The Secret Life of Gods
So you want to know about the gloves. Everyone does, sooner or
I could give you one of the usual explanations, but I'm so tired of
that now, tired of thinking up different lies for different people,
the same lies recycled again and again over the years until the ones
I've used before sound new again, even to myself.
The coldest months are easy. No one questions a man wearing gloves
when it's twenty degrees outside, and if he keeps them on indoors,
maybe he's eccentric, or just absent-minded. But in summer, he goes
from eccentric to insane, and a whole new approach is called for.
Do you know how many jobs there are that require a man to wear
gloves all day? I do, and I've done them all. Sanitation worker,
phlebotomist, doorman at the Ritz Carlton. Big canvass gloves, heavy
and stiff as a baseball mitt. Rubber gloves, dangerously thin and
tight as a second skin. White cotton gloves so blinding bright, I
have to keep them clasped behind my back to keep from calling
attention to them.
Yesterday, just before sunrise, when I was throwing a can full of
garbage into the back end of a city truck, the humor of my situation
hit me like it does every few decades or so. I imagined taking off
my thick work gloves and watching the wet paper bags and rotten
apple cores and soiled diapers turning to gold, that old reliable
warm glow in the early morning sun. I pictured the compactor
crushing it all into gold bricks the size of hay bales, too heavy
for any one man to carry.
You might ask, Why do you work at all? With the gift that you have,
why choose to put your shoulder to that grimy, sweat-slimed wheel
that any one of us would kill to be out from under?
Because. I killed her. She ran to me, laughing, and I killed her.
It was my first day, so long ago. You could say that I didn't fully
understand what had happened to me yet, that I didn't realize how
far it went, that it could reach all the way into the safest place
where I thought nothing bad could ever happen.
I was afraid of what was happening to me, and I needed that safe
place that only she could give me. She saw me and ran to me,
laughing, the way she always did whenever she first saw me, her arms
reaching up for me, and I reached down and took her the way I always
had, without thinking. Without thinking.
I saw the change move through her quickly, like the wind sends a
wave rippling across a field of grain, but just before it reached
her eyes I saw the beginning of a question there. I could see her
wondering what was happening to her, and expecting me to tell her,
like she always did. Trusting me.
For a while I believed she was still alive. Trapped inside the cold,
unmoving thing I had made of her, but still aware, still thinking,
still feeling. You do not want to know the things I did during that
time. Let us say that I came to a hard understanding. She was dead,
because I decided she was. No one else was going to decide that for
For a long time I denied myself everything. Food, sex, sleep. But
given enough time, the body will have what it wants. The body can
wait longer than the spirit, and will always win in the end. At
first I thought this was a bad thing. Then I realized that there was
more pride, more arrogance in resisting than in giving in.
The women I've known I usually sleep with only once. Though there
was this one time...
I was wearing my thin black leather gloves, which she had admired in
the museum. But now that we were alone and naked in her room, she
eyed them suspiciously, and, I thought, a little frightened. She
kept asking if I was going to take them off.
Don't you like them, I asked.
Yes, she said. But don't you want to touch me?
Something in her face said that all the old lies would not work on
her, that she had heard too many lies already. Then, I told her. I
told her everything. Even then, she was not afraid. She said that
she wanted it. I studied her to see if she believed me, if she
thought it was a game. I saw her looking up at me, trusting me, and
I could not help myself.
Today I still wonder if she really believed me, if she knew what she
was asking for. I wonder if any of us do.
He asked me what I wanted and I told him to tattoo the words touch
me across my breasts, as if reading them could make my husband
want me again. The courage from the vodka in my bloodstream had
gotten me inside the parlor and shirtless when, removing my bra, I
saw how my perfect breasts were beginning to sag, stretch marks
marring the blue-veined white. I was ashamed and understood why the
desire in my husband's eyes had faded to the dull black of a room
with no light.
A woman of a certain age. That's what they'd call me if I'd been
born in a different time. Now women my age were making furtive
appointments with plastic surgeons to slow the ravages of time, the
effects of gravity. My mirror still told me I was beautiful, if I
was standing in a certain light, if I had slept but not just woken,
eaten well, refrained from drink. But my husband preferred a skin
more elastic and a head less filled with brilliant quips and
Does any of this explain what happened? Or is an explanation, too,
It began with his gloves. I couldn't take my eyes off them.
