put gold bands on each other’s ring fingers.

He gets evil hand syndrome, starts beating up on her, his fist a battering ram mashed into her mouth over and over, Suck my pinkie or else. She finally threatens to leave unless he sees a psychiatrist. After a few sessions, they’re walking together knuckle to knuckle when they pass an old vet, a double amputee. They hop into his pocket, follow him home and, while he’s asleep, attach themselves to his wrists. But they can’t sustain self-sacrifice, detach themselves, and flee before the vet awakens. Even more than the therapy, that’s what sets them on the straight and narrow. They stop drinking, take up yoga.

Over time they wrinkle. Liverspots appear. Folds of flesh form around her knuckles and stretch across her back; her stump looks withered, thinner than it used to be. He’s pretty sure she’s shrinking, that she used be as tall as his head-line but now only comes up to his heart. He wonders what she sees when she looks at him, her eye blinking slowly. She’s become unreadable.

They get depressed, begin to believe they’re so much dead weight, someone’s cast off mobile prosthetics. In desperation, they attend a stranger’s funeral and leap into the open casket. They fall asleep on the dead woman’s unmoving chest. The coffin lid’s closed; they’re lowered into the ground and buried. Later, much later, he wakes in a panic, Grandma decomposing beneath them. He wakes her and together they scrabble at the lid, clawing, scraping until it lifts just a sliver. She wriggles free, but he gets hung up on his wedding ring, swollen knuckles trapping him. His mouth opens in a scream and dirt floods into it. She seals her mouth tight, squinches her one eye shut, and scrabbles toward the surface.

When she finally claws her way up and out, fingernails cracked and caked with mud, she splays herself out in the sunlight, palm facedown, so very tired. She doesn’t recognize her own skin. A crow lands near her, begins to peck at her. It picks her up by one finger, tossing her around like a bit of shiny foil or a rubber glove. Then it carries her away.


Brooke Wonders writes weird fiction that thinks it’s true and memoir that thinks it’s fabulism. Her work has appeared in publications such as Brevity: A Journal of Concise Nonfiction and Daily Science Fiction. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and she blogs infrequently at girlwonders.com.


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