In the beginning, there was the hand.
A touch on a random patch of poorly innervated flesh. Goosebumps mapping unknown constellations on top of a white veil of skin, tightly stretched across the mountains of a spine.
In the beginning, much like in the end, there were only parts: parts of him, parts of me, suspended together in the early morning, before the last dream.
Dora Maar’s hands were said to have been her obsession. The first time she met Picasso, she was playing that age-old game of asserting fearlessness or folly (or both), jabbing the emptiness between her fingers with a knife. Drops of blood flowered on her gloves where confidence nicked reality, and Picasso was apparently so transfixed with this exposition of audacity that he took the gloves with him. To what purpose, remains unclear. By the end, he’d certainly forgotten the true meaning behind the symbol – despite her unrelentless exterior, Dora Maar was not impervious to injury.
The other part of the story, often overlooked by curators and storytellers, was much less romantic. The hands were Dora’s modus vivendi, delicate tools she used to make her art. They represented her voice, her way out of herself and into the world – a way she’d often clawed toward rather than sailed through to, transforming the beautifully crafted fingernails into the talon-like weapons Picasso later showed for all to see. But that was a simplified representation of a female strength that too often seems cruel to the other sex. My hands, Dora’s hands, they were simultaneously more and less, they were the hands of Man Ray’s photograph, one hand in the other, both holding themselves back and helping themselves be heard.
My mother often said I had elegant, long-fingered hands: she’d say one her gravest regrets was not encouraging me to play the piano. I think it was the fear of losing me that stopped her indulging that particular whim of mine. My father played the piano, he did so beautifully, but his beautiful hands never made much else. They were an artist’s hands transposed into another time, like Dora’s; they pointed, revealed the world to itself, but they didn’t create. Mother had wanted more for me, and I, in turn, learned to want the same. I fashioned my hands after hers instead, hardened by work, blistered and chafed in contact with reality, made to dangle freely by my sides, and not to fit neatly into another’s.
His hands were different still. Hands of a musician, but unlike my father’s mournful tunes, his fingers played dirty shanties on the strings of my nerves, melodies that reverberated inside the hollow spaces of my bones and sent my limbs dancing.
„I want to show you a trick,“ he’d say. „Let’s see if you can polka.“
„No. Let’s waltz instead.“
„Can’t we do both?“
„I’m afraid there isn’t time for that. I’ll be waking up soon.“
„Don’t you want to stay here in limbo for a little while longer, with me? We’re having a ball!“
I do, I wanted to whisper against the ebbing tide of the dream, we are. Instead, I said – „You can take me dancing anytime, except today.“
The coarse fabric of my blouse fell back into place and scratched the skin bloody in an outline of where his hand had left it bare. I’d been branded. I woke up to a burning pain that had broken the confines of the injury and spread into every corner of my patchwork body.
I flailed my arms around the bed tossing and turning, looking for him there. I grasped only air and sweat-soaked linen.
My skin cried out for his touch, his voice, the blood from his veins that pulsed with the rhythm of our life together: perfectly in synch, my dance partner who would carry me with into oblivion.
Dreams are fine: you make do with them as you bide your time. But in the end, as much as in the beginning, you need a hand to make you whole.