Beautiful black leather, so fine and thin, they could have been
painted onto his hands. They were crossed and resting on the head of
a walking stick, intricately carved with half-naked men on horseback
holding spears. It would have looked at home in a lighted case
somewhere in the museum where we stood, instead it served as
pedestal to display the gloves. His hands were preternaturally
still. The face gazing out from the painting he stood before was not
as still as they. And then he turned to look at me and I forgot
about the gloves, the stick, the museum. Everything.
His eyes were large and dark and very old. But his face was unlined,
youthful, the contrast startling. I felt myself being drawn inside
his eyes and analyzed, appraised, appreciated and—yes—desired.
And then he extended one gloved hand.
It was impossible not to take. Against that glove, the paleness of
my skin made me feel naked. My coat covered me from neck to ankle,
shoulder to wrist, but I felt more exposed than had I stripped down
Inside my own, his hand was warm and soft, the leather like a baby's
cheek. I wanted to feel it against my mouth. As if he knew and
mocked me, he lifted my hand to his lips, those age-full eyes never
leaving my face. His lips were cool but my skin felt seared. Heat
traveled up my arm and filled my chest like air was supposed to, the
air I wasn't breathing, pulsing outward through my body.
Was it the lips against my hand? Or the look of total self-command?
Was it the heady fact that I was wanted? Or the feeling of the
glove, softer than the softest skin and warm from the hard fingers
giving resistance to my grip?
I watched myself take the arm he offered. Watched him lead me, as
though I were someone else, out of the museum, across the street and
into a hotel. I was a curiosity. A strange woman capable of doing
We were soon naked, but for the gloves. He was unselfconscious,
allowing me to study him. Well-proportioned, toned but not muscular,
not young any longer, but not yet old. There were scars; unusual,
long slicing marks on both arms, a few depressions in his torso that
made me think of the carvings on his walking stick; of war and
I was afraid then. But when he put his hands on me the trembling
went from fear to longing, the sight of black leather against my
pale skin as overwhelming to me as its touch. He placed one hand
between my legs and I wanted it, but I pulled it away, "You'll
ruin them." But he whispered, "It doesn't matter,"
and "Do you like it?"
I took his other hand and put it in my mouth savoring the bitter
taste of oil, biting down so he could feel my teeth, so I could feel
the give of the leather.
"Stop. You'll tear them."
"I thought you said it didn't matter."
He pulled his hands free and covered my body with his. "Are you
ready for me?"
I don't know how long we were together, if it was a day or a week,
longer, but in the end I felt newly born. My skin, I thought,
And then I asked to see his hands. He hesitated, giving me an odd
look, as if I were the crazy one. He'd told me his story and I
thought he was mad, but then he went to his coat and pulled out
another pair of gloves and placed them carefully beside me on the
bed. And then he peeled the leather from his hands and dropped them
to the floor. They fell too fast, and landed with a heavy thud the
thick carpet barely muffled.
I never saw what they became. All I could see was his hands. The
skin was white, so white, almost blindingly so. Even the soft glow
of the hotel light failed to temper their brilliance. The fingers
were long and tapered; altogether beautiful. Something in his
carriage changed, as if, like Adam, he was suddenly aware of his
"They're beautiful," I breathed.
I couldn't bear it. Smooth white hands, perfect and beautiful,
unable to touch, to feel. I wanted them on me, no matter what
happened, for that one instant before changing, to feel them one
time. And yes, I thought if what he said were true my life was over.
But nothing else seemed to matter at this moment, nothing but the
feeling of his hands.
"Touch me," and when he shook his head,
"You don't believe me, do you? You think it's just a
game?" but after a moment of studying my face, I could see he
believed that I was serious. I was willing to take whatever the next
moment would bring.
So he leaned down and kissed me, while his hands moved slowly
forward, palms touching my nipples. I felt his hands as they closed
around my breasts, the skin warm and softer than the gloves, and I
wanted to tell him that, but I found I couldn't move my lips. His
breath was misting the glinting metal of my eyes. He sighed and
said, "Is this what you wanted?"
That was many years ago, and while I've often wished I could have
told him, the golden skin that is my cage did not allow it. He was
wrong about his touch. I didn't die. And since they've moved me into
the square I have what I want. I am forever beautiful. I am touched
a lot. People stop to admire me. Lovers kiss in my shadow. Young
boys tweak my breasts and run away laughing. People run their naked
hands across my face, my breasts, my belly. I can feel their touch,
and it is lovely. Until I think of him. And then the touch I crave,
the one I yearn for, even if it were to make me return back into
flesh, is a hand inside a leather glove.