Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to support@standmagazine.org

This article is taken from Stand 225, 18(1) March - May 2020.

Andrea Witzke Slot Where Our Hands, Like Memories, Rest in the Night
One night, in the southern hemisphere of this clock-like world, four figures sat in the open air of a restaurant in a country fraught with change. Some call such countries dangerous, but these four—an X, a Y, a she, a he—sat together in no fear long into the night. The other customers had disappeared and the tables had been cleared and the four of them continued to convene in the open dark, talking, smoking, solving and creating problems, minute by minute, drink by drink. These four had seen things others had not seen, but that is not unusual. Rather, that is what it means to be human.

Samuel Johnson said, The true art of memory is the art of attention, which makes it sound as if the human mind is in charge. Yet André Maurois said, Memory is a great artist. For every man for every woman it makes the recollection of his or her life a work of art and an unfaithful record.

But who can say who is right?

* * *


What Does and Does Not Happen

Y: All right, it was late, and I was three sheets to the wind, and I was exhausted but elated to be back in a city, far from the tents we called hospitals where people faced atrocities that no human should be subject to. I remember pushing my glasses up on my nose as I sat watching X move close and then closer to her. She was facing him, leaning slightly toward him. And I knew X. Had seen him do this a thousand times before. Moving near. Leaning nearer. Getting a person’s full attention with his little-boy need, doing what he does, sneaking his hand on top of a knee until he finds a hand in his, slipping his fingers into another’s. Man, woman, both, neither, it didn’t matter to him. But that night it was a woman. And there he was, in the dark corner of the restaurant, trying it on while we smoked cigarettes and talked and drank and we were dirty and tired from the duties of an organization that took us to places we never asked to go, and is it any surprise we took turns filling up glasses from the bottles of wine that seemed to appear out of nowhere? The variance, though, was that this woman’s husband was sitting there at the table, across from me, across from them. We could all reach out and hold hands if we wanted. And that’s what they were doing. They were holding hands. Right there in front of her husband. What was X telling her? Why would she let his fingers curl into hers?

* * *


Her: I remember sitting in the open dark after too many drinks and his stories, his attention, his dilemma. I’m good at listening. I’m good at getting people to talk. It’s not so hard and yet so few seem to know the art of not being judgmental, of getting another to talk openly, to confess, to spill the hidden secrets lurking underneath the polite skin of another. Is anyone really meant to be monogamous? X slurred, messing up the word two or three times before it came out whole. I shrugged, looked at my husband, who was busily engaged in conversation with Y, and thought, Why not? X, looked at me closely. But can they ever truly be happy that way? Another glance at my husband, and another silent, smiling nod in his direction. What was X trying to tell me? That two people were in his life. That he couldn’t give up either. That sometimes we love more than one person at once.

* * *


X: I remember her leaning so near, looking pretty and sincere, and there I was asking her about that m word that wouldn’t come out of my mouth right. She said something about each person giving me something the other couldn’t and I remember how much I wanted to be near her in the exact moment those words rose from her slightly wet lips. I wanted to be so damned near, until no space at all existed between us. She was listening to me, intently, as if I were the only man in the world, letting me whisper my woes to her. And there I was telling her I was in love with two people. How I was living different kinds of lies when I was with each. She said maybe, just maybe, you’re in love with love? And with those words, I couldn’t help myself. I found my hand on her leg and soon her hand was in mine. Her hand. You understand, don’t you? I said. I squeezed her hand tightly. She smiled at me. Smiled. She understood, you see. I needed to know everything she could tell me. Everything.

* * *


Him: I remember my wife sitting there with X, X chatting away to her, getting close and then closer in those low whispers he likes to use late at night, once he’s had a few drinks, and next thing you know, there he was slipping his hand on top of her thigh. I took a deep draw on my cigarette and laughed at something Y said about the dangers of this town, and before I could clear the smoke from my lungs, X had managed to move his hands from her thigh to her hands, and there he was cupping my wife’s long, painter’s fingers in his. A flash from that morning came to me: just a moment in which she handed me a coffee, her fingers wrapped around the hotel mug, her fingers stained with red paint, her laugh joining mine about something I can no longer remember. And, in the dark of that night, as she sat at the table next to X, she looked as beautiful as she had that morning. I knew X would be charmed. She did that sometimes, doing something that I couldn’t quite name with her hands and her laugh and her attentive smile. I saw how it worked. I knew he was getting too close. But it was X. And it was my wife. So I smoked another cigarette, drank another glass of wine, chatted away to Y, smiling every so often at my wife, who smiled back at me with slightly-mischievous shrugs.

