Chipped Fingers

by Reilly Thompson

I have sat in enough hard plastic chairs to have forgotten the sensation of magic. Bound in that vacancy, I am well versed in its definition. I know that magic is something which resides in nature. I know that magic can be discovered (it is important to note that upon logical deconstruction it is no longer, and in fact never was). I have also learned that those who associate with the veneer of magic, who wrap themselves deep into the folds of its false cloth, are an odd and primitive people.  

A primitive person meant a hot coal stamped against the cheek. Only the coldness of recess, pale suns and clammy hands, could quell the stained flush. I was still young to understand the semiotics of the body and its skins (or cocoons) of material— the slopes of jaws, twisted collars, and sprays of braids, necklaces, buckles.

I was born into the kind of face that inspires an unspoken wonder: maybe gender is biological. I have never worried over Beauty. Leaning in, I would look into the mirror. Orlando! For if I were to put on a dress, it wouldn’t be as anunciatory as if Rowen, the eighth grade sports captain, had, who by his 13 years achieved a robust plumage of hair at his navel. No matter the presence of a tie or bow’s adornment the degree of the mouth’s sour upturn remained the same. There was redemption in that. I found myself on the other side of that bifurcated mirror, and at which moments I glanced upon my opposing reflection, the hinges swung shut and the two pieces cracked.


Every spring afternoon sitting cross-legged on the school theatre’s matte black flooring, I leaned back hard on my arms and took up the grimy bits of gravel rock in my palm. The teacher Dan stood at the back of the stage and performed each character in The Young King Arthur, scheduled to run at the end of the semester. Most of the kids in the crowd boiled with glee as he slipped between the roles of Merlyn, the sage wizard, the noble knight Lancelot, and the frilly love-interest Guenever. I suppose they hadn’t realized what Dan was doing. Hadn’t learned to take unease in the slicked black coils that fervently trembled from his head like a rag doll, lined eyes and rosy lips, as he flung his arms wide in triumph (gesticulation).

It wasn’t until highschool that I figured that the doll-dancing was allowed in outlined spaces. The black box of the theater framed the audience in the same safety as the blinders of a horse’s bridle. A bit in the mouth, a big hush. And cupped vision. The leather enclaves— the concrete walls—  were the plummeting lack of themselves, an abyss so deep that the horizon upon which the actors bellowed, twirled, and sat was annihilated. A tiny stage I made sure to keep away from. 


I remember the time I first learned that I was a threat to Science. After a long school day watching the chalboard’s blank green canvas become progressively smeared with white, I left; I often walked through the large, vacant hallways in the late afternoons. At their widest, the warm bands of sun contained the capacity to make one forget the school’s fluorescence. The sound of my footsteps clapped down the hallway before I could reach its end. I remained fixated on the hallyway’s end, the Recess Field: a petrol promise for summer lawn mowers and freshly sapped grass. As I drew nearer and the rows of windows made their quickening intercuts of green, I felt all the air leave my body. The inflicted sounds and motions were compounded, the senses ending into another: Fag and three blows to the stomach. I bent over my knees and compressed my lips around the silent gape protruding from my mouth. But the promising return of routine- the neatly folded bed awaiting me at home, mother’s final tuck- held steadfast. And although the mouth’s hollow awe lasted far beyond its duration, dreams rapaciously salved the rupture.

During that night’s sleep, I dreamt the same thunder of fists from earlier that day inversely pounded from within walls of my gut. The kneading centered itself about the liver and the skin grew so thin it sagged from my stomach. The protrusion hung out like a partially extraneous limb, the kind that is made of magic and therefore unimportant. An event’s transmutation into a memory.

The next day I travelled ten feet further down the hallway, collecting the echoed footsteps from several weeks ago, and successfully arrived upon the recess field. Carved out from the even pane of grass was the school playground firmly bordered by thick black rubber beams. A group of kids hoarded beneath the playground’s main castle frame- a dizzying stack of primary colored boxes and ladders. They were crouched in a huddle, knees and elbows pressed into the mulch. Hands jutted out, eyes wide in proclamation, the little bodies appeared to be performing a ritual upon the wood chips. I walked up. “Look at your fingers!” they squealed. I compulsively held my hands out flat in curious examination. Their devout absorption in the game’s method suddenly broke. The shards of their attention all turned in my direction, holding my place a site of hostage. “He’s a butterfly!” the hoard exclaimed. I quickly snapped the sinful splay of my fingers back under themselves.


A few years ago a friend told me, “every time someone touches a butterfly, the oils from our fingers weigh its wings and it can never fly again.” I recalled the dozens of times I had reached out to the little flutters under the compulsion to touch their fragile wings. At the time I was unsure what exactly I was searching for, but can identify that question which spoke itself so often: “just how thin?” Thin enough for a thumb to break through the colored paper and admit a hole that was a bleed of sky. I longed to know that something so delicate, barely even a slip of vision, could return to my Being. An experiment where a trained hand, muscles broken down around a thousand writing impediments and hardened into an impervious marbled point, could delimit the boundaries of social intervention. 

What occurs when the Deft Hand returns to the same motions of magic it had once mimed in its eternal swim in the womb? I catch myself hoping the body can forget enough to remember what was before. But now when I look at a butterfly, my body feels like a fist.

Hemionus Californicus
by Leeya Tudek