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Night Hands (Working Title 4.1)

The Massachusetts Review presents the latest Working Titles e-book: NIGHT HANDS a story by Jen Cross, with an introduction by Elizabeth Harries- available this week!

"As the first rays of sun pierced the night in the surrounding wood, Old Mother Ganz raised the double-headed axe. “Now, my daughter,” said the old witch, “we will give these hands back to the night.” Silence for the pause of a breath, the span of a century, a fragmentary turn of the earth. A shard of sun spliced the top lip of the axe. Gnarled hands tightened about the handle and let the blade fall.

The hands in their pretty boxes, that sweet reckoning of pale yellow skin against velvet against the dark exterior. They stay youthful. They stay quiet. Each house boasts its own pair of folded wings, unblooded and still. Within the town, a hundred pairs of hands in quiet proclamation—a steady, blind presence, prescience. Into the neighboring villages the lesson spreads like filth in a leach field, dim and fragrant: Take them. Take them. Take the hands. More and still more removed: a thousand pairs of hands, docile, unbent, unaged.

Collect them in buckets and wheelbarrows, wildcraft them by the light of the half-moon along with your rue and tansy. Stack them like cordwood, spill them like water, fold them into your pumpernickel. The hands sit pretty. They do not protest or contradict. The hands have no other story than this, trapped in boxes, tossed onto vanities, slipped under the bed, walked over, stepped on, forgotten. The priests in their sacristies have no need now to inveigh against the dangers of women’s hands, the poets need pen no screeds—the hands know their place.

At first, at first, he gave Tüz a velvet-lined box to put them in—hand-hewn cedar, fitted joints: he wanted the container for her hands to be perfect. It had been his wedding gift to her.The first night he knelt down before her. Here,” Johanon said, “let me.” Gently, he bent back one hand from its wrist, then the other. He said, “Am I hurting you?” She could have burst with the tenderness of it. “Yes, unhand me,” she thought.

There wasn’t much blood at the first unlatching, despite her sisters’ wedding-night warnings. Johanon pressed his warm palms over the sockets to staunch the trickle. He looked up into his young wife’s eyes and she felt wet stain her lashes. Tüz said, “I’m all right. You needn’t worry.”


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