My mother kisses my small, plump fingertips as I bawl over the blistering lesson I’ve just learned about stove-tops. For nearly a week after, my coloring book is erratic with crayon pathways independent of the firm dark rules that shape each drawing; after all, it is difficult to stay within the lines when my dominant hand is swathed in thick gauze. When I lay in bed each night I feel the heat crawling over my hand as if a living thing. Eventually the burning turns to itching, and the gauze unravels. I still color outside the lines, though. 

My palm stings with the slap I’ve administered to Tommy Walker. This is the second time he’s kissed another girl since we’ve been boyfriend-girlfriend, and it will be the last. Stinging palm wipes stinging tears and already I feel stinging regret. Eighth grade sucks, I cry to my friends in the bathroom mirror and they administer synchronized nods. Their hands pull me into the midst of a huddle that will heal me for the years to come.  

The piece of paper I clutch in my raised hand has cost me nearly seventy thousand dollars in student loans and I wonder if some of those loans paid for the stupid hats the faculty are wearing as their hands voice loud approval of my achievements. Life feels so big on that stage and all I can see is a rippling current of multihued applause. One face lifts from the crowd of graduates and she is new to me but suddenly I don’t want her to be. I can’t explain the emotion she expresses but somehow it makes me feel thirty feet tall. I step off the stage to be mobbed by my peers and through the tangle I feel fingers interlace with mine. 

Her hands are rough and I like that about her. Her voice is smooth and I like that too. I kiss her fingertips as once mine were kissed by another and we live happily ever after until the start of the next day brings more ways to be cross with one another. Never go to bed angry. Never go to bed. Staring up at the ceiling, I lift my hand and admire the slim golden band winking in the light of a salt lamp. Love and hate aren’t opposite emotions. Just two fingers on the same hand.  

Her hands are still rough, but the skin has loosened. A webbing of veins bulges on the backs of each. My hands grip hers and I try not to cry because we ran out of tissues and the orderly hasn’t been by yet. The salt lamp helps her sleep so it’s been transplanted from our home to throw its warmth onto her new, final bed. HGTV is playing on the TV mounted in a corner of the ceiling and the hosts won’t stop talking about good bones. I inspect her hand sandwiched between mine and decide that she has good bones. My gaze is drawn to her other hand, which lay skeletal on the starched white sheet with a tube stuck into her translucent skin. I decide that I don’t want to think about bones anymore.  

My gnarled hands cover my eyes to shut out the cluster of mourners. Her ashes have already been scattered, the bells rung, but I still feel her with me, her hands running through my hair and caressing my scalp. I know I will return to our—my—home and I know I will be eating casserole and reading condolence letters for weeks afterwards. Before hospice she had left a handprint on the kitchen window that I have not and will never wash away. On the ride home I twist and worry the gold band on my finger, trying not to think about its twin nestled in an envelope in my purse.  

Hands litter the edges of my bed, and now I’m the one stuck with a tube in my skin. I keep thinking I hear my late wife’s voice, but it’s only lately when I’ve begun responding to her that the hands of my visitors have grown closer in concern. Murmurs of sadness are rolling like distant thunder through my well-wishers. All I can hear is the voice of my soul mate, growing closer. Static fills my mind and blindly I reach out to her, grasping at a frosted void. The hands that catch me are rough, warm, and eternal. 

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