* * *


X and Y and she and he are in a million dark corners in a million dark nights in a million city squares, sometimes in squares named after famous people in the hotter continents of the southern hemisphere. Some say that places fraught with change become more dangerous in the late night when too much wine is consumed, when cigarettes are pulled out of pockets. Some people overrate the danger in such squares late in the night. And yet others, curiously, underrate such danger.

* * *


What May and May Not Have Happened

Y: I remember watching X as I inhaled the smoke of my cigarette, my glasses fogging slightly from the steam of the humid summer night. I drank deeply from my wine and lined up the five dead soldiers on the table in front of me. I watched her and X out of the corner of my eye as her husband and I rattled on about this and that, things I no longer recall. I wondered at her drunkenness. I wondered at X’s drunkenness. I wondered at my own drunkenness. This was not the first time I’d seen X be an idiot. Just the first time I saw it with the wife of a man we’d known for years. I remember standing up suddenly, knocking the table a little, catching a wineglass in my hand at the very moment in which X was leaning in to kiss her. I remember saying loudly, All right, let’s go, as I put my hand on the toppling bottles, righting them, and then scooping up the cigarettes that lay there on the table in front of me and slipping them into my pocket. And there we were, moving on to another bar, talking about our jobs and finding a way to leave those jobs and finding a way to change the world, to build hospitals and roads, to start legions, end wars. Why was he holding her hand? Her husband and I were there behind them, talking as we watched X swinging her hand in his like they were school children heading into a playground.

* * *


Her: I remember someone saying, All right, let’s go, and I remember something about toppling wineglasses, dead soldiers lines up in their sentry, and something about needing whisky, needing to head to another bar. I remember Y standing tall in front of me, his glasses misted over with the steam of summer heat. I wondered if he could possibly see out of them as he scooped up the packet of cigarettes and slipped them into his pocket. I remember thinking: he’s watching me. I remember thinking: I want one of those cigarettes. I think I remember talking about a plan for social change, new armies of doctors and nurses and surgeons, and maybe even world peace as we walked on to another bar. Why was X holding my hand? Why couldn’t I pull it away with a gentle tug the way I always had when any hand but my husband’s reached for mine? I remember thinking: this hand doesn’t feel like a hand that belongs to me. My husband’s hand feels like it belongs to me. We sleep at night holding hands, curling our bodies into the other’s until I’m not sure if it is his flesh or mine in which my fingers rest. And god, I wanted to do more with my hands. Build things, create things, more than the 2-D murals of war I had painted haphazardly on my bedroom wall when my husband was on the frontline, the colours chunky and bleeding among the hands of all the people I had let touch me in my life. I remember letting this man hold my hand. Because these hands should be doing more. I remember my husband walking behind us, talking to Y, chatting, laughing, happy, drunk. I remember my hand swinging in X’s as if we were about to embark on a grand adventure.

* * *


X: I remember walking on to another bar after Y jerked the table and threw a few wineglasses about the place, the empty bottles shaking, his glasses slipping off his face. I remember him turning a wineglass upside down, slamming it on the table, and saying loudly, All right, let’s go, as he scooped up the cigarettes and slipped them into his pocket. I remember not wanting to go. I remember not wanting to let go of her hand. I held her hand firmly in mine as we walked on to another bar. I remember feeling her lean away from me, as if she might be trying to pull her hand from mine, but it was only a gentle tug and I knew she liked holding my hand because she understood me, you see. I held her fingers in mine, and they felt so soft and knowing. I knew her husband was there, behind us, drunk and loud and happy, life of the party as he always was. I had known her husband for thirty years. I had known her for three hours. I didn’t care if her husband was there. She didn’t care. He didn’t care. I squeezed her hand more tightly, wrapping my fingers into hers, swinging her hand in mine as if we were soldiers marching into war. We were in this together, her and me. That I knew.

