Our hands have never been without a story.
Each day for weeks last fall, you mixed a salve of Lidocaine and barrier cream for my skin, burned from the external beam radiation that killed the tumor that’d grown inside me. You filled a large plastic basin with tepid water and one drop of lavender essential oil, placed it on the bed beside where I lay curled head nesting in the crook of my arm, as if repentant. You hummed the same song about God and your unwavering faith in his grace and it comforted you as you did this work. At 69, your hands steady, you pressed firm on my thigh just near the groin, pulling taut the adhesive tape to undress the wound. You soaked paper towels in the sweet-smelling water, washed and patted dry my falling-away skin, and when I winced, drew my hands into fists, you slowed your pace. You smoothed the salve, left the wound exposed to the air so it could breathe, and as I dressed in new bed clothes, you stood at the window, holding the basin of crumpled paper towels and whispered into the pane of glass, “I wish it was me”, as if so full with sorrow it trickled from you like a spring, as if the words were embers and my body the sagebrush. You quizzed my alertness, felt the head for fever, and clipped my fingernails. I was born with old lady hands, you said, your and your mother’s hands. You are right. Small soft lines that carry the scent of cinnamon and lime long after the last mound of dough has been rolled out and folded around apples for pie. Long slender fingers that pull plant from soil, leaf from stem and just as easily smooth knots into lush coils. Our hands have never looked new. We entered this world with hands already holding the continuation of our mother’s stories.