She lived alone. For a while she had lived with girlfriends, and for a while she had lived with him, and for a while, now, she had lived alone. The solitude had benefits. She filled her apartment with rap music and danced until she sweat. She ate meals at socially unacceptable hours and in socially unacceptable combinations: breakfast was dinner; dinner was breakfast. She derived pleasure from eating at the kitchen table in her cotton underwear with shoes on. She brewed coffee at 8:00 p.m. Really, the only time she missed him was when she struggled with the buttons.
When she first bought the dress—the dress that buttoned in the back—he had buttoned it for her. Lovely dress—flowing top, sleek bottom. She looked good in it. His hands had buttoned up the fabric as she imagined him buttoning her skin. It makes you look sexy, he’d told her. She smiled because he had intended it as a compliment.
She built dollhouses and specialty miniatures, wielded paintbrushes light as fly wings, weaved notebooks with centimeter-small pages. But no matter how delicately she spun her wrists, she couldn’t convince these tiny buttons to button. The discs slipped every time they came close—they shook their mouths as if refusing water. It compelled her to consider help ads. Needed: dexterous lover attuned to clasping mechanisms. There was a party later, and she usually hated parties, but her friends were starting to worry. If she had to go, she would at least look sexy.
But no matter how delicately she spun her wrists, she couldn’t convince these tiny buttons to button.
Perhaps the problem was not her hands—maybe her vision. She didn’t have a full-length mirror, just a round one sitting on the wall. It made it difficult to see herself fully: its edges cut off her legs and cupped the bottom of her ass—sliced her forehead clean off. She pivoted her neck to find her floating torso, dress peeled open in the back. She pictured the cut down a frog’s body in high school biology, the dark pink gesture to organs.
As she watched her hands in the glass attempt to dress her, they did not seem like her hands. Not that this bothered her—in fact, maybe it would be best to think of these hands not as her hands, but as the mirror’s hands, benevolent in their assistance.
Benevolent: she had misunderstood the word at first, pronouncing it beneviolent or beneviolet. In her mind, angry purple flowers threw their leaves at the wind, contorting to whips of stem. She watched the fingers ease her exposed skin, hushing it like a frightened animal. Take, buttons.
As the hands failed, and failed again, they grew jittery. They wanted to help, but the dress would not cooperate. A button is meant for its buttonhole—This should be a homecoming, she thought. I want to walk through the door of my body, she thought. But the buttons grew moist under her fingers and her stomach ached from twisting. The hands spat back the fabric in frustration.
Maybe she needed to be more creative—a common pressure she placed on herself. The weight of imagination, she found, was shockingly oppressive. During the day, as she rearranged her houses, shuffling living rooms to bedrooms and kitchens to dining rooms, she began to feel rigid. Why not build an astronomy tower? An indoor pool?
She cracked her back and the tremor pleasured her spine. Her eyes pivoted to watch the body in the mirror; it waved. Maybe she needed to be more creative.
She held up her right hand: fingernails trimmed; the slits of skin, once opened to paper cuts, were healing back in strange diagonals. The fingers found her cheek and tried to calm it with a touch, as if to say, We’ll take care of everything.
The fingers stroked her lips, and pulled inside, finding the moisture along her gums. They pushed further—her whole fist in her mouth. The buttons along her back grew closer the more she pushed, the more she swallowed herself. She felt them anticipating her touch. The pointer reached the back of her throat.
The fingers stroked her lips, and pulled inside, finding the moisture along her gums. They pushed further—her whole fist in her mouth.
The middle finger went first, straight through her skin. It wriggled out the back of her neck. Soon, the others followed, emerging one by one, flipping away strands of her hair. The whole hand crawled from the back of her neck. She gagged on the wrist as it slid out of her skin, the fingers drawing closer to the buttons. They snatched the top eye and pulled the first button through.
Her elbow slid across her tongue, she swallowed hard, and she pushed it out—the whole arm sticking straight through her. It found the buttons—all of them; it sutured her. She patted herself on the back and marveled at her seamlessness. As she withdrew the arm from her mouth, it fell to her side. The fingers bloomed along the fabric and rested.
“Dexterous body,” she said. “Dexterous lover.”
Amy Victoria Blakemore writes about the body. She is the winner of the 2014 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Cleaver Magazine, and the Indiana Review.
Illustrated by Nusha Ashjaee.