Fingers Exercises

March 18, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

I just finished The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondajaatje and thought that I’d post a couple of sections. It’s a great little book, appropriating stories and interviews with Billy the Kid (born William Bonney) and reconfiguring them here, in a collection of poems and short, narrative prose. The first person narrative shifts between characters, making each speaker seem somewhat suspect, as it is not always clear at once who it is. It’s a pristine and rarefied snap shot of the Wild West, its ugliness, banality and romance. What follows is the first of three excepts that I’ll post over the next three days.


I joined them just as they were finished dinner. Bonney seemed relaxed and dressed very well, his left heel resting on his right knee. He ate corn, drank coffee, used a fork and knife alternately–always with his right hand. the three days we were together and at other times in our lives when w saw each other, he never used his left hand for anything except of course to shoot. He wouldn;t even pick up a mug of coffee. I saw the hand, it was virgin white. Later when we talked about it, I explained about how a hand or muscle unused much would atrophy, grow small. He said he did fingers exercises subconsciously, on the average of 12 hours a day. And it was true. From then on I noticed his left hand churning within itself, each finger circling alternately like a train wheel. Curling into balls, pouring like waves across a tablecloth. It was the most hypnotising beautiful thing I ever saw.

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