An Old Woman with Silver Hands
by A.A. Balaskovits Read author interview June 20, 2016
I had my hands cut off as a child. That is, of course half a lie, for one was cut off by another’s swift whack whack of an axe, but I did the first one myself. I would have done the second too, except my teeth were not strong enough then to hold the blade. They’re strong enough now, and sharp. They must be, for now they serve all my purposes: biting, writing, eating, climbing. I’d walk with them too, but I’m too old to give up my feet.
They’ve taken on so many other tasks that they have lost their original purpose: to shape the air in my mouth into words. Too long ago, in the night, after years of sharpening themselves on sticks and rocks and lemons, they hungered and bit off my tongue. That I swallowed like everything else, and thought nothing of it at the time: who would I speak to, with no hands? And who would speak to me, a woman who built fire with flint and molars?
Even if I could speak, I would have nothing to say. I am happy to no longer add to the world. Now, I only consume, and I discard. And I walk, so far I walk, on feet that must give out soon.
Before they do, I follow a light in the distance, and I think this is the light that will be the last I see, as that is what I always heard in the stories when I was a girl: a light, brighter than fireflies swarming in your eyes, and then a great nothing. But this light is no insect, but a house that is so lit it seems like it is burning from the inside. As I move closer I can see that it is not on fire, as I first believed, but inside are two figures, a woman and her little daughter, and they are melting blocks of silver down in a great fire. Then they take hammers to it and bend it into all sorts of beautiful things: wrist cuffs and chains for the neck, dainty rings, and even a bowl to collect something as precious as milk.
I thought of leaving them to their art, but the little girl saw me spying in the window and tugged her mother over to the door to open it.
“Grandmother,” the woman politely said. “You must be cold. Come inside for a time and warm up. You can pay us in stories of what you have seen and the wisdom you have learned from it.”
The daughter was not yet old enough to know her manners, and she gaped at my missing hands. I went inside, for I was cold and very tired. I opened my mouth to show them the rotting stump of what was my tongue and closed it when it seemed like the daughter would cry for the pity of it all. Foolish, foolish and kind thing.
“It matters little,” the mother said. “We will play you music instead.”
I watched them for a time and marveled at their skill, and how they could make such beautiful noises, like birds and boulders, from just simple hammers and fine silver.
“Grandmother,” the daughter said to me, finally finding her own tongue in her throat. “Let us make you a pair of silver hands. They’ll be so beautiful that a prince will cry when he sees them.”
I scoffed at that, but little noise came from my throat. What use had I of a prince’s tears, so near to the end that I was? With what was left of my arms, I directed the girl to put the silver in the fire and heat it. She did so willingly, but when she pulled it out I grasped it between my stumps and took it to my teeth. I bit and peeled away the edges until it was the shape I desired. The girl watched in horror as the silver burned down my lips, but I’d cut off my own hand when I was her age, and so little could hurt me now.
As shaped as I could make it, I handed it back to her to put the edge into the fire. She did so with shaking tongs, and when it came out I knelt down in front of her and opened my mouth wide. She knew, darling child, what I wanted, and burned the silver tongue onto the back of my throat.
Her mother crossed herself and called her daughter over, but the girl was only too excited to obey.
“Speak now, Grandmother! Tell us who you are!”
I opened my mouth to tell her, but found that I must have forgotten what the words should be, and how to make them. All that poured out of my silent mouth was laughter, a noise that reverberated off the silver and filled the whole house with its pleasure.
About the Author:
A. A. Balaskovits is the author of Magic for Unlucky Girls (SFWP, 2017) which won the Santa Fe Writers Project program awards grand prize in 2015. Her works appears or will appear in Indiana Review, The Madison Review, The Southeast Review, Booth, Wigleaf and many others. She is the social media editor for Cartridge Lit.
About the Artist:
Jan Fidler is a photographer in the Czech Republic. Photo used via Flickr Creative Commons.
Like what you read in SmokeLong? Consider donating to us. $3 helps a writer get paid.