New rule says we must choose hands for hands or phones for hands. Not both. No exceptions. Except Devin. Devin has a Senator dad and special permission. People say Devin has one real hand and one phone hand and an agent who booked him on that reality show where contestants try to live like it’s the 1800s. We laugh imagining dorky Devin using his one real hand to grind wheat. I hate laughing about Devin.
All year we have mandatory assemblies. Principal Bird employs flow charts, shouts into a bullhorn, implores us to move forward with installation. Did we want to end up alone and broke with little to show for our quality education in this here school that may have asbestos? Did we want to squander our potential on “looking cool” or “forging our own path?” The choice was ours.
During physics we ask the Saras about installation. The Saras are early acceptance into an Ivy. They know everything.
It’s super, super painful, they say. Like getting your ears pierced with a mallet. We tried using the TV remote and realized, we are the remote!
Wow, we say.
Yeah, the Saras say, but also, like, liberating. Like when your parents drop you at theater camp and all the guys are gay and you don’t have to worry about looking good.
Our parents never sent us to theatre camp. We went to regular camp, town-run behind the library. When the counselors wanted us to play flag football we pretended to bleed and everyone left us alone to read magazines.
Another thing is, the Saras lean in close, none of your friends who keep their reals can contact you. It’s like this science thing where regular phones don’t work with hand phones. Genius, right?
Fliers arrive in our mailboxes, stock photos of waifish girls abandoned in ditches. Connected Teens are Safer Teens! Hand Your Teen a Bigger World! Our parents organize pow-wows to discuss pros and cons, a neighborhood watch for our future. Reports about exploding hands have everyone on edge. Defective installation. Poor hygiene. No one knew why.
We knew what happened. Take Most Likely to Succeed Lyssa Sanders. Lyssa was eager to keep her status, agreeing to native advertising and 24/7 monitoring in exchange for discounted equipment. When she finally returned she wouldn’t talk, not even to her boyfriend and they used to be super tight, always sucking face before AP French, supposedly doing it in the band room, his hand down Lyssa’s pants, up Lyssa’s shirt. Now Lyssa hides her bandaged arms in bulky sweaters. Everyone has a theory. Backdoor surgery. Doctors with questionable certifications slicing through skin. Permanent limb loss.
At night in my canopy bed I dream desperate dreams, tapping my new phone hands in search of help. I dream of the best money can buy, rose gold and streak-free. If this is what it took to secure my future, to get a good job and invest a reasonable percentage of earnings into the market, maybe I shouldn’t hesitate.
At lunch my friends can only talk about doing it. Capital I it.
I heard it’s better, they say. Like you press a button better. Press a button and magic stomach butterflies!
I say, You think sex is stomach butterflies?
They roll their eyes, sigh at my innocence. Please, they say. The best you’ve done is go to first base with your weird neighbor. The one with the smelly rabbits.
They laugh about me kissing a rabbit, and I’m silent, eating a sandwich, sunflower butter and strawberry jam.
At night the parents sit me down, want to have a talk. The Talk. They say, While you’re under our roof you must consider the options. Surgery is permanent. And so is failure. Don’t worry. We just want the best for you! They slide a brochure across the table. Moose Haven Installation Center. Value! Convenience! Peace of Mind! Oh great, I say, thanks for the encouragement.
Soon it’s prom. Everyone pairing off. Boys with top model phone hands staging elaborate promposals, and us waiting in the cafeteria, wanting someone to notice. I decide OK that’s it, maybe real hands are a major turn off. Maybe the boys are looking for a particular kind of girl, one who hears what’s best and does it, no questions asked. Then I remember Devin, chapped lips, the sweet-sour heat of his breath, my hand on his belt buckle, his hands on my stomach, fingers under lace straps, palm pressed against my nipple. I dwell in indecision.
To prom I go solo, strapless dress, itchy red lace. My friends are in a circle, hands glowing. We can no longer talk. They knew what they wanted and I don’t. They say I will be thirty-five and full of regrets, hands arthritic. They say I will own hairless cats.
I’m 91% sure they’re wrong.
I watch him fill a paper plate with creamy dip, baby carrots. I try to look mad, demand to know where he’s been, why he abandoned me after promising to tuck silly gifts into my parka’s pockets. He’s sorry, but he wasn’t on a reality show. His parents shipped him off. Good food, armed guard, uncomfortable beds. Now I’ve busted out, he says.
A fugitive? I say.
Sort of, he says, laughing. His parents wanted him to think seriously about his life’s trajectory, and he remains unconvinced. Now they won’t pay for college. Because, well, I’m keeping them both, he says, holding out a paper cup of punch.
I’m sorry, I say.
Me too, he says.
The DJ downshifts, a slow beat, acoustic guitar.
He says, This is my favorite song.
I say, Me too.
He reaches out, clammy palms, and I reach back. We dance. We hold on.
Notes from Guest Reader Tara Laskowski
I love how this story is quirky but not gimmicky. There’s a heart here that shines through.