Helen sat. She just sat. Occasionally Helen would stare. Most of the time Helen stared at nothing in particular. Sometimes however, Helen would sit and stare at her hands. She had watched them form and grow. From her first sighting of her own body when she reached towards her mother’s smile, to now, when their rumpled, translucent skin gave way to a vision of technicolour beneath their paper surface. Oh what a life those hands had lived.
In the early years they were her third tool of discovery, after her eyes and her mouth. Arguably they could have been her second tool as quite often they were necessary in order to explore objects with her mouth. Speaking of her mouth she remembered poking her gums as they hurt and bled through the eruptions of childhood and that day when both her front teeth fell out and she discovered, to her surprise, that her thumb was exactly the right size to fit between the gap.
Through her middle childhood she used them for play, slapping them joyfully against her classmates hands whilst reciting rhymes of varying political correctness. They were used to answer questions in class, to show attendance and ask to go to the toilet.
As a teenager they were for ‘exploring’ not just herself and the young gentlemen suitors her mother most earnestly disproved of, but they opened the doors to her adulthood. They wrote her essays for her, they played her cello with her until her teacher had used his hands to play with her. They helped her adorn her face with make up and curl her hair just right so that when she went to the Saturday night dance, she had her pick of hands to hold.
As she stood at the altar with the man she had pledged to spend the rest of her life with they had gripped his digits for reassurance. They had felt the newness of a gold band and clapped and cheered with her guests as the night came to an end. In their new home they’d torn down old wallpaper and polished the cutlery set from Aunt Mary which was to be kept impeccable in case of a very sudden special occasion.
As children came the hands became wardens, protecting her infants from the world and supplying them with what they needed. Wiping bottoms and tomato-sauced lips became the order at least six times a day for her weary palms, but she didn’t mind — when she held her children tight and felt the softness of their tresses in her hands the only sensation she experienced was joy.
When her husband passed suddenly at a young age her hands held her head for a good few weeks. If she could’ve just clamped them tight enough she could have drowned in her own tears and joined him. She couldn’t hold her children’s hands at the funeral as though to punish herself for losing him by denying herself the comfort of touch. The hands separated in tasks soon after and as one clamped her steadily to the kitchen cabinet, the other elevated a bottle of gin to her lips.
As her children grew older they grew bitter at her and their circumstances. They used their hands to slam and open doors that made Helen’s heart weep. Her hands started to become grey following suit with the rest of her skin. The sullen hue of self-neglect took over her whole body and her hands gave up trying to prevent it.
The children left her alone, and eventually those hands were used to open the bottle of pills she kept for her nerves and to pop them, slowly, one by one into her mouth. Then heavily her index finger pushed against the number 9 three times to allow her to inform the operator she was dying.
After the suicide attempt the hands were jabbed with drips and stroked with false empathy. Soon they were used to rip off the plastic tag around her wrist, put on her clothes and sign the discharge papers.
At home, alone, for the remaining years her hands had tried a number of things to keep themselves occupied; from the twittery art of knitting to the satisfying pounding of bread, However, no matter how much manual dexterity she exerted on her environment, Helen still felt empty. She never used her hands to receive a telephone call or a letter off the children. They were only used to open the door when some assorted delivery person needed paying or a signature. Her hands became idle and with them so did she. And so she sat and thought of all the wonderful things her hands would never have the chance to do, and of all the terrible things they had already done.
taran burns writes in Avon, England.
A new and interesting story is posted every day.