* * *


Him: I remember walking on to another bar after Y stood up quickly, his glasses making his eyes seem larger than they were as he grunted All right, let’s go. I remember Y catching a wineglass in his hand and then setting it atop one of the many bottles of wine that crowded the table and then scooping up the cigarettes and slipping them into his pocket as he pinched his eyeglasses between his thumb and forefinger, and there we were, heading off to another bar. And my wife looked stunning that night, so full of life and charm, and who wouldn’t love her? There she was, talking about plans for change, for setting the world right, the plans for her next painting, charming X who wasn’t so hard to charm. He was holding her hand, swinging it wildly, playfully. They were walking right there in front of us, hand in hand, as Y and I chatted and laughed and followed. I loved her hand. Who wouldn’t want to hold her hand?

* * *


Many try to find the answers to the questions they seek in the murky final hours of drunken nights, as they throw back their closing drinks, as they find themselves once again alone, washing their faces and hands in the lonesome flights of intimacy, to intimacy, from intimacy. Some think they know the questions as they pat dry their faces and hands in the dark. Others think they know the answers. But being sure of either is a sleeping dog’s game.

* * *


What Can and Cannot Have Happened

Y: I remember sitting in the front of the cab after another several rounds of whisky, and there we were, me in the front and X and she and he huddled together in the back. She and X were separated by her husband, my friend and compatriot of many years, a man who wanted to walk back to the hotel through the one-mile stretch of kidnappings and murders. He was nodding off to sleep but waking every few moments and joining the conversation midstream as I’d seen him do a thousand times before in the late night hours. We moved through the dark, pot-holed roads back to the hotel, and as we pulled up in front, I watched her stumble a little as she stepped out of the cab with her husband, the two of them turning to look at us for a moment before walking through the glowing hotel doors hand in hand. I remember her leaning toward her swaying husband to say something as they disappeared down the long corridors of that hotel. I remember her husband putting her hand on her waist and pulling her close. I turned to look at X. I watched X watching the two of them as they disappeared down the long corridors of that hotel. What in the hell was he thinking? I didn’t know. Didn’t want to know. In fact, I hardly remember a thing after seeing X holding her hand at the restaurant, when I thought X would bend over in front of her and start kissing her. Hardly a thing.

* * *


Her: I remember sitting in the backseat of the cab, the taste of whisky warm on my breath, and I remember wondering why we had taken a cab when the hotel was barely a mile away. This part of the world is dangerous, X said. Agreed, Y said, looking at me over his glasses. My husband laughed. And yet, X said (my husband now between us, his hand resting on my thigh, the cab bumping along the short roads back to the hotel), your husband is the only one I’ve ever known who walks around this country in the night with no fear, with complete fucking recklessness. Why is that so? Why is that so? I thought. Why is that so? X repeated. I saw the mural of our bedroom wall in front of me. I wanted to paint like that again. I didn’t want the painting. I wanted the act of painting. I dug my fingernails into the side of my hand, so deep that I felt the skin under my thumb pop. I remember pulling up at the hotel and pulling my husband out of the car. My husband swayed on the pavement as I move back inside the backseat of the car, where I looked at Y and then turned to kiss X goodbye. I kissed him hard, my two hands around his face. I turned to see my husband’s body buckling in front of me, slumping to the ground. I bent to help him, to pull him up. And together we walked into the hotel, like two wounded soldiers, the stain of blood on the back of my husband’s neck.

