Hand Study

Hand Study

By JD Miller

It is February, and his hands are strong, hers as white and soft as snow. They touch each other only in passing, a brush of fingerprints on skin. But one day, the beginning of March, his hand touches hers and she doesn’t pull away. Instead, she intertwines her fingers with his and don’t let go.

And then it is April. And her hands grip the sheets, white-knuckled, while his hands are the first to touch the feather-soft hair, the still-wet skin of a new life, with hands of his own that he does not know how to use. Wrapped in blankets, impossibly soft, he moves from one set of hands to the other, is held to one heart and then the other. 

By the beginning of May, her hands have cleaned up puke and blood, gathered clothes from the floor. And his hands have gotten rougher with work, and they rub their eyes with their knuckles, and touch each other’s faces, and touch the small of each other’s backs.

It is June, and the child is grown. His hands are strong and unblemished. Everything they do has a sense of hurry, a blur of motion—they are never still. Until, two days shy of July, they are. They lay beside him, neatly, and a dozen hands, belonging to people he never knew, have put him in his finest clothes and lowered him down.

His mother’s hands wring one another like rags. His father puts a hand on the boy’s chest, where nothing stirs, and then withdraws it, as if to say, ‘you did well.’

August passes slower and hotter. Brown spots appear on the backs of his hands. And hers are often folded in her lap. And other people talk, their hands animated, gesturing, accentuating, waving. But not hers. Not for a while. 

In September, by chance, or by one small decision that led to another, their hands find each other. Both sets of them. They cling with the most soft-spoken desperation, never too tightly, and at all times. In the night or the day, they are there, folded together like pages of two phone books that cannot, now, be separated. Their pages are one, the books one, their hands one. 

By October, the trend holds true. She does not put his hand down unless she intends immediately, after moving her teacup across the table, to pick it back up. And he scarcely makes room for anything that does not leave at least a hand free, to keep her close—or, if he’s mowing the lawn, the white and brown skin growing starker on his knuckles, at least to wave. When she shuffles and deals cards, as fast as ever, their hands are aware of one another’s positions, like those of a clock.

It is November, and he cannot stop his hands from shaking. Hers are not much better. But both of them have gotten softer. The skin is looser, but the palms are quite smooth. The rings suddenly seem a little big on their fingers, so that you can see the skin that’s worn down underneath them, and the swollen knuckles that keep them from sliding off.

But other than that, nothing much has changed. Their hands are often still, but rarely solitary. They share something, like a secret, concealed from the rest of the world. Outside the snow is coming down. His fingers are always drumming on the card table. She is always touching her left earring, as though there’s a voice whispering something to her very quietly. 

And in December, he does what he has always done. Her hands make cookies while he stokes up the fire, the iron rod so heavy in his arms. Three times this afternoon he’s lifted a handkerchief to his mouth. There is flour on her sweater that she does not see, and because he thinks it’s cute, he does not brush it off. He reaches out for her hand, and she takes it. 

Perhaps he already knows, perhaps she does, when he eases her into bed, and when he completes the tedious task of getting his shoelaces untied so he can join her, that tonight when their hands are clasped, between their aging vessels, they won’t be undone. There is such a sweetness in that, he thinks. Like wine in a shining glass, raised by young hands, and sparkling.