• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 03
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To Have and to Hold

It was always the hands that got him. He shuddered to think, of course, where these hands had been, but that was part of the job. Putting his hands where he shouldn’t. Inside people, outside people. It was bloody grim. He snuffed at his own word choice, chest heave-heave-heaving in its turquoise blue. As his colleagues had told him, it wasn’t really his colour. At least with poking around inside dead people, cutting and examining and squelching, style wasn’t allowed to be an issue. Graham – what a name for a pathologist, Graham, bland and boring like the bodies – was thankful for that. His subjects didn’t mind, and his colleagues didn’t care. The hand thing was a bit of a problem, admittedly. The sheet on each corpse had to be whipped off like a plaster, the whirling of a magician’s cape, because Heaven forbid Graham catch a hand poking out from the side. With each body fully exposed, he had to acknowledge the intricacy, the scars, the moles, the drunken tattoos of old lovers and even older friends. But catch a glimpse of a pale hand trailing through the curiously stagnant air, and Graham was off. Not screaming, or even fainting, but retreating into himself. Shutting the blinds, au revoir, goodnight. And if that happened, that was bidding a fond farewell to at least two hours of work, the fancy biscuits in the tin and the comfortable chair in the break room. It wasn’t that his colleagues disliked Graham – he was remarkably dextrous, easy-going, and could be a riot at the Christmas party – but there was something a little odd about this hand thing. Not a fetish, or a phobia, just a slight problem which was never actually addressed.

Graham didn’t ask for help, because he knew that he’d never be understood. A statement from his teenaged years – no, go away, you’ll never understand how I think or what I’m feeling – but true, nevertheless. It was the humanness of hands, the knowledge that everywhere we go, we touch the same places as strangers. Train seats. Door handles. Dodgy taps in toilets, inevitably unbearably hot or unbearably cold.


To Have and to Hold

Even bodies, shaking hands or holding hands, business meetings and crunching autumn walks. To have and to hold.

Holding. That was the problem. The image was haunting him, the idea of all these hands holding and gripping and scratching. Opposable thumbs. Cats with opposable thumbs. He tried to make himself laugh, but it wasn’t worth it, because someone, out of ignorance or spite, had left an arm hanging loose, the slender hand on its slender wrist marked by a slender gold wedding band. The colours, white and gold and blue – the Virgin Mary – blurred, a cloud, enveloping him, and he knew that the next few hours would be wasted.

Graham walked slowly to the break room for a cup of tea, the edges of his vision tinged by turquoise.