“Papa’s Hands” by Jordan Shearer

His hands are the thing I remember most. They were too big. Even as a child his five-foot-two frame never seemed imposing, but his hands did. Hanging from his arms like heads on a hammer. Twisted, tree root fingers would engulf your entire torso as he lifted you onto his knee. My cousins and I all played the same game while sitting on his lap, ‘try to get the wedding ring off his finger.’ The plain gold band had long since been beaten out of a recognisable circle and could only be coaxed so far as his monstrous knuckle. No amount of pulling, turning, brute force, or spit could get the band over that hurdle. My cousin Sean claims to have successfully removed the ring once, but he’s always been a liar. The game was banned when the shaking started.

When I got older he taught me how to drink whiskey. A single ice cube was permissible, anything other than single malt wasn’t. After a couple he would tell stories about his years in the abattoir. In those days they removed the steerhide with their bare hands, punching the carcass to separate skin from muscle. Then organs were extracted, flesh butchered, meat hung to age. A lifetime of blood-soaked fists left his skin stained red, scratched with white ridges of scar tissue from learning his trade. When he couldn’t stop the ice rattling in his glass he decided whiskey should only be taken neat. And stopped telling stories about the work his hands had seen. White shirts turned up at the sleeves became stained, beige cardigans. His sandpaper skin catching on the cuffs as he pulled them low over trembling fingers.

The last time I saw his hands they didn’t look like they belonged to him. Smaller, but swollen somehow; pudgy, white fingers clasped together. The permanent staining on his nail beds had been magically cleaned away. Red skin washed out into grey, soft flesh that capped his hacksaw, mountain range knuckles. All awkward angles and sharp turns lost in the swollen tissue. Everything smoothed out, carefully staged, and still.

Jordan Shearer lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is currently working towards her first collection of short stories. 

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