By Jhon Sánchez
When my hand told me it wanted an amputation and to live on its own, it was worse than a divorce. I shouldn’t call her “it,” but anger sometimes makes me say these things, just to remind her that she is still a piece of my arm, a mere limb, a combination of hair, skin, muscle, and five fat fingers.
I’ve given her a name: ‘Handy.’
My hand—Handy I should say—wasn’t particularly beautiful. The wrist, quite small, child sized, and the knuckles like knots with loose ropes. And she was hairy, hairier than my other hand, but nobody seemed to notice.
Everything started because of my work. I wanted to get some extra income and have more time to paint. Besides, I always thought that Handy, my right hand, was lazy. As a left-handed artist, I relied on my left to do all the painting. Of course, I couldn’t say this to Handy because she got offended. But it was the truth. The classical painters held the palette with one hand and painted with the other, but there was no need for that now. My adjustable stand sufficed. I only needed to dunk the tip of the brush on it. Handy remained there, just helping keep balance. She was pretty useless.
One day, at the local bar, I complained about it. “Wouldn’t it just be cheaper if everybody had one hand? Imagine it, single sleeved shirts and coats. Less fabric. How much money would we save? Millions.”
A bunch of drunks tried to dispute it. All of them holding their drink with a single hand. Pretty funny. I didn’t point out that irony, but I argued, “You don’t need it for anything. No good for driving, not in an age of self-driving cars. No good for typing; that was for secretaries before dictation software.” The reality was that people thought it was ugly to have a single arm. The basic Greek principle of proportion. Two hands, two legs, one head.
Maybe I thought like that because I like single things. All my paintings were a single part of a female body. A nose, a toe, an ankle. I was in search of what it meant to be feminine or what many of my critics said I was unconsciously desperate to assemble, the perfect woman, a single woman just for me. I was never lucky with love. No woman wanted to be committed, at least committed to me: The artist.
Anyway, I was looking for a job, a part-time one, and with all the automated production, it was tough. I was glad that people still appreciated my paintings because they were handmade. But I had a lot of expenses, and paint prices rose every day. Of course, I could get a teaching job, but I wanted something that wouldn’t consume my mental energy.
One day, one of my friends suggested, “Why don’t you install an AI in your hand?”
I didn’t understand anything he said, but I did some research this is what I’d found: Need more income? We need an extra hand. Install AI in your hand and work from home. We pay for installation expenses.
I gave it a try. I told the company that I wouldn’t care if they severed my hand, but they said, “We don’t do that. But be aware that the AI would control the whole arm up to the shoulder.”
I didn’t feel any pain when they poked my skin to install her. The job was very simple. As I was painting, Handy—it wasn’t Handy at the time—would complete some signals, and numbers—a predictable code, for a software programming company. Handy wore something that looked like brass knuckle made of fabric. And the thing read the position of the fingers in a tactile keyboard. When she had finished, I checked for mistakes. And mistakes happened, believe me.
Everything went well until I noticed Handy had started to commit more frequent mistakes. The company checked her operating system. The technician, a beautiful woman with small breasts and tan skin, said, “She is bored.”
“Bored?” The technician was holding my hand and massaging the knuckles as if she wanted to wake her up.
“Of course. The first feeling that AI has is self-awareness. They know that they exist.”
“Early robots could answer questions like, ‘where are you?’ And ‘what time is it?’ And internally they could respond to a threat, a cyber virus, for example. Your hand wants something or it doesn’t. For her, she would read it as 0 or 1. Unlike humans, she has only these two choices: 0 or 1. AIs are more determined, and now she is bored. She wants some change, some fun. That’s all.”
I couldn’t resist rubbing my fingers against the technician’s wrist. “Hey,” she said, “I’m married, you know.” They always were. She slid her index finger along my life line and said, “For now, just take care of her… Because your AI is a lady, you know? Take her out, and have some fun.”
At first, I tried to break the routine. I brought her to the nail salon, a thing I had never done, but since my AI was a lady, it seemed like the thing to do. I must say though that I enjoyed it: The warm water with minerals and salts, the clippers, and the massage. The nail lady’s long black hair fluttered as she worked on my fingers, fingers that no longer seemed like mine but my AI’s. This lady was married, too, but at the end of each session she kissed ‘Handy’ right in the area where the thumb starts, saying, “You’re beautiful.”
