Mizue Hayami (b. 1987). Block Variations XVI. 2010. Takashina Gallery, HS22.209:702.

Rin was surprised to find a package on her doorstep when she came back from work one Friday afternoon. It was a cubical cardboard box about a foot on a side, bearing no adornments except for a shipping label on its top face. The name printed there put to rest Rin’s momentary supposition that the package might have been something for her ex-boyfriend, who had been living in the apartment until the two of them had broken up a couple of weeks ago. There was, Rin noticed, no return address.

After a brief battle between her caution and her curiosity, the latter of which finally won out, Rin brought the box inside and sliced apart the tape holding its corrugated flaps shut to reveal, encased in so many foam packing peanuts, a human’s left hand.

Though she was dimly aware that this was the sort of sight that should have aroused abject horror in her, Rin felt none all the same as she gazed at the contents of the box. Perhaps it was the bloodlessness of what she saw. Not a single laceration marred the hand’s white surface; skin sealed what would ordinarily have been a messy stump at the wrist. The word “severed” felt completely wrong for describing the hand’s state. Perhaps “disembodied” was better, Rin thought. After all, it looked as if it had never been part of a body in the first place. It was its own entity.

The hand was warm to the touch, its skin supple yet slightly rough, the fingers and palm a fair bit larger than Rin’s own. It felt like something that would have belonged to a man a few years older than her, maybe in his early thirties. Rin imagined someone who didn’t shy from manual labor, who built a livelihood on what he could do with his hands. It couldn’t have been more different from her own life, where the most she did with her hands was typing away at her office computer for a good portion of the day.

Taking the hand out of the box, Rin held it between her own hands and mimed swinging a lumber axe. She could almost smell the fragrance of the forest, hear the satisfying whack of the blade digging deeper and deeper into the trunk with every stroke, feel the wood chips flying into her face and hair. Three or four swings were enough for the tree to come triumphantly crashing down. Falling back onto the floor, Rin held the hand to her chest, letting it rise and sink with her every breath. She couldn’t help but smile.

Strictly speaking, Kaito hadn’t been a bad boyfriend. In fact, Rin thought he’d been one of her better partners. He held a respectable job, got along all right with her family and friends, and had decent taste in restaurants. Rin couldn’t quite articulate why the two of them had split up after nearly a year and a half together, which bothered her. She was older than he was, and he wasn’t exactly young to begin with, so it seemed like a waste to have let the relationship come to this. Were someone to press her, though — which, unfortunately, no one did at the time, before she managed to subconsciously arrive at a more rational narrative — Rin would have brought up the flute.

Kaito had played since he was eight, and on the weekends rehearsed with a semi-professional orchestra. This fact hadn’t bothered Rin in the least when they’d been together. In fact, she’d always felt quite proud watching Kaito deftly weave his way through complex solos. Now, however, every time Rin asked herself what had been wrong with their relationship, her mind went straight to the image of Kaito’s fingers flitting back and forth on the keys, moving so quickly that they blurred into a transparent blob.

She’d thought of that motion as being like the flapping of a hummingbird’s wings, and the analogy made even more sense to her now. In the end, after all, Rin could not supply her nectar forever. Her bird would inevitably fly away to find nourishment elsewhere, and she would be left behind to wait alone in immobile silence.

Rin’s sleep that night was dreamless, as blissfully empty and peaceful as any she could remember. When she awoke, she found that the hand had wormed its way underneath her pillow, and was lying flat on its palm just like it had originally been packed in the box. She decided to leave it there for the time being as she went off to the kitchen to make breakfast.

Over the sizzle of scrambling eggs, the television news announcer reported that the police had discovered pieces of a dismembered body strewn among garbage bags left in a number of residential trash dumps scattered throughout the city. Rin swung around to look at the screen, overcome by a feeling of dread. A video of police officers combing through darkened back alleys for evidence played as the undersides of Rin’s breakfast gradually burned into inedibility.

When the broadcast mentioned that the victim appeared to be a young female, finally, Rin felt a wave of relief. For now, the hand remained detached from any violent history. There was no trace of suffering, no taint of death. She collected herself and looked back at the contents of her frying pan, which not long afterward ended up in the trash.