Twenty Fingers
Matt Bell

Q.

“Well, ma’am, it ain’t all bad. I was the first kid in kindergarten to count to twenty, I can tell you that. I could do it even before they told us what the numbers were called. I used to call eleven double-one, twelve double-two, and so on.”

Q.

“Right, right. Even then I had to wear the gloves, all year round. Big adult-size leather ones, so all those extra fingers could fit inside.”

Q.

“No, I never really thought of myself that way—not gifted or special. Well, maybe once I started dating—”

Q.

“People there knew all about me and my excess parts, and no girl wanted to touch me. High school girls aren’t ready for that, at least where I grew up. This was all later, when I came here to the college. I work in the cafeteria, you know. Meet a lot of girls that way. “

Q.

“Sorry, I keep forgetting you’ve seen my file. As I was saying. Even after I started dating, I still had to leave the gloves on. I’d tell a girl that my hands were covered in burn scars or that I had early onset arthritis. It was easier to lie to them, give them something they’ve heard of, something they could believe. Something they could deal with.”

Q.

“You really think I should have told them the truth? Twenty fingers? Ma’am, that’s just too weird to fuck, and you know it.”

Q.

“Sorry ’bout that. So there I was, blooming late into the sexual arena, and it took me a while to get my bearings, to build up some confidence. Eventually though, I realized what a gift I had, and that I should be using these things in bed, with girls. I couldn’t see why not. After all, an extra set of phalanges came in handy enough in those lonely teenage years, let me tell you.”

Q.

“Exactly. Fear of rejection, of being ostracized from this community of sexual experience I had so recently become a part of. Those were the risks. But still—with the right girl, I felt sure I could pull it off. One night last semester, I meet this girl in a bar—a bowling alley, really—and I get some drinks in her and I see she’s not weirded out by my gloves. In fact, they seem to be making her a little hot, so to speak, and I decide that this is the one. It doesn’t take long after that to get her back to my dorm room.”

Q.

“Talking to her reveals she’s a bit kinky, a bit open to suggestion maybe, especially in her current stage of inebriation. I convince her to let me blindfold her with one of my ties—ma’am, you really should see how fast I can tie a Windsor knot—I blindfold her, right, and then I tie her hands to the bedposts, just for safety. Can’t have her reaching down and finding these double paws touching her unmentionables. That’s a bad scene I don’t need in my life, I’m sure you can understand. As soon as she’s settled, I pull off the gloves and go to work.”

Q.

“Let me tell you, my fingers were everywhere, all twenty of them—in and out and around and all over her nakedness. Hell, I had both her breasts in one hand—”

Q.

“No, it’s not impossible. I’m double-jointed, see? It’s like they say—everyone’s got a talent. So this girl, she’s all over the bed, jerking and moaning and really delivering quite the performance. After a while, I climb up on top of her and start doing my thing, but she’s losing interest fast. ‘Go back to what you were doing with your hands,’ she says. I get busy looking around, trying to figure out how to do that and get mine, too. Unfortunately, my fingers are double-jointed and that’s about it. I’m freaky, but not contortionist freaky.”

Q.

“Ah, so you have heard this story even here, so far removed from the student population. Perhaps it will go down in the school’s history. I see that now. As you know, my roommate walked in there to see me riding that girl tied to my bed, my arms outstretched with those twenty fingers splayed out, wiggling up in the air and looking for the right place to land. Twelve inches from pinkie to pinkie, ma’am, that’s how wide each hand is. Just look for yourself, I don’t mind. Now, I admit that the first time seeing them can be a scary sight, so I wasn’t too surprised when he screamed. Still, I would have preferred him not to bring the whole dorm down upon us, with that girl tied to the bed and me without my gloves. Yes, I would have preferred not.”

Q.

“The point? The point is this. I’m lonely. I long to touch again, to love again, to do some dirty fucking business again. But not here. No, there’s no chance of that now. I know that’s not really the point, or at least not the kind you’re looking for. You want a confession, and I am confessing, in my own way.”

Q.

“Let me ask you—have you ever sat down to a meal in a restaurant and wondered how many other people have touched your plate, your glass, your fork and knife? Have you ever realized how intimate that is, as if they invited you into their own house? Meals eaten in restaurants and cafeterias touch our lives, I tell you true.”

Q.

“That’s right, I do work in the cafeteria. I already told you that, and anyway, it’s right there in my file, isn’t it? What I am telling you is this— sometimes at night it is my job to stock for the next day, for the breakfast rush of all my fellow students coming to feed themselves with their happily normal hands. Sometimes I am the only one there, working all alone. I think of them coming, and how much I want to know them, how much I want them to know me.”

Q.

“I take off my double layer of latex gloves and touch every plate, every cup, every single fork and spoon and knife. I spread all twenty fingers and I touch everything you touch, everything anyone here touches. I touch your life, ma’am, and everyone else here—I touch you not once, not twice, but twenty times, every day you eat a meal in my cafeteria. Even after I’ve finished talking and you force me to leave, I will still be somewhere, washing dishes, bussing tables, and yes, touching, always touching when no one is looking. Ma’am, you picture that mouth of yours, every time you sit down to eat. You picture it stuffed with twenty fat little fingers, touching you, wanting only to know who you are.”


“Twenty Fingers” came out of the Cranbrook Writer’s Guild Workshop in Detroit, Michigan, which was one of the most positive writing experiences I’ve had. This is also one of my favorite bits of my own writing to read aloud, as people either laugh or get disgusted. Either way I’m a happy man.