Large flock of cormorants on a pier
Cormorant Dance ©John Laue

Hand of God

Minette Cummings

When they say, Give them a hand! I can say I already did. I only have the one now. Dad pulled off the other when I was 12, and he gassed our boat away from the pier, me standing there with anchor rope wrapped around my wrist. Our last family vacation.

You could say Dad had a hand in it.

I’ve lost protection from the evil eye, so I let Tyree from the bar take me home: I get a lot of curiosity-seekers. The hotel comforter smells like a used car. We forget to pull it down like they tell you you should. Afterward, we hold our hands up overhead, Tyree’s both dark and mine pale, like we are in some ad for world peace.

I wait tables on the swing shift, carrying plates two at a time in one pincer grip. The tips are good for the one-handed girl: my circus, my monkeys. Lend me a hand, I joke to Jorge, who helps me bring plates out when I get in the weeds.

Saturdays, my dad stops in for coffee, sits at the counter, and tries to look sober. We don’t speak. He likes to be in the same room as me, and this is the only way. He took my hand, and now he wants more.

Some nights are longer than others. I peel oranges between customers, dropping sticky segments into the juicer chute. The cooks swarm the dispenser when I’m out on the floor, drinking my juice as fast as I can make it.

You guys suck, I tell them.

Aww, why you gotta be that way? The new cook asks. He drops to one knee on the food-caked floor. I’ll make it up to you. I’ll make it up to you, he says, then clears his throat loudly. I’d like your hand in marriage, girl. He whoops, and then he and the busboys crack up.

You’d like my hand around your dick, I tell him.

Oooh, says Fernando, She’s bustin’ on you! I roll my eyes, retract my claws. Girl’s gotta eat.

Behrooz tells me they’d cut off the cooks’ hands in his country for stealing. Ironic, I tell him. He raises his eyebrows and nods his head. Behrooz would never take my juice.

My sister calls Sundays from Boulder. She likes incense and yoga now. She tells me, Your chakras are blocked. She tells me Chi comes and goes through the palms. This blockage is somehow my fault, her tone implies.

There is a community college downtown. Paul, who prefers the two-top by the bathroom, says they take anyone, says it’s cheap. I write ideas for stories down on the back of my order pad: horse hands, hand of God.

After the bars close, I serve mostly coffee and pie slices on small plates, easy to carry, then smoke cigarettes Tony the dishwasher lights for me out back. The hand I’m dealt, I write on my pad later. Restaurant laborer, restaurant hand.

They couldn’t reattach it: by the time they found it in the lake, it was shriveled like an old balloon.

Sometimes, I can tell that my dad’s been crying. That’s the worst. His eyes are red; his hands are shaky. He leaves me $20 tips. I’d strangle him, but I can’t.

Fernando brings me an old shirt from his closet. Just for you, he says, cuz I know you like second-hand. He looks around at the other busboys, waiting for applause or high-fives, but none come. No one likes Fernando.

You should get out of here, my manager Gino says while we pass a joint in the cooler.

Leave early? I ask. I have two hours left.

No, he says. Here. He opens his arms wide. He grabbed me once out back by the dumpster, tried to rub his beard all down my neck until I pushed him away. Now he wants to play daddy.

My real dad’s at the counter again. I usually ask Roger or Molly to take him, but this time I bring over his mug of coffee. You gotta stop coming here, I tell him.

I just miss you all so much, he says. His teeth are yellow with nicotine. The scar under his eye that he got in Alaska is starting to droop. Don’t you? Don’t you miss it?

I think about his question. Do I miss it? My mom, my sister, the family I had at 12 years old?

I do miss it, I tell him. I miss my fucking hand.

I take a bus to the community college. A man in khakis shows me class names and a diagram with degree plans. I pick one. He looks like someone’s dad, the kind that stays sober on vacations and, grills burgers, teaches his daughters how to build a fire. I want to feel nothing, but when I get back to my garage apartment, I take my order slips in hand, arranging them in different patterns on my comforter, trying to make them talk. There’s a story here somewhere. Mine or someone else’s.

Minette Cummings studied creative writing at Rice University, the SUNY Writers Institute, and Bennington College. Currently, Minette lives in upstate New York, where she spends her days as a librarian surrounded by stories and her nights writing her own. Her work appears or will soon appear in Pithead Chapel, The Atticus Review, Frigg Magazine, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, the Running With Water literary anthology, and other lovely places.

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