The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 22, No. 4


by Tommy Orange

They referred to Frank as the guy with the hand that came out of his chest. It doesn’t even make sense. Hand that came out of his chest. It didn’t come out. It was just there. The problem is with language, what it reveals about our biological biases. Our clumsiness regarding all things abnormal. Normal is vanilla, nonspecific, flavorless, colorless, your basic blah nothing default white guy, for example—the stick they have everyone measure himself by. His hand no more came out of his chest than our hands come out of our wrists, and our heads out of our necks. The hand was there like his other two hands were there, only in a different place. He had an extra hand, if extra can or should be used here I’m not sure, maybe it’s better just to say Frank had a third hand, and it was on his chest.
     Frank, if you didn’t know about the hand, wasn’t all that weird, except that maybe the hand had made him weird in ways I couldn’t tell, the difference between what he was and what he would have been like had he not had the third hand, for example, but since I knew about the hand from early on, I knew why the look on his face was an ever-wincing mess of discomfort. Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t well liked or even paid attention to on account of what you might call my exceptional ugliness. I’m quite possibly even clinically ugly. That’s not self-deprecating. My kind of ugly, it’s the sort people think it’s rude to look at, but they can’t look away, either. Women especially, but for different reasons than because of rudeness. Women think ugly guys are automatically creepy because there’s no way they’re not desperate due to their ugliness and its resultant, inevitable isolation and loneliness-making. Ugliness came out of my face. Protruded. Think of a Native American Bill Murray, with Steve Buscemi eyes. My dad’s where the Native comes from, but he didn’t talk much growing up, and now he’s dead, which is another kind of ugly we hate to talk about but can’t look away from.

Frank is company lore now. No one ever took his desk on account of what can only be assumed was an absurd fear of somehow catching what he had. No one ever should have even seen the hand. Frank was an overly cautious person. The whole thing was an accident. Here’s how it happened: Me and Frank were leaned up against the base of a tree at the company picnic, precariously eating while balancing our paper plates—weighed too heavily on one side by potato salad—as our coworkers, in a sloppy match of drunken volleyball, laughed at themselves failing to successfully volley the ball. It was hot that day. Frank went to take off one of his many layers. He layered to hide the hand, a practice that, even when it wasn’t hot out, generally made him sweaty. But so there we were, me and Frank under the tree, and it was stupid hot, and when Frank went to take off his sweater, he unintentionally pulled all of his layers up. At the moment that all of his layers were up, the volleyball came rolling toward us, and everyone looked over. The hand was limp, and smaller than his other hands, not a like a baby’s hand, just smaller than his others. While he struggled with the sweater, his head was completely covered, so for that awful moment, he had no idea what was happening. Everyone saw the hand. Their mouths hung. I wanted to step between the hand and them, but I couldn’t move, and my mouth was open, too. When Frank eventually got the sweater off, he saw everyone seeing him, he saw that they’d seen. He looked over at me like I had something to do with it, like I’d somehow betrayed him. His face asked: What have you done? My face, frowning, answered: I’m so sorry we’re alive.
     At that point, Frank took off. He ran toward the reservoir, which shone in the hot afternoon sun like gold. I was afraid he might jump in. Drown himself in the water like Kafka’s Georg in “The Judgment,” but he just ran around the thing toward the parking lot and drove away. We’d come together, and I sadly realized I’d have to ask one of our coworkers for a ride.

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