I remember my mother's hands, the olive skin moisturized with Vaseline Intensive Care, her long piano fingers, the nicotine stains on her right index finger. The veins were large and spongy, swollen green anatomy snaking along the backs of the hands that caressed me, held me when I was afraid, held me when I was hurt, held me for no reason.
The veins were large, as if trying to escape, or maybe her skin was just very thin. Way too thin.
Her nails were always painted. I never saw them otherwise, or any color but a light honey frost to match her full lips. Maybe she kept her nails painted because they had yellowed. She smoked all her life, from age sixteen to forty-four. Her autopsy report would state that her lungs showed signs of early emphysema. Already, at age forty-four.
Her hands were shaking the night she came home after a three day absence. I'd been praying in our yellow bathroom, picking out shapes in the peeling paint. I promised God that I would never ask for anything else as long as I lived if he would just bring her home.
Moments later our heavy front door swung open, hitting the wall hard. She lurched forward, her blouse half-buttoned. She stumbled into the kitchen. I tiptoed behind her, trying to avoid the areas of the floor that creaked. I found her swaying at the kitchen counter, holding a lit match to the nozzle of a Dristan bottle to make its opening larger. Her hands were shaking, causing the yellow light of the match to tremble.
Those three days she'd been sitting in a grassy field, she told us later. She wasn't sure how long she was there, but remembered trying to decide whether and how to kill herself.
Her hands fed and dressed three children. Her hands kept a clean house. Her hands shook a tambourine at an old Baptist church, underlined what mattered to her most in the books she read. Her hands played an upright piano we kept in the dining room, wrote poetry and songs about God, heaven and hell. Her hands lit cigarettes, opened beer cans, pill bottles. Several times these thin-skinned hands were cupped full of pills, pills swallowed all at once.
I remember her hands softly scratching my arm, a comfort we both loved. We took turns caressing the arm of the other, lightly raking the skin's surface with thin trimmed nails. I'd snuggle up close wherever she was sitting, our legs drawn up beneath us, then one of us would take the arm of the other and begin the ritual.