by Sudha Balagopal

Tanya is walking to school with her friends when she sees a pair of hands on a window sill. Their elegance contrasts against the run-down building, chunks of rotting wood hanging off the window’s frame. Through the pane made opaque by layers of dust, the mannequin hands summon.

She stops.

Sissy should see these.

Her friends call, “Hey, we’ll be late.” When she ignores them, they continue without her. In her head, Mommy’s warning: “Remember to stay with your friends. Our side of Chicago is not safe.”

She shrugs it off like an itchy sweater.

Pressing her nose against the pane, she studies the hands. The digits are tapered, slender, curiously body-less. Arranged in a dancer’s move, the pinky fingers dip low, the ring fingers bend humbly while the middle fingers rise tall. She closes her eyes, imagines a ballerina in a plié, below the level of her sight.

Sissy would love these.

At school, Tanya examines her own hands. They’re puffy, the knuckles dimpled like a child’s, although she’s almost nine. Dirt has crawled into the spaces between the nail and bed, felt-tipped markers trace colorful trails on her palms. When she closes her eyes, the graceful fingers in the window dance and beckon.

During art class, she draws an outline of the hands from memory, pausing to wonder if they’re hollow. She wants to stick her hands inside, lift one up in a wave, and voilá, she’s a princess. It doesn’t matter that one is white, the other a neglected yellow as if it stayed out in the sun too long.

In the evening, instead of working on math, she studies Mommy’s hands. They are dry, red, and swollen from being immersed in hot, soapy water at the restaurant where she works. When Mommy’s warm hands cup her cheeks, Tanya smells the chemicals she’s been working with.

Daddy offers dessert and pats her on the shoulder with his carpenter’s hands: big, cracked, and rough. The fibers of her cardigan snag on his calluses.

Then, there’s Sissy. She’s doesn’t hug anymore, and doesn’t go to school anymore; she cannot. Instead, she’s on the computer all day, practicing one-handed typing.

On their way home from school three months ago, Sissy raised an arm to protect herself from a gang’s street fight. The doctors said the bullet damaged her nerves. Her left hand now dangles, limp, useless.

The next morning, Tanya counts the money in her piggy bank.

“Stay with us,” her friends cry when she runs ahead.

The coins in her pocket jingle to the rhythm of her jog. She halts at the window, panting.

The hands have disappeared.

She glues her nose to the pane, fogging it with warm breath. Her pupils widen, adjust to the dimness inside. Shards of white and yellowing material litter the floor.

Everyday, she stops at the window.

Sissy’s hands don’t return.