Onslaught by Kami Westhoff

Close up of the palm of a hand

1. My mother lost the tip of her finger to the cutting lip of a drill bit when she was six. The logistics of the accident hover in the atmosphere like those dreams that are ethered before etched, as most memories do for her now. The flit and fuss, fabricate and fracture. They are the first of June and she’s stuck in the deep throat of January.

2. My fingers are double-jointed like my mother’s. As I child, I buried them under desks and in pockets, shocked at my own ugliness. I’ve often wished my hands belonged to someone else. Someone that can lift the massive slab of stomach, hide the flinch of the foul air underneath, ignore the rules to only touch with gloved hands, and salve the raw-meat skin of the one they first loved.

3. The hands of a fetus are fully formed by twelve weeks. Palms have been sutured, scars offer answers if you know what to ask. Nails have peaked from the epidermal bed, keratin crawls over the arc of cuticle. By sixteen weeks, the once-webbed fingers separate into Jupiter, Saturn, Apollo, and Mercury, tethered by the gravity of the grasp. The thumb, triggered by the catastrophe of creation, is introduced to the intimate architecture of the mouth.

4. One of my daughters inherited our double-jointed fingers, one has not. The one with the fingers I longed for, level as a horizon instead of cragged and peaked like mine, wants what the rest of us have. It seems that’s the only way it’s ever been. The fingernail only craves teeth after the first past-the-quick clipping.

5. Now that my mother isn’t able to navigate hand-to-mouth, she eats only what others give her. We no longer unearth wrappers of candy bars from car seats, pillow cases, the wedge of the couch. She cries when her nurse brings broccoli and boiled chicken.  Before I can feed her, she reaches for the chicken, pinches her fingers together and lifts nothing to her mouth. I’m quiet while she chews slowly, carefully, and I envelop her fingers and guide them around the glass when she asks for water to wash it down.

6. The hand consists of twenty-seven bones. They have names like ancient gods: Lunate; Hamate; Phalange; Triquetrum. If the body were a universe the hands would be its gods, worshipped and feared, revered and forgotten. What other part of the body has this power? What else can offer such salvation? Such surrender? Such impact over what is saved and what is surrendered?

7. Every visit with my mother is an onslaught of ailments. The calluses on her feet collapse into caverns of red. Bruises storm the waxy skin on her knees. Constipation. Indigestion. Macular degeneration. Her vision is such that everything is just of her reach. Today she keeps saying “It burns, it burns.” When I ask her to show me where it hurts she points at me.

8. Though she cannot recall doing so, my mother has touched me in places no one else has. Her fingers soothed furious mounds of my gums before they ruptured into tooth. They’ve lifted lashes and caramel-colored grains of sand from the pink-white of my eyes. Once, when she feared I’d swallowed Pine Sol, her hands pried open my mouth and found the slick tunnel of throat with her finger.

9. My mother exists in a perpetual state of tremor. She’s sloppy with her grasp and often paws at my hand until I offer it. Holding the hand of someone you love has been proven to lessen the perception of pain, and her hand does still in the husk of mine. But every time the contact triggers my own earthquakes of anxiety: everyone around her teetering on the cusp of death–when was the last time someone guided her hands under a stream of hissing water, carved the detritus from her fingernails, pressed a tissue to her nose instead of waiting for her to wipe it?

10. Hands summon you closer. They tell you to stop. They declare love, peace, okay, and fuck off. They ask you to Shh. They slap, punch, poke, peel, pull triggers. They high five, low five. They shake. They remove other hands from vulnerable places. They clutch and they cover. They scratch and they smooth. They pray and they give up. They grasp other hands for the last lap of life. And when that grasp becomes more grief than grace, they let go.

 

Kami westhoffKami Westhoff is the author of Sleepwalker, the winner of Minerva Rising’s Dare to Be Contest, and Your Body A Bullet, a collaboration with poet Elizabeth Vignali, forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. Her work can be found in various journals including Meridian, Carve, Third Coast, Passages North, The Pinch, West Branch, and Waxwing. She teaches creative writing at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

 

 

 

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Konstantin Mikaberidze

 

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