THOSE WORKS OF HANDS
Silent summer afternoons, the washing on the lines struggling to be free and seizing the scents of guavas blooming in the nursery. My mother and I are sitting in the boudoir, soft afternoon light pouring in — unbridled by the clouds. Everything exists in pure clarity, our minds are clear, the weather is nice, we are enjoying each other’s company, and she is teaching me to sew frocks. The cobalt of sky and linen unites, blue dominates. The colour is gentle on the eye and sets an easy mood for which one may fully descend into narrative. Put away your thimbles and let me spin you a tale from years ago, mother says. I obey.
The northern Irish miller, Daithi, who had for many years discontinued his vocation of sifting flour, was a man (oddly formed, but a man) of swift pace and crafty hands. He spun cloth into bonnets and pinafores faster than any other in all six provinces. His legend had spread like flames to leaves. Each day, a teeming line of bodies assembled at his door: pale skinned men with faces concealed by hoods, Ethiopians bearing rhubarbs and spices, hunchbacks who spoke in tongues only meaningful in dreams. At night, when the sun had hurried into the horizon, squalling children rapped on his door and preening young girls flashed their skin at him the streets, oblivious to his ugliness. Distant queens had been tailored by his skill and their husbands prayed to gods to snuff his breath.
In the first month, on the third day of the celebration of Samhain, when points of flames streaked the landscape, two men, with faces like naiads, thumped his door with heavy fists, tethered him with thickly fibered rope and rode on the back of a phoenix into a dense congregation of oaks where the boars slept with their faces to the earth.
In this part of the woods, is the smell of staleness, long ago screams that failed to reach the rescuer appear to reverberate. The light is obstructed by a canopy of overarching branches. The captor is a prince of a land whose women lure enemy soldiers to the guillotine. He emerges from a silhouette of leaves and darkness. Daithi’s crime? He had spun white lace into a dress for his wife that revealed the fullness of her chest. Daithi remembers, the dress. The deep declivity at its bosom — he remembers the flushed face of the pleased lady whose name he does not remember.
He recounts how she waltzed across the marble floor of his shop, spun around in the dress that cut sharply above her knees. Monthy will love this, she had said.
Monthy is standing over him, his anger is deliberate — defined. Her plump hips and full swell that bulged beneath the dress had lured an ogre from his cave. The ogre — fuelled with enough desire to push her against a flaking trunk, to lift the veil off her marvellous breasts, to slide himself into her and perform the ritual — a thousand oxblood stars sparkling above them like rubies. She carried the ugliness of their copulation in her womb.
The men had struck Daithi till he bled, hacked his hands with a machete and hung them on wiry branches for the undertaker to collect. Then they put a flame to his head and the deep blue of those flames engulfed him. The forest life broke out in race — refusing to witness the destruction of a body. Above, his hands — his former hands dangled freely, palms open as if offering itself for a sacrifice. The hands that had spun the magic was now orphaned from its host. The craft had failed to outlive the body.
The story dampens my mood, we have resumed sewing frocks, a fine shower of rain spritzes across the garden. We hurry to the backyard to retrieve the washing. On an electric pole is a dove nuzzling its feathers, its claws ends in awkward stumps which reveals a latent absence of vitality, of zeal, of travel and lost youth. The dove spreads its wings and ascends into the clouds.