These Fingers Make Ineffectual Dams: A Short Fiction


The fear of opening up to another person was paralyzing. She had found herself at that crossroads again. And anytime she even thought about trusting another person with her heart the scene would turn two-tone, and the over-acting theatrics of a black and white film would play in her mind like a projector. Suddenly her significant other would have a black mustache, oiled and curled at the ends, and a maniacal laugh that would rumble out of his stomach like thunder—a regular collector of hearts; a silver-screen villain monologuing his guise of being a “nice” guy and unfolding his vindictive plan to break her heart. She knew she was being ridiculous as she imagined such things—but they always did hurt her in the end.  


Her mother said, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” She hated that; people trying to sound sage. It irritated her beyond words that people went through their lives pretending like they didn’t get broken, scathed, damaged by living; by the insensitivity and unconsciousness of other people’s feelings. It did not placate her, this blanket of apathy that seemed to shroud society.


He wanted to know everything about her. What did she know of herself? It seemed embarrassing sharing her little idiosyncrasies with someone else; the way she couldn’t even see a potato without saying, “Potatoes—boil ‘em, mash ‘em, put ‘em in a stew!”; the way she equated every person she knew with characters in the books she read; how anyone who reminded her of Arthur Dimsdale made her nauseous and she could see the hunchedness of some dark anchor weighing down their soul; the way that being actually seen by another living soul terrified her and she sometimes wished she was invisible; the way she didn’t like her hands touched, so they flitted around her like little birds, always moving; the way she felt like an ampersand sometimes and how much she hated that inbetween, that grey area; the way she cooked to let other people know how she feels, to show sadness, love, and affection.; the way she would stay up at night, legs crossed to make her body as small as humanly possible, and look up at the stars just to contemplate how small she really was in/to the universe. These things were hers. How could she share them?


And it felt strange and alien getting to know someone else’s idiosyncrasies as well. Would she get used to, learn to love, that little sardonic smile—lips curled at one side in a half moon?; the way his hands pressed his pants in moments of uncomfortableness, like steamless and ineffective irons?; the quietness of his nature that found a mute home in the quietness of hers?; And what of all the little things that made him up she had yet to uncover, the unmapped heart of darkness yet to be discovered that lies like a latent beast in everyone’s uncharted territories? Where fools rush in, she felt awkward and overly-cautious. She imagined the Pied Piper standing at the edge of a stormy and jagged precipice, lulling lovers to their doom over the edge of the unknown. And she felt like Holden Caulfield, but instead of trying to protect her little sister and the innocence of youth preceding her, she vainly attempted to protect her own. Her ten fingers made ineffectual dams.


She would people-watch old couples at the park. How did they ever weather the years together? They seemed as comfortable with each other as they did in their own skin.  Predictable constants in a world of inconstants.  And maybe that was the problem. She didn’t feel comfortable; not in this world; not in this skin. Maybe that is why she wanted to be invisible, give this skin a rest. Osmose into the universe; connect. There were so many barriers. And her mind seemed the tallest of them all. But fissures were forming with all the pressure, fracturing, holing, pressing, pressing, pressing. Her ten fingers, ever moving like the little wings of birds, her own ineffectual dam, and she was running out of fingers.



  1. Good job Angela, I really liked it!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this, Aimee! I am glad you enjoyed it.

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