Vice Grip – Excerpt 1

( A story inspired by “The Vastness of The Dark” of ‘Island’ by Alistair Macleod)

The rough skin of my grandfather’s hands stretches taught over crooked knuckles, bones cobbled clumsily by his tired body. They have been used for years, for lifetimes it seems, as tools; lithe enough to caress the flame of a match, infusing unnatural red dynamite with unearthly power, coarse enough to weather the chafing of pickaxes and clutch at the precious leather of reins. His flesh is melted and shiny like wax over an unsightly gap, the remains of the day the mine plied away lovingly two of his fingers. The land is there in him: in the blackened and jagged crusts of his fingers, the wincing flat of his remoulded thumb, the dark, swarthy crinkles and folds. They look to be capable of nothing but raw, crushing power.

The hardened extensions form pincers, rigid and serrated. Talking to him, my eyes watch them horribly, flitting back to them, fearful of their alien movement. I do not mean to stare; sometimes I see him watching me, tapping on the table or shuffling the delicate playing cards whose faces he hides with a bemused smile. It is always I who am embarrassed and shy, scared of the awful power those claws possess. My fingers skirt his nervously, hesitating like they do around the cold vice in the shed. It is a strange fear; I know it cannot close without my turning the handle, but its hard blackness holds within it the strength of tempered steel. Steel beats flesh, every time. I cannot imagine entering the mines with my grandfather, but I suppose my turn will come. To step into the vast, dark abyss that is the mouth of the mine is to court death. To slip your subtle, slithering fingers into the jaws of the vice and probe, scurry like a rat in the gullies and wet tunnels, brushing the fragile membrane of your skin against its unforgiving walls in terrible exhilaration. I imagine the sickening crack of bone inside thumb, as my grandfather must have heard so many times and cursed, as his splayed digit was caught in a vice of rock. I wonder how many times he has lay awake in his bed, a few metres from mine, and thought about how it would sound if it were his head.


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