* * *


X: I remember her seeming far away, there in the back of the cab, her husband now between us. I remember downing my whisky the moment someone shouted, Hey, the cab’s waiting. I wanted the burn of whisky in my throat and yet I was unable to feel that burn. She jumped in the cab on the other side of her husband and there was her hand, resting on his thigh. That’s what I remember: her hand resting on her husband’s thigh. Y was there in the front seat, nodding and glancing at me every so often in that one-mile journey, taking off his glasses and wiping them and then putting them back on again as we set off on our jolting journey back to the hotel. Why is your husband such a fucking fool? I slurred. What makes him such a fucking idiot to wander streets alone at night in a country he hardly knows? Her husband laughed, and she laughed, and she said, Who the fuck knows? At least that’s what I think she said. As the cab pulled up to the hotel, I remember leaning past her husband, pushing his chest back with my elbow, and I began to kiss her. I kissed her hard and full. And like that she shoved me. Shoved me so hard that I lost my breath, her elbow knocking hard against her husband’s neck. She pulled her husband out of the cab, his head lolling awkwardly to the side as he slumped to the ground. I got out of the cab and helped her pull him up, but she was yelling at me, Get the fuck away from me. And I yelled back at her, but I swear I can’t remember anything that came out of my mouth. The cab driver revved the engine and threatened me in a language I couldn’t understand as I stumbled back into the car. I caught a glimpse of her leaning over to help her husband up as we sped away.

* * *


Him: I remember throwing back whisky after whisky at that second bar—not just any whisky—but the whisky from the country in which I was born—a country unreachable, a land a million miles from where I was now—and someone saying something about not wanting to walk the one-mile trek through the dark roads back to the hotel because we might not make it back alive. I remember laughing and saying something like, Whatever. Sure, let’s take a cab. For your sake. For her sake. For fuck’s sake. Let’s take a cab. I remember my wife sliding into the seat beside me, her lovely figure pressed against me, her long legs sandwiched between me and the door as I reached clumsily around her to lock the door to keep her from falling out. I looked down at her hands, hands that seemed to be coming in and out of focus in front of me. I looked at her long painter’s fingers as they rested on top of my thigh, and I curled my fingers into hers as we joked about the chances of being hit over the head with an iron bar if we ever dared walk that one-mile journey back to the hotel. Soon my wife and I were stumbling out of the cab, and there she was beside me, leaning into me, slipping her hand into mine as we entered the hotel’s sliding doors, and she was whispering something to me that I can no longer remember. Her shoulder was against mine, her one hand pulling my hand near, her other hand resting heavily on my neck. And together we floated through the long corridors back to our room. I know she squeezed my hand as I unlocked the hotel room door. That I remember.

* * *


When these four figures woke in the strong light of their respective hotel rooms, each rubbed his or her eyes, rolled onto his or her back, sighed, maybe even panicked a little, and all felt an indefinable stirring, a deep longing, as he or she recalled the hazy events of the night before. But in the brightening hours of morning, the world lets go of the haze of cigarettes and wine and whisky as if releasing the hand of a lover, a lover who pulls herself back inside the window of a train, a train that rattles away into the recesses of our brains.

* * *


What Should or Should Not Have Happened

Y: I remember rolling over in the growing light, my head pounding as I felt for my eyeglasses on the bedside table. I remember slipping the smeared, scratched lenses onto my face, and turning my aching head that seemed to be ten pounds heavier than it was the night before. I turned to see a rim of light framing the curtains of my window. Was the world right today? Were they right today? Was X right today? What the fuck just happened?

* * *


Her: I remember holding my husband in the strange hangover world that makes one’s head numb and one’s limbs invisible, and I felt confused and maybe even frightened. My hands felt as if they didn’t belong to me. I remember holding my husband close in our hotel bed as he moved his fingers along my thighs and to my waist and I remember making love to him as he held my hands above my head in the morning light. I remember in small, hazy flashes something about someone else’s hands, but they were hands that did not belong to me, did not feel right to me. What had I done?

* * *


X: I remember rolling over in the growing light, thinking of her hands. Longing for her hands.

* * *


Him: I remember rolling over in the growing light, knowing the heat of the day was just outside our room, pushing itself against the window, and I remember feeling her climb onto of me, her fingers slipping in and out of mine as she pulled my hands to her thighs and then up to her waist, her bare body moving on top of mine. We were still drunk and warm and naked in that large hotel bed, the light glowing at the window, her face lit above mine, my hands in hers, hers in mine, as I pulled her close and then closer.

* * *


X and Y are still in the square of this country fraught with change, sitting in the late night hours, talking, drinking, laughing, smoking. Others join them intermittently, the faces changing as the years pass. And she and he have moved onward, too, meeting up with other X’s and Y’s in other smoky regions of the world, where wars and conflicts and invisible front lines continue to exist and shift. So it goes with every generation, every life, every city, every strife. This is how pinwheel figures travel in the dark, in this ticking world of moving bodies, moving hands, moving hearts.

