Frau Roentgen’s Left Hand

First medical xray of Anna Bertha Ludwig's hand

Frau Roentgen’s Left Hand
by Anita Goveas

The thumb is indistinct, mid-sized and slender. If it were a tree limb, it would reveal I was fifty years old. It can’t sense I have twenty-eight years before I die of intestinal cancer. It is doubtful the powerful rays had lasting impact. On me, not on history. But in the future, there will be more protections.

The forefinger contains the minerals that show the people who study these things that I was born in Zürich, lived in Vienna, ate well. But not yet. At this moment, the electrons exploding from the cathode ray tube show the outline, not the context. In the translucent flesh, there are other molecules lurking. Mine are only passed down through my beloved niece, who I adopted. There will be many kinds of invisible light.

The middle finger has the callous from writing that changed the shape of the top joint. All the odes I copied for my uncle, the poet. All the orders I recorded for my father, the cafe-owner. All the records I transcribed for my husband, the pioneer. All the letters I wrote for myself.

The fourth finger is dominated by the rings, the social contract. We met in my father’s cafe, he was a gentleman. I never asked his hobbies. When he said to me ‘Anna, I need your help’, I did so willingly. While I stood for an hour with my hand on the photographic plate, we discussed images and luminescence. It repelled me. It repelled me to be allowed to see what was usually revealed only by death.

The little finger holds the tiny mark from stabbing myself with a sewing needle. I always made my lace myself. I will make the dress I wear when Wilhelm is awarded the first Nobel prize, for this first x-ray we capture. The award for realising this exposure of my inner self will save lives.

The whole is surrounded by shadows of flesh and cloth. The granite-like bones could belong to my mother. They could belong to Queen Victoria. They could belong to Sarah Bernhardt.

The glow of this process brings out similarities, singularities. In the shadows, the wives of science provide tools and structure, but stay hidden.

Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fuelled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Burning House Press, Dime Show Review, Crossways and Literary Orphans. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer.

Image of the first medical x-ray, ‘Hand mit RIngen’ (Hand with Rings), of Anna Bertha Ludwig’s left hand, taken on 22 December 1895 by her husband, Wilhelm Roentgen.  This print is courtesy of Wikimedia.