Hand, or Two Hands, or Three

Hand, or Two Hands, or Three

M Thompson

A night manager stands still in a windowless room, listening through the wall to the

struggles of a janitor, who, in the first obligation of his evening, is lying flat on his

stomach and reaching into the opening of an incredibly small utility closet not much

bigger than a human arm - strange the way they used to make places - where, with thick

and bored fingers, he feels his way through the darkness, moving slowly from little mop

to tiny bucket, to a miniaturized vacuum bent backwards beside a metal shelf packed

neatly with shrunken plastic bottles of highly toxic cleaning fluids, thinking, well, how

many times have I been here before, as his fingertips near the cool touch of the back wall,

let's count with one hand, or two hands, or three. Well. Many years ago, some fussy and

forgetful janitor whose name is now unremembered and face long since faded not just

from employee records, but all company photos and everyone's memory, meticulously

labeled every switch in this building with masking tape and ink. Most have been lost.

Tape dries up, falls away, dead leaves. Yet every so often, someone comes across a

yellow message still stuck to the wall, written in that same painfully compressed, barely

there black print: “steam vent LEFT” “hot water” “LIGHT.” Of course, our belly-down

janitor has never read the label currently catching the nail of his middle finger. How to

know what it says? If it even says anything, if it's a label at all? He jams his arm deeper

into the closet, finds the switch he's searching for, then moves back to the indeterminable

artifact and rubs its sticky edge. Every evening it feels weirdly as if he's shaking a hand,

or that, in the darkness, a hand has grabbed his, and, for a moment, the janitor closes his

eyes to imagine the tape, imagine its message, to fill in its blank space with his own little

cry: “off!” “remember!” “help!” until, with a delicate flick, he engages the switch and,

somewhere, in the parking lot, the next county, at the black bottom of the ocean, a lone

lamppost blinks on.

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