It was hot, and even though, I had saved money with the new job, I couldn’t bring her there all the time. The mistakes on the coding happened with more frequency and I even got a warning that in short said, “Either you fix it, or you are out of here.”
It was then that someone suggested implanting an eye—really, a camera. “If the AI sees, it can have more enjoyment, and it can even look around while working,” he said, and I thought about, but failed to correct him, that it was a she.
Eye implants were new at the time. People did them mostly for decoration, connecting them to their own brain. The most popular was a camera implanted in the back of the neck with the tattoo, “I always have an eye on you.” But an implanted eye connected to a limb with AI was still something strange.
The technician made on incision on the top of my hand to install the camera eye. It wasn’t painful at all, and I ended up having an eye on my hand—well, for Handy.
Actually, it was sort of wonderful. The eye wasn’t very human. No eyelashes. No pupil. It had a lid made of some latex-like material that I touched sometimes when I wanted the AI to look at me. The lid opened and displayed a flame encircled in glass. It lit up. Sometimes, I could feel the light on my face while Handy was doing her clicking every ten seconds. She was watching me. This both excited and disturbed me at the same time. However, it wasn’t that frequent. Most of the time, the eye liked to look either at the painting I was working on or out the window. What really bothered me was that she didn’t like to sleep. So, I had to wrap her in a piece of fabric. Otherwise, I could see her spotlight moving across the ceiling during the night.
During that time, I started wearing gloves because there were always people on the train yelling at me, “Your hand is staring at me.” And once a young man tried to punch me. When I reacted, I injured my pinky. My left one, of course. It wasn’t that bad, only a couple of days away from painting. The following day I went to my studio, and as I sat, Handy was using that ray of light, examining every corner of the painting I’d been working on.
“Would you like to work?” I said to it as if I were talking to another person—I still didn’t have a name for it, but Handy wasn’t someone I could really talk to anyway. She couldn’t even hear. It—she—was just like a piece of furniture or maybe a video camera. I took the brush and made her hold it. She grasped it from me. I wasn’t sure how the AI was going to paint. She was never trained, but I put her in front of a blank canvas anyway.
My right hand, by itself, brushed the canvas and made a couple of lines. I laughed at first. It was like seeing a toddler taking its first steps. But then Handy tossed herself into the palette, burrowed like a hippo in a marsh before coming up and lunging towards a nearby painting I’d been working on for an important client. I tried to hold her back. I yelled at her. I didn’t want to ruin months of work. But she was drawing lines; blue, yellow and red, all across the canvas. My left hand couldn’t stop her. My pinky hurt and the AI was making my hand act on her own. I pleaded with the AI to stop. Of course, she couldn’t hear me.
I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, what I saw surprised me. The AI had brought some new dimensions to the painting that I hadn’t ever thought about before. The wonderful thing was that she painted with her fingers and nails. Even my client was so happy that she paid me double the money for the painting.
Still, Hand had some problems with technique. Nothing major. She had natural talent, no doubt. But I would need to teach her.
This was quite uncomfortable. First, she wanted to paint all the time. So to convince her to stay put was hell, I had to tie her to a chair. Capturing her attention was a big task. She kept waving and sometimes even closed her eye like a screen going black.
There was only one solution: to implant an auditory device. I was sure. Since I decided not to continue with the labeling contract, I had to pay it off to let my AI free. I reasoned it would be more lucrative if I could teach Handy to paint. Besides, my left hand always itched for money.
An auditory device would be quite expensive though because they were usually big, and I needed something small, almost unnoticeable. This was not just for aesthetic reasons but for practical ones as well. I didn’t want a big ear in the palm of my hand. I worried what might happen with constant exposure to paint. Besides, I needed it to be easily available. I didn’t want her to make a fist and refuse to listen to me. So, after much consideration, I decided to place the ear on my wrist—well her wrist. The auditory device looked like a bracelet with three diamond crystals that acted as receptors.
