Molly Prentiss received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the California College of the Arts. She has been published in Fourteen Hills, Switchback, La Petite Zine, Miracle Monocle and elsewhere. She is currently working on a long-form fiction project titled When You Let Go Of My Hand It’s Like You Are A Million Miles Away. Her writings and drawings can be found on her website.
Photo credit: courtesy of the artist
Excerpt from “When You Let Go Of My Hand It’s Like You Are A Million Miles Away”
It was the summer of ’79 when Engales became a one-handed man. There was an accident in the NYU printmaking studio, where he went to stretch his canvasses. It was a Saturday. The studio smelled like it always did: turpentine and cleaning fluid, a tinge of body odor that came, he gathered, from Arlene, a red-headed bohemian girl who didn’t shave under her arms and drank yerba mate out of a gourd. Arlene was on a ladder that day, trying to reach the top of a twelve foot painting, her underarm hair spurting out in a shock of orange. When the thick blade of ‘the guillotine’ – an enormous paper cutter meant to cut entire volumes – came down on Engales’ wrist, Arlene heard the thud first, and leapt off the ladder to investigate. He saw her red hair flying toward him as someone wrapped the stump of his wrist in a paint rag. The rag turned orange rapidly, the stain of blood blooming out into its edges. Engales’ face went white.
Arlene knotted the hand itself into another rag and placed the bundle into a tin canister used for paintbrushes. At the sight of his own hand in the paint can, his desensitized fingertips resting in the blackened turpentine, Engales vomited into a stainless steel sink. Another someone hailed him a cab, and the cab driver, responding to the raising and waving of that someone’s hand as his own wrist spat fistfuls of blood, seemed to Engales like some sort of cruel joke. The cab driver hauled him to a hospital that smelled like tin, where a doctor with a pitiful moustache sewed his stump into a pitiful nub.
After the accident, Engales let his beard grow out in protest of self-maintenance. He stayed inside, he didn’t shower. He was twenty-four, and it seemed to him that he had too many years left to live with this new handicap. Arlene, who had been the one to ruin the chances of salvaging his real hand by putting it in the turpentine can, called him obsessively throughout the months after the accident. His friends from the SoHo squat called. The women he had slept with called. He deflected the calls and answered to no one. His beard transformed his face into a dark knot of woolish hairs, and he behaved badly – nights with sweating prostitutes when Etsy was at work, cocaine with his morning coffee, a perpetual downturned brow – for the months that were, up to now, the darkest of his life. He stopped painting. His painting hand was in a paint can, after all, and his good hand was no good with the brush.