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The Curse of the Gigantic Finger - excerpt
To Hull and Back Short Story Competition 2018 - Shortlisted

This all happened the day I cut off the tip of my right index finger on a televised cooking competition, which is actually a much less interesting story than you might imagine. The only noteworthy bit was when the nurse put the dressing on. She had a cool gadget to help her twiddle the gauze around to ensure effective coverage of my finger. I admired the nurse’s handiwork in the taxi home.

 

I yelped when I stubbed my finger on the front door handle. The thing about the bandage was that it was gigantic. I looked like I was wearing one of those huge sponge hands that Yanks wear to baseball games. My roommate, Nigel, said the words I would come to dread, “What happened to your hand?”

 

So I told him the story. “You cut the tip of your finger off on TV?” He could barely stand he was laughing so much.

 

“Not live TV – it’ll be on air next week.”

 

“What night?” he asked. “I am SO having everyone round. We can serve finger foods.” In that moment, I really wished the gigantic bandage was on my middle finger.

 

“Yeah, yeah. Hilarious.”

 

“You’re going to be a total babe magnet after that, aren’t you?”

 

I thought about Matt’s housewarming party next Friday, and all the girls that were going to be there. I pictured chatting up some wavy-haired goddess who resembled Nigella. She has amazing walnut eyes and won’t take the piss out of me for watching the Great British Bake Off. It’s all going great until my mates pull their phones out, and play my clip from YouTube.

 

“Fuck off, Nige,” I said. Then, “Fuck!” I was having a fight with a can of beer. The can was winning.

 

“Aww, mate, does PeeteyWeetey need a wittle hewp wiv his dwink?” said Nigel.

 

I punched his shoulder, then dropped the can as I reeled and clutched my hand. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Meanwhile, the gigantic bandage had cushioned the blow so Nigel barely felt it.

 

I think that then my eyes may have even filled with tears, because he said, “That’s it. You need a drink. You’re coming out with me.”

 

I looked at him, gradually catching my breath. He was wearing his best suit and a garish, patterned red tie that belonged at a haematology convention.

 

“Didn’t you say you had an important meeting tonight with some work clients? I believe your words were ‘life or death’. I’m not sure I should gate-crash that. Much as I could do with a drink someone else poured for me.”

 

“Er, the thing is, mate,” Nigel’s eyes bounced around the room. “I lied.”

 

“Okay,” I said slowly.

 

“I don’t have a meeting, per se. I’m, erm, going, um, speed-dating.”

 

“You’re shitting me! Speed dating?”

 

“Yeah, well, I’m planning on meeting a dozen women tonight, what are your plans?”

 

TV. Takeaway. Beer if I can get one open. Pity party. “Fair point,” I said.

 

“You should come along. Listen, Rosie isn’t keen that Gary comes with me, even if it’s just for moral support. It was his idea, he met Rosie speed-dating, you know.”

 

“Gary and Rosie met speed dating? They said it was at a wedding.”

 

“Yeah, and next time you see them, you’re not going to mention it. I’ll just ring him and you can take his place.”

 

“I dunno, mate, speed dating. Sounds pretty lame.”

 

“After that show airs next week, you’ll be lucky to have a conversation that doesn’t involve some girl laughing her pants off – and not in a good way. Think of it as a last chance saloon before you’re exiled to dating Siberia.”

 

*

 

So, here I am, walking to the table, ready to meet my first ‘date’. When I see her, I smile up at the Gods. She has cinnamon hair that’s impossibly straight, neat little ears, and a curvy figure that my hands are itching to skim. She’s hot. Let’s elope to Gibraltar hot.

 

She looks up and gives me a smile. A smile that would mesmerise me, if I didn’t have such a good view down her shirt.

 

I gulp. “Hi, I’m Pete,” I say, extending my hand. And there’s my bandage, glowing white in the dim light. I pull it back.

 

“Carly,” she replies. “What happened to your hand?”

 

“It’s not a very interesting story,” I say, sitting down. “I’d rather hear about you.”

