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A hand a door

“I noticed the greasy handprint of her fangs, feasts, phones, franking, fingers, fingers is what I meant, appeared on all doors and I was unable to follow her.”
I had already begun moving when she asked me to follow her. Something smooth in the roll of her pupils the curl of her mouth and the quickness of her head had said ‘follow’ and then she said the words ‘follow me’ I was already moving but still too slow, I’d fallen two or more doors behind her.

The doors swung back and forth, making that flapping pumping sound I imagine the regular backdrop of machine industries long gone our mother’s father’s and his father’s bread and butter food on the table pension concerns voting death and downfall. And she, ahead of my thoughts, her eyes a flirt but she moved too quickly the doors flapped air into my face she was way ahead.

Each door opened to a passageway and two other doors at the other end I had to choose between them as she had chosen before me, I could no longer hear the difference between the flapping of the doors ahead and the flapping pumping thumping of the doors that swung in my wake but under the spittle of lamplight I could see the grease mark of her hand on the doors she had chosen the passageways between the doors were very short.

I noticed then the greasy handprint of her fangs, feasts, phones, franking, fingers, fingers is what I meant, appeared on all doors and I was unable to follow in the direction she had travelled the sound of swinging heavy wood in my ears and then, then the hand marks were double hands as I or she passed the same points again and again.

To leave a trail. I pulled the threads of my jumper and bit I tied them around the door handles. Then as I carried on the threads appeared on all the door handles as if I’d tied them it wasn’t couldn’t have been me, mine.

At one point, the swing swipe of the door reminded me of a horse’s jaw chewing, and then a plastic horse, a toy I’d had a long time ago. Perched in front of the next door was a little horse carved out of bone. And above it, the hardened grease of my hand over hand maybe her hand, had become a real hand. My real hand that’s what I meant it was mine, pressed flat onto the door I touched it with my finger it was made of flesh. My hand.

I grew a fear that behind the next door would be another confrontation, a memory like the bone horse. As I moved the labyrinth yawned on I shouted her name and the sound too echoed on, on. No way back. Now I knew it was all the same I would re-live and re-live the first doors and the last, the ones just passed and those left far behind because there was no behind.

The fear moved I moved faster, faster the labyrinth was becoming. My hand pressing doors knocking doors as I went I hurt myself. Stopped and looked had a closer look at the flick, the fling, the thing, the flesh, the flesh of the hand is what I meant. It existed in and of itself, fingers, nails and bone it wasn’t me it was a lie, and it became a true lie.

I knocked the door bang bang and she who I had followed was more than absent she had left the doors to swing, swing, swing in my face to be confronted with it. Myself, my meat, its nails, its touch. It and its own fingers. It thought and then I thought. Myself a labyrinthine series of opening and closing doors, and my flat hand forever knocking.

Vanessa Onwuemezi

Vanessa Onwuemezi is a writer and poet living in London. She is the winner of The White Review short story prize 2019 and her work has appeared in literary and art magazines, including Granta, frieze and Prototype. Her debut short story collection, Dark Neighbourhood, was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2021 and was named one of The Guardian‘s best books of 2021. It was shortlisted for both the Republic of Consciousness Prize and the Edge Hill Prize in 2022. Her short story ‘Green Afternoon’ was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2022.

© Vanessa Onwuemezi