The Node

The warden slides a plate through the hatch at the bottom of the door. The tray, miraculously and with considerable impetuousness, includes a glass of champagne, a rose, chocolate, and a severed human hand. The hand is holding the rose. I am not surprised. They always give me champagne.

A second, smaller hatch swings open near the top of the door. A voice, half-dog and half cement mixer, speaks through the portal.

"Can you identify the suspect?" says the voice.

I crouch, in my moldering work-clothes, on the cement floor. I poke the hand with a silver fork.

"I’m not sure," I say. "It’s too early to tell."

"Are you using the dinner fork or the salad fork?" says the voice in the portal.

"I can never tell the difference," I say. "How am I supposed to know these things? I don’t even know if the you that slid the tray in is the you that speaks through the portal. I cannot see through the door and I cannot remember how to count footsteps. No, that it not the thing of it all. I cannot remember how to listen to footsteps. I am always hearing footsteps, but I don’t know how to listen. They walk up and down the hall to and fro, and in circles, and then I hear them walking past the window over my cot. And I can’t reach up to see the window so I can’t look, but I hear the footsteps on the gravel. I used to be able to tell when the rocks were wet or dry just from listening, but now they are always both at the same time. And then I started to hear the footsteps on the other side of the walls, all the walls, and even on the roof and across the floor, right next to me. No one was here, but perhaps someone thought of walking here just to spite me. Perhaps I heard them thinking So now I am always hearing footsteps. I cannot remember how to listen to footsteps because I cannot remember how not to hear footsteps."

"Can you identify the suspect?"

I pick up the other fork and poke the hand.

"A hand, what is a hand for?" I don’t know how to look at the hand.

"Prisoner! Know the hand by the flower it holds. How does the hand come to hold the flower?"

"Because you put it there"

"The statement is false. The hand is delivered to you as it was in life. The hand held the flower before it was severed."

"How did the hand come to hold the flower?"


I grab the chocolate and shove it in my mouth and nearly choke as I swallow it whole. I pour the champagne down my throat and quaff it down in painful gulps. I throw the glass to the side of my cell and it shatters. I think I am weeping. I think am laughing. My worms my sparks the little tributaries of my soul they don’t stop for one another at the traffic lights anymore. I breathe through my open mouth. My head is filled with salt and blood and vinegar.

I look at the fingers on the hand.

"The fingers are small and clean," I say. "This is not the hand of a gardener. This hand has not known the soil."

"The statement is true. Also, the champagne was poisoned."

"You always say that the champagne is poisoned."

"That is because the champagne is always poisoned."

I watch and I think. I do not look but I watch. The most important thing is to watch for movement in the stillness. All things move when they are still. They do not move through the space of the room but they move, they waver, they change and liquefy. I watch and listen. The hand is humming but that is somebody else’s joke, and is not happening at this time.

"The hand is clean, I say. But the hand is also hard. The hand knew no love. The hand was never held."

"The statement is true. You are dying now."

"Spare me your tautologies."

"Can you identify the suspect?"

"The hand," I say slowly, "holds the rose but does not give it. The hand covets the rose."

I flip the hand. The fingers are clenched. The palm is dotted with tiny red constellations. You hold onto something too long and it hurts you inevitably.

"This hand grasped tightly. This hand is versed in the language of thorns. This hand is a poem of pain."

"Can you identify the suspect?"

"This hand is the hand of a thief."

"The statement is true."

"This hand is the hand of a thief who could not name the flower, and so he stole it instead."

"Why would he steal what he could not name?

"For fear that someone else would name the flower."

"The statement is complete."

"Ah! But the thief is not."

"The statement is true. The statement is."

The portal slides shut. The footsteps go and the footsteps come. I go back to my cot and I think of constellations. Waiters, lovers, firemen, bishops, and mechanics walk back and forth across an open field. Children climbs old ropes in the woods that they didn’t know were there before. Once I opened a small box and touched a thing wrapped in brown paper and remembered my father. I bury things forever. The earth goes down a long way. Nobody ever goes down, they never even think about. If there were flowers in the field people would look down and not forward. All the kinds of people in the world walking across an open field, without flowers, in the daylight, at night, whispering, looking at one another and wondering if they have looked too long on the lovely, gentle faces.

About the author:

Andrew S. Taylor lives in Brooklyn, and his work has appeared in such improbably diverse publications as Ellery Queen, Peridot Books, American Book Review, Ghetto Blaster Magazine, and Anime Insider. He is currently seeking publication for his first two novels.