Workers Hands

Workers hands. Calloused and yellowing, hardening at the bend of bone and palm they cannot be made soft by anything beyond the knowing eyes of a lover.
When I took her hand–crooked and bony, blue tendrils crawling up like long forgotten roots–I remarked how frail she seemed. How birdlike.
I dared not say it aloud. She smiled at me in the way that only she can, showing the bridge in partial so fast that you wonder, morbidly, how many of those terrifyingly perfect things are hers, grimaced really before remarking–“you’ve got workers hands.”
A true southern debutante over ripened and far too sweet her voice swept over me gracefully, the poison of her tone lingering after. The bitter whistling of a lone lark sounded in the distance, an afterthought. Frozen in time I stood solid, eyes drawn to my own hands. Workers hands.
Raw cacao fading into unripened peach with deep brown furrows across the palms. The nails unfiled and unpainted, the cuticles overgrown. The knuckles of the long fingers large and prominent, the thumbs angular and proud. A scar has settled there, the only evidence of a childhood skirmish beneath the shade of willows and youth. My critical eye creates and fills the silence.
George’s tea was prepared as she likes, without sugar and lukewarm, the biscuits crumbling onto the service and forgotten in the carpet. Her hands shake as she stirs in cold cream to soothe the bitterness, and my eyes travel from the floating leaves back to my own hands.
Almost as large as George’s they engulf the cup. An intricate floral pattern of violets and roses with a whisper of gold on the lips the china is as diaphanous as the skin of its owner. This cup in its frailty is not made for me and my hands and I place it, too gently, back into its saucer.
She speaks again and her voice creaks from disuse, her eyes narrowing over the rail thin bridge of her nose.
“And your parents? What do they do?” Her question is a statement, formed in the midst of a one-sided conversation that she must have been holding with herself.
George stills beside me, his spoon scraping the side of the cup of nothing over and again. I touch his hand lightly and it stills beneath my own.
“My mother is a teacher. My father is in sanitation.” Her lips disappear against each other and she does not speak again.
George leaves for the restroom down a dank hall, the scent of mothballs wafting back to us from the unknown room that swallows him.
Her hands shake against the counter, and I stare down at the web of her hands, immensely horrified.
Grotesque and gnarled they are hands that have never seen work. Frail and skeletal they are themselves the in-between, more dead than alive. Dusted above the translucent skin and lost into the wrinkles she is mottled; the earth brown beautiful on me is sprinkled haphazardly upon her in decaying gruesome disarray. Her emaciated, aged hands shake profusely as she grapples for a bottle, orange and bulky, with small ocular pills filling its contents. Her bluish lips make a reappearance briefly, the teeth flashing before hiding away. Her hands shake ever more and she drops the bottle, and we both watch in silence as it hits the counter.
A weak breath escapes her, scrapes against her shallow bones as it exits with haunting finality. Hesitating briefly I save her from her shame, scooping the bottle with ease.
The callouses of my hands sound loudly against the bottle as I press it gently against them, the top pushing deep into the time-toughened skin. I pass the bottle back to her, top first, demonstrating a smile.
When George returns he laces his hands in mine.
His thumb soothes the new ache that has settled in my palm, and I turn to her again, marveling at how very pale and thin her neck appears. She opens her mouth and casts thanks at me and I hold up my hand, callouses facing her.
“Workers hands.”

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