The Expert in Pain by Pippa Goldschmidt

Because her left hand hurts at odd moments of the day and night, she has been invited to the hospital where she tells the doctors that the pain starts when she is peeling potatoes, or writing, or just thinking without even moving her hand. She demonstrates to them how still she can be and yet suffer. They pick up her hand in theirs and press their own fingers against hers, wanting to find the pain, or the answer to it, hidden inside her.

When did she first become aware of it, they ask, but who can ever know this? She tries to explain it has emerged gradually from a state of not-pain, like a young girl finding out about the world. Her words don’t help them understand, so they decide to take an x-ray. They position her hand flat on the metal plate before leaving the room, abandoning her to the beam of radiation.

When the x-ray is displayed the most definite feature is a horizontal strip across her ring finger. She has never worn a wedding ring. The doctors aren’t surprised; it happens at random, they tell her, on maybe one in a thousand x-rays although they can’t yet predict it in advance. They’re conducting a study of women’s left hands so they can investigate this phenomenon in more detail. They insist on showing her hundreds of x-rays of hands, all with the same black line at right angles to the finger bone – like a word on a page being crossed out, before they tell her they would be happy to include her x-ray in their study. Nobody has mentioned the pain for some time, and she realises that they have lost interest in it. So she says goodbye and puts the hand in her coat pocket to shelter it from the world outside.


Pippa Goldschmidt lives in Frankfurt and Edinburgh. She’s the author of the novel The Falling Sky, and the short story collection The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space. Her work has been broadcast on Radio 4, and recently published in Mslexia and Litro. Please visit her website here and her Twitter here.

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