Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fiction - Hands

Kent was a man obsessed with hands. To say that outright at the start may paint an unfair picture of him. He wasn't some creep with a sick fetish, living in an apartment plastered with pages torn from magazines. The single piece of art in his sparsely furnished living room was of a hand though. It was the hand that wore the first wedding ring he ever crafted, fresh out of college with his degree as a gemologist.

In that living room at night Kent's eyes roamed over every hand that crossed the screen. It was so easy to gauge the caliber of an actor by their hands. It's always said that true emotion shows in the eyes, and it may, but he could see it in an instant from the flick of a fingernail what an actor was made of.

In his daily life he ran across a lot of the same sort of hands. A jeweler in a large mall store could only expect as much. His eyes took in many a manicured cuticle, both male and female, atop the glass cases. Not much to write home about for a soul so consumed with hands.

His real interest was in people watching. On his lunch break he would roam the mall, glancing about. Teenage girls picking over earrings. Blah, no character. Ants crawling over a pile of leaves. Plump baby hands gripping padded strollers, mashing stuffed animals to their chests, flinging pacifiers across the floor. Little gems. A mother's worried twitch. Old women gesturing lazily, hands that had prepared ten thousand dinners, enjoying their leisure.

When the weather was warm Kent ventured outside to see what he might. College students holding hands. Nice, but a little too greeting card. The hands that always interested him most were the hands of the workers. Leathery mitts on the handle of a concrete rake, as cracked and worn as old leather gloves. A Hispanic woman chopping onions with blinding speed in the window of a pizzaria. Delivery men gripping heavy boxes on their way inside. Those were the ones he was drawn to.

One morning in late spring Kent happened on an electrician outside an apartment building. He was grunting something in a foreign tongue to his helper. The triple-jointed last name on the van at the curb suggested Polish. The Man's hulking shoulders strained at the seams of his flannel shirt as he strained at a brace of wires the size of a child's leg coming out of a pipe.

Ham-fisted had always been sort of a verbal tickle. The phrase always brought to mind a cartoon image of a bumbling character too muscle bound to do anything with finesse. It was a term he often jokingly applied to himself when a gem slipped his grasp in a tricky setting under the jewelers loupe. This guy was the poster child for the term.

His hands were like slabs of meat. No, not like meat. Like animals, alive and coursing with life. As he contracted each paw around the wire it was like watching a living wall. Muscles leaped into stark relief. The tendons strained. Knuckles rose up like a mountain range, stark white except where he had nicked three of them. Kent stood motionless on the sidewalk and stared.

With a final grunt the wires were apparently where they needed to be and the electrician turned around with a pleased sigh and caught sight of Kent staring at him. Shocked into consciousness he just stood there, a cat in the street, trying to decide which way to dart to get away from a car.

A broad grin muscled its way across the mans face and in a voice that was surprisingly gentle said, "Is OK you watch. Service entrance cable is free but is five dollars if you watch me hook up meter channel."

Kent jerked as if to hurry away down the street but the laughter from the helper flustered him even more. At that moment he felt his whole world gently swing around a few degrees. It was like the trick photography in soda commercials. He caught a twinkle of benign amusement in the man's eye. In half a second he traversed the years and saw his father's hands, skinned knuckles wrapped around a can of Milwaukee at the dinner table. Calloused fingers lifting him high over head. Arms crossed, nervous in a stiff shirt at his graduation.

His dad was proud of him. Kent was the first man in the family to go to college. Certified to craft jewelry for the rich and certain to grow rich himself. But he didn't get it. A man who had raised his family by the sweat of his brow and the work of his two hands couldn't fathom it. And Kent, up until now couldn't grasp his father's life. He, for one, wasn't built for it. He had his mother's hands, slim and delicate, well suited for his chosen work.

How could it be enough to work your eight and punch your card. Fiddle with things in the garage and drink beer with Mom in front of the TV every night. But it was. It was enough because from his dad's perspective in the La-Z-Boy he was a rich man. Kent had a brief flash of his Sunday school teacher saying something about the meek and riches or something like that. Whatever, he got it. The satisfaction of a job done well, any kind of job had become apparent to him when he had seen the merriment in the eye of a man pulling wires on the street.

After spending half the day in that second of thought he raised his eyes to meet those of the man standing in front of him, still twinkling. "Yeah, caught me." he mumbled.

"Is OK city boy, you watch John and Vladimir and you see what work is. Wychudly." The latter was addressed over his shoulder to the helper who roared with laughter as he turned toward the truck, gnawed fingernails scratching his shoulder.

Kent couldn't resist. He stuck out his hand and said, "You're right. I have to get back to the office. Thanks for the show."

Chuckling, the electrician wrapped his meaty paw around Kent's hand and gave it a bone crunching squeeze, the callouses digging in. "Heh, you are OK for a suit." said the man as carelessly as if this sort of thing happened all the time, "Any time you want, I let you help Vlad carry tools. Put muscles under that suit." With a final wrench he let Kent's hand go and turned back to his work, still grinning.

Kent spun and hastened back toward the mall and his counter. Drawing his cell from his pocket he thumbed the old numbers.

"Hey Dad. It's Kent. Nothing much. Hey, what are you and Mom doing for Memorial Day? Me? Nothing at all, thought I'd pay you a visit." Yeah, a real visit.

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