 

“I broke my finger once,” she says, staring at the bandage.

 

“Really?” I ask, trying to find a way off the subject. “And what do you do for a living?”

 

“Yeah, this horrible boy at school pushed me over. There was an actual crack, I’m telling you.”

 

 “I’d never do that, push a girl over, I mean. He sounds awful. Where did you go to school? Did you grow up in Manchester?”

 

“Oh, he grew up okay. He’s my ex-husband, as a matter of fact.”

 

“Oh, right. So…”

 

“Don’t worry, we’re divorced now. But my finger’s never been quite the same.” She holds out her hand and shows me her slightly crooked index finger. “I mean, it’s still good for pointing and such.” She demonstrates. “But I’ll never be a hand model.”

 

I stare at her hands, delicate with tiny purple veins. I start to worry about all the things I’m not going to be able to do with my finger. It suddenly seems sad that I might have lost my opportunity to be a hand model too. Honestly, by the time the bell rings, I’m relieved.

 

“Nice to meet you, anyway, Carla.”

 

“It’s Carly.”

 

“Oh.” Damn.

 

*

 

I don’t hold out my hand to the next date. Instead, I sit down and put my hands in my lap, then I look at her and blink, several times. She sparkles. Not in an I’m-instantly-love-struck kind of way, but in a wow-that’s-a-lot-of-shiny-things kind of way. There’s so much twinkling, I almost want to use my gigantic finger as a sun visor.

 

Her jacket has sequinned letters spackled over its front. “Lila, I presume,” I say, gesturing to the jewelled font.

 

She straightens out her jacket proudly. “It’s fab, isn’t it? I made it myself. Well, not the jacket, but I decorated it. It’s one of my gifts.”

 

And she’s away, talking about the nitty gritty of bedecking, showing me her huge glittering handbag and her blinged up t-shirt. My crazy alarm is ringing but if you can get underneath the glare of the plastic gems and tinsel (yes, her t-shirt actually has tinsel on it) she’s quite attractive, so I try to focus on imagining her without the clothes. But all I can picture is a bedroom with a gem-studded lampshade and teddy bears dressed for a disco.

 

I pick up my pint as a distraction and my gigantic hand is on full display.

 

“Oh, you poor thing, what happened to your hand?”

 

“Nothing of consequence,” I reply.

 

“Is it painful?”

 

Now I think about it, I realise that it is throbbing. “Yeah, it’s a bit sore.”

 

“Oh, it must be getting you down. Explains why you seem so distant. I tell you what, I know just the thing to cheer you up. Give me your hand.”

 

She digs in her monstro-handbag which looks ready to set sail with a crew of forty on a gay cruise. I fumble my pint glass in my left hand and glug my beer as I try to look discreetly at the clock.

 

Next thing I know I can hear a click, click, then a spraying sound like deodorant. I look down. The bandage is speckled with little gems and glitter.

 

“I’m not done, close your eyes,” Lila says.

 

I’m too shocked not to obey. When I open them, she’s written in purple glitter marker pen, ‘tomorrow is another day,’ along the finger.

 

“What do you think?” she asks. “It’s from Gone with the Wind.”

 

“Er, it’s unique. Er, thanks.”

 

The bell rings and I stand up, fast.

 

“Well, lovely to meet you…” Lila says. The line hangs as a question. I realise I never introduced myself.

 

“Thanks, Lila.” I try to smile at her but I suspect it’s more of a grimace.

 

*

 

I wonder if I should make a run to the john to scrape off the gems and glitter which aren’t making me look exactly manly. But then I think, what if the next girl is my soul mate and I miss out on meeting her because of my stupid hand?

 

The girl in front of me looks tough. She’s wearing a leather jacket and drinking something the colour of bourbon. She has lots of black eyeliner and a tattoo of a black rose on the left side of her neck. I suspect under her t-shirt she’s probably got a nipple ring.

 

I realise I’m gazing at her boobs and hastily move my eyes to her face. As I look at her, she stares back. It’s a hard, unsettling look.

