My middle fingers curve away from my thumb. On my right hand my writer's callous, building

    In elementary school I spun on the bars every recess; the backs of my knees were sometimes too bruised to perform without someone's jacket wrapped around the bar to cushion it. Sore callouses built up at the base of each finger, and were squeezed into hard yellow ridges by my grip on the bars. I liked my callouses, which made me feel tough. I stick pins through them and waved them in my brother's face to convince him I was a witch.

The only part of other people's bodies for which I feel the instant sympathy I feel for dogs, any kind of dog, is their hands. I look at the bodies trundling past, grinning and tilting like carnival cut-outs you're meant to hit with bean bags, and I can't see past the paint. Watching a herd of goats would be more personal. But in their hands I glimpse their souls. Hands are naive, usually: unconsciously curling, or tending to things with a kind of earnest helpfulness it's impossible not to find endearing. I can't even describe it as earnest, because it is devoid of attitude, hands do what hands do, even when they are attached to the cuffs of a wicked man. Watching their movements I know a person had to be there to learn to do those things. It is like watching a dog with a mean master: in their knowledge of each other you can see the record of days, not all of them bad, a bungled love struggling between them, and it's like that with hands: in their essential bewilderment and their willingness, they betray the grudging humanity of their owners.

Holding up my hands against the sun, or cupping the light of a flashlight, I looked at the bones inside, a shadow in a luminous mantle. It was the secret of my death waiting to wear its way out of me, a centimeter under the skin, reaching for what I touched. Hiding in there like proof.

I broke my baby finger playing follow the leader on bikes with my brother and sister. I was the leader, and looking back over my shoulder to egg them on, I veered too close to a vine-covered chain-link fence. My finger caught in the fence and when I looked down it was sticking out at a right angle to the others. I couldn't push it back in place. This bothered me more than the pain did. I was filled with horror at myself, as if I'd suddenly become a stranger, the kind of embarrassing person to whom gruesome things happen, things that touch the victims with a little blame for their share in shocking us. My mother pulled up in her car as promptly as if I had planned it, home from work, and we went to the doctor, who made jokes while he took a pen from his pocket, laid it in the saddle between my weird finger and the others, and banged the finger back in its socket. The shock of it made me guffaw, though I was secretly resentful that he had handled me so lightly.

I had to wear a cast that covered my whole hand and wrist, which made everyone imagine I was much more badly hurt than I was. People who wouldn't ordinarily talk to me came up to ask me what had happened - it might have been the making of me, only my damage was so pathetically little, that I imagined I saw them bridle at the fraudulent bid for their sympathies, and hastened to explain, almost apologize, not wanting to seem to claim credit for pain I hadn't suffered. I would have preferred a cast commensurate with my injury, and tried to play down the whole thing, more embarrassed than anything else by the celebrity of my finger.

Though hands and feet were my most reliable artist's models, the naked ladies of page after page, I could not, when I was drawing a scene, net these poses from memory and attach them where they belonged, at the end of arms and legs. My swashbuckling heroines had their hands in their pockets, their feet in high grass; my princesses hid their hands in their skirts. Unpocketed hands frayed into a vague fringe of pencil strokes. It was a grim relief when I set to learning hands, memorizing the shapes. Tiring to discover I could never settle on any rendition because every turn revealed a new personality. There were as many hands as sparrows and I could hardly catalog them all. Every so often though, my pencil left some careless line that humped off the page with extraordinary meaningfulness, more knowledgeable than I would ever be. I learned to recognize the truth in the accident; I pirated chance for booty.