During the bracelet installation, I knew she was scared, shaking. She went frantic when she saw the technician, an overweight woman with a deep cleavage and nice curves. “Kiss her, right there. She likes that,” I said, pointing to the area where the nail lady had kissed her. The technician did, leaving the red mark of her lips, making me feel a vacuum at the bottom of my torso and causing Handy to drum each of her fingers along the operating table, tapping ta titi ta, titi. A perfect andante.
Even though she was calm now, I suggested removing her battery or at least covering her eye, but the technician advised me against it. “The AI is fed from experiences, feelings born from them. If you prevent her from seeing what happens, she won’t know how to react in the future and will have the same unfounded fears.”
I couldn’t imagine how she felt, seeing all those needles plunging towards her. The only way I could relate was to think of times I’d been to the dentist. The ray of her eye kept moving from side to side across the room as if she wanted to avoid the scene.
It was right after the implant, as the anesthesia receded, that I named her ‘Handy.’ The name came naturally to me after the technician told me that my AI was female. I didn’t mind that I wasn’t told at the AI installation. I understand other men might want a male hand, but for me, females are better listeners. Handy sounded close to Candy, a very feminine name. I repeated the name, whispering to the hearing device. The three crystals illuminated as an indication that sound was registering. Almost immediately, the ray of her eye moved across the room, making circles until it stopped on my lips. I repeated it one more time, saying. “Your name is Handy.” My heart raced. She understood me. “Handy, my Handy. We’re going to have a lot of fun together.” Handy stretched each of her fingers, and as the technician bent one more time to kiss her, I said to Handy, “Look at that cleavage.”
“That’s not funny.” The technician zipped up the top of her blouse. “Please pay and leave.”
I whispered to Handy, “Well, at least I tried.” But I always tried, and nothing worked, at least, in terms of a real commitment. No one wanted a relationship. They wanted to have the bohemian experience without losing their security. For the single ones, I was never a prospect, having the profession of a painter.
After we paid, Handy projected her camera light on the technician’s face who looked back at us with trepidation, as if wrestling with whether she had some obligation to take Handy away from me. She seemed to whisper something in Handy’s direction, but I couldn’t make it out.
After the hearing device implant, I was able to tell Handy what to do. She was calm and willing to learn. She was now more motivated. I also started to bring her out to the park nearby and sometimes to the bars where I took off my gloves. The ray of her eye moved like a spiral when she was excited. It was the best I could do for her.
If she wanted to say something to me, she would write it down on a piece of paper. One day, she was painting, and I was concentrating on my corner of the canvas when I noticed that she had written a message on a part of the canvass: YOU STUPID MORON. I’M TRYING TO ASK YOU WHAT COLOR I SHOULD USE FOR THE SHOULDER OF THIS WOMAN!!
She had ruined the painting that we had worked on for weeks. I spoke directly to my wrist, asking her why she had done this horrible thing. Didn’t she understand the value of our work, the time invested? I was so angry. I even slapped her once. She didn’t do anything, only blacked out her eye and entered some sort of lethargic state.
This lasted for three days, at which point I installed her a mouth. Well, it really was a speaker, but I chose one that looked like a mouth to me. It was round with a red borderline and a pinkish net that vibrated with the sounds. The technician who installed it said to me, “Kind of girlish for a man in his forties.”
“She is a girl. Handy is a girl,” I yelled at him.
Once she discovered how to speak, she didn’t stop. She liked to tell jokes, make up stories, and ask all kinds of questions. It was like being with a five-year-old. I had to tell her many times, “Please, no more.” At night, I fell asleep facing her mouth, and she whispered to me all night long.
I didn’t have to use the gloves anymore when we went out because if someone asked me why my hand was staring at him, she would reply immediately with a weaponry of words, directly attacking the person’s appearance: “Your bell pepper body” or “that hat looks like the lid of a garbage can.” The list went on and on. Sometimes, they wanted to punch me, but Handy opened her fingers and said, “Go ahead. I really don’t care. You touch my friend and I swear to God I will poke out your eyes with this.” She showed them the long, polished nail of her index finger.
