The left hand prides itself on being more refined than the right hand. Yes, it is in fact a little slimmer, the knuckles are not as knobbly, and the skin is even a little smoother. But, says the right hand calmly, think of all the work I’ve done that you haven’t, over the years. Well, says the left, I’ve been there alongside you all the way, helping. But think of all the things you can’t do that I can, says the right. Think of all the skills I’ve developed. 

The left hand hasn’t worked as hard as the right. It is usually the assistant. It braces and steadies the carrot while the right hand cuts. It braces and steadies the notebook while the right hand writes. It braces and steadies the whole body in a crouching position while the right hand scrubs the floor or digs in the flower bed. True, there are some things they do together in a balanced way. For instance, they play the piano together. But here they are not equal: the left hand is quite effective at repeating a chord over and over, even a broken chord, but not very nimble in the sixteenth note passages, not nearly as nimble as the right. The right hand points that out.

Now the left hand is hurt. Its fourth finger has always been especially weak and can’t move very independently. The left hand has always been frustrated and ashamed of how clumsily it plays. Though in fact, the left hand is aware that by the highest standards, the right hand’s own sixteenth notes are not all that even or fast.

The right hand apologizes. It says, Yes, sometimes you catch a thing that I’ve dropped. And you do turn off the water when I leave it on by mistake.

Don’t forget, says the left hand, still hurt, that you may be more skilled than I am with a knife, but the other day you sliced some skin off the tip of my thumb. And remember that once you cut through my little finger so deep that I’ve permanently lost some feeling in it. That was years ago, says the right hand. Still, says the left. I’m the one you injure when you stop paying attention—I don’t think you really care.

Both hands wear rings. The left hand is proud that it wears a ring all the time and that the ring is gold. But the right hand is proud that it wears a ring on special occasions, and that the ring was purchased in Europe.

Some things they do together with equal skill, such as washing each other in the basin—though it is true that the right hand is the one who reaches across for the soap while the left hand draws back, out of the way. And, says the right hand, when we are rinsing, I make sure there is no soap under your ring. True, says the left hand, but on the evenings when you have worn your ring, I remove it while we are washing, I rinse it, I hold it while you dry it, and I put it away in the wooden box. But, says the right hand, I open the box. True, says the left hand. It is tired of arguing. It says to itself, Don’t we work together? Don’t we learn from each other? The right hand could keep going with the argument, it is full of ideas and energy for more, but the left hand is silent, so that is the end of it. For now, anyway.


Watch Lydia Davis and other Issue no. 234 contributors read from their work at our Fall 2020 launch event.