I am working at the fish and chips shop when I am poached. The man who
poaches me looks like an old-time Hollywood producer. He is wearing brown boat
shoes, white linen shorts, a long-sleeved white linen shirt with one too many
buttons undone, and an expensive gold necklace; he should have been relaxing
poolside somewhere while beautiful people did cocaine from silver plates and
fucked in his pool house, not buying greasy food in some Melbourne tuck shop.
Later, when we are doing cocaine from a silver plate and beautiful people are
fucking in his pool house, I tell him of my initial impression and he says
emphatically, ‘the movies are a sucker’s game, baby, the hand industry is where
the money is!’
When I hand him his order – two pieces of battered
fish, $7.20 worth of chips, three potato cakes, a cornjack, two dim sims and a
Chiko roll – I am conscious of his heavy gaze. I ignore it and put another
basket of chips into the deep fryer. The oil splatters more than expected. When
I yank my arm away I hear the man cry out. ‘Get back!’ he yells. ‘For the love
of God be careful!’
He asks me to stop what I am doing and speak with him.
Once I finish cooking the new batch of chips and the customer leaves, the store
is empty, so I figure what the hell, take off my apron, and sit with him while
he slowly makes his way through his order. He has a special talent for chewing
food and breathing heavy through his nose at the same time.
‘Your hands are something special,’ he says, his voice
emerging from some deep cavern in his throat. ‘If you stop working here and
come with me we can change the world.’
I don’t have much going on at the time, so I shrug and
say, ‘sure, why not.’
The starting rate is $1000 just for showing up. Then
he pays me $200 for each ring I put on. On any given shoot, I will wear between
twenty to thirty rings. I make $5,400 on my first day. The man takes photos of
my hands for hours, gives me the cash in a yellow envelope sealed with a wax
stamp with an imprint of two hands inside the stamp, and sends me on my way.
Two weeks later, I see my hands on a billboard near
the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Maybe thirty people are standing in the street,
staring up at the billboard, saying admiring things about my hands. Everyone
agrees that my hands are the truly impressive part of the advertisement. When a
woman turns around, she notices my hands and says, ‘look, it’s the person from
the billboard. It’s the same hands.’ The crowd chases after me and I hide in an
alleyway until I feel safe.
One month later, I am in New York with the man from
the fish and chips shop. We are in a warehouse in Chelsea and a famous
photographer is taking pictures of my hands. These pictures get published in
Vanity Fair. Around the same time, a very cool writer who is famous on Twitter
publishes an article in N+1 about my
hands, their commodification and what it all says about late capitalism. It
goes on to become very influential; it is published in Best American Essays and taught in universities.
Sometimes, stupid people I went to high school with
message me things like, ‘haha ur life is like that episode of seinfeld’ and
then use the crying laughing emoji.
While the man from the fish and chips shop and I are
doing cocaine from a silver plate and people are fucking in his pool house, I
think about being chased by a crowd and hiding in the alley. Sometimes I miss
putting chips in the deep fryer. My psychiatrist says I didn’t let myself deal
with the trauma of this event, but I say to her, ‘what is there to deal with?
It happened and it’s over.’
A man from the pool house comes up to me. His body has
a light sheen and he smells of sex. We let him take a hit of cocaine from our
silver plate. He says, ‘I have had sex in many pool houses and done cocaine from
lots of expensive silver plates, but I struggle to connect with people on a
meaningful level. But your hands, even on a billboard, even in a magazine, even
on a screen – they make me feel like I am being nurtured by another person. You
have a gift. May I please touch them?’
He reaches out to me and I pull my hands away.