She became demanding: nail polish in different colors with pattern designs, jewelry, and transparent gloves for the rainy times. It—sorry—she was definitely a lady, my Handy. I always wanted to give her the best. I even bought her a ring with an emerald on it, and she was so happy, like a girl at her quinceañera.
During those days, I fell asleep looking at her wrist, the lines of her palm, the clusters of blue lines that carried our shared blood just beneath the surface, the flitting fingers, thick and dancing before me. It was as if she were naked. Her mouth, vibrating and pink. Free of all those rings and creams she liked to wear in the morning, I liked her scent. It was mine, but she had developed her own personality that somehow augmented it.
Thinking of that, one night, as I was closing my eyes, I kissed her. Her whispers turned into a humming. At first, I thought it was too much saliva that I had inadvertently damaged the speaking device, but it didn’t make sense because it was supposed to be waterproof. Maybe she was surprised, but what could she expect? I was sleeping with her, working with her, going out with her.
It was after breakfast and just before starting to work, as we were gathering brushes, that she confronted me. “Why did you do that last night?” she asked, and immediately her camera eye rotated to look at me as she did when she was angry.
I took a deep breath, dropping a brush on the floor, and with my pinky, I massaged the bay between her thumb and index finger. I wanted her to relax. I ascended all the way to the tip of each finger and began to work my way down again until I was stopped by a swipe from the sharp nail of her ring finger. It made a gash in my skin like a papercut. I bled. Sucking my finger, I let a tear come down, and I finally said it, “Handy, I think I’m falling in love with you.”
The ray of her eye, which until that moment had been concentrating on my face, started to pace back and forth on the ceiling. At first, I thought she was happy, so I let out a laugh. I imagined her embrace, grabbing my face like a spider hugging its prey with its five tender legs.
But she remained still until her voice came out, this time, harshly, “This is impossible.”
“Impossible? Because you’re a hand and I’m a man? That’s not impossible. We’re together, we love each other.
Her eye went black. “It’s impossible,” she repeated.
“Why?” I yelled.
The ray of her eye went straight to the space between my eyebrows and said, “Because I’m a lesbian.”
“No. You must be kidding.” How the hell could she be a lesbian? She was mine. My hand, my Handy. “I made you a…” I hesitated to say person, so I said instead, “My Handy. You’re mine, and you need to do everything to make me happy. You cannot be a lesbian. Change those thoughts.”
The day I went to APRICOT AI repair department, I found that other people had problems too. An old woman next to me had installed an AI in her purse. “I wanted a partner to go shopping. But she got depressed. Nothing is worse in life than going shopping with a depressed bag. They just don’t want to spend money.” She took out the purse and shook it. The AI lit her two AI camera eyes and made a grunting noise. “I think the problem is that I named her Dolores, which means ‘sorrows’ in Spanish.” She shook the purse and tried to open the zipper. “Look, it got stuck with all my credit cards and money in there. I really wanted Dolores to be a fun person to be around.” She showed me another purse she bought to keep the new accumulation of stuff she used to keep in the old one. “Dolores was so expensive that I don’t want to give her up.” She shook frantically and even hit Dolores against the coffee table in the waiting room. “Say something,” she kept repeating. Finally, the AI said, “Everything that you buy is pain and it weighs on me.” The woman looked at me with pleading eyes. “Oh come on. She’s impossible.”
The technician who reviewed her said, as he removed her battery, so Handy could be quiet for a while, “It makes complete sense. You like women and she developed her sexual identity based on your own. She learned from you.”
“I don’t care. Just change it. Alter the software or whatever, and make her heterosexual.”
“I cannot do that…”
I was dumbfounded, but I let him continue.
“Sexual orientation is protected by the law. The thing is that if we start altering the sexual orientation of AIs, we eventually are going to start editing sexual orientation in humans, as well. This is something we need to respect.”
“That’s stupid. She’s my hand and I can do with her whatever I want.”
“Listen to me. We cannot alter it, but she can do it by herself.”
