chiaroscuro portraits – a story circle
Chiaroscuro portraits on her bedroom wall. She tunes the radio with a smooth glide of her wrist, but hears nothing but static. Beads of sweat emerge at her brow, and she goes over to her collection of records – a few dozen scuffed 45s stacked in milk crates. Her fingertips, dry skin flaking, flick through the records. The sound they make is like a skittering insect’s many legs.
She selects a post-fusion jazz trio featuring Etna St. Dames on synthesizer, spools it onto her record player, sets the needle.
No sound emerges from the dusty speaker.
She scribbles the needle across the grooves but hears only rhythmless static. She yanks the needle and it comes off in her hands with a soft click. The static goes with it. She touches the plastic portrait frames, their subjects silently staring.
He’s got a head like a jar but he’s not a marine. He works at the supermarket in the produce department. There are no jars there to deal with, only loose vegetables in waxy boxes. He used to work in the general grocery department – did so for years. Too often, though, he felt customers’ eyes bouncing back and forth between pickle jars and his head, between sauerkraut jars and his head, and so on. The similarities were undeniable. He used to wear a pork pie hat but it looked too much like a lid. He wears a thin layer of powdery foundation to cover his skin’s inherent shininess, which too closely reminds him of glass. An ex- once described him as lantern-jawed, and he liked that. He didn’t notice that she’d started to say “jar.”
exercise: N 3.4 – hands on four people
picking at fingernails
white bite marks
one spot bald of hair, sore and blushing red
His hands tap a steady rhythm on whatever surface they happen to be resting on. They flit like birds, and don’t last long in any one spot. The fingers are in constant communion with the thumb, which picks and digs at the fingernails, seeking strings of white skin like maggots, wriggling in the cuticles, digs them out until a spot of blood appears. The nails themselves are bitten-down, with white scratch marks on their surfaces, radiating out from where tooth meets keratin in a spreading spider-web crack like a brick in a window.
The fleshy spot between thumb and index on the back of his left palm is dried, blushing red and white. The hair follicles have been worn away by the forceful rubbing of his right thumb.
shapely nails, each painted individually, but chipped and worn
calloused palms, fingertips
often in a wave pattern, fingers moving/stretching
She’s got longish, shapely nails, each painted a saturated hue, individually, with a fine brush. Colours cascade across the fingers in swooping, swirling detail, patterns evolving and recurring on individual nails. The thumbnails, though, are unpainted – plain flesh, as though they were the officers and the fingernails the enlisted. Each nail, thumbs included, are worn, though, chipped around the edges, imperfectly maintained. The colours are flaking off in places – the officer cracking through the shell of the enlisted, a rite of passage – flesh tones showing through in the mosaic.
Often, she moves the fingers in a rhythmic exercise, like a wave in a baseball stadium, from pinky to index or index to pinky, each finger following the next. The motion is fluid through years of habit.
slim, vibrant, glowing colour
perfect nails, extra long, salon-done
several silver bands with tiny gemstones, six in total spanning hue of pride flag
Her hands are slim with tapered fingers, and the soft flesh glows with a vivid rosy tone. They rest easily together, seem to fold effortlessly into one loving tangle in her lap, and yet can pull apart as smoothly as two educated lovers. The nails are long and perfect, salon-produced, with crescent moons where nail meets finger as white as the heart of the sun. Their shape is geometrically perfect, to a certain scale.
Each finger but two – the ring fingers on each hand (where the spirit lives, if you buy Lynchian cosmology) – bears a slender silver ring, each with a tiny setting clutching like greedy fingers a gemstone of intricate cut. Their hues range along the pride flag rainbow, from red to violet, in established order. They glitter in the light.
supremely tiny hands, grey-green complexion
old blue tattoos running down the back of palms into fingers
nails yellow and skin peeling away from them
He’s got these tiny hands; the tendons show through draped skin. His grey-green flesh his own death shroud. Along the thin, flimsy flesh is a series of blue tattoos, hand-drawn by friends and enemies. They run in rivulets down his arm into his wrist, spread like roots across the back, following the grooves of the chicken-bone tendons inside. The lines even spiral and splash along each finger, swirling and tapering to the nails, where the skin is peeling away from the yellow-grey keratin, leaving a mucky purple like a mini oil spill at the suppurating nail.
He can move his wrists a bit, and flex the muscles of his right thumb. The fingers themselves are heavy and dead on the soft linen.