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Kim Church

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 fleshy lobe."

A small hand with swollen joints and bitten nails: an "empathetic rendering" of a woman worried "perhaps about her age."

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 his wife.

At these times his only relief comes from making fragments.

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 the hutch.

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.

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