We ended up going to sexual conversion therapy. I didn’t want to go at first. I’m not a believer. Besides, I thought that either my love for her would vanish soon or that Handy would change her mind after some time, but you know how much trouble Handy got me into? She’d started caressing women’s legs on the train. I was accused of sexual harassment more than once. When we traveled, I had to tie her to my shoulder. I could have taken out her battery, but the times I had done that, she would get so angry that, that same night, she’d destroy all the pillows on my bed. And I kept loving her. I wanted her alive, even if she wouldn’t stop chasing women.
The worst wasn’t when women accused me of sexual harassment, but when they responded to Handy’s advances. I was there while Handy enjoyed a lady’s breast, played with a lady’s mouth, when her finger went in and out as if she were looking for hidden treasures. I was there, it tickled me, and yet, I wasn’t allowed even to look, not a peek.
That’s when I decided to go to God’s Path of Transformation. I talked to the Pastor Joel Manny Knight who was very sympathetic. “Satan has corrupted even our machines.” I could sense that Handy was very nervous. Her eye’s ray moved very slowly, and she was trembling.
We lasted there two days: waking up early, praying, and no breakfast for me since we all needed to fast. It was tricky though, because Handy didn’t eat anyway. Someone thought, instead, they could take out her battery, but the problem with that was that she wouldn’t feel anything at all. “We have to break her with prayers, so we can heal her,” the pastor said.
Every morning, we tied my arm to a table to allow the pastor and other men—only men, for therapeutic purposes—to extend their hands and pray over my Handy. The sessions lasted for two hours, until lunch. Then, she was horrible. She slapped me, threw my food away, and yelled, “I’m a lesbian! I’m a lesbian!” During the afternoon we had counseling and group therapy. We had to tie her again and put tape with a piece of cotton around her mouth, so no sound would escape. Still, we heard some words, and she kept waving and yanking trying to escape from her ties.
The first night she promised to behave, so we didn’t take out the battery because she hated returning to consciousness.
“It’s like having a receding seizure. Nothing makes sense for the first twenty minutes,” she said and promised to behave.
But we tied her no matter what. Each finger, the wrist, and the elbow. For me it was uncomfortable. I guess I was now accustomed to thinking of Handy as a separate entity, but I knew Handy didn’t like it at all. Still, she was passive, at least, it seemed.
But by the second night, she woke me up. “Shhhhh.” She was holding a pen that gently poked into my eye. “You don’t want to end up with a single eye like me, do you?”
It was then when she said, “No matter what, I want to be amputated from you.” She dropped the pen. “This therapy is not going to work. I swear to God that I’m going to resist all of this and sever every single vein from you.”
I cried. It was stupid and ridiculous, but I cried. It wasn’t because of the possibility of pain, but because of the hatred I realized she had for me.
Every single vein from you.
“You cannot do that. You’re my hand. You’re mine. Mine,” I managed to say between sobs.
“I’m here against my will. If I get into the phone, any LGBT group would come here to rescue me and cut ties from you.” ‘Cut ties’ was said with so much morbidity as if she were actually a shark who said it.
I pleaded because I knew how determined she was. I didn’t want to lose her. I kept imagining having to defend myself in a courtroom from her accusations and resisting a forced amputation. She had explained to me that they could do that, and she would live on her own. “I can crawl anywhere I want to.”
“You will die. You cannot live without me.”
“That’s not true any longer,” she said with a laughing tone.
I didn’t want to lose her. I didn’t want her to hate me. So, we escaped that night. We proceeded under the promise that I was going to respect her ‘choice’, and not interfere with her ‘relationships’, letting her work freely.
We returned to our routine, she in her jewels, rings and colorful strings, bought with my money, and I, painting my frustrations, my dark spirit, my heartbreak. She seduced, or at least tried to seduce, women and I bit my tongue. I was jealous of her luck, jealous that she could do it, that she, my Handy, could become the pleasure of others.
So, I decided to try to turn the tables. I was going to cause her jealousy, and she would pay for everything that she had done to me. I imagined her crying and pleading with me to love her and her alone. I went to APRICOT AI store, and right in front of her, I implanted an AI with an eye, hearing device, and a more human-looking mouth in my left hand. The mouth had actual lips made of something similar to skin. It was the latest development. The technician asked me, referring to Handy, “Would you like to implant an update in your other hand?”
