look at his hands, she said. you can learn more about the story from his hands.
i looked at the picture of the old man, curled up in my pale turquoise, polyester nightgown and slathered in lotion that smelled like the color pink. my fat toes, bare despite her protestations, lovingly stroked the pink sheets as i lay next to her on the pillow. not on her shoulder; that wasn’t the way we read. i was beside her, not against her, and yet there was a closeness, a cool coziness to the night. she read, stopping to talk about the pictures with me and ask questions, and i listened, interrupting once in a while to peek out the window into the deepening dark, reassured each time by the barking of the dogs in their black and white, tender ferocity. outside, the trees were huge and puddles of blackness huddled in the ditch and behind chained fences, lurking in stables and under the creaking porch steps, but we were safe inside sky blue walls and on top of the world of blankets and pillows.
i held my hands next to hers, my fingers already almost as long as hers even inside the cushioning of baby fat that lingered, and wondered how we could share the same blood, her with her father’s hands and i with my great-grandmother’s. how could hands tell stories? i wondered. i knew stories; we made them up almost every night. stories about the painting on her wall, with a woman who i said had a long funny braid and was coming back from travels and who she said looked a little sad to her. i told stories about the horses i would have, brushing them and building them star-houses. she told me stories about her daughter shouting at duchess-you-stupid-dog when she barked too loudly at night, about her son climbing into trees to fall asleep. i loved stories; made-up stories, real stories, stories of questionable credibility. but hands? they were just that; hands. fingers and knuckles and creases. mine were pale and soft, hers were creased and thick and red, with my sister’s thumbs and a talent for turning pages. loved, yes, but unremarkable.
it’s been years and years, but now i know. hands can most definitely tell stories.
i learned that before he died, while he was sleeping. they had changed. they were softer, larger, pale and still. maybe that was how i knew it was real. they were the last page. i stood next to his wife’s chair (she wasn’t great-grandmother anymore that day, she was only his wife) and let her take my hand, noticing how different hers were, how tiny and frail and beaten they were without any signs of work. i had never noticed before just how weak they were, how weak they could become without any cause besides time.
i have seen enough beautiful hands to fill libraries.
i have seen hurtful hands, too, hands that seemed warm and strong and comforting but were only tools to be used in letting go. i hope those hands learn to become dusty, hiding in the archives. or maybe i hope someone will find them and teach them how to hold on as hard as they can to someone, to clutch at what they need until their nails draw blood from the palms of another, and then develop wrinkles and scars from the effort of holding firm.
i hope those hands find the right fingers to wrap around. i don’t ask that they be mine; only that they find the conviction and the strength to not let go.