 

“I’m Pete,” I say, nervously.

 

“Charlie,” she says, still staring. Perhaps along with the nipple ring, she’s hiding a knife. I squirm a little and scratch my nose.

 

Damn, I realise that I’ve unveiled my giant finger, in all its bejewelled glory.

 

She drops a scornful look at my bandage. “Lila?” She sounds mildly sympathetic. “Every guy that’s been here has been branded in some way. That girl needs to get a life.”

 

Something Lila said gives me an idea. “She thought it would cheer me up. It’s a bit sore, you see.” Surely this will soften her up.

 

“Poor you.” She looks down at her cuticles, unimpressed. “What happened anyway?”

 

“Got in a fight.”

 

She looks up. “Oh, yeah?”

 

“Yeah, two of them.” I improvise. “Said they didn’t like my haircut.”

 

“Gotta, say, can’t blame them,” Charlie says, eyeing my painstaking I-just-got-out-of-bed locks. “Were they Russian?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“The guys? One with a blonde moustache that doesn’t match his brown hair and another with a scar on his forehead?”

 

“Uh, maybe.”

 

“I think I know them – Selleck and Potter. They’ve got a thing about hairstyles.”

 

I feel a bit drunk, even though I’ve only had the one pint.

 

“I’ll introduce you,” she decides. “It’s the only way. They don’t pick on people they’ve talked to.”

 

“Oh… okay.”

 

“What do you do to protect yourself? You’re tall, but weedy, so probably not weights or boxing. I do Krav Maga, but you don’t look too coordinated. Maybe a weapon?” She digs around in her bag and pulls out a black business card with ‘Eli’s’ slashed across it in red. “Go see Eli, he’s the man. I’m thinking maybe a combat knife.”

 

“Not big on knives right now,” I comment, mindful of my aching finger.

 

“Maybe some nunchucks? Brass knuckles?”

 

“I’ll think about it,” I say, stumbling to get up even before the bell.

 

*

 

The next girl has a cute dimple on her left cheek, but it makes the stuff caked on her face sort of crack when she smiles. Her cheeks are a bit puffed out and she has these weirdly long and thin ears. But amongst all that, she has lovely blue/green eyes. Her face is a collection of fascinating things to look at.

 

I don’t notice the white dress and long satin gloves at first. Her mouth is moving, her lips a deep deep red that wiggle like a graphic equaliser. When I eventually tune in, it’s to her saying, “June is the ideal month. Not too hot but the Spring chill gone from the air.”

 

“June? Of course,” I agree, mesmerised by her eyebrows, waggling as she talks. Belly-dancing caterpillars.

 

“I want one of those marquees, the ones you see at a circus, but tasteful, you know. But that’s after the church. I don’t actually go to church, so we’d have to start going, for a while, to convince the priest. It’s the nicest church you’ve ever seen. Greek orthodox. Grand. Lots of marble and gold. Don’t suppose you speak Greek?”

 

June. Church. Priest. Marquee. The penny drops, into the cogs of a vital machine. Oh shit. I pick my beer up with my right hand, deliberately.

 

Her eyes fall on my finger. “I think I’d go for more of an ivory bandage, to match the dress. Or we could dye it lilac to match the flowers. Yeah, that works.”

 

Fuck.

 

“The good news is that it’s your index finger, and your right hand. If it was your left ring finger it might give some people the idea you had commitment issues,” she giggles. “Of course, we’ll have to think up a respectable story to tell my parents. How did you do it, anyway?”

 

“Punched my girlfriend,” I say, adroitly. She falls silent, looks at the table and traces her fingers around the whorls in the wood.

 

“Well, no doubt she deserved it?”

 

“Probably. Had to ask her to change the channel. She can be slow like that.”

 

“Perhaps anger-management training? Father’s plenty able to afford it for you.”

 

Ding. I love that sound.

 

*

 

The girl at next table has skin so pale it’s almost translucent. She wears a flowing flowery dress that is also, interestingly, practically see-through. She’s pretty. I perk up.

