Beauty Hands
Tai Dong Huai

On any given day I'll get a call from Toni, my agent, telling me that some client needs my hands. It's what I do. I'm a hand model, famous from the wrists down.

You've seen us. We – and I speak of myself and my hands collectively here – are the ones in the better magazines. We hold champagne flutes gently by the stem, we model wedding and engagement rings, we hold fresh fruit aloft. We're known as "beauty hands." Long tapered finger, broad nail bed, coloration like slightly toasted bread. We've worked as "hand-doubles" for some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood. I can't mention names. We even get fan mail. Everything from send-me-a-picture-so-I-can-see-the-rest-of-you, to the obvious "hand-job" jokes. Once in awhile we even get something from someone asking, "How do I get into hand modeling?" Those go unanswered. Because what am I going to say? Persevere?

My adoptive Aunt Grace got me started. She works as a receptionist at the Gales Agency, so she knows people. I'd just turned seventeen. College wasn't in my future, so one Sunday afternoon I took the train into New York, went over to her small, smelly Soho apartment, and told her I wanted to model.

"Let's be honest," she said. "Your face is lopsided and your forehead slopes. Your body, even with work, will never be perfectly symmetrical." Then she smiled as if she was bestowing the wisdom of the ages. She took my hands in hers and said, "But these...."   

Six years later. Since then, I live only for my hands. No sports, no cooking, no cleaning, no gardening, no pets. We have sixty-two pairs of gloves, all designed for protection. We're insured. We try not to go out much.

But this past September something happens that throws me for a loop. We get called in for an audition. Auditioning is something we almost never do. Call Toni, look at our portfolio. But it's a huge, worldwide print promotion for nail enamel. Revlon's Summer Shades. So we go in and three men and one woman all in suits take us into this room and check us out under different lighting. Direct, indirect, florescent. It takes less than five minutes.
When I get home, my agent has already called and left a message. When I phone her back, she tells me Revlon passed. "They're going for a different look," she says.

"What kind of different look?" I ask.

"Less 'mommy,'" she tells me.

"I don't have 'mommy' hands," I insist.

"There's nothing wrong with 'mommy' hands," Toni says. "There's Campbell soup, and Glade Air Freshener, and Mr. Clean, and lots of other places that call all the time looking for 'mommy' hands."

"I have 'beauty hands!'" I practically scream.

When I hang up the phone, I realize something. I realize I need time away from my hands. So I enroll in this evening adult education course over at Yale. It's like three miles from me. It's a non-credit art appreciation course, anybody with a pen and a check can take it, and I figure it'll allow me to put the Yale decal in the back window of my car without being a complete liar.

When I go to the class for the first time, I notice all the brown-nosers have already squeezed up front. So I go to the back of the class and sit next to this chunky girl who stares down at her desk and nervously clicks a ballpoint pen.    

"Nice haircut," I say to her.

She looks up at me. "You think?" she asks.

It's no line. Her hair is beautiful. It's chestnut brown, it shimmers, it cascades perfectly to just beyond her shoulders and frames her round, somewhat porcine face nicely.

"Where'd you get it done?" I ask.

"Hair 'n' Now," she tells me.

"Well they know their business," I say.

There's this pause for a moment or two before she says, "Hot for September."

"Yeah," I say.

"So why the gloves?" she asks.

That night I make love to a woman for the first time. Her name is Bristol and she works for the American Red Cross. Her place is even closer than mine, an apartment over a place called Scholarly Subs.

Afterward, we sit up in her foldout bed and talk and eat cold pizza and split a bottle of beer. And when we're done with that I run my gloveless hands through her perfect, now slightly disarranged hair.

"Unprotected sex," I say, which makes no sense, but we both laugh so hard we think we might pee, or die, or never stop.

Tai Dong Huai was born in Taizhou, China. Her work has appeared in recent issues/postings of elimae, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, 971 Menu, and jmww.

To link to this story directly:

Read TDH's "Natalie" from the archive.

Photo detail on main page courtesy of arimoore.

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