The Invisible Hand
A Short Story by Shanna Seesz
Written using the suggestion "Why on earth would a man raise his hand against himself."
Originally featured on 12-10-2010
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

I saw before, on a television show, if you close the refrigerator door while you’re sitting inside of it you’ll get trapped and run out of air. While playing hide and seek the girl on the show was locked in the fridge. She ran out of air, and once she was found, her friends had to breathe into her mouth to wake her up. She was my age, I think. She had brown hair like me. Momma says TV shows are just pretend — that the people are just acting — and, yes, sometimes what happens on shows happens in real life. She says I “shouldn’t get too hung up on that.” I try to picture this, picture things that get hung up: coats, hats, umbrellas, pictures. I think “too hung up” must mean hung too high to reach. Momma calls this my “wild imagination.” My wild imagination makes her laugh. I know when I’ve said something funny, because she runs her fingers through my hair.

I think maybe little girls with brown hair get stuck in refrigerators sometimes. I have been crawling inside the fridge for weeks trying to muster the nerve to close the door behind me. I start from the bottom, removing bottles of beer and leftover tuna casserole. We learned in school that air comes from trees, so I leave broccoli in the bottom drawer, just in case. I like the panic I get in my fingers and toes while emptying the fridge, like standing still inside an elevator as it changes floors. Sometimes I eat pickles to push the nervous lump in my throat back down to my stomach or sing a song about ketchup ingredients and mustard and tarter sauce as the door closes in. After reading the ingredients list of nearly ten condiments, I squint my eyes as the light shuts off and sit in silence with the door cracked open. I can hear everything — the warning hum of the refrigerator, the worried hum inside my head: Hmm, hmm… mustard seed. Ketchup, ketchup…broccoli. Minutes go by. I don’t stay there too long, and no one catches me hiding. Momma works late, and her boyfriend “likes his beer more than he likes people.” That’s what grandma says.

Sometimes on her days off Momma and I go walking in the city. I like the way the city smells, like french fries and sneakers and spaghetti sauce. People on the street pound on paint buckets. Others stop to watch and give them money. They’re called street performers, and there are all different sorts. Once, we saw a dancer flip up on her head and spin and spin. I told Momma I wanted to know how to dance on my head so I could watch the world spin. She said, “Believe me, sweetheart, the last thing you want is your world spinnin’ ‘round you.” There are actors too, but these actors don’t talk like the actors on TV. They don’t talk at all. They wear suits and shiny clothes and sometimes makeup, even the boys. Last week a man wearing makeup was standing on the fountain chasing himself in circles with a plastic mannequin hand. He pushed the hand away, pulled it back toward him, widened his mouth in terror, released a silent scream. People standing near us laughed and nudged each other, but I was nervous — the same kind of nervous I get from emptying the fridge.

“Why would a man raise a hand up against himself? Why can’t he just let it go?”

“’Cause he’s not the one holding it. There’s a hand there he’s fighting that you can’t see.”

“Is it invisible?”

“Something like that.”

“Do you have an invisible hand?”

“We all do — even you.”

“Will it hurt me?”

The drummers sounded an alarming beat.

“Watch out for those hands you don’t see, little bird.”


Sometimes I fall asleep in the refrigerator while singing the song inside my head. Momma’s boyfriend never finds me. Sometimes I’m not sure he knows I’m there unless Momma’s in the room. Most of the time I forget he’s there too unless she’s home. Today is different. Today I wake to the sound of him yelling. I hear a pounding, a drumming between my ears like the drummers in the park who beat on buckets. I can see his foot, his hand raised through the tiny opening of the refrigerator. He is facing the mirror on the opposite door. Even though I can’t see it behind the wall I still know it’s there, just like Momma knows I’m spying when I’m in the other room. He is practicing, I think. He is drunk, of course, and grandma says when people drink they “act out of character.” He is acting, like the man in the park with the plastic hand. Then I think maybe he’s not pretending. Maybe there’s an invisible hand I don’t see, the kind Momma’s always warning me about. I think about leaving the refrigerator, but even if it is pretend I’m too scared to crawl out.


Momma finds me in the refrigerator. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep. She is crying. She pulls me out, starts putting things back on the shelves.

“I’m sorry. I won’t go in the refrigerator again, I swear. Please stop crying. Grandma says crying makes your eyes puffy, and then you’ll look like a bag.”

She smiles, shakes her head and pulls me toward her, running her fingers through my hair.

Hag. You’ll look like a hag. Your grandma has quite the mouth on her.”

Everyone has a mouth on them, but I don’t bother asking what this means.

“Momma, is the invisible hand real?”

“Not really, sweetheart.”

That’s how I know Momma’s world’s spinnin’ round her. That’s how I know when not to fall asleep.

Read More By Shanna Seesz

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