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Diet and Exercise


I live in a house made of hands, they hold me roll me tickle me tie my shoes for me. I live in a house made of hands, where the floors hold my ankles and pass me room to room to ease the expectations of walking. The walls run their fingers through my hair. Their skin brushes at my cheek and I lean in to the curve of their knuckles. I reach for a high shelf and they pass the rice to me. They pass the salt. They turn down the hot water when the steam gets too much. They turn on the lights when I get home late. They roll me out of bed when I oversleep. They feed the cat, they water the plants, they tuck me in, brush my teeth, wrap their knuckled fingers and thumbs around me and rock me to sleep.
I don't expect visitors, but when they do come, walking heavy and hard up the front steps, I watch them, the hands holding the kitchen curtain to the side just enough for me to push my left eye up to the window. The delivery man or census taker or Greenpeace volunteer stand lonesome for a while after ringing the bell, after hearing it echo. They look at my manicured lawn and bright blue awnings. I seem nice enough. The visitor rings the bell again. Inside, the hands check the locks on the doors and windows. As the visitor makes their way across the lawn to the street, the hands snap their fingers and I am passed into the back room, saved from another awkward conversation.

The hands pull at my elbows to get me safely out of the bath. They wrap one towel around my shoulders and use another to dry my hair. They wrap the towel and hair on top of my head as they wipe away a circle of mist from the mirror so I can lean in and look at myself. So I can examine the pores of my nose, the color of my eyes, my crooked ears.

What I want is to hear something break. I throw a bottle at the wall and it is caught by a childish hand who thinks this is a game. When doing the dishes, I make my hands so they're covered in soap and a glass falls and the only sound is the hollow pop of the glass hitting an open palm.

I want to hear something break. I'm tired of throwing and hearing only the thud of palms catching. Times like these I want to get away. The hands know my temper. They pull my cigarettes from the freezer, light me up and open the back door so I can stand on good green grassy ground. So I can look at sky and clouds and my neighbor's house. My neighbor is a rugged man. He does his own home improvements. He fixes his car in the driveway. He cleans his gutters. Today, he is raking his lawn. I am not hiding my watching. I am smoking slow, I am squinting in his direction. I am following his movements. I am watching his muscles alternate their twitching. He throws his rake down and squeals like a girl. He hops a couple of times, waving his hand loose from the wrist.

I do the neighborly thing and run over to check his condition. 

Hey neighbor

Hey, he is holding his right hand in his left, he squeezes the palm and winces. 

Watcha got there?

He holds his hand out, palm up, displaying a splinter the size of a broken paperclip under his skin. Some dark of it is sticking out, but when he squeezes his palm again, it goes moving all the way under.

What'd you do that for? I pull his dumb hand away from the injured one and hold it myself. I examine the damage. My neighbor, he has nice hands, rugged hands. They have calluses and marks. His nails are torn all the way down, his skin feels like shoe leather. It had to have been some piece of wood to get itself under there. To break through that skin. I move my thumb over the splinter, I can feel the bump of it, I can feel where the skin is still broken, where the piece of rake handle moved its way in. It's a fucker, I say, Let it be, it'll move its way out natural, over time.
My neighbor, he is a rugged man, he likes being the one to shovel all the walks on the block, likes being seen climbing ladders and moving furniture. He nods and sighs, I can handle that.

Sure you can, I spit my cigarette in the grass.

He pulls his arm back, he twists his hand in mine, but I'm not planning on letting go any time soon. My neighbor, he has nice hands, rugged hands, hands that have been broken, burned, bruised, and hammered. My neighbor has nice hands, it's the rest of him I can do without.

Mary Hamilton is a writer, optician, and teacher living in Chicago. Her work has previously appeared in Smokelong, Noo, Wigleaf, Knee-Jerk, and Fiction at Work, among other lovely places.