MICHAEL BISHOP “Allegra’s Hand.” Novelette. First appeared in Asimov’s SF, June 1996. Collected in At the City Limits of Fate (Edgewood Press, hardcover, 1996).

   I called this a science fiction story, and it is that, but it’s far from a space or planets story. A young girl new to her school catches the head counselor there, as well as a host of bullies. It’s not difficult to see why. She wears a glove on her left hand, a long-sleeved one that goes up her arm to almost her elbow.

   Why? What is she hiding? Why won’t she tell anyone? She is clearly intelligent, perhaps more than her years. But taunted one day too far, she punches the boy bullying her in the stomach with the hand in the glove, leaving a huge circular bruise. I won’t tell you her secret, as the mystery is a major factor in the first half of the story, one her counselor (female, and a first person narrator) works to unravel.

   Which she eventually does, gaining Allegra’s trust at last, slowly and carefully. It is quite an affliction, shall we say, that Allegra has to face. Luckily she has her father on her side, and she doesn’t have to face her future alone, not for a while yet.

   It’s in essence a quiet, melancholy story and I think a memorable one. But as Mrs. Hewit tells a colleague, “Beth, I go bump against more hopeless, intractable cases than Allegra’s almost very week. None more unusual, I grant that, but many sadder and a few even harder to envision tuning out acceptably.”

   As for me, I agree. It won’t be easy, but I think Allegra is a survivor.

   Michael Bishop has been writing SF since 1970, and his work has won or has been nominated for any number of awards. Even so, his stories are not flashy, and I don’t believe they’ve ever gained the attention they should have.