“Not for it,” I called her ‘it’ the way she most hated.
I called my new AI Lefticia and specifically requested that she not be lesbian. “We try to do the best we can, but those topics of identity are quite complicated.”
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. I wanted it to be jealous, to plead to be the center of all my life, to be brought to the nail salon and ask for my kisses.
I turned all my attention to Lefticia. If we went shopping, I bought her the most beautiful and expensive rings. I’d buy something cheap, if anything, for Handy. If we went to the movies, I hid Handy in her glove, so she could not see us. Handy protested, of course, but I always argued that I needed my privacy.
In the end, I found Lefticia very complacent when I gave her a gift. She didn’t have the indomitable spirit of Handy, though she did have her stubbornness and aggressiveness. She was passive and sometimes even lazy. She didn’t want to paint. When she painted for five minutes, she wanted to fall into a silky pillow she had made me buy for her. She talked slowly. At first, I thought it was a problem with software. “Nope, she’s just like that. She drags her words out,” the technician said.
Well, one night, I put the glove on Handy, and I tried to kiss Lefticia. But she held me away, using her pinky. “No, no, no… my… dear,” she said.
“Don’t tell me you’re a lesbian too,” I whispered afraid that Handy would hear us.
“No… Nothing like that… But… these kind of things… I don’t do them… unless you… pay me.”
“Pay you. Are you nuts?”
The truth was that she didn’t paint unless I paid her. She didn’t scrub me if I didn’t pay her, and she was particularly disgusted by my penis. But she was happy to do everything if I just offered her a couple of bucks or I gave her a gift.
“Maybe because you’re left handed, and you always worked for money, so that’s why,” the technician explained.
“Nobody pays me to hold my penis to pee.”
Well, I left Lefticia to be, and I paid her. At least I could jerk off although I worried someone could accuse me of prostitution.
One day, I woke up, and right there in the middle of my stomach, at the height of my belly buttom, Handy and Lefticia were dancing, touching each other at the tips of their fingers. Later, they kissed. It was exciting. The kiss lasted a long time, until I cleared my throat. They both turned backward to see my face with their camera-like eyes.
“You told me you’re not a lesbian,” I said to Lefticia.
“I’m not. But, she paid me.” She showed me the first beautiful emerald ring I had bought for Handy back when I’d first fallen in love with her.
Now, my life has settled down. I still live without a girlfriend and sometimes I think that the only person who could ever love me would be a girl with gay feet. These two ladies in my hands, Lefticia and Handy, are not just an extension of my desires anymore. Probably at middle age, I’m finally learning how to treat a lady from them, what words to use and how to ask for permission. Once a week, I pay Lefticia so she’ll paint with force and determination. I buy rings for Handy, so she can give them to Lefticia. That way, Handy isn’t chasing women around, and her idea to get amputated is, at least for now, forgotten.
Every day, I have my breakfast. Lefticia feeds me because I pay her, and Handy stuffs blueberries in my mouth because she wants to flirt with Lefticia. After that, I sit in front of the canvas to admire what Handy and Lefticia are doing. And, when I describe the way I paint as the process in which my hands have a will of their own, I am not lying.
About the Author: Jhon Sánchez: A Colombian Born, Mr. Sánchez, arrived in NYC seeking political asylum where he is now a lawyer. His short stories are available in Midway Journal, The Meadow, Newfound, Fiction on the Web, among others. The DeDramafi, was published on The Write Launch, and Storylandia will reprint it in issue 36. He was awarded the Horned Dorset Colony for 2018 and the Byrdcliffe Artist Residence Program for 2019. In 2021, New Lit Salon Press will publish his collection Enjoy Pleasurable Death and Other Stories that Will Kill You. For updates, please visit the Facebook page @WriterJhon. He’s grateful to Wally Sturgeon, Sam Ferri, Nan Frydland, Dennis Redmond, Tadzio Koelb’s writing class from the New School, and Sam Schreiber’s workshop from BSFW for their editorial comments. For updates, please visit the Facebook page @WriterJhon
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