Museum of Hands
A certain sculptor is known for his fragments—hands,
ears, and noses he makes instead of whole bodies. Works of art in themselves,
the critics proclaim; each fragment "reveals a whole character."
A nose for example: "narrow and slumped, nostrils
no larger than pinholes, suggesting someone introverted and intellectual."
The ear "of a philanderer, with its long and
A small hand with swollen joints and bitten nails: an
"empathetic rendering" of a woman worried "perhaps about her
A "rare and heroic gift" to be able to
communicate with such efficiency and exactitude.
The sculptor wishes this were true. He wishes that he
could look upon his work as purposeful and satisfying. The truth is, he makes
fragments because he is incapable of making a whole figure. He has tried
countless times, spent days, weeks, months with his chisels, growing stiff and
cramped. With every figure, though, he eventually loses patience, or interest,
or both, and abandons the effort feeling failed and inadequate. He becomes, by
turns, angry, sullen, increasingly despondent, until at last he is so worn down
by self-loathing that he cannot carry on ordinary conversation or have sex with
At these times his only relief comes from making
The rooms of his house are full of fragments. There are
noses on the foyer table, ears along the mantelpiece. The kitchen is a museum of
hands—hands on the counter, hands on the windowsill, hands on every shelf in
His wife tells him the hands are exquisite, all the
parts are. She tells him he should accept his talent: stop worrying about the
big things he cannot make and be thankful for the small things he can. Secretly,
though, she is tired of dusting them all. She is thinking of asking her husband
to take over the housecleaning, and imagines how, if he were the one keeping
things in order, his work might change, the pieces become simpler and larger. He
might find a way to make, if not a perfect man, at least an intact one.