 

Gallantly, I kiss her on the cheek. A lovely smell hovers around her; it makes me think of raspberry-ripple ice-cream. She blushes. It’s cute. “I’m Pete,” I say, as I take my seat.

 

“Belle,” she replies, her voice the chime of a fork on a wineglass.

 

“Belle,” I say, “that’s nice.” I’m pleased my mojo is returning. “What do you do for fun, Belle?”

 

“I adore forest clearings,” she tinkles. “That’s where they gather. At dusk, they come from the trees and dance into the long grass.”

 

“They?”

 

“The fairies.”

 

“You’re a fairy watcher? As in people dressed up with wings and stuff?” Some people watch battle re-enactments, some gymnastics, I guess it’s not that strange to watch fairies.

 

“They twirl and sing. It’s beautiful. I love to watch them fly away, their yellow lights getting smaller as they shrink, to the size of an apple, and go to sleep in the trees.”

 

“Oh, so it’s a computer game?”

 

“No. The fairies. In the trees.” She’s speaking slowly now. “There’s a lovely spot in the Dales they’re fond of. You should visit.”

 

She wafts her arm in the air, and her bracelets jingle. When she brings her wrist to the table again, I somewhat rashly reach out and touch the charms hanging off a chain. This brings my finger into view. She brushes her fingertips across the bandage. “Lovely,” she almost sings, “magical.” She blows on it, sending a puff of glitter into the air. “For good luck. Does it hurt?”

 

“A bit,” I say.

 

Belle strokes my finger again. “You know, Esmeralda could mend this for you. She’s generous with her gift.”

 

“Esmeralda?”

 

“Yes, the healer of the local charm of fairies. Not far from here.”

 

“So,” I say, “you actually believe fairies are real?”

 

“Of course. Don’t you?” I gape at her. “When we meet up, I’ll take you to see Esmeralda.”

 

Fairies. I had a mate who went home with a girl who said she was a vampire. At least vampires are kind of sexy. Not fairies. I excuse myself to the toilet where I fall into hysterical laughter.

 

*

 

On account of my brief breakdown, I’m late to the next date. When I go to sit down, she jumps up and plants a deep snog on my lips. Her fingertips feather across my chest then down, and down, and down. It’s all starting to get very pleasant. By the time she’s at my zipper, I’m enthusiastic, but I remember where I am. My mind whirls. Toilet? Sleazy. Alley? Worse. Back to my place? Bingo.

 

“I’m only five minutes’ walk from here,” I breathe.

 

She gnaws on my cheekbone. Weird, but not entirely unpleasant.

 

“Or we could get a taxi. Might be faster. Yes, faster. Good.”

 

I’m cut off by her catching my lower lip in her teeth and stretching it away from my face. “So, what do you say, should we get out of here?” I mumble.

 

“Why. Would. We. Do. That?” she asks between nibbles on the shell of my ear. Her hand starts rubbing certain parts of my anatomy which are at half-mast and rising. I’ve never thought of myself as bashful, but I catch her hand and pull it away.

 

“We should go somewhere private, don’t you think?” I wheeze, as she places her other hand over my crotch and squeezes. That’s when I realise she’s not looking at me, but over my shoulder. Even as she chews my neck, I can feel her staring defiantly across the room. Something’s not right, and I ask myself if I care. She’s good at this neck nibbling thing.

 

“Er…” I realise that this girl has had her tongue in my mouth, and her hand on my jolly roger and I don’t even know her name. I might regret this later but I say: “maybe we should slow down a bit?”

 

“Why?” She starts nipping my bottom lip again. I deftly spin us. Over her shoulder there’s a huge troll, flinging spears of fury in my direction. He’s half off his stool, fists clenched. I’m tempted to whisk out that business card and make an emergency call to Eli’s.

 

I start to untwine the girl off me.

 

Then my best friend, the bell, rings. Thank fuck.