* * *


What May or May Not Linger

Y: X needs to remember that her husband has been our friend for many years.

* * *


Her: I want X to know that I’m making love to my husband right now. I am pulling my husband’s hands to mine in the midnight hours of sleep. My hands go on painting new murals. Erasing and painting. Erasing and repainting.

* * *


X: I want her hands. I want her answers. I want to tell her what has changed. That nothing’s changed. That everything’s changed.

* * *


Him: No more questions. No more fucking questions. So fucking unnecessary. The fields are strewn with the litter of human desire.

* * *


He and she are home tonight, back in the northern hemisphere of this ticking world, countries away from X and Y, and they are making love and slipping fingers in and out of the other’s, running fingertips along each other’s backs and thighs and necks and lips and back into the other’s hands in bedroom shadows that linger like smoke from a train that has long disappeared along snacking tracks.

* * *


What Takes Us Back

Y: I remember the gossip: She kept up drink for drink. Never seen a woman drink like that. X? An idiot. Nothing new but, hell, out of line. Unforgiveable, if you ask me. So fucking out of line.

* * *


Her: I remember the gossip: He should feel ________ , She must feel ________, Y is too hangover to feel ________ much less remember __________. I remember my husband laughing a little when I told him what I could recall about X’s predicament. I remember him saying that the predicament is sad, heartbreaking even, but that he wouldn’t worry for X. X would be okay. X was always OK.

* * *


X: She carries the answers to my questions in her hands. She lives inside the skin of the other hands I hold. I want her to understand. I want Y to understand. I want her husband to understand. Fuck, I want to understand.

* * *


Him: Maybe she understands, maybe she doesn’t. I don’t need X to understand. I don’t need to understand. And I mean that sincerely.

* * *


And the coal-like smoke of memories lingers in the air, sometimes for days, sometimes for years.

* * *


What Takes us Forward

Y: It was a long time ago. A very long time ago. The world was different then and my eyesight is much worse than it was in those days. Now my glasses are as thick as stained glass. Through them the world is distorted and madly coloured. How I miss those nights and X and what I used to see in him and her. I miss those times when the smallest acts were filled like balloons bursting with the vibrancy of air, too much air, too much desire, too much need.

* * *


Her: It was long ago. And still I sleep in the night with my husband’s hands in mine. I wake to my husband’s fingers curled into mine but my fingers are rough and knots swell at the tendons and they no longer move the way I need them to. In the early hours of the morning, after we make love, I sometimes pull my husband’s hands to my waist, and then turn from him, pressing my back into his chest, and we sleep through the night curled and close, eventually waking to the sunlight as it lines the heavy curtains of our bedroom. Answers? I have none. But as the day calls, I move slowly back to painting. Painting the hands of others, the hands I study, the hands I own, the hands I don’t. I hold the brush at odd angles and what I want to see in my work is somehow never there in front of me. What I see keeps changing, shifting.

* * *


X: Where do her hands now rest in these midnight hours? And was it really so long ago?

* * *


Him: I need no one to know that we when we slip into the sleep that is ours, she still curls her body into mine. With her bare back, now angular with age, to my chest, she pulls my arms around her warmth and weaves her fingers into mine. We hold hands as we sleep deep inside the midnight hours, knitting our dreams into the paths of the past, letting memory unravel something far beyond sense and time. A long time ago? Perhaps. But inside my resting hands, you will find hers. And there, inside her resting hands, you will find mine. I search her canvasses, search her work, and I have never seen a pair of hands that look like mine. And she tells me that that will always be the case. This frightens me but she says it should not. And so I must believe her.

* * *


Tonight as they sleep, she will uncurl her body from his and turn to face him in the sleeping hours. They will reach out to one another and slip their hands together. In the dark, they will face each other, holding hands, quietly breathing sleep. They will sleep in the spaces of memory, shared. So many questions answered. So many answers spared.

* * *



This article is taken from Stand 225, 18(1) March - May 2020.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to support@standmagazine.org
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