by Lisa

My hands have never been pretty.  My hands are useful, and capable, and nimble, and patient with tiny things and demanding with big things.

Since age five, I’ve lived with a thick callus on my right ring finger.  The callus comes from the way I hold a pencil, which is the wrong way.  I hold chopsticks wrong, too, but the food gets into my mouth and the words get onto the page, so wrong is the wrong thing to say about my way of holding.   Lately, the pen in my hand causes just a little pain.  The callus grew thinner with time and typing, and pressure from hours with a pen bruised my fingers in a strange way.  I expect this to be a temporary problem.  The callus will come back with time, and enduring a little pain to make it useful again is necessary for my grade point average.  In this way, my hands demand big things of me, or I of them.

One finger bears a scar from aflint-knapping attempt at age eight.  Another is numb along one side from a butter knife bagel accident.  The flint cut, I expected before I even began.  The butter knife?  Who knew? And I have burned my fingers into blisters so often that I wonder if my prints still make sense, consequences of baking and acetylene with just the right amount of oxygen mixed in.

For a few years, I wore a complicated ring on my left hand.  I wore it to make meatloaf.  I wore it to mow.  I wore it to garden.  I only took it off to bathe the baby, because I scratched her once with it.  Now, all of the rings stay to the right, and none of them need to sparkle.  One, my grandma found thrown into a box of curtain rings, discarded by its owner’s widow out of grief.  I have worn it since I was seventeen.  Others are discards, too, unwanted promises sold for a few dollars just to get them out of the house. I rescue the plainest from a refinery-bound bag and take them home as a small part of my paycheck. I make them round again and stack up on my fingers and the preciousness looks better for the scuffs, yellow gold with dents and cracks, always repairable.  I never worry about losing this part or that.  These rings fit, and if they don’t, I can bang these tiny metal things into shape with a demanding hand and a tiny hammer.

The black under my nails tonight comes from my baby’s bike.  We traded the slick black BMX wheels for lime-green girly-bike wheels, for the sake of a coaster brake.  Her little hands can’t squeeze the pulls quite hard enough to cause a full stop, so we swapped and made do, made a better fit.  She handed me my grandpa’s tools and gave advice, and in between her jobs, she built a house for a caterpillar.  Her nails are dirty tonight, too.

My small person’s  small hands look like doll’s hands, like mine never have.  Her knuckles exist as a part of a seamless taper from palm to end.  Rings slip off, her fingers are so smooth.  She proudly shows off signs of use, patches rough from monkey-bar swinging and baton twirling and falls from the bike.  Hopefully, she’ll have fewer falls, now that the bike stops before she has to run it up a grassy slope to slow down.

As my hands grow even less beautiful with time, I will count the calluses and scars as prizes.  The plain gold bands can stack into flexible armor for my fingers for defense against power tools and poverty.  When my hands no longer do my bidding, I will hold my fingers up to my eyes and remember being seventeen, when my grandma dropped the first plain ring into my open palm, with the words, “Don’t forget where this came from.”