 

Huge Troll hasn’t taken his eyes off me. He’s on his feet now, murder in his eyes. I decide to attempt damage control. I’m on the skinny side, but I’m six foot three. Hopefully I can persuade him to stand down. I walk towards him.

 

“Look, mate,” I begin. “I didn’t know.”

 

“The fuck you didn’t!” he shouts.

 

I hold up my hands. “She came onto me, honest. You saw, I tried to get her off me.”

 

Huge Troll’s eyes fall on my right hand. Then he softens. I’m surprised. “Oh, you’re a poof,” he says, at a normal volume. He leans forward and examines my bandage.

 

“I’m not…” I look at my sparkly bandage. On the underside, I realise, Lila stuck hearts and a rainbow.

 

“So my little custard cream has been up to her tricks again,” he says. “She’s a handful,” he adds with something akin to pride.

 

“No harm done, then?” I ask.

 

“Nah, man, we’re cool.” He lumbers off.

 

*

 

We get a bar break at this point.

 

“Listen, mate, I’m going to get off,” I tell Nigel.

 

“That bad?” he asks. “I thought the body-builder girl was okay. And the bird with the big tits. Huge tits. Didn’t hear anything she said, but the point isn’t to listen to her. Have you met the Malaysian girl yet? She’s a model; might have friends. And I’ve already got a number off a tough-looking chick who seems feisty.” He waggles his eyebrows.

 

 “Look, I’m tired. I just…”

 

Nigel’s shoulders tighten and he turns to the bar. “Stick it out and the drinks are on me,” he says, handing me a tumbler. “Down it,” he instructs. I do, and cough up whiskey fumes. “Another.” He foists a glass into my hand.

 

“No thanks, Nige, I think I’ve had enough.”

 

“Just down it, you limp dick,” says Nigel. It seems too much effort to argue so I down the shot. He takes the glass out of my hand and gives me another. “One for the road.”

 

“Listen, Nige, I just want to head off and…”

 

Nigel gives me a pleading look. It’s less puppy-dog and more Demon Headmaster. All the same, it makes me pause. Worst of all, Nigel does something I’ve never seen him do before. He begs. “Please, Pete. It’s only another hour or so.”

 

I remember the time Nigel trawled around all those pet shops with me, carrying Mr Zoot’s corpse in his pocket so we could find just the right hamster replacement. To this day, he’s never told Millie that Mr. Zoot died in my care. “Okay,” I say and down the whiskey.

 

*

 

The bell marks the end of our intermission. We bump shoulders before heading off. I’m clutching my whiskey as if it’s a Fabergé egg. I generally avoid spirits but the floaty vortex swirling around me is comforting right now. I wish I was at home on the sofa, battling a can of John Smith’s and watching re-runs of Masterchef.

 

I see my reflection in the brass of the bannister, my face distorted as if someone is using it as a stress ball. I’m seeing double of pretty much everything so there’s two of me, transposed over each other. I can see I have the look Jamie Oliver had when I met him six hours into a book signing.

 

The next girl twists awkwardly to look up at me. The first thing I see is the neck brace, two of them, in fact. They are similar to those collars they put on before you’re airlifted to hospital, and the ocean hue of those plasters we wear after an accident in the bistro kitchen.

 

Her keys sit next to her pint; she’s ready to do a runner. I lump my hand onto the table, beyond caring by this point. She looks at my hand as I stare at her neck. We both start at once: ‘What happened to-’ but we don’t finish, both questions lost in our growing grins. She smiles like she’s just thought of a dirty joke. Her gingerbread eyes sparkle and her cheeks are slightly flushed.

 

I know that I’m in exactly the right place and moment. I guess you could call it fate. I squint down at the table, suddenly a bit shy. My gaze falls on her keyring, which reads: I cook therefore I am. I look back up, into her eyes, framed by waves of pale pale blonde locks. I want to know everything about her. I want her to know everything about me.

 

I watch as she brushes her hair behind her ear, and a single silver strand drifts onto the table between us.

 

Every cloud.

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