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Queen of Hearts, Servant of Spades

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published original and translated stories in Nature, F&SF, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net.
"I love your hands," she says.
Her date lifts their hand from where it covers hers on the tablecloth between them, stares at it briefly. "Funny you should say that. No one ever noticed my hands before." They lower their hand, squeeze hers briefly. "I am a pilot; I guess I need good hands."
They hold hands on the walk back to her apartment. She imagines her date wrestling a hundred tons of metal across the sky. She feels the strength of her date's hand. She feels like they can walk forever like this, holding hands.
It's less than a mile's walk. "Good night," she says. "I had a wonderful time," she adds, truthfully and with finality.
Her date's expression does not change, but their posture stiffens. "Good night," they say, break hand contact, turn, and walk away.
"I love your hands," she says.
Her date pauses both their speech and their gesticulation, stares at their hand briefly. "I get that a lot," they say. "I volunteer at the shelter, handle dogs and cats all day. My hands are made for holding and petting." The look in their eyes is half self-congratulatory smirk, half leer.
As they walk, her hand feels their possessive, demanding grip, the stiffness at their elbow that demands they walk in step. At her door, she frees her hand from theirs with an effort.
"Good night," she says, and adds a lie: "I had a wonderful time." She opens her door, slips through, and shuts it in their face. The door is thick enough that her date's last words to her are garbled, but the tone is clear enough.
"I love your hands," she says.
"Just my hands?" her date asks.
"That's all I see right now," she says, "other than your face." She pauses, and lies: "I like your face, too." In truth, she does not see their face, except to note it's a face, and its expression which right now is a faraway look, a thousand-yard stare, she can read expressions but faces as such are all the same to her.
"I like your honesty," they say, with just enough irony to make her smile.
They never get around to telling her what they do with their hands, nor reach over to hold hands on the way to her apartment. Halfway there, she touches their hand herself, for the first time in as long as she can remember.
They do not recoil, much.
She holds the door open for them, leads them up the stairs, directly to her bedroom. They wait, standing still, same thousand-yard stare, infinite patience, as she undresses, approaches, leans into an embrace.
Their hands seem to barely move but soon range over all of her, linger in just the right places though she tries to hide her reactions, suppress her shudder, brace her knees that grow weaker by the second. She imagines them painting a micro-miniature in gouache, tiny strokes of the tiniest pen making barely visible curlicues on delicate, crinkly paper. She imagines them threading the thinnest catheter into the tiniest vein on the most premature baby. She imagines their hands caressing wires that lead from a clock to a detonator in what is clearly a bomb--
She explodes.
"Why are you still dressed?" she asks.
"You said you liked my hands," they say.
"And?"
"They are undressed," they say.
"And the rest of you?"
In truth, she cannot tell bodies apart any more than faces. She can read their expressions, too, but when at rest they all look utterly alike to her.
"You didn't ask to see the rest of me," her date says.
She holds her breath as she thinks: she could stop there. She could stay silent, her date would turn around, walk away, leave her sated in the afterglow, without making a single demand. She could; but there's just one more thing. She holds her breath a bit more, letting the tension build between them as well as inside her.
"I'm asking now," she says, letting out her breath, knowing what breathlessness did to her voice.
Her date undresses, slowly. She steps closer, reaches with her hand. Their hands close on her waist, pull her closer.
"I like the rest of you," she lies.
They clearly believe her. She smiles as that which she caresses gives evidence of their credence.
She smiles even more as their hands begin to tremble.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 18th, 2018


Having written (and published in DSF) a story about skydiving with amnesia, I was thinking one day, what would being in love be like for someone with prosopagnosia? And the story wasn't working until I asked myself, what if they are face-blind to the point of not recognizing gender? And then it wrote itself.

- Anatoly Belilovsky
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