urbanartconcept

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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