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LAce Posted Monday, March 1st, 2004
The Hands
Daniel J. Ricciato

In the morning, when the things they say are still slightly wet from their dreams and the the sun advancing across the bed like a door into the day, he would place his hands, one at a time, on her face. He watched intently on where the soft muscle below his thumb would rest against her cheek and how many fingers would fit between where her cheekbone rose up, and her nose. He placed his hands on her face to know it, not to hold it, or own it or hide it.

In his dream the night before only he knew the way and everyone followed him through the canal, but he didnít know the way. He walked like he did, so he would. He walked with his hands just on the surface of the water holding them out like wings behind him, allowing them to glide through the water, just the tips of his fingers, making trails behind him, trying to feel for her, because she wasnít there.

He would go someplace jovial, on a Saturday, or after work, it didnít matter what time of day as long as he could go to his own thoughts. Today, he thought of his grandfather Henry who was a Polish immigrant, someone he respected for living the straight life of an IRS employee for 30 years and spending his evenings building furniture and bottling his own home made root beer. His great-grandfather, whoís name he did not know, a man he never knew from anything except legend, had killed another man that was sleeping with his wife. He killed that man at their mutual place of work, a coal mine, hoping to somehow blame it on the harsh, physically precarious conditions of the work, making it look like an accident. Instead, he killed that man in front of everyone outside of the mine in the morning, so they would see and his grip would be tight and sure. He killed the man that had made him a cuckold by strangling him without his gloves on and broke down and cried afterwards cursing everyone. He cried into the dirt and said prayers for the dead manís family and for himself for what he had done. He was so confused and nervous about what would become of his life from that point and he stared at his own hands wondering what he had done. For days he had pictured how he would kill the man, and how it would make him feel better and right. He felt his hands had betrayed him and cut one of them off that afternoon, dying as a result.

He thought about his great-grandfather who killed the other man. He looked at his own hands and saw too much. He thought about how many people were once judged by their hands: if your hands were coarse that showed you were a working man, others had hands made of skin that seemed more appropriate to be made into fine leather gloves for women of society. Coincidentally most of the men that had hands like that were men of society.

In his dream nobody had asked him questions, they believed that he knew what he was doing. Trees grew up out of the water in certain places and in others there was tall grass lightly emerging out of the water as if each blade had its own space to grow, not overburdened by other rival blades of grass. This soothed his mind and as he walked through he did not wonder if this was perhaps turning into some weird place where there might be snakes; the water was clear and he felt at ease. The blades of grass would tickle his hands and he would laugh to himself.

She never asked why he liked to place his hands on her face which he liked. He felt free to explore and touch her, let her know he thought her features were like classical sculpture. It made him feel closer to God to be able to feel the palm of his hand rest snug under her jaw with his four even fingers plumb against her cheek.

He had another grandfather as well, Angelo, who was a master cobbler. He came to America from Sicily where everyone was poor and had no hope. He came to America when he was seven and lost his entire family. His mother, father and two sisters all died of the scarlet fever within two years of arriving on the shores of Ellis Island. Angelo tried jumping a train to go Mexico but never made it. He was 14. He made it to Pasadena where he learned to be a cobbler. Angelo eventually made it back to Boston and raised a family. He made some of the finest shoes in Boston, and this was during a time when you did not buy a pair of shoes and then wear them until they died and threw them out. Shoes were an investment and you had to care for them. Angelo cared for each pair of shoes, dearly. People would go out to Waltham from Boston to have Angelo work on their shoes. Many orthopedic doctors sent their child patients to Angelo to have him custom make boots for little and boys and girls to help their legs grow straight and strong. This was something that Angelo was quite proud of and brought him great joy and relief in his life. His work was legendary, and so was his drinking. He would go home at night and beat the hell out of his family with the same hands that had worked wonders on shoes small and large, shoes far tougher than the face of a child.

His hands were hands that had climbed trees as a younger and older man. Hands that had been burned, cut, bled like crazy on a forest floor with no hospital nearby, no needle, no thread. His hands created art that made him cry and cry and cry because he was so afraid of what his hands would do next, what they were capable of so he shook them down by his sides because he felt terribly deceived by them. The possibilities sometimes shuffled through his mind like pictures on a wall from a slide projector, scenes of a gifted life intermingled with staged tableaus of immense despair and horror, the scenes moving at a violently fast rate before his eyes. So he stared at his hands, took a breath, and thought about what his furniture would look like, and what his hands would look like if he had killed a man with them. He thought about if they looked like the hands of an extraordinary man who possessed a joie de vivre few had ever seen and for a few seconds he believed that.

When he placed his hands on her face, he thought about the wind and how he wished his hand could be the wind for a few seconds so that he could feel her whole face. It was amazing to him that such tender features would be receptive to sharing his hands. When they made love he could feel the silhouette of her impress on him like a hand, going into a pool, slowly. He could feel how strong she was, and look up into her eyes and see his life clear and lucid. She would slowly take his hands in her hands, one at a time, and they would rock, her hands seeping down into him, laying him down into the current of his dreams where he was without questions or answers.

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