I am a blood-soaked girl.
Before me, a body. Pulped. My boots drenched with his blood. I search out his eyes, but they’re gone, hidden away behind pale lids.
My breath comes hard and white in the freezing air. Inside each breath is the understanding that this is how it feels, controlling someone, bending their body to your will.
I wonder if this is how the Prophet felt the moment he ordered my hands ripped from me.
Above, a car races across the bridge with a metal shudder. Fingernail-sized flakes of snow fall through the yellow haze of streetlights, and a few cold stars blink in a dark sky. I want to hold my hand flat to catch the snowflakes like I used to when I was little. But, I remind myself, my hands are gone, and I’m not five anymore. The girl I used to be could almost be dead.I hunker beside a snowbank, watching the red on the ground slowly ice over. I feel suddenly cold. Colder than even the outside air. Colder than I’ve ever been in my life.
When the police arrive they are blurry white shapes, like ghosts, stuffed inside tight blue uniforms. My eyes can’t follow their features. One moment, I grasp an eye, a nose, but it slips away just as quickly and all I sense are their voices, scribbling over the light of the new morning.
The ruined mess of the boy’s body is shoved inside an ambulance, and it screams down the street.
The cops try handcuffing me around my stumps, but the metal slides off. I bite my lip against the cold steel grating over my newborn pink skin.
“Do we even need to cuff her?” one cop mutters.
“Look at what she did,” the other insists. “You saw the kid, looked like he’d been run over.”
“But, just look at her.”
Look at me. My arms are crossed over my stomach and, at the end of the arms, an absence of hands, of fingers, of fists, of nails. Of any way to fight back. I feel the cops’ eyes inch over the homespun trousers and the disgusting rag of a shirt Jude gave me, the fabric blazoned with blood.
In the end, they squeeze the cuffs around my elbows, the pressure nearly popping my shoulders from the sockets, but I don’t scream. I don’t say anything. I feel like I have said enough for my entire life.
My first view of the city is from a police car. I stare out the thumbprinted window as the sun peels back over buildings locked in by snowfall.
“You better hope he lives,” one of the cops says, and suddenly the boy is all I can see again—the broken face, teeth chucked in the snow. My veins are still tight from adrenaline.
At the police station, it’s wood walls and stained ceiling tiles. The smell of charred coffee.
They are discussing the best way to fingerprint me.
“It must be done,” they say. “How will we identify her without fingers?” Just like that, they’ve said something I’ve felt for months but never said aloud.
One of them leafs through a police manual, searching for the proper procedure, while the other pushes each stump into a pad of ink and presses them onto paper. Two warped black ovals in a field of white.
“Looks like we only need a DNA sample,” the first one says, glancing up from the manual. He rummages in a drawer and pulls out a small square of cotton, unwraps it, and holds it before me. “Spit.”
“You want my spit?”
“Just do it.”
I gather up all the moisture I can in my mouth and let it fall to the cotton square. He closes it in a small plastic box with a sliding lid and places it on his desk.
The mug shot they take burns half circles into my vision, worse than any firelight. I clamp my arm to my eyes, and they have to lead me with their hands to a sterile examination room. When I crack my eyes open, I see they’ve faced me toward a tight-sheeted bed with stirrups, pushed against a tile wall. Beside the bed, a tray with tongs and a flat white depressor. A dark blond woman takes me by the shoulder and walks me toward the bed. I balk.
“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s procedure in abuse cases.”
She’s got her head turned to the side, and I see myself as she must see me, skinny, filthy, and handless, wearing clothes that smell of blood.
“I—I don’t need that,” I say, avoiding looking at the bed. “Nothing like that happened.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, and the feeling of her eyes skating over my body makes me itch. I want to get angry, but I just give her a sharp nod.
She needs to take pictures to document my injuries, so she leads me to a plastic bin of clothes the color of dishwater and lets me choose underwear. I lever up a beige pair of underpants and, though I can tell they’ve been laundered, somehow they hold the shape of other girls still, the ones who came through here before me.
Behind a blue paper curtain, she tugs away my trousers and shirt till there’s nothing left but skin, naked feet on tile, my body a sliver of white. I’ve never seen it like this before, so bare, blotches of blood still stuck to my skin.
She doesn’t know it, but the blood isn’t mine.
They haven’t told me yet if the boy from the bridge is dead.
The woman eases the underpants up my legs, fits a bra over my chest. I roll my shoulders beneath the tight elastic as she lifts my trousers from the floor. With a soft clatter, an object falls from the pocket. We stare at it, a skeletal hand held together at the joints with golden wire.
“What’s that?” she asks.
I hold up a stump to show her.
Her mouth drops so low, the bags under her eyes go taut. After a tick, she fixes her features back to normal, just the same way I remember people in the Community doing after witnessing some everyday atrocity. We didn’t linger on those things. The cows needed milking, and the daylight was wasting, and somewhere there was always a baby wailing for one of its mothers.
The policewoman reaches in my other trouser pocket, lifts out the second hand, and places both on a silver tray.
“Will I get them back?”
Her head tilts to the side again. “That won’t be possible.”
“They’re human remains. There are laws about things like that.” She clears her throat. “They’ll be held as evidence, and when they’re no longer needed, they’ll be incinerated.”
“Burned?” I choke. Not burned. Anything but burned.
“You can’t do that. They’re my hands,” I shout, trying to shove past her. “Give them back!”
She rolls her fingers into a fist and blocks me with an arm across my chest. “If you force me, I will subdue you.”
The skin around her mouth is bunched with lines deep and thin as needles. When I don’t move, she picks up the tray and leaves the room. She returns a minute later, the tray empty.
And it’s then that I realize the Prophet’s not the only one capable of taking a girl’s hands away.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is available from June 22.