Sunday, January 8, 2012

Grandma's Hands by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s painting – The Hand

Imelda let her head sink into the pillow. The cotton case on it was cool, and a little rough. She liked the way it scratched against her cheek. She closed her eyes and tried to drift off to sleep, wakefulness stuck to her like cotton candy to her fingers after a day at the fair.

She opened her eyes and looked around the room. She wasn’t afraid of the dark. She knew a lot of kids her age were, but she wasn’t, never had been as far as she could remember. The dark was a place where there was quiet, and peacefulness – a place where she could imagine. She liked the faint blue light, a combination of moonlight and streetlight that filtered through the sheer white curtains and made soft, long shadows along the walls.

The night, the cool, blue dark had it’s own smell. Clean, and light. She often pretended she was floating just above her bed on a light stream of night mist. She liked the night. That was the problem though – the night felt good, but the night was also a time to sleep and if she didn’t fall asleep soon, the morning would be harder than it already was.

Imelda never much liked the morning with it’s bright light and ever increasing sound. No matter how early she woke up, no matter how quiet is was when she woke, sooner or later the sounds would come – getting louder and louder as more people started their day.

Sometimes, rarely, it was fun, listening to the sounds appear. First the birds chirping, then a car starting, a garbage truck rolling up and the grind of its motors as it crushed the remains of people’s everyday lives. Steps overhead in the apartment above, uneven and staggering as someone made their way into the bathroom – the creaking pipes indicating the flush of a toilet and a shower turning on. Sooner or later, the footsteps of people passing under her window would start and become more prevalent as people exited the building on their way into lives she could barely imagine.

During those moments she would think about people all over the world doing things, sleeping, waking, singing, crying, living - so far away and disconnected, and yet connected too by the fact that they were all alive and doing something all at the same time.

But this night, she knew she needed to sleep and it wouldn’t come. She had a spelling quiz in the morning and if she didn’t sleep, she would find herself staring at the paper thinking of people in far away places rather than remembering that the i came before the e in believe. There would be another note home from her teacher to her mother – asking what they could do about the fact that a girl as smart as Imelda wasted so much time daydreaming instead of doing the work they all knew she could do.

Then the test would come back with a red circle around a word or two and what would have been a perfect 100% would be a 95 or a 90 and she could already hear Grandma saying, “That’s nice, baby. But why couldn’t you get a 100.”

Grandma – Imelda latched on to the comforting thought of her grandmother. Most of the time, Grandma wasn’t complaining about test scores. Most of the time Grandma was comforting and loving and warm, making the coldness of the world melt away.

Grandma was crisp cotton housecoats and thin wisps of gray hair, wound into tight little buns. Grandma was soft, papery skin that smelled like powder and liniment and a warm, squishy body to relax into. Grandma’s arms would wrap around her body, pulling Imelda’s arms close against her chest and Imelda would curl into a ball and lavish in the warmth and love that radiated over her. Grandma’s hands, bony and fleshy at once, would smooth back Imelda’s hair and Imelda would reach up and grab one of Grandma’s hands to hold it against her cheek and then to push it away and rub it between her own fingers. 

Imelda loved the feel of Grandma’s hands. Loved to trace the bones, to push the loose, delicate skin around and feel it slide back and forth. Her favorite thing about Grandma’s hands were the veins. Bluish-green and puffy under the skin – making a map with twists and turns that could be pushed and rubbed, but always kept their shape. 

Imelda lay in her bed, thinking of Grandma’s hands. In her mind she ran her fingers methodically over the veins, leaving a little redness on the skin. She felt the softness of the skin, smelled the sweet gentle warmth of grandma’s breath on her face and slowly, finally, Imelda drifted off to sleep.

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